Does #vegan mean vegan?

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

How much influence does Instagram have on vegan consumption habits? Image Source: Getty Images/Tim Robberts
How much influence does Instagram have on vegan consumption habits? Image Source: Getty Images/Tim Robberts

Related tags Instagram Social media vegan

How closely do Instagram posts using the hashtag ‘vegan’ influence the consumption habits of those engaging with them offline?

Many of our enduring cultural trends, including those around food, are found on social media​. But can social media actually go one further and influence our eating habits. Does #vegan mean vegan?

There are more than 125 million posts on Instagram containing the hashtag ‘vegan’. But does this actually have any impact on what people eat once they’ve logged off?

A research paper in the journal Appetite ​conducted four studies on the phenomenon, exploring the kind of information environment Instagram is for eating vegan, as well as what its relationship is with offline consumption habits and whether liking or commenting on vegan posts can be linked to eating vegan.

What themes were expressed by #vegan posts on Instagram?

First, the paper looked at the topics Instagram users focused on in posts using the ‘vegan’ hashtag.

The first study collected 10,062 Instagram posts using the hashtag ‘vegan’, finding that 33.8% of these referred to food, followed by 30.99% which were centred around the topic of photography. 21.6% were strongly associated with health, and 13.62% were associated with cosmetics. Some hashtags were also associated with animal welfare and the environment, which, the study speculates, could suggest motives for following a vegan diet.

The second study looked at another 34,254 Instagram posts using the hashtag ‘vegan’, assessing what images they contained and, using the accompanying text, what the sentiment of the post was.

The study found that 34.7% contained images of food (19.5% savoury, 15.2% pastry) and 30.4% showed non-food products, which were often cosmetics. 7.9% of posts contained people, and 2% contained animals. 25% did not fit into these categories, and instead showed things such as a tree, a door, a hand, and text.

Regarding sentiment, between 65% and 73% were characterised as positive, 21% to 28% as neutral, and 3% to 14% as negative. Those images which contained people were most likely to have a positive sentiment, whereas those containing animals were most likely to have a negative sentiment.

Does social media drive vegan consumption?

Studies have already found that social media can drive offline eating behaviours, although these studies are usually focused on un​healthy eating. Social media engagement has been found to be linked to an increase in unhealthy food consumption in children.

However, this paper explored social media content in relation to vegan food consumption. Study three used questionnaires to assess whether the people who had posted the Instagram posts included in the first study followed a vegan diet.

The study found that around 58.1% of the participants follow a vegan diet all of the time, alongside a further 31.6% who follow one most of the time or often.

The study found that mere exposure to vegan content on Instagram was related to positive attitudes about veganism, as well as higher perceived behavioural control. Being exposed to content about veganism was a better predictor of eating habits than posting them. However, social norms were not a good predictor of eating habits.

The fourth and final study explored whether peer pressure, social identity, social support (whether comments on Instagram posts make their authors feels supported), social comparison, modelling (whether one uses vegan influencers as role models), relatedness, and self-identity had any affect on one’s willingness to eat a vegan diet.

Self-identity and attitudes predicted offline eating intentions. In other words, the study suggested, social media shapes how one sees oneself, and by extension their behaviours. However, social comparison and relatedness did not correlate significantly with offline eating intentions or online engagement.

Sourced From: Appetite
'From Pixels to Palate: Communication Around #vegan on Instagram and Its Relation With Eating Intentions'
Published on: 25 May 2024
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2024.107518
Authors: P. Kadel, N. Heist, H. Paulheim, J. Mata

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