'Against the cult of veganism': Unpacking the social psychology and ideology of anti-vegans.

In our new paper, now online at Appetite, myself, Dr. Jared Piazza and Dr. Ryan Boyd unpack the social psychology and ideology of anti-vegans.

In this study, we take a close look at Reddit's r/AntiVegan community: a group of ~19K users who according to their strapline are “Against the cult of veganism”. In this project, we use anti-vegans’ own words and online behaviour to better understand them as individuals and as a community.

We apply a battery of computerized text analytic tools, to answer the following research questions: 1) how do r/AntiVegan users differ from the general population on Reddit? 2) what are the most prominent topics of discussion among users of the r/AntiVegan community? and 3) does engagement with the r/AntiVegan community precipitate social psychological change, as evidenced by changes in users’ language use?

Some key finding include:

  • In comparison to r/askreddit users, r/AntiVegan users are more active in spaces on Reddit dedicated to talk around veganism (e.g., r/DebateAVegan) and dark humour (e.g., r/darkjokes).

  • Several topics were extensively discussed by r/AntiVegan members, including nuanced discourse around the health implications of vegan diets, the naturalness of animal death, and the moral arguments that underpin veganism.

  • In this community, veganism is viewed as nutritionally inadequate, a disguise for disordered eating (e.g., anorexia nervosa) and unnatural.

  • r/AntiVegan users take a very matter-of-fact approach to animal death.

  • However, r/AntiVegans also share in the view that we ought to do what we can to prevent animal suffering and so denounce the suffering that occurs in factory farms.

  • Many r/AntiVegans view vegans as making indefensible, absolutist moral claims. These arguments are tied with the perception of vegans as militant, misanthropic and cult-like.

  • r/AntiVegan is a space highly populated by ex-vegans who are seeking health advice and social support. This warns of the potential consequences of exiting veganism: the spread of resentment and polarization.

  • We note a number of longitudinal changes in the language use of a subset of highly committed users. This included an increase in the use of group-focused (i.e., ‘we’) and confident language.

  • We also note a decrease in the use of first-person pronouns (i.e., ‘I’) and language which indicates cognitive processing.

To conclude, we explore what these findings might mean for this community in greater detail in our paper. This includes the recommendation that vegan advocates ought to harness this shared distrust of industrial agricultural systems and be sympathetic to pragmatic approaches to vegan advocacy. And, on the basis that ant-vegan users engage in dark humour we argue that in order to combat anti-veganism and harm to animals, the vegan movement would benefit from becoming mobilised in the fight against other isms, aligning their plight with the more general plight of other social justice concerns (e.g., racism). Indeed, the vegan movement as a whole has been criticised lacking representation in terms of class and race.

Our application of computational techniques to the study of anti-veganism revealed a number of insights that both align with previous work and advance what we know about vegaphobia. The work highlights key attributes and topics of discourse among those who oppose veganism as a movement. More importantly, it suggests several promising points of contact between vegans and non-vegan which could provide a foundation for more effective vegan advocacy.

Check out the paper here!

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