It's World Vegan Day!
The term vegan was coined in the year 1944 for the establishment of a newsletter entitled ‘The Vegan News’ by Donald Watson. Watson founded the Vegan Society in the same year, as something of a reverse portmanteau, removing the middle letters of the word ‘vegetarian’. 50 years later, World Vegan Day was introduced in 1994 by Louise Wallis, chair of the very same Vegan Society, to commemorate this historic moment in the movement’s history.
What initially seemed to be a fringe trend has, recently, proven itself to be much more than a fad, at once operating as an individual lifestyle and a political movement. This derives from the three primary reasons behind being vegan – the environment, health & ethics. In an age of increasing climate change awareness, much of the attention is directed toward fossil fuel emissions and the overproduction of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials. What has received little attention is the large proportion of carbon emissions resulting from the agricultural industry, particularly animal farming, with the food system contributing to roughly half of global greenhouse gas emissions. This ecological threat proves challenging to discuss in any meaningful sense due to the public resistance to reducing their consumption of animal products. If there was such uproar over asking people not to use plastic straws, can you imagine the reaction to asking people to stop eating meat? Add to this that 46% of the plastic in our oceans is discarded fishing netting and the scale of the problem becomes clear.
The second motivation is an ethical one – namely, the objection to the system of exploitation which rears innumerable animals for human consumption on an unthinkable scale. From the forced impregnation of chickens to the slaughter of young calves to harvest the milk of their mothers, and of course, the cramped environments in which these creatures are all kept and the horror becomes impossible to ignore – or so it would seem. Melanie Joy’s theory of carnism explains our shock and outrage at the consumption of dogs and other domesticated animals, while we turn a blind eye to the wholesale murder of cows and sheep, despite these animals possessing the same level of sentience as each other.
The third and more recent development is the part played by our health and diet. The recent revision of the history of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer cultures has improved our understanding of the natural composition of our diet, and how cultural shifts during the post-war boom led to significantly higher levels of consumption of animal products to a degree which is unhealthy. Unfortunately, the overreaching influence of the food lobby led to decades of misinformation, and only now are we comprehending the actual health risks of red meats to our coronary system, the carcinogenic nature of dairy products and the pressure that the digestion of excess protein puts on our kidneys. Also considering that the standard omnivorous diet in the West is likely to be deficient in plant-based foods and therefore lacking in key nutrients and the benefits of a vegan diet become clear.
A person may only switch to a vegan diet for one of these reasons, but once all three are considered in unison, it’s easy to see why few vegans tend to revert to an omnivorous or even frugivorous diet. This shift in ethical, personal and political beliefs to something far removed from the status quo demonstrates why veganism is not a trend or fad, but in fact, a lifestyle which manifests socially as a movement which is on the rise.