Argentinian vegan food: The place of the dissident | The Vegan Society

Argentinian vegan food: The place of the dissident

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» Argentinian vegan food: The place of the dissident

Researcher Network member, Florencia Alvarado Torres, provides an update on their PhD research on the place of vegan food in Argentina. 

Key words: food; cultural change; dissident.

The aim of this article is to go into the place of the dissident through the discourses and practices linked to vegan food in Argentinian small enterprises, understanding these as a dialogue among subject and structure, individual and collective/community, local and global, centre and periphery, heteronormativity and performativity, public and private, body and soul, animal and human welfare.

The insights of this work are part of the PhD research project in Anthropology and Communication at Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona, Spain). The line of research is medical, anthropological and global health, focusing on food anthropology. The subject is: The place of food in Argentina's veganism.

Through food studies, it is possible to understand social, cultural, historical, ecological and economic changes and their issues. For that reason, it is important to highlight that food is a phenomenon in continuous transformation where cultural changes are oriented by historical forces in constant tension. (Aguirre, 2016).

The place of food may be described as a conjunction of elements: 'identifying, relational and historical' (Auge, 1992: 58). Paraphrasing Marc Auge (1992), the identifying element is related to the social and material space where subjects come from, and it is linked to their identities. A place is relational in terms of the connection with cultural rules and the relation between its people and the community identity. And it is historical because, in the junction of identity and relation, there emerges a certain stability.

That stability is broken when the meanings of space, identity and body are rethought by individuals. These ruptures may be isolated or more or less constant, and they represent cultural changes interconnecting different levels.

The methodology used was multi-sited ethnography (Marcus, 2001). It is a multi-sited study beyond the borders of the material reality and virtual reality. Both are considered as places where culture is always produced related to one or more territories (Mato, 1992; Haesbaert, 2013).

Most of the time, these territories, and the people living there are real. Other times, they are made up, i.e. they represent utopias, places where individuals find a reason to reconsider the world they inhabit with their own meanings and cultural rules (Gupta and Ferguson, 1992).

The data collection technique was participant observation and in-depth interview. Firstly, the study started online (August 2021), on a Facebook group called Veganes de Argentina ('Vegans from Argentina'), a group created in 2013 and located in Buenos Aires; it has 35,000 members, around 25 new posts per day, and 10 to 15 new members every week.

Even though the group is located in Buenos Aires, it is not unusual to find posts from places beyond that city, showing the tension that exists between the centre and the periphery, between the places where people live and their habits, and between a way to elaborate rules and to produce food culture.

Through the analysis of trending topics, most of them were found to be related to these: (1) recipes; (2) places where one can eat or access vegan food; (3) food recommendations; (4) food industry news; (5) healthy food and body wellness; (6) animal rescue; (7) nutrition; (8) health and food complements; (9) events or meetings; (10) school and children. In the case of the posts concerning where to eat, places related to small entrepreneurs are one of the most popular topics. Another big trend is the news about the food industry; most of it is linked to fast food, like burgers, rolls, sauces, cookies and their ingredients.

By going through the comments published, it was observed that most members ask whether certain foods or ingredients are 'apt' or not for vegans, which provoked at least two controversies. One is connected to what veganism means; the other, linked to the first, has to do with what type of food is suitable or not for them to eat.

The scanning of all the posts followed since last August, which are more than 500, including old posts from previous years, revealed that not all of them are clear regarding which foods are the best to consume. In Veganes de Argentina, for example, veganism is recognised as a way of living that excludes cruelty in animals.

Certain vegan people consider that to be vegan means just cruelty-free and that animals are the priority and not the food they eat. On the other hand, another group of vegans think that to be vegan is not only about cruelty-free, but also about the type of food they have. Those people, for instance, worry about where food comes from, whether it is processed, sustainable, local, or good for their health and well-being.

It may represent an issue in Argentinian veganism, which is not only linked with the nutrition field. It means as well that many vegan Argentinians do not associate it with the cruelty animals are suffering as part of the current food system. In this regard, small vegan food entrepreneurs represent a big diversity of food options and also a different way to understand veganism.

In the last few years, the vegetarian/vegan Argentinian population has escalated. A recent study (Argentinian Vegan Union, 2020) indicates that in Argentina 12% of the population is following vegetarian or vegan diets more than in previous years. At the same time, vegan food offers have increased, and small entrepreneurs are having an important role in it, even more during the pandemic, when people had more time to think about how to improve their lives, health, and economies.

It is oversimplifying the matter to say that economy is the reason that forced people to think about food alternatives, especially with the high prices of meat and the eternal economic crises they face. There is always more…

The case of Vegalicious

Every year, La Plata – a historic and eminently student city with a population of almost one million, famous for its architecture and academic prestige – receives new students from several parts of Argentina as well as Latin America and Europe. In this context, it is common to find new projects in different fields of knowledge. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the suspension of most regular activities, including those linked to food. This was not the case of Vegalicious (vegan + delicious), a pop-up, local, and self-managed food walk that came alive during that unstable period.

Described on social media as a space with 'wholemeal, gluten-free and traditional options; antiespecist and self-managed', Vegalicious is the only all-vegan site in the heart of the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. It is the result of small entrepreneurs meeting up for the first time after the pandemic to share and sell their dishes.

The place, with 25 young and small entrepreneurs, offers a number of products: from multi-flavoured natural sugar-free ice creams, classical pizzas, and burgers with a rich variety of options, to typical Argentinian sandwiches, wholemeal cakes, selected vegetables, cheeses, frozen goods, and many more Latin dishes, not only Argentinian ones.

Vegalicious took place on a warm and sunny day, at midday – a perfect time to enjoy vegan non-processed food made by local people – on a boulevard where visitors could enjoy their food on the grass, something that made it an unforgettable experience for all the senses.

During the in-depth interview, Vegalicious organisers were asked how they came up with the idea, and this is what K., one of the protagonists, answered:

The idea stemmed from the vegan public place we are part of in La Plata. Before the COVID-19 pandemic there was an event called Vegapetit (vega + petit), which was a very big event that took place every month [...]. But the pandemic wrecked the cultural movement [...]. On the other hand, the idea also came from the interest in food issues within veganism from a nutritional perspective [...]. We will keep going with the Vegalicious project focusing on alternative nutritional proposals, such as wholemeal, gluten-free, fermented, organic. Now, we want to include sugar-free options, and we want to incorporate enterprises that make products for people with diabetes and coeliac disease.

On the other hand, G., the other entrepreneur responsible for Vegalicious, added:

We didn't want to be like any other vegan food place. When the pandemic began, we started to eat wholemeal and many kinds of beans; we stopped eating white pasta. And we started to get involved in the food issue; this means not only to eat vegan, but also to incorporate more proteins, without leaving out seeds, nuts [...]. We didn't want to create a very nice place with plenty of processed food. We wanted to eat what we eat at home, but made by other people.

The case of Rompe la Jaula

Another place worth mentioning is Rompe la Jaula (literally, 'break the cage'), a small vegan baker enterprise in Berazategui, a suburb in the south of Buenos Aires, whose owner is a member of the Facebook group Veganes de Argentina. Its product aesthetic derives from the fact that it embodies art in cakes that are handmade at home and sold through social media. A big plus of this shop is that most of their creations are also gluten-free.

As an artistic piece, every cake has a punk and anarchist visual message or influence. It was something recognisable during the in-depth interview. Many of the colours chosen are red, black and white; they also make use of geometric figures, such as triangles, arrows, and spikes. (Please note that we are trying to avoid the use of binary pronouns like she or he, because they also consider themselves as a non-binary person).

Our interviewed entrepreneur, who will be referred to as J. from now on, considers that both the vegan movement and the food system are broken:

Diet in today's society is completely misdirected. I think there is a broken veganism that keeps insisting on acquiring vegan foods in supermarkets while polluting companies provide them with a plant-based burger. I think that food autonomy and information access should be promoted so that everyone can work the soil and be more involved.

For J., the name of the bakery Rompe la Jaula is a call to break other cages, not just those for animals: individuality, heteronormativity, machismo speciesism, fascism, and other -isms. And J. finally says:

In order to achieve this, veganism must be linked with other activists, for instance, feminism, which plays a fundamental role. Only then will we be ready to live in freedom.

To conclude, the relationship between food, gender, body and sex puts forward the idea of continuing to explore vegan food as one of the places where cultural changes are possible.

The three non-binary dissident entrepreneurs introduced here represent one more example regarding the tension between subject and structure, individual and collective/community, local and global, centre and periphery, heteronormativity and performativity, public and private, body and soul, animal and human welfare. Their food enterprises may be interpreted as an extension of themselves as well, places where other dissidents and tensions can be found.

It is in the standpoint of the nonconformist where historical stability is broken; this creates new meanings, new cultural rules, and new paths to dialogue with food as a total social fact that makes an impact on all culture.

So far, the insights of the research project are still in the early stages. It is necessary to keep going into vegan food places and explore better worlds where people want to inhabit.


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