Hannah Howard

A new study led by a student at Edge Hill University proves that there is a stigma against vegans that plays out on an almost daily basis.

Veganism is one of the fastest growing lifestyle choices and is a diet, lifestyle and social movement motivated by animal rights, environmental protection and human health. However, despite these noble goals most vegans can give examples of times when they have been ridiculed or stigmatised for living as a vegan.

Hannah Howard, who is currently studying a Masters in Social Science at Edge Hill, wanted to study how common this stigma was, what vegans in the North West had experienced of it and how they coped with being stigmatised.

Hannah said: “I love being a vegan and I think the UK is a great place to be one. However, I have seen first-hand that some people are happy to ridicule vegans in public.

“While I don’t want to make out life is difficult for vegans, I did want to work out whether the stigma can be proven to exist, how common it is, where it comes from and what vegan’s experiences of it are.

“I started off with a questionnaire given out to members of the public. Straight away it showed there was a stigma. There were many people who simply didn’t care or understand what a vegan was which is fine, but what also came through were a lot of stereotypes about preachy, hippy vegans looking to make a scene.”

After confirming the existence of the stigma, Hannah set out to find vegans she could interview to find out what their daily lives were like. She spoke to people who noted regular negative comments from non-vegans.

“While no one I spoke to had suffered any serious abuse almost everyone reported negative behaviour towards them. Examples given were of other people rolling their eyes, saying vegans are pushy or judgemental and also social media comments and online memes making fun of various parts of the vegan lifestyle.

“While none of this is serious or dangerous it was clear that it was a very common occurrence. Most of the people I interviewed expressed ‘having to put up with it’ or being tired of hearing comments which is sad to see.”

Hannah also looked at how vegans dealt with the stigma they faced and the coping strategies they used. She found four main techniques were employed – acceptance, avoidance, reduction and denial.

Hannah explained: “Acceptance is when vegans just ‘let it go’ and say nothing. Rejection means gently challenging the idea, maybe with a joke, a comeback or just telling someone to stop it. Reduction is a vegan accepting the stigma but trying to distance themselves from it, a typical example would be saying “I’m not one of those vegans”. Denial is when a vegan really tries to argue against the stigma and gets embroiled in a heated debate about the subject.

“You can tell just from imagining yourself in these situations that none of these reactions is particularly fun for the person involved. Most of the people I spoke to employed the easiest response which is acceptance.”

“While I’m sure some people will write my research off as ‘just another moaning vegan’, I hope it makes people questions their stigma against vegans. At the end of the day lots of people choose not to eat certain foods, vegans are no different.”

The study was conducted for Hannah’s dissertation as part of her Human Geography Course, the dissertation’s research was of such high quality that it was recently published in the Geoverse Geography Research Journal and can be read in full on their website.

Hannah has decided to continue her journey to study a Masters in Social Science and will continue her research into veganism and the lives of vegans.

If you would like to study Geography, Edge Hill University offers a variety of courses including BA (Hons) GeographyBSc (Hons) GeographyBSc (Hons) Geoenvironmental Hazards and BSc (Hons) Geography and Geology.