Asceticism and hedonism in research discourses of veg*anism

Matthew Cole (City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Publication date: 4 July 2008



The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the dominance of an ascetic discourse of veg*anism in social research literature, and to relate it to a dominant hierarchical ordering of Western diets (to refer collectively to veganism and vegetarianism).


A review of the extant social research literature on veg*anism was undertaken in order to discern whether a consistent type of descriptive language existed. This facilitated an understanding of the way in which that language is constitutive of research generated understandings of veg*anism.


An ascetic discourse of veg*anism is dominant in social research. This is reflected in the phraseology used by authors. Typical descriptive terms of a veg*an diet include “strict”, “restrictive”, or “avoidance”. This ascetic discourse reproduces the hierarchical ordering of Western diets such that veg*anism is denigrated and made to seem “difficult” and abnormal.

Research limitations/implications

Veg*anism arguably promises multiple benefits for human, environmental, and nonhuman animal well‐being. The potential to realize those benefits is hampered by the perpetuation of an understanding of veg*anism as an ascetic practice.


This paper provides the first comprehensive examination of the language used to describe veg*anism within social research. It can enhance reflexivity on the part of social researchers interested in veg*anism, and help inform research design. In providing an alternative hedonic discourse of veg*anism, this paper also makes a contribution towards realizing the potential benefits of veg*anism through making it a more attractive dietary practice.



Cole, M. (2008), "Asceticism and hedonism in research discourses of veg*anism", British Food Journal, Vol. 110 No. 7, pp. 706-716.

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