Investigating the Vegan Speech Community: Interviews

After a week of fun conversations with some interesting individuals, I have officially finished part one of my project: interviewing vegans.

My project began last week with two interviews in one day. I headed to my first location for a mid-morning interview and, after a brief lunch, booked it to my second interview across town for some afternoon tea. If there is one thing I have learned from carrying out these recorded interviews, it is that passionate individuals LOVE to talk. I was concerned that it would be difficult to keep individuals talking for a solid hour, that it might feel awkward, or that I would run out of questions. However, my first participant didn’t even require a question before she was off and running about her “how I became a vegan story.” In fact, I often found myself worrying that I wouldn’t get to the questions I needed to rather than running through them too quickly!

Both interviews were extremely enjoyable, easily lasting for more than an hour. I was invited into my participants’ homes and businesses to speak with them, which I felt helped them feel more relaxed speaking to me. Not only did I learn some new things about the individuals’ vegan lifestyles, but I already began discovering new linguistic characteristics of their speech community. One of these revelations concerned the difference between “vegans” and individuals who follow a “whole plant-based diet.” In fact, my first participant was careful to say that they never called themselves a vegan. My second participant elaborated on this to say while many individuals follow a plant-based diet for health reasons, “veganism” is typically associated with the ideology and lifestyle that accompanies choosing not to consume animal products. As a result, my second participant, who ate a whole plant-based diet for ethical reasons such as animal rights and the benefit of the environment, considered themselves a true “vegan.” This was a distinction I had not previously been aware of, and I look forward to investigating this further in my research.

While the rest of the week saw the beginnings of transcribing the interviews, on Thursday I packed up for a four-hour drive to visit my grandparents, who were acquaintances with a well-known vegan activist in their area. After arriving at my grandparents’ house and chowing down on a brief lunch, I headed to an extremely enjoyable afternoon interview that lasted well over an hour. This participant also drew a distinction between the terms mentioned above, emphasizing that they never called themselves a vegan. However, they were now beginning to understand some of the aspects of the vegan ideology BESIDES health and were slowly transitioning into that way of life. They were extremely enthusiastic, and not only were they very happy to talk to me, but they showed me their bookshelf committed to vegan literature and sent me home with a printed out copy of the article they had read that had originally inspired their transition to the diet.

My three interviews were so much fun, especially since each participant was so passionate about the subject and because all of the participants had such different ideas of what it meant to be a vegan and how much they considered themselves to accurately fit that description. In fact, I enjoyed this part of my project so much that if I find myself with extra time, I would be very interested in expanding my participant pool across a larger age variety. However, for now, I embark on the enormous task of transcribing the conversations before I begin my analysis. Next week: transcription.



  1. rjschwartz says:

    Hi Kate!

    I’ve never even thought about the language behind veganism, so reading about your project was really fascinating to me! I’m really curious about what inspired you to do this research in the first place- if you have friends or family who are vegans or if you are just really interested in the subject? I’ve definitely never thought about the linguistic side of some common practices, and it seems like your interviews revealed that it’s a bigger deal than I would have imagined! The difference in motivation behind being a vegan or eating a whole plant-based diet was really interesting. Do you think that there will be an age-related difference in how people interpret the language behind veganism? Looking forward to reading your next update- good luck!

  2. kesandberg says:

    Hi there!

    I’m so glad you found my research topic interesting! While I myself am not a vegan, my dad has been a vegan for the past six years or so, and a few of my family members also follow the diet as well. As a result, I’ve been exposed to lots of literature, talks, and Youtube videos about the topic, so I developed quite the curiosity for the community! I’ve noticed a lot of differences in how individuals interpret the diet and lifestyle, whether that means being oil-free in addition to vegan, not wearing any clothing made from animals, or even restricting a diet to entirely raw food and consuming nothing cooked. So, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the commonalities within the community, since so much variety exists!

    Based on my interviews, I think there is a big difference between ages, both in the motivations for becoming a vegan and in the ways that individuals interpret the language. It seems to me that members of the younger generation often enter the lifestyle for ethical reasons like the environment or animal welfare, while members of the older generation often change their diet to whole-plant as a result of health issues before they become interested in more of the ethical aspects of the lifestyle. I also think that the younger generation is much more open to hearing about the diet in general than older individuals, since it may be seen as more of a threat to the “status quo” by someone who is older.

    I just posted my next update this afternoon about how I am carrying out the transcription of the interviews, so I hope you’ll continue following my project. Thanks so much for your interest!

  3. rjschwartz says:

    Hi Kate!

    Thanks for replying! Sounds really cool- I’ll definitely check it out!

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