PhD vegan research you should know about

Catherine has been vegetarian her whole life and became a vegan in 2013. She is a social-cultural-political geographer, just finishing her PhD researching historical, contemporary and future veganism in the UK.

“One of the most important things I've learned is to not treat veganism as its own thing,” says Catherine. “Because it’s entangled with all these other things.”

Vegans should care about human issues too

“None of the vegans I've spoken to (and none of the vegans in the archives I've read) only cared about veganism.”

“Most of the people cared about so many other things. I think that comes with veganism. If we care about animals, we care about human issues too.”

“I think we need to think about how we do veganism. If we just do it as veganism it ignores all the other oppression that's leading into it. And creating the conditions for animals to be treated in this way.”

“We need to think about the ways we can prevent veganism becoming another kind of profit for big corporations like Wetherspoons and McDonalds. I can see it going that way at the moment.”

“How do we both support that and not support that is one of the most important questions” Catherine muses. “It makes it so accessible.”

Veganism isn’t black and white

“But we have to be honest about the nuances of veganism,” Catherine continues. “And honest about the kind of hypocrisy that means. Honest about the challenges. About the no-one’s perfect-ness of it.”

“And that's why it's important to entangle it with other systems and structures.”

“Unless we lived just the vegans on a perfect island with no outside impact, it's never going to be perfect.”

“It's always going to be challenging and contradict itself.”

Honest friends make us better vegans

Catherine did a placement with the British Library, where she read Richard D. Ryder’s archives. She explained to us that one of the most interesting takeaways she had related to the friendship between a group of activists in the UK. Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Richard D. Ryder.

“In their letters they called each other friends,” Catherine tells us. “Their communications as friends really sustained the work they were doing.”

“I call it friendship specifically because friendships aren't always positive. You get frustrated with your friends. You have to call your friends out.”

“And you take your principles into your friendships. And I think that was really evident in the historical work of what friendship is. It's not this airy-fairy: 'Let's just be friends.'”

“It's a friendship that's political and ethical. It's focused on working to do something.”

“Two years ago my mum rescued some laying hens. I’ve spent a lot of time with the chickens and thinking about how we could live together. How can we change the world with them in mind.”

Most vegans promote animal rights every day

As part of her research Catherine interviewed vegans.

“I think one of the most interesting things coming out of that was the way vegans talked about truth. How much people's lives changed when they become vegan, because they have this new truth.”

Catherine explains that all the vegans she interviewed were interested in finding the best way to communicate about animal rights. Many thought that quiet activism or online activism could be the way forward.

“What became important to activists was telling this truth every day in conversation and online,” she explains. “Rather than only engaging with it in exceptional events like protests.”

There is strength in online vegan activism

“People are now more connected in online spaces and are living more of their time online.”

“If you see a protest you can just walk around it. You can avoid it. If you're not a vegan and see a lot of people protesting you just go a different way.”

“We're all online. And if enough of us are constantly posting then everyone is going to be exposed to the truth of eating animals.”

“So by all sharing it becomes seeded into non-vegan everyday spaces. You might scroll through the first ten but, eventually, people may be like 'well I'm seeing this everywhere what is it?'”

“If people are talking about it enough (both online and offline), eventually someone is going to be open to having that conversation with you.”

Veganism hasn’t always had a definition

Catherine explains how she traced the history of veganism in the UK. One of the things she did was read the first The Vegan Society’s magazines which are available online.

She told us that the vegan society started in 1944 fronted by Donald Watson.

“Donald Watson started the vegan society largely to do with health and soil degradation in the UK,” Catherine tells us.

“Leslie Cross became the chair of the vegan society in 1949. He wrote the definition of veganism that the vegan society use, not Donald Watson.”

In the 70s the vegan movement became stronger

Catherine explains that there are three arguments for veganism that make the movement what it is today. These are health benefits, environmental concern and, of course, animal rights.

“The 1970s wider context of the green movement was when people started tying together veganism and the environment.”

“I think it's at that point when you've got all three parts of the triangle. That's when the movement became really effective in arguing its point.”

“For me, I'm in it for the animals.”

How Catherine began studying veganism at PhD level

In 2013, Catherine was an undergraduate studying Human Geography, and in one module, Mediated Geographies, she was asked to write an essay about how media affects society.

She wrote about Earthlings, a documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, which was the catalyst of her veganism.

"I watched about 20 minutes of Earthlings,” says Catherine. “And I went vegan that night. I always thought I was doing the right thing for animals. And then I realised, when I watched Earthlings, that I was harming animals. I felt so sick. I cried all night.”

Catherine’s Master's thesis was based on Carol J. Adams work. Carol J. Adams authored The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. When she completed her Master’s, Catherine started her PhD.

Want to do some vegan research of your own?

Here are a handful of resources Catherine mentioned to us.

The Vegan Studies Project

"The first book I read for my PhD and it was a great introduction to the kinds of work being done on veganism."

The Animals and Society Institute

"A brilliant organisation supporting scholars pursuing animal studies across the world, and offers support, events and information to students and scholars."

Growl by Kim Stallwood

“Kim's really cool,” Catherine explains. “He's been doing things for around 40 years. Growl is about his time in animal advocacy.”

The Rights of Animals by Brigid Brophy

“The beginning of the kind of veganism we see today can be traced Brigid Brophy. In 1965, she published an essay called The Rights of Animals. And that was the first moment we saw the kind of veganism we have today.”

Catherine’s animal history guide

A public-facing brief history of various different people, campaigns and organisations in the history of animal activism in the UK.

You can find out more about Catherine and her projects on her website.

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