Why the vegan movement needs to become more accessible and affordable in order to become truly sustainable.
Veganuary is a non-profit organisation founded in 2014 whose main focus is to encourage people all over the globe to try more plant-based eating throughout the month of January, with the hope that they continue to integrate vegan meals into their daily life. With the imminent increase in concern about the environment and the climate crisis, veganism has become less of a hippie idea and a more accepted and practiced lifestyle. In 2019, 250,000 people signed the Veganuary pledge and that number has doubled to over 500,000 people officially participating in the campaign this year! The great increase in numbers demonstrates that veganism is gradually becoming a societal norm.
The view that Vegans are pushy or judgemental is fading. Interestingly, the pandemic seems to have improved the British populations opinion on eating more plants, with 25% of people aged 21-30 saying the pandemic made the vegan lifestyle more attractive. With the increase in availability for meat and dairy substitutes, and more people cooking from their kitchen cupboards, veganism has become more of an everyday thing! This trend has carried over to this year for Veganuary as supermarkets and restaurants were seen to release a variety of new products and widespread advertisement for vegan food. Most of the major UK supermarkets launched all new veganuary webpages and adverts featuring their new products as well as specialised recipes. Due to this, plant-based substitutes are becoming cheaper addressing two key problems of the vegan lifestyle; accessibility and affordability.
The appeal of veganism revolves around a group of intersectional issues. It covers the SDGs, racism, animal cruelty and many more. Veganism covers almost all 17 sustainable development goals but I’m going to focus on 5 of them:
- Goal 2 is Zero Hunger. A large aspect of this goal is food security and food production. Livestock and animal grazing takes up about 80% of the world’s agricultural land despite only providing less than 20% of the world’s calories. So, although on the surface, it seems like a vegan diet is a solution to this, a more varied diet is required in order to get all the required micronutrients.
- Goal 6 is Clean Water and Sanitation. This connects to veganism since most of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture and food growing. Textile and leather production is also a large cause of water pollution. The tanning process uses about 160 litres of water per 1kg of leather. However the alternative is a plastic-based leather product which is probably just as bad for the environment but better for water quality. This can be solved by purchasing secondhand leather. The textile industry pollutes waters with detergents, dyes, and chemicals often being dumped into the local rivers, in turn, compromising wildlife and drinking water. More advanced technology is being implemented to reduce freshwater contamination.
- Goal 13 is Climate action and also a key reason why people adopt the vegan lifestyle, in fact this was my main reason for moving to a plant-based and vegan lifestyle. The food we eat should be at the forefront of environmental action due to the numerous implications of animal products ranging from packaging to the greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the plastic in the ocean comes from the fishing industry which goes on to damage the ocean ecosystems even more. Livestock and cattle emit methane and 36% of the worlds crops go towards animal feed. In the US, 67% of crops are grown for animal feed which is shocking to think about.
- Goals 14 and 15 are Life Below Water and Life on Land. This connection is quite self-explanatory since avoiding eating animal products reduces the damage to the world’s biodiversity and animal life.
Identifying as a vegan should not be just about animal rights
Identifying as a vegan should not be just about animal rights. The movement is highly whitewashed especially on social media. The stereotype of a rich white female vegan who will shout at you for making the smallest mistakes saturates the platform and makes it very intimidating to even begin eating plant-based produce. They neglect to consider all sides of the problem. Where’s the activism for farmworkers and growers? Where is the energy to improve the conditions for the people who produce the food that you pick up in the supermarket? The intersectionality that is required for veganism is becoming more common but there is still not enough focus on people of colour in the vegan sphere. Plant-based eating isn’t a new phenomena, it’s been a large part of different cultures and religions for centuries.
Many people who practice Hinduism abide by some vegetarian habits with almost all strict Hindus abstaining from the consumption of beef as the cow is the holy symbol for unselfish giving. People who follow Buddhism have various views on vegetarianism with Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists being strictly vegetarian. However, other schools of thought do not condemn eating meat, leaving it as an individual choice. For people who follow Jainism, vegetarianism is mandatory and they also tend not to eat underground vegetables in order to prevent damage to insects and the plant itself. Clearly, the notion of plant based eating is not a new 21st century concept created in California!
I believe that perfect veganism isn’t something we should be striving for and instead we should be listening and learning and creating a welcoming environment for people to try veganism.
I hope this article has opened your eyes to the various issues surrounding veganism and not only the benefits it can bring, but also the improvements that need to be made. People with a platform should be spreading information about all facets of plant-based eating and handing the microphone to others with different experiences and backgrounds in order to bring a more kaleidoscopic view of the world and the food we eat. I believe that perfect veganism isn’t something we should be striving for and instead we should be listening and learning and creating a welcoming environment for people to try veganism. The rise of Veganuary has proved to be a great platform for this and I believe it will continue to grow and get the ball rolling for more tasty plant-based meals as well as a less divided society.
Art by Tina Smaile