Veganism is on the rise across the UK

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in relation to diet. Unlike a vegetarian diet, where people do not eat meat or fish, a vegan diet avoids all animal products including dairy, eggs and honey in addition to meat and fish. Both vegetarianism and veganism have been practiced for thousands of years for various different reasons, however in recent years it has become far more prevalent and popular in modern society. This is reflected in the increase in sales of plant based products in supermarkets across the UK.

According to research conducted by the Vegan Society the number of vegans in Great Britain has quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 as demonstrated in the chart below.

Additionally based on data from YouGov the number of young people turning vegan is also on the rise as almost 20% of young people in Britain do not eat meat, and a further 20% only ‘occasionally’ eat it as part of a flexitarian diet.

There are various reasons why someone may choose to go vegan.

For example, deciding to go vegan can also simply be a matter of taste, part-time vegan baker Rebecca McQuillan (23) opted for a vegan diet three years ago, ‘there were two things that encouraged me to become vegan. The first was as I got older I started to dislike the taste and texture of meat. The second was I became more aware of the treatment of animals.’

The animal cruelty or ethical argument is the most predominant reason why people opt for a vegan diet. Many vegans are concerned about the care given to rearing farm animals such as egg-laying chickens and dairy cows as they can lead unpleasant and unnecessarily cruel, short lives. Therefore some vegans believe that refraining from the use of all animal products is the only way to help prevent this cruelty. Others believe that all creatures have a right to life and that killing in order to eat is wrong. Or sometimes it is simply due to ones affection for animals and finding it difficult to separate the idea of some animals being pets and some being products.

Farming, has also had a major impact on the environment which is another reason many choose to go vegan. The land needed to feed and support livestock is a significant contributor to deforestation and the water used as irrigation for feed crops accounts for around 8% of the global human water use. Furthermore, the pollution of waterways has also worsened due to the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers when growing crops. Some vegans argue if plants were grown mainly for human consumption many of these problems could be resolved.

There are also many health benefits to going vegan. Although it has been argued that not all necessary nutrients can be gained from a plant based diet many vegans argue that this is a myth. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are all naturally low in fat and cholesterol and rich in fibre, magnesium, potassium and many vitamins. Those who advocate for a plant based diet say that vegans typically have lower levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and have a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.

Furthermore, when antibiotics were first introduced it was discovered that low doses could promote growth in farm animals. This has subsequently resulted in an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria or ‘superbugs’. According to the World Health Organisation this is one of the ‘main threats to modern medicine’ killing approximately 1.27 million people worldwide with the potential to rise to 10 million a year by 2050. Due to the use of antibiotics in livestock many choose to go vegan as it is the most effective way to avoid these superbugs and maintain good health.

Additionally, Rebecca believes that there has been an increase in the number of people going both vegan and vegetarian due to increased variety of meat free alternatives as well as a greater awareness of the benefits to people’s health and environment. ‘I’ve been a vegan for three years now and I’ve seen an increase in options and variety in both supermarkets and fast food chains. I think both vegan and vegetarian diets have taken off over the last few years because of this. As well as more people becoming aware of the treatment of animals and how veggie/vegan diets can be better for the planet and the benefits to people’s health and wellbeing.’

It is evident that there are many benefits to adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. Additionally with the increase in options in both supermarkets and fast food chains it has never been more straightfoward, as Rebecca says, ‘I don’t expect everyone to become a vegetarian or vegan but taking part in meatless Mondays or Veganuary would be a good start.’