Food is more than an act of consumption as it can help create meaning, frame interactions, unite, and set apart. Given the social significance of food and eating practices, dietary changes can be met with celebration or judgment. In the case of veganism and vegetarianism in Western countries, the shift towards a plant-based and/or animal-free diet can induce negative social responses and complicate relationships with friends or family members who do not share similar practices or values. Therefore, I suggest that the interdisciplinary field of food studies would benefit greatly from more vegan and vegetarian scholarship. Veganism and vegetarianism can be studied through a vast array of topics, such as socially conscious consumption, consumer resistance, boundaries, practices, and knowledge sharing initiatives among vegan or vegetarian publics. One article in particular, Kathryn Asher and Elizabeth Cherry’s “Home Is Where the Food Is: Barriers to Vegetarianism and Veganism in the Domestic Sphere” sheds light on the sometimes difficult act of transitioning to a meat-free diet by tackling the systemic and discursive barriers that exist in the family sphere. I suggest that this 2015 article is a relevant starting point for further research in the field because of its informative literature review, its analysis of class systems and agency, and its brief presentation of the rationale motivating vegan and vegetarian diets.
Drawing from literature on gender, family, and food, Asher and Cherry introduce the interpersonal obstacles that arise when a given person departs from an omnivorous diet. For instance, they note that family members hold influential roles in assuring a successful transition, as “individuals are often unwelcoming of another family member’s adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet” (84). They shed light on the gendered dynamics within heterosexual households and food preferences in nuclear families through the ongoing power struggles that shape what is on the dinner menu. Interestingly, Asher and Cherry note that, while women and mothers are often targeted to instill change in dietary habits, they also carry the burden of catering to traditional understandings of “proper meals,” which include meat. Asher and Cherry address the systemic impacts of social class and race on healthy food affordability. Discrepancies in food access can lead to fewer healthy alternatives, making it increasingly difficult to shift towards a more produce-based/fresh food diet. Finally, “Home is Where the Food Is” situates the underlying discourses, ideologies, and systemic inequalities that can hinder an effective transition towards a vegetarian or vegan diet. By identifying how the dominant omnivorous discourse privileges meat “in the domestic hierarchy of meals,” Asher and Cherry highlight how daily dietary routines are perpetuated (70). While their article does not contain an exhaustive list of hindrances for the adoption of vegan or vegetarian dietary practices, the co-authors acknowledge the importance of exploring other factors by suggesting overlooked approaches (i.e.. Are similar barriers present in single-family or same-gender households?).
With the rise of veganism and the prominence of vegan celebrities, the field of food studies is presented with several possible research directions. For instance, studying countercultural food habits opens the door to larger issues of hegemonic food practices, accessibility, and/or dominant discourses. Do socioeconomic factors impact the possibility of transitioning towards a plant-based diet? How do vegans negotiate their dietary practices in omnivorous social circles? In addition to conflicts within the vegan movement as to what can be considered “authentic” vegan behavior, exploring tensions in more intimate spheres or mixed social circles can highlight the dynamics of negotiation that occur when one eliminates meat (and animal products altogether) from one’s diet. In conclusion, I suggest that the importance of “Home Is Where the Food Is” is twofold. Firstly, it provides insight into the possible intersections between veganism/vegetarianism as well as surrounding social and class dynamics. Secondly, Asher and Cherry offer a steppingstone toward interdisciplinary research that situates plant-based and/or animal-free dietary practices in an ongoing flow of culture, politics, socioeconomic factors, and (inter)personal relationships.
Alexandra Pelletier is a PhD candidate in Communication at the Université du Québec à Montréal in Québec, Canada. She holds a Master’s in Communication from the Université de Montréal (2015), where she studied media discourses and political controversies. In 2017, she began her PhD, which rekindled her love for digital culture and all things food. Her current research explores the intersections of veganism, knowledge collaboration initiatives, and digital media.