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International Animal Rights ConferenceInternational Animal Rights Conference
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Friday, 08.09.2017   17:30-18:20   Room A
"Stop forcing veganism on children": veganism as a source of moral panic in Estonia
Kadri Aavik

On March 23, 2017 an article based on an interview with the head of the Estonian Association of Paediatricians was published in a newspaper issued by Tallinn municipality. The article was titled "Dr Ülle Einberg: veganism forced on small children might be life threatening". This piece of writing unleashed a series of other articles and editorials, as well as some TV and radio appearances on the same topic, involving mostly doctors, nutritionists and journalists, as well as some vegans on the other side. This was not the first attack on veganism in the Estonian public sphere, but thus far, the most intense.

In my presentation, I take a closer look at this media storm around veganism and particularly, around vegan children. I understand these events as an instance of moral panic. According to Stanley Cohen (1972, p. 9), "moral panic occurs when ...[a] condition, episode, person or groups of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests".

I aim to unpack as to how and why veganism and its association with children became constructed a source of moral panic in the Estonian society. How was this nation-wide fear mongering achieved? What argumentation was used and what emotions were appealed to and how?

What was characteristic to the media articles and interviews declaring veganism as unsuitable and even life-threatening to children, was that they overwhelmingly did not rely on scientific evidence, presented half-truths and a number of false claims, infused with personal beliefs of their authors. Therefore, the concept of "post-truth" seems particularly useful in making sense of this moral panic. The Oxford Dictionary defines the concept of "post-truth" as an adjective "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".

While presented as a concern over potential nutritional deficiencies in children, I argue that this attack against veganism was in fact political. The moral panic emerged as a response of particular food choices, seen as political, as they challenge the existing social order, in this case, human exploitation and use of other animals for food. Thus the concern was not about nutritional deficiencies per se, but those seen as resulting from veganism specifically.

Finally, I consider what could be some possible effective strategies by vegans and vegan organizations to deal with such episodes of moral panic around veganism.




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