World Vegan Month. Veganism now and then; how has the movement changed and what improvements have been made?

Another World Vegan Day has come and gone this 1st November and we find ourselves in the middle of Vegan Month. Whilst veganism is garnering more interest than ever before, it is hardly a new thing.  The Vegan Society established World Vegan Day in 1994, but was founded in 1944. In fact, records of veganism reach as far back as 806CE when Dr. William Lambe and Percy Bysshe Shelley, amongst others, first objected publicly to dairy and eggs on ethical grounds.

However, it is only very recently that veganism has exploded across the globe. In fact, it is in 2018 that 42% of vegans in the UK changed their lifestyle, with vegans and vegetarians predicted to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.  But why the sudden growth?  There is no conclusive study to show what is driving Britain to a cruelty-free lifestyle, but according to Beth Trundle, head of food at marketing agency Social Chain, the vegan community are incredibly active online.  That may be an understatement, with 57million #vegan posts on Instagram. Trundle speculates that this is because veganism is driven by fundamental beliefs which motivate its followers to promote the lifestyle.

Whilst in the 90s and even the 00s it was difficult to get vegetarian food in restaurants and supermarkets, companies are now clearly paying attention, and why wouldn’t they?  Veganism is a lucrative business, and one in six products launched in the UK in 2018 carried a vegan claim.  Underscoring how mainstream veganism now is, the companies offering vegan products include McDonalds, KFC and Ben and Jerry’s.  In fact, Greggs has recently upped its profit forecast, fueled in part by the success of its vegan sausage rolls.  Not only has vegan fare become more readily available, but to add to the already significant health benefits the lifestyle has to offer, many vegan products are now supplemented with vitamin B12 and superfoods like flaxseeds, seagreens, maca, acai, matcha, meaning there is no health reason to continue eating meat.

However, despite the increased support and acceptance of the lifestyle, not everyone seems to look positively upon veganism.  In fact, in 2011 a study analysed how the UK print media reported on the subject.  It showed that of 397 articles that mentioned veganism, only 5.5% of reporting was positive and 20.2% was neutral, whilst a whopping 74.3% was negative.  And these attitudes don’t seem to have disappeared. If you type in to Google ‘Why are vegans…’ you will find, among sensible auto-fill suggestions such as ‘against honey’ and ‘against wool’, the suggestion ‘so boring’. There is no real answer to why people take such exception to a lifestyle that advocates doing as little harm as possible.  However, things are moving in the right direction - the snarky comments about vegans’ ‘whimpy’ physiques and energy levels can’t really be taken seriously with high profile sports people like David Haye (definitely not whimpy) and Tom Brady adhering to a vegan diet. In fact, for any vegans wishing to emulate their physiques, vegan protein powders are now readily available, including pea and white hemp proteins enriched with superfoods, such as flaxseed, and amino acids.    

So, whilst not everyone is yet fully accepting of the vegan lifestyle, interest in and support for it has come on leaps and bounds, with the number of vegans in the UK increasing seven-fold between 2014 and 2019.  But what are the reasons?  According to the BBC, nearly half of those looking to cut down on their meat consumption are doing so for health reasons.  Other reasons include environmental concerns and wishing to avoid cruelty to animals. Social media is certainly spreading the word and encouraging people to join the trend. Whilst the millennial dollar continues to put power behind veganism, businesses are sure to keep producing new products.  

The Economist declared 2019 the year of the vegan, but with so many food options and supplements now available and global support growing, what’s to stop every year being the year of the vegan?

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