The vegans are coming: that’s what a recent survey of 10,000 people across England, Scotland and Wales suggests.
542,000 or more people are now following a vegan diet in Britain, eschewing animal products such as cheese, milk and honey completely. This is a staggering 350% higher than it was a decade ago, when only 150,000 vegans were estimated to be living in Britain.
Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of The Vegan Society, reacted to the survey by saying: “To have over half a million vegans in Britain is fantastic. More people than ever before are acting upon the health and environmental benefits of veganism."
Boo ponders that this is because they are "finding out what really goes on in the meat and dairy industries and deciding they do not want to contribute to the pain and suffering of animals."
It’s easy to lump many of these new vegans in with the Great British hipsterdom. For a start, they tend to be young (42% of vegans in Britain are aged between 15-34). They mainly live in urban or suburban areas (88% of the total number: 22% of which are in London). They also have a huge presence on social media sites like Instagram, and around the world sign petitions like this one to make the pumpkin spice latte vegan.
Currently, vegans and vegetarians are still the underdogs of the dietary world, making up just 3.25% of the British population. However, going meat-free has also garnered support from scientists, the UN and a whole host of celebrities, like Oprah, who pledged to go vegan for a week with 378 of her staff (300 of them made it through successfully).
This swelling support is due to multiple reasons, but minimising the effects of climate change has been key to the debate. Analysis by World Watch claims that “livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO₂ per year, or 51% of annual worldwide GHG [greenhouse gases] emissions.”
Authors Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang argue that: “Replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations - and thus on the rate the climate is warming - than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”
As the global population is set to rise to an estimated 9.1 billion by 2050, feeding the world will require dietary changes. A study by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation found that annual cereal production will need to increase by about 3 billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today, and “annual meat production will need to rise by over 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes”, unless current trends change.
A report in Nature Communications looked at possible scenarios that could feed this estimated population without expanding the area of farmland people already use. The report found that human diets play a decisive role. All the vegan scenarios that were investigated were feasible and 94% of vegetarian scenarios were. Two-thirds of the BAU (rich in meat, business-as-usual diets) scenarios were also feasible, but only 15% of the RICH diet (meat-heavy, the typical diet of North America in 2000) were.
Total food consumption as well as the share of animal calories is dominated by wealthier nations. This is often thought to be detrimental to poorer countries because it causes higher environmental impact and less food to go round. One third of the world’s cereals are used to feed animals, so: “Demand for meat diverts food away from poor people who are unable to afford anything but cereals”, said UN Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter.
He also advised that, “In high-income countries, the net health impacts of meat consumption are turning negative: at current levels, it is contributing to chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.”
Alternatively, Animal Aid argue that: “A balanced plant-based diet is healthy and contains all the nutrients that the body needs,” and that just going meat-free (veggie rather than vegan) is "low in saturated fat and cholesterol and reduces the risk of you suffering diet-related illnesses.” They’re calling on the vegan-curious to pledge to try it out for a month as part of the Veganuary.
However, a vegan diet is not all peas and love. Unfortunately, a survey of 1,000 men and women around the UK by dating app TrueView found that 34% of people would not be open to dating a vegan, and 77% wouldn’t give up meat for a partner.
But, perhaps sacrificing a few dates is a fair price to pay for saving the planet...