"Veganism in Vogue? Comparing a Cultural Practice in the United States, France, and Israel"
Nina Gheihman, PhD Candidate, Sociology Department, Harvard University.
Robert Paarlberg, Associate. Betty F. Johnson ‘44 Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Wellesley College.
How does a marginalized cultural practice enter into the mainstream? I analyze the case of veganism—the non-consumption of animal products. Previous research is mostly confined to one society, ignoring how globalized social movements are mediated through national contexts. I compare three countries that represent different levels of interest in veganism: medium in the US (2.5% of the population self-identifies as “vegan”), low in France (<1%), and high in Israel (5%). Through a cross-national, multi-method comparative project, I show how each setting presents a complex configuration of cultural and institutional factors that foster and stall the movement in different ways, and how the cultural practice maps onto debates around ideological purity and innovation, elitism and populism, pacifism and militarism, nationalism and globalization. In the US, arguments around health and environment have more resonance, while in France and Israel ethical concerns are paramount. Despite these divergences, the common thread across contexts is the transformation of activism itself thorough the emergence of a new brand of promoters I term cultural brokers. Unlike largely marginalized animal rights activists of the past, these savvy cosmopolitan elites do not work through social movement organizations (SMOs), but instead promote veganism through three types of cultural work: production of meaning, production of knowledge, and production of consumption. This transformation has roots in the historical shift of the animal rights movement from issues such as fur and vivisection to farmed animals, which centered activism on diet. With the focus on food, the social movement field intersected with others that did not necessarily share its ideological principles. While this created rifts within the movement itself in local contexts, it also created the potential for the movement to grow on a global scale.