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Vegan: Stylish or Stigmatizing? Why it Matters

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(Marilyn Barbone/Dreamstime)

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Wednesday, 19 February 2020 02:58 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Defining Dietary Deviance

Burger King recently made headlines after a vegan customer filed a lawsuit alleging the food chain’s Impossible Whopper was marketed as meatless, when it was cooked on the same grill as burgers made with meat.

According to the New York Post, the plaintiff claims there are no disclosures on the menu that alerts consumers that Burger King’s cooking method would result in the meatless patty being contaminated by  meat by-products.

On the other hand, the Post also notes that Burger King states that it did not advertise the Impossible Whopper as vegan, had previously disclosed its "open kitchen" cooking practices, and permits vegans and vegetarians to request their meatless patties be prepared in an oven as opposed to in a shared broiler.

Legal merits aside, the social discussion surrounding this incident took place not in a courtroom, but within the court of public opinion. 

Vegans Find Their Voice

After the story broke, non-vegans expressed surprise that vegans would be patronizing a drive through restaurant in the first place — as if fast food chains only sell meat, and vegetarian-types get a longer lunch hour than meat eaters.

Vegans spoke up as well, prompted to take a closer look at how their own orders would be prepared.  Fast food chains, on their part, were no doubt examining their own meatless menus, making sure they are very clear about vegan options, so they do not become the next restaurant to be sued.

One very important "byproduct" (pun intended) of the story, is the reminder that there are apparently many more vegans than some people realize.  Sure, a plant-based burger is not appetizing to everyone.  But there are apparently enough takers to have prompted many restaurants to offer it as a meat-free alternative. 

Vegan Health

For many people, being vegan is part of a healthy lifestyle.  We all know people who proudly identify with a meatless diet, sharing recipes and restaurant recommendations, often revealing veganism as the secret to their svelte figure or high energy level.

But other people are private about their plant-based diet plans.

Even superstar Miley Cyrus reportedly took close to a year to publicly announce her dietary transformation to veganism, although fans note that she apparently hinted it about it on Instagram. 

So if being vegan is more common than is disclosed, why do people feel the need to keep their meatless existence under wraps?

Research has some answers:

Vegan "Stealth"

Kelly L. Markowski and Susan Roxburgh (2019) examined how stigmatization may impact the decision to go meat free. In "If I Became a Vegan, My Family and Friends Would Hate Me," they examine how vegans and others who avoid meat are sometimes stigmatized for "disrupting social conventions" with respect to food. Investigating the subject through examining the outcome of a series of focus groups, they found that people who are not vegan anticipate stigma associated with vegan eating.

Two Strategies 

Markowski and Roxburgh (ibid.) identified two strategies through which non-vegans attempt to circumvent this identified stigma were social and behavioral distancing.  Markowski and Roxburgh note that the presence of this "vegan stigma" might prevent people from adopting a plant-based diet.  They note the importance of their results in connection with the public health concern related to meat over-consumption, and public health initiatives which encourage plant-based diet options.

Many people would enjoy enormous health benefits from a plant-based diet, and should not be afraid to make the switch. And they would be in good company, as more vegans come forward all the time.  From A-listers to athletes, movie stars to models, veganism is trending. 

Defining Vegan Chic

Is it cool to be vegan?  If you are taking your cue from famous personalities, the answer appears to be yes.  From Paul McCartney to Venus and Serena Williams, Madonna to Megan Markle — at least during the week, many famous people swear by a vegan diet. 

Some celebrities made the switch due to their love of animals, others for health reasons. 

But regardless of the rationale, their open embrace of a plant-based diet as part of a healthy lifestyle is slowly replacing stigma with style.

With more vegans openly embracing a meatless lifestyle, restaurant chains have to keep up with demand.  In retrospect, the Burger King lawsuit may be viewed not as an anomaly, but as a sign of the times.

This column was originally published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Is it cool to be vegan?  If you are taking your cue from famous personalities, the answer appears to be yes.  From Paul McCartney to Venus and Serena Williams, Madonna to Megan Markle — at least during the week, many famous people swear by a vegan diet. 
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Wednesday, 19 February 2020 02:58 AM
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