A qualitative study exploring the experiences of Black South African vegetarians residing in the urban settings of Cape Town.
MetadataShow full item record
Vegetarianism is a growing global trend. Movie stars and world class athletes proudly brand themselves vegetarian. Apart from its health implications vegetarianism has been extensively studied as a social and psychological phenomenon. However the understanding that has emerged from these studies has almost exclusively reflected Caucasian Western societies. Internationally there is a paucity of research regarding vegetarianism among people of African descent. The purpose of this study was to fill this knowledge gap by exploring the development of a vegetarian identity among Black urban South Africans living in Cape Town and the contextual factors involved in their adoption and practice of vegetarianism. Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory which emphasizes the bidirectional influence between human behaviour and broader contextual factors was used as a theoretical framework for understanding vegetarianism among Black South Africans. This study used a qualitative exploratory approach to describe the perceptions and experiences of Black vegetarians. Snowball sampling was used to locate eight Black South African adult vegetarians who were interviewed in depth. The audio recorded interviews were transcribed and analysed through thematic analysis yielding three main themes. The first and central theme is that “vegetarianism is life.” This theme encapsulates the fact participants view vegetarianism as an instrument through which the highest ideals of life are attained including physical vitality, spiritual vibrancy and intellectual superiority. In the second theme the process of developing a vegetarian identity was unfolded. Contextual religio-cultural influences of Rastafarianism and Seventh day Adventism were a major influence in the development of a vegetarian identity. The last theme unfolds the experience of Black vegetarians living in meat dominated society. The study reveals that becoming a vegetarian definitely affects one’s social relations. However the gender of the vegetarians modulated the reaction of family members. Vegetarians also employed several strategies to manoeuvre difficult social situations. This study is among the first to contribute an African perspective to the global vegetarian discourse. It has highlighted the way Black Africans develop a vegetarian identity and the contextual factors acting as barriers and facilitators to this development. It has highlighted how this identity is informed by their Africanness though at times it conflicts with certain African ideals. Finally it has identified the social, cultural and psychological variables involved in the vegetarian phenomenon on the African continent.