Teen Vegans Get By With A Little Help From Their Friends (and Subculture)
The U.S. is currently going through major consumer culture shifts focused around “going green” and buying local, a kind of socially conscious consumption that is concerned with food and its methods of production. Past research has shown that adults’ consumption patterns tend to be linked to home ownership and networks of neighbors and social circles. Whereas youth consumption can often be a reflection of a “search for ethical consistency,” where they try to ensure their everyday actions reflect their ideals. Veganism and vegeterianism is more common in younger age groups, but what makes a teen become vegan, and stay vegan? According to this study, “existing research describes much of what occurs once a person has joined a lifestyle movement, but they are less useful for explaining recruitment into such a movement.”
This paper looks at the issue of “recruitment,” through the lens of subculture and social circles. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 23 vegans in their twenties, discussing how and why they became vegan, and what factors encouraged them to stay vegan. The overarching results of the study show that maintenance of veganism requires two major things: the social support of friends and family, and the participation in veganism as a lifestyle movement (as opposed to a nutritional / dietary movement). However, the research also found that participation in “the punk subculture,” in particular, “further facilitated these processes of recruitment to and maintenance of veganism as a lifestyle movement.”
All of the 23 participants self-identified as vegan, and 11 of them also identified as punk. Though there are a range of subcategories of punk (such as anarcho, bike, crust, and peace punks), the participants in this study generally identified as “political punk” or “hardcore punk,” both of which are generally focused on politics and ideology. Getting into punk music itself was sometimes part of a “catalytic” event that made someone go vegan, but more often it was a mechanism that reinforced the motivations for being vegan. “By playing in bands, writing zines, going to potlucks at shows, or working with Food Not Bombs,” teenagers continuously checked and re-checked their commitment to the cause, and participated in a community that supported that same ideology. Interestingly, the researchers found that the teen vegans they studied got support for their veganism from family as well as their subculture, showing that these two aspects of a person’s life do not necessarily have to be at odds.
As the animal advocacy movement grows and becomes more mainstream, there has been a push to “professionalize” veganism and make it palatable for all walks of life. Though this is a positive thing, we shouldn’t forget that subculture is also a powerful tool in making and retaining vegans. What’s more, we should keep in mind that some of the punks of the present are the professionals of the future, so this punk subculture can cross over to all parts of society. As animal advocates, we can support and nurture both mainstream and subcultural forms of veganism through our work.