Physical, online or even fictitious… Communities are on the rise with people who have adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet. A recent survey published by the media The Conversation explored the reasons that push these people to join this type of group.
Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet is often motivated by a desire to improve one’s health, by ecological awareness and/or concern for animal welfare. But, much more than a way of eating, this lifestyle choice is also a way of building an identity. It is also common to hear that a person “become” vegetarian when they decide to banish meat from their diet. It is precisely this last aspect that Laurie Balbo, associate professor in Marketing at the Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) and Gilles Séré de Lanauze, lecturer in marketing at IAE Montpellier (as well as their colleagues Lucie Siriex, Margot Dyen and Erick Suarez Dominguez), explored in a survey in which they interviewed 19 vegetarians and vegans. “Adopting this way of life is a complex process in a society that traditionally favors meat, and it requires a certain effort”, note the researchers, whose popularized results were published by the independent media The Conversation.
A search for support
The main finding of this study, published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, is based on a strong need for non-meat eaters to belong to communities. These can be “physical” and illustrated through the fact of being members of an association or of political parties. Others will instead turn to online communities, such as internet forums or Facebook groups that give pride of place to “vegetarian-friendly”. But these communities can also be “imaginary”, that is to say they are characterized by the absence of exchanges between its members and result rather in the feeling of belonging to a group. “These imaginary communities represent a set of people with whom individuals feel connected or in relation to which they define themselves, in their practices or their convictions”, say the authors of the study. For example, the impression of being one of those individuals who “think about changing the way they consume” or “who think about the future”.
According to the authors of the survey, this desire to belong to these communities is mainly explained by a search for support from other people who share the same values and who can both “to guide them and reinforce them in their choices and their consumption behavior”. For physical communities, vegetarians will, for example, favor meetings in the hope of debating with individuals who share the same convictions, while online communities will attract them more to exchange practical advice and factual elements, for example the results of a study quantifying the impact on the planet of adopting a diet devoid of animal products.
A refuge from societal stereotypes
The survey identifies another major factor explaining the attraction for these communities: that of the stereotypes that our Western society continues to convey about vegetarians or vegans. For example, associating meat with virility. Surrounding oneself with people who share one’s convictions will therefore be perceived as a kind of “safe place” (“safe space”) where one can discuss without fear of feeling judged or stigmatized. “The community can be understood as a form of refuge, a way to be reassured in one’s consumption choices and to share good times. This occurs at different times in the construction of identity, according to the experience of each, and allows affirm its identity by reinforcing both its convictions and its practices”, decipher the researchers. The latter note, however, that “this affiliation mechanism seems to lose its importance when the practice has taken hold”.