Demographics of Participants
Ages ranged from 22 to 50. 10/12 were in their 20s.
11 had started or completed some form of tertiary education, and only one had not completed high school.
A variety of genders were present; cis male, cis female, genderqueer, trans male, trans female. Not surprisingly, most respondents were women. Women have always been one of the most common groups involved in animal rights.
Four were from Australia, five from the USA and three from the UK.
Poverty: What is it?
For my thesis, I let people decide for themselves if they were living in poverty and didn't give a number to it. I understand that definitions of poverty change in order to suit the situation or government. I also understand that people have different circumstances and that poverty is not so simple as an income test. Below is a little graph showing the spread of incomes as compared to the official poverty rates of their respective countries. As you can see, people had very different incomes but still considered themselves to be living in poverty. This is because poverty rates are very one dimensional.
One of the people I interviewed had actually decided to be poor because they wanted to participate as little as possible in capitalism.
Veganism: What is it?
Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as practical and possible, the exploitation of non-human animals (paraphrased from The Vegan Society). Basically, vegans are people who try not to hurt, harm or use animals for their own gains. It goes far beyond food, into entertainment, clothing, and more. I've written about vegan myths here before if you're interested.
Why was it important to them to maintain veganism while they were poor?
Half of the people I spoke to explicitly mentioned ethical reasons for staying vegan while poor, such as animal rights and environmentalism. Because I asked for ethical vegans when I put out the call for interviewees, it's assumed that's how all of them probably felt. Four of them mentioned that it helped them stay healthy, and helped to keep costs down. Three said that veganism gave them something positive to hold on to while they were poor.
What role did social networks and families play?
For many, social networks, families and partners helped a lot with food sharing and financial support. Eight people got a lot of support from family, while two had to deal with family being unsupportive or downright hostile. Half of them mentioned their mothers or mother-in-laws as being the most supportive and helpful.
Most people had supportive friends, although one person mentioned having friends push meat and cheese on to their skin and mouth. A lot of people changed their networks so that they were surrounded by more vegans, although one lady had no vegan friends and instead experienced ridicule for her choice to be vegan. Interestingly, one woman received more negativity for being poor than being vegan.
The internet was a useful tool for most of the people I spoke to; it helped them to information, motivation and support. It also allowed some of them to be involved in activism.
Overall, social networks helped people to maintain their mental health, physical health and veganism through sharing skills, knowledge and resources. I think that vegans, as a group, need to do more to help new and existing vegans, especially those living in poverty.
What were some of the difficulties they faced being vegan and poor?
One lady was disabled and had next to no social support; I often wonder what happened to her and if she's okay. She was struggling to get food or keep her house.
Two vegans mentioned buying healthcare products and secondhand products that were not vegan, but were the most ethical options available to them. It makes me sad that we've created a movement that focuses so much on 'purity' that people are afraid to look after themselves.
Many of the people I interviewed wished that they could do more to help others financially, or by volunteering or taking in animals. Half of the people I talked to said that they lived with and cared for nonhuman animals. Collectively, they cared for 12 cats, 4 dogs, 3 newts, 2 horses, 1 bearded dragon, 1 gerbil and a lot of fish. Most of these animals were adopted. Nearly all of the people I spoke to volunteered and gave money to charity and yet they were living in poverty; animal rights, then human rights and environmentalism charities, as well as individuals, were popular choices and lots of research went into choosing these organisations.
Mental health was something that one third of the people I spoke to were affected by, either personally or due to their partner having poor mental health. This is not an uncommon situation for people living in poverty.
Physical health, on the other hand, seemed to be something that most of the respondents felt was better now that they were vegan, even though they were poor. However, some did struggle to maintain the right levels of nutrition and healthy eating due to poverty and mental health problems (which were linked to their poverty).
Some interesting ideas:
If you would like to read the thesis in its entirety, I will put it up on Academia soon. A warning though - it is about 100 pages long. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Also please understand that I wrote this nearly a full two years ago and a lot has changed in that time.
Apologies for taking so long to get this up. In all honesty, because I didn't get Honours IA and therefore a PhD scholarship, I saw this thesis as a failure and got pretty emotional about it, so I put it in a metaphorical dark room and shut the door behind me. But now it gets to see the light of day (or the internet). Enjoy, share, comment. Thank you.
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