One of my best friends at secondary school was a vegan, and it’s safe to say that plenty of our conversations growing up descended into debate around his lifestyle. At the time I was a pretty standard omnivore, not putting too much thought into my food or where it came from. But as time went by and our discussions continued, I realised I was losing the argument. How could I profess to be a moral, compassionate person yet be ignorantly complicit in a brutal animal agricultural industry? Even with this revelation it took me years to actually act upon the realisation that I was living as a hypocrite.
Surprisingly enough, the turning point came in the form of a bloodthirsty dentist. In June 2015 there was international outcry over the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe at the hands of Dr Walter J. Palmer. He injured the pride leader with a bow and arrow then, after 40 hours of tracking the injured animal, he shot and killed him with a rifle. Cecil’s death drew indignation from animal lovers worldwide, including myself. But I realised yet again how ridiculous my reaction must have looked to my best friend. In the days following Cecil’s death, countless people were shouting about the barbarism of the act yet going home to their steaks and roast chicken. “But what is the difference?”, I thought.
That was the turning point for me. At that point I decided I could no longer be comfortable in myself continuing this lifestyle. So, I just stopped. Thenceforth I was a vegetarian. At the time it was a big step for me, having eaten a considerably meat-based diet for all of my life beforehand. But as time went by I started to realise the benefits of my decision.
Being the only vegetarian in the house, I had no choice but to take charge of my own cooking. As a result, my culinary skills improved massively and, in turn, my appreciation for what I was putting in my body significantly increased. I felt healthier and happier. But I could go further.
As a vegetarian I knew I still had some ways to go to completely free myself of my self-perceived hypocrisy, still having not drawn the line at diary and eggs. So as of January 1st 2018, I took the leap. And I am so glad I did. Taking these items out of my diet forced me yet again to diversify my cooking skills so as to still be able to meet all of my nutritional requirements.
Yes, this lifestyle requires a lot more consideration of a plethora of aspects of life generally overlooked by many, but I would argue that the benefits I’ve seen make it all worth it. As you may have seen from my previous posts on Platformer, I hold the environment in very high esteem. Thus, my change in lifestyle has given me the confidence to pursue and comment on topics very important to me without that underlying feeling of hypocrisy that weighed me down in the past.
Encouragingly, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one to have made a similar change in the last few years.
The Veganuary campaign had a modest beginning in 2014, with 3,300 people signing up on its debut year. Phenomenally, 2018 saw this number jump to 168,000. A lifestyle once perceived as reserved for animal rights activists and hipsters has been thrust more and more into the mainstream over recent years, with many celebrities such as Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus and Woody Harrelson, athletes like Serena and Venus Williams, and Olympic Gold medallist Mo Farah, having all recognised the benefits of a plant-based diet.
It’s not just the health benefits to the individual that drives this movement: it is also the impact on the natural world at large. No one can deny the environmental impacts that animal agriculture has had on the planet. One only has to look at the vast swathes of land cleared from the Amazon Rainforest to make way for beef pasture and the extensive soya bean monocultures used to feed the billions of cattle upon which must of Western food culture relies (contrary to many arguments against veganism, 80% of all soya production is dedicated to animal agriculture. Not humans).
A change in approach by the proponents of the vegan movement, from discouragement of the status quo to encouragement of a new lifestyle, has definitely turned the tide and thrust veganism into the mainstream. The sheer range of options even in established eateries like Zizzi’s, Wagamama and Pizza Express for vegans has increased even in the last few years, eliminating one of the issues facing many vegan sympathisers regarding eating out.
Supermarkets have incredibly diversified their ‘free from’ ranges, with Tesco even employing a ‘director of plant-based innovation’ into their ranks. In the free market world that we live in, companies are at the whimsy of the consumer, and as the plant-based food industry continues to grow, the markets must answer in turn. And they have. FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) is an organised network of 40 investment funds tied to the animal agriculture industry. Even they have publicly urged companies within their fold to increase their development in plant-based alternatives to their current sales paradigms.
The future of this movement is unknown. There are still those who may believe this is just a trend that will fade back into obscurity, but with the masses of information and support within the online generation, the increasing freedom of choice in supermarkets and restaurants and the foresight and preparation of the markets to this shift, it is highly likely this train is far from its final stop.
By Lewis Brusby