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The Politics and the Demographics of Veganism: Notes for a Critical Analysis

Abstract

The present essay aims to offer some reflections concerning the cultural and political aspects of veganism, on the basis of the available surveys and statistics, plus some more gathered by the authors—with the tools of different methodologies, including the semiotic one. After an introduction to veganism as phenomenon and movement, with general reflections and also a number of specific data, the essay proceeds to focus on the more political aspects, with an emphasis on some of the most intriguing and multifaceted data, such as the prevalence of female gender, leftist political inclinations and atheism within the vegan community. While the first connection has already been widely discussed (and to our mind, proved) since the times of Adams (The sexual politics of meat: a feminist-vegetarian critical theory, Continuum, New York, 1990), much less has been said (particularly at academic level) about the significance leftist ideologies and atheism within veganism. Moreover, within the domain of semiotics, this topic is entirely unexplored.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Keeping up with popular culture references, it may be interesting to note that in the same period (1982, to be exact), Roger Waters of the Pink Floyd had expressed his preoccupation that vegetarianism was only another palliative adopted by people to fill the existential gaps of an increasingly-alienated society: “Shall we give up meat?” is indeed one of the many bitterly-ironic interrogatives posed in the song “What Shall We Do Now?”, from the film The Wall (along with—what Waters may have imagined as - equally-disturbing prospects like "Shall we drop bombs… break up homes… contract diseases…").

  2. 2.

    Of course, a significant distinction should be made here between Dharmic religions, which often forbid the consumption of meat, and Abrahamic religions, which regularly allow it. The question of the anthropocentrism and anthropocracy, however (we are going to define these two terms later in this essay), remains more or less consistent across all religions, with some marginal differences and with very few exceptions, at least at the level of mainstream faiths.

  3. 3.

    Although, oddly, his most famous quote ("the time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they look upon the murder of man") has been proven to be a fake (it was a quote attributed to him in a historical fiction novel by Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky called The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci). Leonardo's passionate animal advocacy and vegetarianism are documented already by his contemporaries (like Andrea Corsali's famous letter to Lorenzo de' Medici, in which his abstinence from "anything which has blood" is mentioned) [36].

  4. 4.

    Unlike Leonardo’s certified vegetarianism, the popular belief that Hitler was vegetarian too is still under debate, the thesis having equally supporters (such as Bullock [8]) and detractors (such as Berry [6]).

  5. 5.

    Just as an informal exercise, one may perhaps connect this state of things to the generally-held opinion that, specific differences aside, leftist ideologies are usually more focused on the political discourse as such, while part of the rightist culture consist also of a conscious rejection of it. The notion of “anti-politics”, for instance (and the current world situation in USA, UK, Italy and other countries, is a perfect illustration of this), tends to be much more popular among rightist circles, than leftist ones.

  6. 6.

    Again, informally speaking, we may here inaugurate a discussion on the difference between "stated ideology" and "de facto ideology". From a leftist perspective, a figure like Stalin may have "belonged" to a communist political force, but he equally showed no real coherence with the latter, when looking at his authoritarian and repressive actions. From a rightist perspective, the two dimensions are perfectly compatible, as Stalin’s actions are perceived to be exactly what a communist ideology and system leads to.

  7. 7.

    Only in the Italian political panorama, one can count numerous (and definitely more than five) and diverse right-wing parties: from the infamous Partito Fascista, to the one that gathered its heritage (and people) after the war, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (in turn, split into equally-recognizable forces around the 1990’s: Alleanza Nazionale, Lista Rauti, etc.); from Berlusconi’s disastrous (for Italian economy and culture) Forza Italia to the openly-racist Lega Nord; from the moderate-conservative Partito Liberale Italiano to the shortly-lived Unione Monarchica… the list is very long.

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Martinelli, D., Berkmanienė, A. The Politics and the Demographics of Veganism: Notes for a Critical Analysis. Int J Semiot Law 31, 501–530 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-018-9543-3

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Keywords

  • Veganism
  • Ideology
  • Animal rights
  • Demographics
  • Politics
  • Environment