Shaun Britton Takes A Look At The Stakes Involved When We Go Vegan.
From the humble beginnings of a joinery teacher, to a global industry and ethical zeitgeist - whether regarded as fringe or future, the term ‘Vegan’ occupies a firm place in the public consciousness. But how did it get here, and where is it headed?
From Small Beginnings
The concept of rejecting animal foods for health, environmental or animal rights reasons can be followed back through human history - whether figures in antiquity, ancient religions or cultural reforms. The Age of Enlightenment ushered a wide acceptance of vegetarian ideals and practices, and as the meat and dairy industries began to grow with the industrial revolution, so did its detractors. In 1813, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote ‘A Vindication Of The Natural Diet’, championing a plant based diet from both a health and moral standpoint. Leo Tolstoy also famously stated in his book ‘What I Believe’ “As long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields” .
The International Vegetarian Union was founded in 1908, and vegetarianism grew in popularity. From here, one can follow the events that led to the term ‘Vegan’ being coined by Donald Watson in 1944, the joinery teacher who originally founded The Vegan Society. The term is designed to mean the following of Vegetarian to its natural conclusion - by using the start and end of the word to signify the rejection of all animal foods and products, arguing that dairy or eggs is no lesser an ethical divot than meat. Watson explained “We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies”.
If this article has been of interest to you, you may enjoy reading The Move Away From Meat.
The popular book ‘Diet for A Small Planet” published in 1971, heralded a new age of both alternative products and growing research that brought vegetarian and vegan ideas and foods into global focus.
Troubles And Transformations: A Picture Of The Modern World
Fast forward to the first few years of the new millennium, and mankind's footprint on the earth had reached breaking point, with a report by the UN warning of “accelerating, abrupt, and potentially irreversible changes” by 2050, revealing that “Humans are fundamentally and to a significant extent irreversibly changing the diversity of life on earth,” Challenging documentaries such as Earthlings (2005) and Forks Over Knifes (2011) and Cowspiracy (2014) as well as books such as Jonathan Safran Foer's 2011 book ‘Eating Animals’ brought veganism into public consciousness in the same way that vegetarianism had been introduced years earlier. This growing body of works not only illuminated issues such as animal exploitation and cruelty and environmental devastation, but began to paint the picture of a vegan diet and lifestyle as a solution to bleak ecological predictions.
The Vegan Solution?
Present day, the Vegan market has become a billion dollar industry, with the vegan cheese market alone predicted to be worth just under $4 billion by 2024. The Greggs’ vegan sausage roll became one of the companies fasting selling products (with an amusing twitter story to boot), and Papa John’s vegan cheese pizzas sold out within 24 hours of their launch. Supermarket shelf space for vegan products continues to grow, and more athletes, celebrities, professionals and researchers are lending their commendations. The EAT-lancet commission, led by 37 scientists advises switching animal proteins to plant proteins, and a similar report 'ENVIROCIDAL' by UK charity Viva! shows the devastation of animal agriculture, and further lends weight to a growing view that going vegan is the best hope for halting environmental devastation.
Far from remaining a fringe food movement, the growing popularity, research and investment seems to point to a definite conclusion; the future may very well be vegan, and we may very well need it to be. | Tru. 🌱
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Inaugural newsletter of the Vegan Society, Vegan News no. 1 (November 1944)
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Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis.
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