It seems like EVERYONE is talking about veganism right now. A once niche market is exploding everywhere – not just in hipster spots in Shoreditch, but every high street in the UK and every supermarket is bursting with vegan food, products, magazines, you name it. It’s hard to say right now whether the UK is more divided over Brexit or the new Gregg’s vegan sausage roll (though I expect there is a high correlation between each side on both issues). I’ve been vegan full time for over a year now, and I was in transition and mostly vegan for the year before that. But why?
Well, apart from enjoying looking smugly down my nose at everyone else (obvs) and the added bonus of knowing our very existence raises the blood pressure of Piers Morgan on a daily basis, there are some really solid reasons why so many people have made the transition, turning veganism from a fringe movement to a full on vegalution within just a few years.
I should just say in advance that I don’t judge anyone for eating meat and dairy (although I obviously don’t like it). We have all grown up eating this way and it’s all we’ve ever been told is normal, natural, and until recently all that has been available in a Western diet. There are so many things that are messed up in the way we’re accustomed to living out lives that we don’t see the behind -the -scenes of, and this is just one of them. I was guilty for years, even as someone who was vegetarian since childhood ‘for the animals’ of being blind, and then resistant to knowing, how abusive the dairy industry was because I really loved cheese (and god, I’m not too holier- than-thou to admit that I miss it). I didn’t want to give it up, or to have my life made any more difficult when I felt I already went out of my way enough to ‘do the right thing’. But now this choice is getting easier and ever, and the reasons for it, when I read about them, were too compelling to ignore. So here we go:
The animals. Dairy is scary. Milk and eggs are natural by-products which animals need to get rid of anyway, right? So animals don’t die for dairy? Wrong.
To produce milk, cows, like humans, have to have recently given birth – it doesn’t just naturally come out of them all the time. So, to maintain a supply of milk dairy farms have to forcibly inseminate cows (which is basically inter-species rape). Like human mothers, the cow brings her baby to term, gives birth, bonds with the baby. The baby is then taken away from her so that humans can take the milk that was made for them. Baby boys are killed, baby girls are bred into the same system of abuse. The mother cow mourns the loss of her child just as we would. Can you imagine having your baby taken away from you? She is then pumped with hormones and her milk is taken from her for the next few months. Then she is impregnated again, her baby is taken away again, and the system repeats. There is no ethical milk, no such thing as free-range. Cow’s milk was never meant for human consumption. Why would we consider drinking milk from other animals (cats? pigs?) to be gross, but assume that cow’s milk is meant for us?
While there are scales of abuse in the industry, and supposedly UK farms conform to higher welfare standards than the rest of the world (though I’ve seen some horrendous videos of treatment of animals in UK dairy farms), there is just no way to produce milk without actively engaging in this process of abuse. ‘Organic’ does not mean ethical. Cows can naturally live for 20 years, but in the dairy industry she will only make it until six before her abused body is worn out and she is culled for meat. Not so natural after all. Realising this fact also helped me to understand vegetarianism is an illogical position; by consuming dairy, you are contributing to the meat industry even if you think you’re boycotting it.
And what about eggs? They’re chicken periods, right? So they come out all the time without harming the bird? Well, yes, if you have a pet chicken. But we go through 32 million eggs every day in the UK. To feed this drive, chickens are bred to lay hundreds of eggs per year, whereas in the wild they would have around 12, about the same amount a human female has a period to maintain a reproductive system. And more birds are needed, so hundreds of thousands of baby chicks are born every day. The cute yellow fluffy things, right? But what use are the boys, who will never give eggs? None. So the male chicks are killed by the most convenient way possible, which can include gassing, or even being thrown into a giant blender. Yes, seriously. There is no such thing as ‘free range’ – this happens at a ‘happy egg company’ and it happens at all large scale egg companies. And even if you say you only buy locally – will you check every item you ever buy and eat that has eggs in it? Every cake, every pastry, every shop-bought sandwich on the run? The only way to not participate in this abuse is to get out of eating eggs completely.
The environment. There is a building body of conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating that the meat industry is the highest contributor to climate change, is a huge factor in wide-scale destruction of the rainforests, and is not sustainable for long-term food production. A plant-based diet is the only diet which can produce enough food for everyone without destroying the planet. What about soy being damaging to the environment? I’m asked all the time. Actually, the VAST majority of soy (about 75%) is produced for cattle feed. Which produces less calories and contributes even further to carbon emissions. If we took out the cows, we would need less soy because we could produce more food for more people with the same resources. Climate change is already causing devastation, loss of livelihood, and taking lives around the world every day through extreme weather and destruction of resources. We cannot afford to be flippant about this. Going vegan is the best thing you can personally do to contribute to reducing climate-change right now, and if we don’t, we seem to be very close to hitting a crisis point soon where it actually becomes necessary to avoid extinction.
If you think one person can’t make an impact, check out these great calculators which demonstrate the environmental impacts of different foods and types of milk.
Reducing extreme poverty and malnutrition worldwide. If skipping meat for more meals meant you could make sure someone else doesn’t go hungry, isn’t that the easiest way for the average person to contribute to end global food poverty? Meat production being a less effective use of resources is not just theory, it is a large part of the reason why there are so many people dying of malnutrition on our planet right now, while others have an excess of calories. (Here are some other reasons). SO much more land is needed for breeding animals, for meat which is exported for wealthier people to eat. A report in this scientific journal demonstrates that a meat-based diet uses 160 times the resources of a plant-based one. So, for every one hundred people that go plant-based, the resources could be freed for up to 16,000 more people to have enough to eat.
Health. There’s a myth that you need to eat meat and dairy to be healthy and maintain a balanced diet that fulfils all your nutritional needs. Not only is this not true, but meat products, particularly red meat and processed foods, have now been recognised by the World Health Organisation and cancer charities as carcinogenic. There is a clear link between eating meat and getting bowel cancer, the second deadliest cancer in the UK. It increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18% and pre -menopausal breast cancer by 22%, as well as pancreatic and prostate cancer.
Meat and dairy are also very high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. In fact, scientific studies have shown that high meat intake directly contributes to developing type 2 diabetes. So not only does it kill the planet to produce it, it’s actually killing you too. And people say vegans are extreme…
But what about dairy? We’ve been told our whole lives to drink milk, that dairy is good for you and full of calcium. But the reality is, cow’s milk is produced biologically to make little cows grow up fast. It’s not meant for humans. Which means that by ingesting cow’s milk (a baby cow growth formula), we actually ingest a huge whack of hormones that are not meant for our species. It’s not really surprising that so many people are ‘lactose intolerant’. As the saying goes, you’re not lactose intolerant, you’re just not a baby cow, bro.
So what of the alternatives? The protein question is one I’m asked all the time. The good news is, it’s incredibly easy to get enough protein as a vegan. Animals that people eat for protein actually have to get their protein from somewhere too – plants. We can just skip going through an animal to get it. Apart from the booming market in meat substitutes, there are all natural and high-nutrient foods like beans (kidney, black, edamame, uduki, soy etc.), pulses like chickpeas and lentils, nuts, seeds, and nut butters, and even peas, rice, and oats actually contain a surprising amount of protein, and are very low in saturated fat, particularly compared to meat protein. Calcium is found in a huge array of leafy green veg as well as fortified foods. The only thing you can’t get in a vegan diet is B12 – but I just take a supplement and that’s that. Easy. I’ve never eaten a more healthy, nutrient dense diet and I consume considerably less saturated fat.
It’s more accessible and cheaper than ever before. There was a time when being vegan meant your only option when eating out was a side-salad or chips, and making the choice was a real sacrifice that made eating socially really difficult. This is no longer the case. I admit that it is only since the vegan movement started to boom in 2016/7 that I decided it was easy enough to hop on board by trying Veganuary thinking it would be just a ‘one month challenge’, but when I realised how easy it was, I made it permanent. The majority of restaurants now cater to vegans and will help if they don’t have something on their menu already.
The fact that it’s gone mainstream means it’s also cheaper than ever. The idea that a vegan diet is only for pretentious middle-class people is a myth. Doesn’t everyone deserve to eat well? The majority of naturally vegan foods are cheap anyway (I eat a lot of oats, rice, veg, beans, chickpeas). However, if you are into substitutes (I love a big burger or fake fish finger every now and then), these are now either at or close to price parity with animal products. Case point, I have a vegan friend who only earns £10k a year! If you think about it, meat and cheese are actually really expensive, so you might find eating more vegan meals helps rather than hurts your wallet.
It’s delicious. There’s no reason why in this day and age eating vegan means just soggy soy and brown rice. I don’t find it a sacrifice, and if anything I’m eating better and more interesting food than ever. Going vegan has inspired me to expand my cooking repertoire and try loads of new recipes and ingredients I’d never heard of before. From seitan to nooch, jackfruit, banana blossom, and almond butter, there’s a world of food to discover.
And speaking of the world, given my love of travel, it’s been really exciting to try local vegan food as I roam the planet, diversifying my palette and showing that there really are a million different takes on a plant-based cuisine. I hope that this blog and my linked Instagram account will inspire others by showcasing how to eat and travel vegan, with some serious food porn along the way. Going vegan is no longer a sacrifice, it’s just a way of living to reduce suffering, in accordance with our planet’s limits, that still means you can eat an incredible array of amazing grub every day – and live longer, too.
So why not try it? Even if it’s for just a month, a week, or trying a new recipe or menu item here and there, incorporating more vegan food into the global diet will do wonders.