Graduation Year

2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Sociology

Major Professor

Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Spencer Cahill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Chris Ponticelli, Ph.D.

Keywords

diet, food, identity construction, symbolic interaction, boundary work

Abstract

My research uses participants' understandings to look at how people define and use the identities and categories of "vegetarian" and "meat-eater." My research examines what it means to be vegetarian, how ideals and moral hierarchies are understood, and how issues of identity importance, social support, and boundary work are components of vegetarian identity construction processes. My research highlights the unmarked character of the meat-eating identity and investigates the variations and complexities of eating behaviors and identities. Learning more about how both vegetarians and meat-eaters construct vegetarian identities contributes to our understanding of identities and how, despite ambiguities, people experience identities. I further previous work by focusing more on the boundaries and interactions that become meaningful when supporting ones identity. Through one-on-one in-depth interviews, I draw out perspectives and understandings of vegetarian and meat-eating meaning-making processes.This research demonstrates how, despite numerous variations within and between groups, people develop more or less socially shared ideas of what it means to be vegetarian, what vegetarian ideals are, and what moral meanings are produced by various eating behaviors. These ideas run through issues of vegetarian identity, including: identity importance, social support, and boundary work. Vegetarians and meat-eaters' interactions involve cognitive processing, self-presentations, and negotiations that are not as oppositional as stereotypical social ideas suggest. Meat-eaters play an active role throughout many of these vegetarian identity construction processes and provide a more balanced picture of them. Meat-eaters at times engage with vegetarians in the issues of vegetarian ideals, moral hierarchies, identity importance, social support, and boundary work.

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