People are beginning to switch to plant-based diets whether for health purposes, ethical questions about the meat industry, or environmental concerns. Vegans, who are individuals who don’t eat meat or anything containing animal byproducts, have become a diverse and rapidly expanding minority within modern Western society. As various plant-based diets continue to become more popular in a culture where a number of health issues by have been tied to meat consumption, the vegan population has risen significantly over the past decade.
In 2006, the number of individuals who practiced a plant-based diet in the UK was roughly 150,000 according to an article published last May by The Guardian. Today it’s 542,000 people, which is a 350% increase in just ten years. The article states, “The movement is driven by the young – close to half of all vegans are aged 15-34 (42%) compared with just 14% who are over 65. 67% of the 474 who replied [to Guardian] were under 34, and more than one-sixth were teenagers.”
Currently in the United States, 6 percent of Americans identify as vegan. There has been a 500% increase in individuals who classify themselves as vegan. Between 2014 and 2017, there has been “an explosion in veganism over the past three years” as stated by an article on the website, Rise of the Vegan, and food corporations are beginning to notice. In a June report published by GlobalData, a consulting company that analyzes consumer choices in order to advise food companies, specific key trends have been found. The report states, “Rising veganism and awareness of the impact of meat consumption are driving demand for meat-free product substitutes” and “Consumers connect ethical and sustainable lifestyles with wellbeing and wellness, creating demand for more ethically prepared foods.” Basically, as the public becomes more informed about how their food is grown and prepared, how that production may hurt the larger environment, and how what they eat impacts their personal health; more concerns are raised about the morality of what they should eat.
A recent health study conducted by the National Cancer Institute in Maryland concluded that people who consumed more red meat in their diet were 26% more likely to die of nine major diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. A Netflix documentary titled “What the Health” that began streaming a few months ago, has also informed millions of people about various correlations between consumption of animal products and adverse effects on wellness.
Veganism as a lifestyle has particularly taken root with the younger population due in large part to social media platforms such as Instagram. Also, as Euan Reece, a citizen of the UK, put it “younger people aren’t bound as much by traditional values, so they are more likely to change to a more left field thing such as veganism.”
A friend of mine in his 60s once stated to me, “There’s four major food groups: meat, potatoes, grits, and gravy.” While he was no doubt being facetious, his statement hits upon how the older population tends to cling to traditional dietary values and reject not just plant-based diets but the very concept of eating less meat.
RMC sophomore Morgan Myers grew up in a meat-eating household, but went vegetarian for one year before taking the plunge and going full vegan. Speaking on her choice, Myers states, “I was a vegetarian and I’d done a lot of research on going vegan. I’d heard a lot about the health benefits. Then I started to hear more about the environmental reasonings; stuff involved with animal farming. So I figured I’d try it [veganism] and see if I liked it. It was more, this is my personal health and I already knew my body doesn’t agree well with most animal products.”
Myers eased herself into becoming vegan by first going vegetarian for one year, which allowed her body and tastes to adjust to a meatless diet before transitioning to a diet free from all animal products. It would be harder for those who are currently consuming meat and animal products on a regular basis to transition to being vegan without first taking steps to reduce consumption of meat.
“For me, going vegetarian was the difficult part. Cutting dairy products, honey, eggs was difficult. Meat was not that difficult by itself, ” she adds.
For individuals who are hesitant to try a vegan diet due to the perception that it’s expensive, Myers says, “I think it can be [expensive]. However, if you buy more produce rather than meat substitutes it kind of makes that cost go away. In the beginning when I was a vegetarian, I was eating a lot of meat supplements like veggie burgers. That’s expensive, but produce itself isn’t.”
On the biggest hurdle for people going vegan, Myers replies, “For some people meat and animal products are big part of their life. If you’re not used to eating fruits and vegetables you might hate it because you’re not used to the taste. Afterwards it really transforms the way you think of what you eat,”
“The vegan lifestyle isn’t for everybody, but one thing I did notice when I was doing research is that our Western diet is ridiculous when it comes to certain things. For everybody’s health they should be more mindful about what they’re eating because there are so many bad things in certain animal products.” Myers states.
Sophomore Ryn Haaverson also states,“It’s hard cooking for vegans. I worked in for a kitchen over the summer. We dreaded the weeks we had vegans. But it’s also fun. There’s a lot more you can do with vegan food than you think.”