Veganism – the point, vices and virtues

As you might have guessed correctly from the title, I’m here to talk about veganism. Be prepared to come across the term multiple times in the next few minutes as I talk about its origin, beliefs, benefits, drawbacks and more. Majority of us recognize veganism (the minority of another minority, vegetarianism) to be the practice of excluding dairy and other animal products in our diet. This understanding is not entirely wrong but let us see what the vegan society has to say. As defined by them, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or. any other purpose. Hence it is important to note that veganism is not just another dietary plan but a lifestyle.

The concept of veganism can be traced to back to ancient Indian and Mediterranean societies. However the word  ‘vegan’ came into the picture not many years ago. It was coined by a Brit named Donald Watson. At the age of fourteen, young Donald was so disturbed after seeing pigs being slaughtered on his uncle’s farm that he decided to turn vegetarian. Eighteen years later, he decided to take vegetarianism to a new level by becoming fully vegan. He was strictly against the consumption of meat and exploitation of animals for human needs and wanted to identify himself differently among all the vegetarians for eschewing eggs and dairy. Thus he referred to himself as a vegan.

With the sole motive of encouraging more people to adopt the vegan lifestyle, Donald Watson created the Vegan Society back in 1944 (which is very much active even today). Back in the day, Watson’s idea was laughed upon and considered foolish. For majority of the population (especially in Britain), meat was a vital part of a healthy diet. Thus when this group of individuals calling themselves ‘vegans’ tried to counter their approach to food, the people almost felt threatened. And this feeling still prevails.

As of 2020, the vegan community has spread all over the world and comprises of millions. Social media has had a big role to play in the rise of this plant based lifestyle. In the last few years it has gone from being a mocked culture to becoming a popular ideology, especially among the younger generations who are the target audience of the influencer industry. If you ask the average teenager to turn vegan, do not be shocked to see an eye-roll or to hear replies such as ‘I’d rather not eat grass for dinner’ or ‘not a fan of rabbit food’.  But if you spam the same person’s social media feed with  pictures of vibrant acai bowls and green smoothies posted by their favourite celebrities /social media influencers , you’re bound to get a different reaction. The online platform not only allows vegans to share their passion with the world but also serves as a great medium in shunning misconceptions and dispelling stereotypes. The myth that vegans are just a bunch of peace-loving hippies who wear flower crowns and live on lettuce is slowly but surely changing.

Another popular misconception, as stated earlier, is assuming veganism to be restricted to food choices only. Some other popular aspects of vegan living include – medicine, clothing, accessories and most importantly environment. People choose to be vegan not only because they consider it moral to avoid animal products but also because they believe it to be better for the environment; and that is 100% true. It’s the single best way of reducing your carbon footprint that you leave behind on Earth. In fact researchers and environmentalists believe that promoting vegan diets could be one of the key steps in combating the effects of climate change. In case you are wondering how the two are related –
Meat production accounts for almost 13-18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Beef production is the biggest problem as compared to other forms of meat as it devours more sources (such as land, water, fertilizer) and causes more environmental damage than any other single food product. Having a diet full of veggies does less harm for the simple reason that – it is more efficient to grow a crop and eat it rather than having to grow a crop, feed it to an animal to build up muscle mass and then eat the animal.

But every ideology, every choice has its own set of pros and cons. The vegan diet is not always green. Having half knowledge before embracing such a huge lifestyle change can do more harm than good. If we do not make a conscious effort to monitor our choices, our actions can lead to a lot of unintended consequences including a negative impact on the environment. Some plant based foods and products can come with a heavy price, for example – air-transported fruit and veg can create more greenhouse gasses emissions per kilogram than poultry meat. At a personal level, it can make us prone to certain health risks, various deficiencies and a weaker immune system.

But looking at the bigger picture, we can agree that all in all, the vegan movement is certainly going mainstream; so much that 2019 was named the ‘Year of the Vegan’ by The Economist. Statistics reveal that by 2040, only 40% of the global population will be consuming meat with 35% consuming clean (lab) meat and 25% vegan meat replacements. Vegan diets truly seem to have a vital role to play in saving the world from hunger and fuel poverty. Hence this tide of veganism is certainly paving the way for change making it like a lifestyle choice that is here to stay.