A New Year; a New You. That’s how the general thinking goes, isn’t it? Come January, we’re over-indulged, bursting at the seams with a craving not for further decadence and rich foods, but for a lighter, fresher, healthier way of life. Well, roll on in (no joke intended) Veganuary.
Now a regular on the January dieting scene (250,000 joined the campaign in 2019), turning vegan for the first month of the year is promoted as the boost your system could use. But it is so much more than that. Veganism isn’t just a quick detoxifier; it isn’t just another change of diet sought at any new year’s commencement; and it isn’t just a fad of food fashion. What it is, is an overhaul in thinking. And what better a way to reduce your carbon footprint and tread less weightily (figuratively and literally speaking) upon this planet than by ceasing to contribute to what has become a very real global livestock problem? How much more preferable to fill your plate instead with plant-based foods, and top up your mugs and glasses with non-dairy drinks to quench that thirst.
Such a move is considered by some to be self-defeating. Each individual is but one person, some argue, what difference will their singular dietary inroads into veganism really make to the planet? Well, it boils down to a question of supply and demand. When you look at the figures (that in just one lifetime a single person will consume over 7,000 animals all on their own), the question seems a tad redundant. Yes, your grandfather might have eaten meat and eggs his whole life and lived to the grand old age of 92, but nutritionists nowadays argue that a vegan diet is very much sustainable (in all senses) with careful planning, though with supplementation of vitamin B12 (iron and zinc, and other crucial vitamins and minerals, are readily available within a balanced plant-based diet).
Indeed, it is all a matter of education. As for those who cry, “Anaemia!”: studies have shown that iron deficiency anaemia occurs in an estimated 3% of men and 8% of women, irrespective of diet. Furthermore, half a cup of cooked lentils contains nearly twice the amount of iron as 110g of beef.
It has been societally embedded in our minds from infancy that meat, dairy, and eggs must play a part in our daily and weekly nutritional requirements. Nevertheless, an awakening is now happening; people are beginning to explore and think outside the box. This, following decades of inertia and slow uptake at the tail end of the 20th Century, when vegetarian philosophers like Peter Singer were writing about the morality of meat consumption, and Gary L. Francione took the case further, pushing the necessity of giving due consideration to the experience of non-human animals by rising above speciesism and its concomitant enslavement tendencies, fully embracing a vegan lifestyle. Yes, something always dies no matter what is consumed, but it is sentience that differentiates the carrot from the chicken and that makes all the difference to our ethics.
Through targeted campaigns by the Vegetarian Society, the Vegan Society, and a pictorially illustrated path on Instagram inclusive of posts by organisations such as Peta and Viva!, the reality of what animals in farming environments truly suffer – all so Babe becomes a banger – is beginning to sink in; and with it, a question of ethics. Given that the UN warned not so long ago that global meat consumption would double between the years 2000 to 2050, and that the ‘livestock sector’ was culpable for “more greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions than all transportation combined” (by conservative estimates, this figure equates to 18% of all GHGs, compared to 13% from all transport), the question begs: what are we waiting for?
Many, of course, are no longer waiting. A large proportion of society is already vegetarian and in under 25 years, a quarter of the population could be vegan (whereas in Israel already up to 8% follow a vegan diet). According to a survey carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Vegan Society, of the 600,000 people in the UK who are vegan around 42% are in the 15- to 34-year old age bracket (with 14% aged over 65 years). Of this demographic, 63% are female, 38% university-educated, and a whopping 22% London-based.
However, although vegetarian and vegan products now almost proliferate in stores, facilitating an easier more widespread shift to this way of life, there are many who still refuse to believe a plant-based way of life now and/or in the future really is the answer.
One big contra-argument to the Vegantopia has been the consideration of production methods and costs surrounding sustainably grown nuts and pulses. How can this compare, however, when one looks at the statistics that surround livestock rearing? In fact, many more jobs would be created by the heavily labour-intensive farming methods required for the likes of walnuts and beans.
Furthermore, the Vegan on the Go campaign (striving to have vegan meals offered as the norm on flights) estimates that were each and every person who flies out from Heathrow in a single day to opt to eat vegan, there would be a reduction in 33,592 tonnes of carbon dioxide in those 24 hours. That’s the equivalent of driving 112,695,851 miles in a petrol car in the UK.
For those proponents of an omnivorous diet, who proclaim that a ‘moderate’ amount of meat and dairy and eggs is fine – how can that be when a ‘moderate’ amount requires 11 million hectares of land, whereas a vegan diet requires only 3 million? Far more edible food can be harvested from the same amount of space needed for livestock. As AWFW (A Well-Fed World) reported, “only 400-480 pounds of meat can be produced on one acre of land, compared to 20,000 pounds of plant foods.” When you consider that 45% of the Earth’s total land is covered by livestock, the mental picture is quite something.
Essentially, vegans go directly to the source. In a food pyramid, the energy level consumption by herbivores and carnivores is greatly different: why eat the cow who eats the grass when you would be better off eating the grass directly? The only protein you’re getting from the cow is a pre-digested one. Therein lies another moral dilemma: the global hunger crisis. Too many are going without enough crop space due to the ‘livestock revolution’.
A plant-based diet – if not wholly, then mainly – is the only way to reverse the path we’re on by 2050 and somehow achieve the UK’s goal of a Net Zero level of all carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions. As Kip Andersen’s infamous Cowspiracy film uncovered, “Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.”
The argument, on the face of it, all seems very land-based. But don’t think the fact that a creature lives underwater lets you off. Nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is ocean, which translates to 99% of our planet’s living space. And Man is its worst enemy, with the oceans on course to be fishless by 2048, due to overfishing upsetting the balance of underwater ecology. Scientists estimate that between 0.97 and 1.97 trillion fish a year worldwide are killed by the commercial fishing industry, and the AWFW asserts that “shrimp fisheries have the highest bycatch rates, with (on average) four tonnes of fish discarded for every tonne of shrimp caught.” Indeed, farmed fish is an ‘evil’ our planet simply cannot afford, not least by cause of the polluted waters that bleed out into the wild. And for those who declare they couldn’t live without sushi: with so many delectable vegan versions around now, in short, yes you can.
Sadly, even vegetarians still perpetuate some cruelty. Though you might believe you could never give up your beloved cheese, have you delved deeper into the dairy industry? Repeated enforced impregnation of heifers, traumatic calf-snatching within 24 hours of birth, the boys slaughtered or marked down for veal and the girls doomed to a lifetime just like their mothers’ – all for a pouring of cold milk on a bowl of morning cornflakes. It is when these facts reveal themselves that vegans seem to be making a very valid point.
More and more people are switching from traditional dairy milk to alternatives for reasons ranging from allergy and intolerance to simply seeking a healthier lifestyle. For further information, please see “A Dairy-Free Alternative: Thinking Nuts (and Seeds & Legumes)”.
Even from a purely alimentary viewpoint, the question over whether to go vegan becomes rhetorical the more we understand the whys and the wherefores: if bacon and salami, and sausages and ham all have meat-free replacements which taste the same if not better, and don’t raise the risk of bowel cancer, why opt for the pig? If oat and almond milk are readily available, why steal the calf from its mother for a ripened bit of brie? And as for spreading that slice of toast with honey: did you stop to think how long it took the bee to gather pollen for its winter stores now dripping from off your knife?
To care about animals is to follow in a long line of very famous people: William Wilberforce, Henry Bergh, Frances Power Cobbe, Annie Besant… Many people duly no longer consume animal flesh. Just look at England striker Jermaine Defoe, the fastest thing on four wheels Lewis Hamilton, boxer David Haye, and Made in Chelsea’s vegan restauranteur and cookery writer, Lucy Watson. To care is to be fashionable. The vegan diet is the most ‘natural‘ diet there is. All things considered, in 2020 Veganuary should become a 12-month affair that lasts a lifetime.