Does #vegan mean vegan?

Many of our enduring cultural trends, including those around food, are found on social media​. But can social media actually go one further and influence our eating habits. Does #vegan mean vegan?

There are more than 125 million posts on Instagram containing the hashtag ‘vegan’. But does this actually have any impact on what people eat once they’ve logged off?

A research paper in the journal Appetite ​conducted four studies on the phenomenon, exploring the kind of information environment Instagram is for eating vegan, as well as what its relationship is with offline consumption habits and whether liking or commenting on vegan posts can be linked to eating vegan.

What themes were expressed by #vegan posts on Instagram?

First, the paper looked at the topics Instagram users focused on in posts using the ‘vegan’ hashtag.

The first study collected 10,062 Instagram posts using the hashtag ‘vegan’, finding that 33.8% of these referred to food, followed by 30.99% which were centred around the topic of photography. 21.6% were strongly associated with health, and 13.62% were associated with cosmetics. Some hashtags were also associated with animal welfare and the environment, which, the study speculates, could suggest motives for following a vegan diet.

The second study looked at another 34,254 Instagram posts using the hashtag ‘vegan’, assessing what images they contained and, using the accompanying text, what the sentiment of the post was.

The study found that 34.7% contained images of food (19.5% savoury, 15.2% pastry) and 30.4% showed non-food products, which were often cosmetics. 7.9% of posts contained people, and 2% contained animals. 25% did not fit into these categories, and instead showed things such as a tree, a door, a hand, and text.