Veganism, environment and agriculture: Engagement online is ‘explosive’

Whether you perceive it is as informative or just noisy, there is absolutely no avoiding the seismic food debate online.

This is because the level of engagement with issues to do with veganism, the environment and agriculture, particularly on social media, is “explosive”, according to Pádraig Wims, associate professor in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin (UCD).

Social media is where young people are increasingly getting their information and, often, where their views of lifestyle and diet are influenced.

‘Rather worrying’

A big concern of Prof. Wims for young people is that he feels they are not accessing quality information and are also not doing in-depth research into topics. Adding to this, he said “the extent that people are influenced online is truly difficult to say”.

He described the trends in how young people consume information about food, agriculture and the environment as “rather worrying”.

“I’m reluctant to refer to any of it online as debating – that’s because there often isn’t any debate on these very complex topics. A debate is fine on any topic, where there is balance and more than one view.

However, it is clear online that veganism gets very positive coverage; coverage that goes unquestioned the majority of the time.

He feels that with the discourse online surrounding food and animals, there just needs to be a “balance of views and a co-existence of different beliefs, which often is not the case”.

“There can definitely seem like there is a shaming of agriculture online. It’s easy to shame something when you only have to say it online and don’t have to talk to an actual person.

“For young people who are seeing influencers every day pushing a certain view, it doesn’t help that there is a generational aspect in that many of these young people haven’t been exposed to a rural or farming background and, therefore, they don’t really understand it.”

He feels that the conversations to do with veganism and agriculture are difficult and even more so when they are carried out on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“A lot of information is being pushed on young people on social media and that is difficult for them to navigate.”