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Vegetarianism as social identity, a trend and a trope
The same old veggie stereotypes still follow me around
So many things in life are about our ideals and social identities.
Some prefer to follow the latest fashion trends and to buy expensive and exclusive clothes from Balenciaga, Gucci or Burberry. It’s not really my thing, but I googled it and seems like knee-high boots and baggy jeans ruled at Seoul Fashion Week 2021.
Others don’t really think about that, deciding what to wear in the morning depending on what they’ll see first in the wardrobe (yeah, that’s more like me). From the makeup you choose to put on, the colour of your hair, shoes, nails’ design, the music you listen to, books you read.. It’s all about you and the ways you express yourself non-verbally. Well, the diet you stick to can also say a lot about your identity.
A person’s beliefs, values, attitudes and well-being can be deeply affected by the decision to follow a meat-free diet. The correlation can be surprisingly interesting as the available data shows that vegetarians tend to be more pro-social and have more liberal political views, unlike omnivores. And if something influences you and people around you, it also influences and changes the society at large.
Going vegetarian, pescatarian or vegan is becoming more and more popular. Statistics show that a meat-free diet is followed by around 14% of adults in the UK, with a further 12% intending to adopt such a diet in 2021. Younger generations are at the front of those supporting the idea of vegetarianism or veganism, with 20% of Gen Z already doing so and another 26% planning to join them this year.
Social media has shone a light on videos and images exposing how animals are actually treated on farms and factories, bringing significant awareness to the problem.
A variety of studies have proven that the food system and raising farm animals are major drivers of climate change, with livestock being responsible for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities. Adopting a plant-based diet can literally save lives and reduce the already astronomical proportion overweight people. And last but not least, researchers also point out that there are great economic benefits of this dietary lifestyle, with billions that can be saved on healthcare, lost working days and sick pay.
When I was a kid, I had to look for informative documentaries on the topic of animals’ exploitation quite thoroughly. I found this amazing (and terrifying at the same time) documentary ‘Earthlings’, cried my eyes out while watching it and quit eating meat straight after.
However, even though there are a variety of different positive trends, changes and traits that can be picked up thanks to vegetarianism, its movement and ideology, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been mocked for my diet. I got used to that pretty quickly and it didn’t bother me at all, but I started wondering if there was any correlation between the way vegetarianism is portrayed in popular culture and stereotypes about vegetarians that I’ve heard millions of times. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t hard to find:
1 - Hypersensitive girly animal-lover
The main character of this stereotype is either a teenager or a single woman who loves animals almost too much. This affection is the main reason for her to quit eating meat. It’s not a bad choice, but these characters are often portrayed as soooo sensitive towards cuddly creatures as it starts to seem quite unbalanced. For example, the movie “Year of the dog”. In this movie, the main character Molly, single and sad, reconsiders her life after her dog’s death. After this major event, she goes vegan, becomes an animal right activist and also adopts a whole army of stray dogs. Throughout the movie, her neighbours and co-workers view her behaviour as weird and anti-social, treating her almost like she was mentally ill.
Or, take the ‘Fun with Veil’ episode of ‘South Park’, where a male character falls into this stereotype, even though it’s usually girls who are that ‘crazy’. There, Stan goes with his classmates on a field trip to a farm. He decides to save the little cows from being slaughtered and stops eating meat after the trip. His friend tells him that “if you stop eating meat, you become a pussy”. After going vegetarian, he gets sick, and his doctor has to feed him beef blood intravenously. “That’s to stop him from being a pussy”, he says.
2 - Crazy vegan troublemaker
This one is usually about those radical vegetarians or vegans, who always patronise and moralise meat-eaters. This stereotype can be displayed on the example of Lisa from “The Simpsons”, where she tries to stop a pig roast at her father’s barbeque, messing up a whole community event. The plotline of this one is usually in how to make the anti-social vegetarian reconsider their beliefs or, if that is not possible, in how to neutralise them.
3 - Poser with a Hippie phase
This one is about vegetarianism or veganism being just a trait of the hippie subculture. The stereotype usually falls into the trope where the vegetarian diet or the hippie lifestyle can be easily abandoned by hypocritical hippie vegetarians, or when they don’t even fully understand what it means. Some of the representatives of this stereotype are Shaggy from “Scooby Doo”, one of the Scott’s foes (where he eats chicken parmesan, not being aware of the fact that it wasn’t vegan) from “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” and even Phoebe from “Friends”.
Having said that, stereotypes are not always that bad. After all, they give us a general understanding and idea on a subject we might not know much about.
But we need to be aware that often they can be quite misleading. Not everyone has to follow a certain way of life or stick to a certain diet, as the world is too complicated for only right or wrong concepts.
It may well be that we, as responsible members of society, are obliged to educate ourselves on as many things as possible, broadening our horizons in a goal to see the bigger picture of our world and people around us, even if it does mean giving up steaks.