Representations of Death Among Italian Vegetarians: An Ethnographic Research on Environment, Disgust and Transcendence


  • Ines Testoni
  • Tommaso Ghellar
  • Maddalena Rodelli
  • Loriana De Cataldo
  • Adriano Zamperini


This paper focuses on the motives for vegetarian choices in contemporary Italian food culture, with specific reference to the role of the representations of death. The study adopts a qualitative research design aimed at an in-depth exploration of the reasons for avoiding meat, following an ethnographic method. Twenty-two participants (55% women, 45% men) aged 19-74, all vegetarians or vegans, mainly from Northern and Central Italy, were involved. Data from the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis were examined according to the qualitative thematic analysis: the results show the role of death in the construction of disgust towards meat, running parallel with an emphasis on spirituality, ethical treatment of animals and the environment as reasons for avoiding meat, in particular, the concern-generating disgust and its relationship with the representation of death as a contaminating essence. The basis of disgust lies in this connection, from which the idea that oral consumption of contaminants characterized by corruptive properties, passing through the flesh of dead animals to humans, derives. The role of anti-speciesism is considered as a latent perspective, which may influence the vegetarian and vegan choices.