Vegan Narratives and Storytelling: A Critical Assessment in the Spaces of ‘Post-Activism’

Brighton, UK, 7. December 2018.

Call for participation in Workshop

University of Brighton, Friday 7th December, 10 to 5 PM,  Edward Street, room 105

Organised by the Climate Change Network (MeCCSA), Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics (University of Brighton), supported by the Global Development Research Division (University of Reading)

Organisers: Julie Doyle (Brighton), Nathan Farrell (Bournemouth), Michael Goodman (Reading)

Identified as one of the top Google trends of 2016, and with the first ever vegan week broadcast on The Great British Bake Off (UK, 2018), veganism as a diet and practice has increasingly become part of mainstream media culture, particularly social media, over the last few years (Doyle, 2016; Brown, 2018). This represents a significant and positive shift in media engagement with veganism, following years of negative representations of vegans as hostile and oversensitive (Cole & Morgan, 2011). In addition, the most recent IPCC report states that in order to limit global warming to 1.5C, changes to food systems ‘such as diet changes away from land-intensive animal products’ (IPCC Special Report 2018) will need to be undertaken, making the case for significant societal shifts towards plant-based diets more urgent and compelling. Science, in effect, is now pushing veganism and less meat eating as a mitigation strategy in the context of climate change. Historically, ethical veganism – that is, a commitment to animal welfare and anti-speciesism – has been the primary motivation for individuals to become vegan, above that of health and environmental concerns (Greenebaum, 2012; Larsson et al., 2003). Animal welfare concerns have also proved to facilitate a deeper and longer-term commitment to veganism as a critique of unethical food practices. Yet, in contemporary popular cultural and media engagements with veganism, health, scientific and environmental concerns about climate change appear to be foregrounded, providing a different set of narratives and stories about veganism that make it potentially more accessible to a wider demographic across multiple media platforms.

This interdisciplinary workshop will explore recent media and popular cultural engagements with veganism through a critical focus upon the role of narrative and storytelling in communicating veganism to mainstream audiences. Bringing together, and drawing upon, a range of perspectives from across academia, media industries, arts and activism, the workshop will identify current trends in vegan narratives – paying attention to how veganism is framed and for whom - and will also challenge these cultural narratives by exploring what/who they might exclude. We want to ask the following questions: how is an ethics of care - towards animals/climate /self/others - reframed in contemporary cultural narratives of veganism, and how might these contribute to, or even hinder, a broader societal shift towards plant-based diets and greater ecological politics? Are vegan narratives both ‘post-activism’ and ‘practical’ in efforts to shift public attitudes towards less meat eating and ultimately adopt vegan lifestyles and larger audiences? From these perspectives, the workshop will propose ways forward for popular cultural and media engagements with climate change that help mainstream veganism and plant-based diets as both an ethical and sustainable practice.

We have a number of Workshop places available. Depending on numbers, we can pay for some travel expenses. If you would like to attend and contribute to the discussions, please contact Julie Doyle

All food and refreshments provided during the day will be vegan.

Brown, J. (2018). ‘Bake Off is having a vegan week, but what about the rest of TV?’, The Guardian, 24 Aug 2018,
Cole, M., & Morgan, K. (2011). ‘Vegaphobia: Derogatory discourses of veganism and the reproduction of speciesism in UK national newspapers’. The British Journal of Sociology, 62(1), 134–153.                                                                        
Doyle (2016) Celebrity vegans and the lifestyling of ethical consumption, Environmental Communication, 10:6, 777-790                                                                                                                                                                            Greenebaum, J. B. (2012b). Veganism, identity and the quest for authenticity. Food, Culture & Society, 12(1), 129–144.                                                                                                                                                                                                  IPCC (2018). ‘IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C Frequently Asked Questions’ Larsson, C. L., Rönnlund, U., Johansson, G., & Dahlgren, L. (2003). ‘Veganism as status passage: The process of becoming a vegan among youths in Sweden’. Appetite, 41, 61–67