Since turning vegan, I’ve found the subject a tricky one to broach in polite conversation. The word seems to generate heated debate and interrogation wherever I go, but I thrive on the fact that it gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be a vegan. You can’t deny, vegans don’t have a great rep and I don’t know whether it’s because we are seen as hippies, pretentious fads or just plain difficult. And yet vegans have been around for years, officially since 1944 when the Vegan Society was founded; however it’s more recently that a vegan diet has become more popular and accepted. The latest figures state that there are over half a million vegans in the UK, which is up 260% in the last decade. Vegan food sales saw an increase of a mind blowing 1,500% in 2015/16[i]. Sainsbury’s watched as the sales of their new vegan cheese range outperform their expectations by 300% in the first month of its launch in September 2016[ii].
So what’s changed? Well, there has been a wave of media and awareness campaigns of late, the most prominent for me being the American ‘Cowspiracy’ documentary; Simon Amstell’sBBC TV programme ‘Carnage’; and national advertising campaigns in newspapers and city billboards by companies such as GoVeganWorld. People are beginning to sit up and take notice of a transition to a vegan lifestyle which is growing in size and speed. And it’s causing quite a shit storm.
You don’t have to be an animal lover to be shocked and disgusted by the immoral treatment of animals worldwide to serve our taste buds, test our drugs and clothe our backs. More and more footage is being released to uncover the inhumane practices of the meat and dairy industries, demonstrating the harsh conditions and vicious treatment of animals before their impending slaughter on an epic scale[iii]. Male chicks, a by-product of the dairy industry, are carried on a conveyor belt which sends them tumbling to their death in the thousands; cows are artificially inseminated only to have their calves abducted and taken to be fattened for meat, whilst they are forced into an endless slavery of milk production; and overfishing of our oceans is damaging ecosystems at such a rate that scientists predict that we will have fishless seas by 2050[iv]. Animal testing is still necessary by law in some countries and so many popular high street cosmetics brands indirectly encourage this method by selling their products in these markets. Similarly, new research and drugs are tested on animals in their thousands in the UK alone when there are many alternative methods available. The leather, fur and skin markets are thriving and there are whole farms of animals bred solely to be skinned and shaped into a handbag. Finally, the trade and exploitation of animals for entertainment is a huge and growing industry that tourists often innocently support.
If these truths don’t make you shudder, the effects that animal agriculture is having on the planet will have you quaking in your boots and reaching for a carrot. The following facts are taken from the Cowspiracy[v] website:
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
Livestock and their by-products account for at least 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land.
1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill.
As many as 40% (63 billion pounds) of fish caught globally every year are discarded
Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels.
·Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second.
·70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide. More than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour
We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, but worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock.
82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.
·World Population grows 228,000+ people every day.
1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food. 1.5 acres can produce 375 pounds of beef.
A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses on average 9% of the oil, 8% of the water, and 5% of the land compared to a meat-eater for their food.
And finally, if not for these reasons, then go vegan for yourself. A vegan diet is the healthiest and some would say the simplest. It has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and premature death, as well as an increase in energy levels, weight loss and length of life[vi]. (I should mention here that it is possible to eat unhealthily as a vegan and it is still possible to satisfy your sweet tooth!) While the common fears about veganism are to do with not getting enough protein or calcium, this is a huge misconception. Plenty of plant based foods provide above and beyond the necessary nutrients for our bodies and have not been processed by another living thing first – but instead come straight from the source. Leafy greens like kale and broccoli are winners in protein and calcium and there is a wealth of resources available for guidance on other healthy plant based options and recipes.
A vegan lifestyle is the quickest and easiest way that we as a society can prevent the destruction of our world, and we can save millions of human and animal lives in the process. As consumers we can choose to invest our money in plant based products and drive down the demand for meat, dairy and animal tested products. Keep an eye out for animal based ingredients within cosmetics – PETA provide a comprehensive list of the common ones here[vii]. As compassionate humans we can only imagine what horror and torture we allow animals to endure and it is within our power alone to put a stop to it. We are at a pinnacle moment in history where the world’s population is slowly opening its eyes to the facts, but my fear is that it will be too late. With recent upheavals in UK and worldwide politics the policies for climate change and animal rights are under threat, so it is more important than ever that we choose to change.
Disclaimer: Information is correct at the time of publishing.