“The difference is that I respect your opinion, but you don’t respect mine.” Negotiating competing moralities within family food practices: the case of ethical veganism

  • Insa Wemheuer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Families face a growing range of competing moral ideals around their collective eating practices due to the increasing moralisation of food consumption. First insights into how families cope if their members adhere to competing moral ideals can be gleaned from the consumer morality and family food practices literatures. However, theoretical understandings of this situation are scarce as consumers’ negotiations of competing moralities and family food consumption are typically discussed separately by these literatures. Therefore, I ask how family members negotiate such competing moralities within their collective food practices over time, and how their food practices develop when one family member strives towards a morally motivated dietary change. Ethnographically exploring the food practices of 18 Swedish families with one vegan member over circa ten months enabled the main theoretical contribution of this thesis: Introducing the concept of ‘family ethics’ that I define as a family’s collective set of procedural moral principles that guide their decision-making practices around consumption. This concept emerged from the interpretive analysis that highlighted the difference between normative and procedural moralities as families where one family member goes vegan encounter not only an unsolvable normative disagreement around the ‘right’ way to eat, but also procedural moral questions around the ‘right’ way of making decisions together. While strategies focusing on the normative disagreement do not permit the accommodation of competing moralities within families’ food practices, drawing on procedural moral principles allows families to reframe 1) the moral status of animals as a personal ethical question; 2) unethical consumers as moral persons; 3) strict ethical consumption as selfish; and 4) supporting consumption not in line with one’s ethical views as moral. As a result, all family members can feel morally coherent while finding practical solutions that respect everyone’s moral beliefs, and the normative disagreement is removed from daily discourse. Depending on whether competing moralities are approached in a procedural or normative manner, family food practices then evolve, get trapped, or dissolve. By theorising the interpersonal space of moral reasoning within collective family food consumption, the concept of family ethics integrates and contributes to 1) the consumer morality literature by identifying different moral reasoning strategies for negotiating competing moralities within collective consumption; and 2) family food practices research by showing how families’ approach to consumption decision-making influences their food practices over time.
Date of Award27 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • School of Management
SupervisorAvi Shankar (Supervisor) & Lorna Stevens (Supervisor)


  • Family food practices
  • Consumer morality
  • Ethical consumption
  • Veganism
  • Family ethics
  • Collective consumption
  • Vegetarianism
  • Competing moralities
  • Moralisation

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