Veganism in a University Setting

As school starts up again, I am continuing to read articles about evaluation and discourse surrounding food and veganism that may help me structure the analysis of my over 200 pages of transcripts. While I walk around campus surrounded by my classmates once again, my mind can’t help turning to the individuals I interviewed over the summer who navigate college life while maintaining a vegan lifestyle, and how their language and opinions surrounding veganism differ greatly from the older individuals I spoke with.

I spoke with two college students over the summer, one in person and one through a video call. The first individual had just finished their freshman year, and had been vegan for a little over a year. She cited animal cruelty as the reason for her initial transition. The other participant had just graduated and had been vegan for less than a year. He characterized himself as an “environmental” vegan, explaining that it was the excesses of the food industry that caused him to make a change.

The largest difference I found between these individuals and the older people I spoke with was how little it had an effect on their social lives. While the adults I spoke with had a difficult time making friends and had often struggled with being accepted by their families, these students seemed to find that being a vegan was not the largest part of their social identity. In fact, one of the speakers mentioned that one of the negative aspects of being a vegan was that as soon as people learned he was one, they would base their entire opinion of him off of that one fact. When I asked both students about how much they try to convince their friends and family to be vegan, they seemed to prefer not to mention it unless it was brought up by the other person. Otherwise it just became an unnecessary part of the social interaction.

One of my original hypotheses surrounding younger individuals was that they would feel less judged by their peers for being vegan, and would therefore use less judgment when talking about non-vegans or a vegan lifestyle. While these two speakers did seem to feel that they were relatively accepted within their friend communities at school, they also seemed to gain this acceptance by making veganism a smaller part of their identities. For many of the animal activists I spoke with, veganism was what their entire life revolved around, and therefore it was more difficult to be friends with individuals who did not share that identity.

I’m excited to continue making comparisons between my speakers, and especially to delve deeper into how age affects how vegans describe their lifestyle and vegan identity.