Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

McLaren, Rachel M

First Committee Member

Afifi, Tamara D

Second Committee Member

Duck, Steve W

Third Committee Member

High, Andrew C

Fourth Committee Member

Colvin, Carolyn


Approximately 7.5 million people in the U.S. subscribe to a vegan diet and thus don't consume any animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, or eggs. Despite the considerable growth of veganism in the last decade, little is known about how people communicate about such a seemingly restrictive diet and what implications this might have for communication theory and the growing field of food studies. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore how vegans communicatively negotiate their identity through the lens of Hecht's (1993) communication theory of identity (CTI).

I conducted phone interviews with forty vegans residing across the U.S. and completed thematic analysis to qualitatively analyze interviews. Four themes emerged to describe the ways vegans enact their identity (Facilitating Smooth Interactions, Wearing Symbols of Veganism, Vegan Food Preparation and Consumption, Education and Community Engagement), and three themes emerged to illustrate the relational identities that vegans co-construct with members of their social network (Accepted and Supported, Inconvenience to the Family, Happiest with a Vegan (Friendly) Partner). Vegans explained that they engage in a variety of communication strategies (e.g., focusing on the positive) to thoughtfully craft an identity that will be well-received by others. Additionally, participants explained that they are not only supported by members of their social network, but that this support is an integral part of their relational identity. Lastly, I analyzed participant accounts to see if any discrepancies (i.e., identity gaps; Jung & Hecht, 2004) emerged between the ways vegans negotiate their identity. Results indicate that some vegans experience or create up to four different identity gaps between different layers of identity (Personal-Enacted Gap, Relational-Enacted Gap, Enacted-Enacted Gap, Community-Personal Gap). Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Public Abstract

Current research estimates that approximately 7.5 million people in the United States subscribe to a vegan diet and thus don’t consume any form of animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, or eggs. Additionally, the number of non-vegans who periodically consume vegan and vegetarian products (often termed “flexitarians”) for various reasons has also grown considerably. Despite the growth of the vegan (a.k.a. plant-based) food industry, relatively little is known about how people talk about veganism. Scholarly research demonstrates that the way people talk about their diet can not only influence how they eat, but also the quality of their social relationships (e.g., if they are supported by others). Therefore, the goal of this study was to explore the communicative experiences of vegans.

I conducted interviews with forty vegans across the U.S. I found that while many vegans are often happy and eager to discuss their identity, a number of them actively hide or withhold their identity, at least initially, to avoid perceived communication challenges such as explaining veganism or refuting negative stereotypes. However, participants emphasized that they are happy to talk to people about veganism if they are genuinely interested, and a handful of them explained that they help mentor aspiring vegans and vegetarians, and/or spend time engaging in public outreach (e.g., giving lectures). Most participants in this study indicated that they are overwhelmingly supported by friends and family members, and that this has a considerable impact on the quality of their life and their personal relationships. Participants also underscored that having a vegan (friendly) partner is incredibly rewarding and allows them to connect on a deeper emotional level than might otherwise be possible with a partner who doesn’t support or understand veganism. Taken together, the results of this study can help inform current vegans, family members and friends of vegans, and people who are interested in becoming vegan.


publicabstract, Communication theory of identity, Food, Identity, Interpersonal communication, Vegan


xi, 149 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 136-149).


Copyright 2016 Christina Gabrielle Paxman

Included in

Communication Commons