With less than one per cent of the population in the UK declaring being vegan, the question is: why did it become so trendy these past few years and how healthy is it?
In 10 years, veganism has become such a phenomenal movement as it evolved into a trendy and ‘clean eating’ lifestyle, even supported by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen DeGeneres.
Veganism has different motivations for different people. There are two types of vegans: dietary vegans and ethical vegans.
Dietary vegans eat only plant-based foods, which is normally driven by personal health, while ethical veganism stems from the belief that we are truly harming the environment and animals by using them for consumerism.
Two weeks ago, American music producer DJ Khaled challenged himself by starting a plant-based diet, and could not have made vegans happier. The famous and admired DJ published a post on Instagram saying: “I care about my life”.
The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism is clear: “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.”
According to the campaign group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), London is the friendliest city to vegetarians: almost 10 per cent of the total UK population follow this diet and 1 per cent follow a vegan one, with one in five of those aged between 16 and 24 doing do.
One thing is to be sure: veganism will expand and hasn’t stopped shining yet. In fact, more and more people are changing their way of eating, not even by becoming vegetarian or vegan, but by being ‘flexitarian’: cutting down the amount of meat they eat while not having the big picture yet.
Irina Kondrashova, 27, is a London based strategy director for an advertising company and became vegan for health reasons. She was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), which means that there is a presence of cystic ovaries, which in turn causes a hormonal imbalance in the body giving bad side effects such as acne, obesity, hair loss, mood swings etc. According to NHS, one treatment for the condition is to adopt a vegan diet.
Irina has been vegan for five years now and says it had changed her life. “The main thing I will say about my condition since going vegan is that I don’t have hardly any symptoms of my condition anymore and I don’t take any medication for it. For me it’s been life-changing.”
She says that social media (specifically on Instagram and YouTube) has expanded the popularity of veganism significantly: “With social media, veganism feels both aspirational, but also really accessible, which is why it is becoming more mainstream.”
Additionally, according to NHS, “you should be able to get most of the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet”. So why is it such a disputed topic?
Irina is annoyed by the image of veganism: “Vegan influencers are not your stereotypical smelly hippy types – they’re healthy, young, good looking and happy people.”
The Vegan Society states that by avoiding saturated fat, vegans have less chance to carry a massive heart disease as meat and dairy products tends to be more dangerous, while plant-based products are generally lower in fat and do not contain cholesterol.
Ethical vegans don’t consume any animal products: no animal foods, but also don’t wear any make up tested on animals, leather or fur, and some even feed their pets a vegan diet.
On top of its health benefits, veganism is worried about animal protection. ‘Lucy’, who doesn’t want to reveal her name, has been a vegan make up blogger for years, with almost 3,000 followers on Facebook and advises a whole range of ‘cruelty free and vegan’ products.
She says: “One reason I run a vegan make up blog is to help people find the appropriate products and show it isn’t hard.”
“There are lots of high end and budget options and more and more companies are noticing that people care about animal testing and animal ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products.”
Charlotte Neph, 38, is an accountant and lives in Birmingham. She first became vegetarian 14 years ago.
Charlotte says: “I didn’t want animals to die unnecessarily for my food.”
“However, because I thought I was already doing the right thing, I never really researched the dairy and egg industries, and didn’t realise how much suffering and death they cause until I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer a little over 5 years ago.”
That’s when Charlotte transitioned to veganism and learned about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the strain it places on global resources and food supply.
She says she is now living a life more in accordance with her values and became more creative in her cooking since going vegan. However, she talks about the inconvenience of her lifestyle:
“If someone invites me for dinner for the first time, I always feel awkward telling them I am vegan and offer to bring something for myself or to help them cook.”
“Thankfully, most of my non-vegan friends and family see it as a fun challenge rather than an imposition.”