Seven reasons why people are going vegan

The number of young people turning vegan is on the up. According to a 2016 survey, the number of vegans in Britain has increased by more than 360% over the past decade, and it’s a movement being led by the under 35s. The Food Programme has been investigating the "vegangelical" cause. Why are more of us swerving meat and dairy and happily going herbivore?

Vegans abstain from eating any animal products, like meat, fish, eggs, dairy and honey.

1. Animal cruelty or the ethical argument

For many people, not having a hand in the exploitation of animals remains the key factor in their decision to go vegan. For some, it’s a belief that all sentient creatures have a right to life, and that killing to eat is wrong. And for others, it is affection for animals that makes the idea of harming one to put food on their own plate difficult. For some, it’s tricky to make the leap from taking a beloved dog for a walk, to feasting on a bacon butty. Many abstain from animal products because they find factory farming cruel and inhumane. As well as the slaughtering of animals for meat, many vegans are concerned that egg-laying chickens and dairy cows can lead unnecessarily miserable and short lives. For them, the only way to really prevent cruelty is to abstain from all animal produce.

2. Going green

Many switch to veganism to reduce their impact on the environment. Vast swathes of land are required to support and feed livestock, making it a significant contributor to deforestation. And the water used by animal agriculture, mostly as irrigation for feed crops, accounts for around 8% of global human water use. Enormous crops of corn or grain also require pesticides and fertilisers, leading to pollution of our waterways. Some vegans argue that if we grew plants merely for human consumption, rather than for supporting livestock, many of these problems would be solved.

On top of this, the farmed animals themselves generate waste and pollution (with cows belching out enormous amounts of methane every day) and animal agriculture is responsible for around 14 to 18% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. That’s higher than transportation!

3. Health

Many vegans choose the diet for its health benefits. Although veganism requires supplements and careful planning, they’d argue that it’s a bit of a myth that we can’t get all our necessary nutrients eating outside of animal produce. Whole grains, vegetables and fruits are naturally low in fat and cholesterol and rich in fibre, magnesium, potassium and many vitamins.

Advocates of plant-based eating say vegans typically have lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, a lower body mass index, and reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

The things you shouldn't argue about with a vegan

Grace Dent talks with Jay Brave, poet, spoken word artist and creator of Stormzy parody ‘Vegan Shut Up’, about how veganism is about asserting personal autonomy.

4. Personal autonomy and challenging the status quo

Jay Brave – spoken word artist, entertainer and vegan ambassador – says that for many, choosing plant-based cuisine “comes from a place of personal autonomy.” Young people are asking how they can “take back control of their own diet”, in a system where they’re not in control of many of the things that they purchase.

He believes that it’s a way for young people to be autonomous from the get go, before they even start worrying about their careers: “They can actually look at how they can build from the inside out: starting with their own bodies, then their own families, then their own communities and then we look at the country as a whole.”

5. Social media and the vegan revolution

Grace Dent believes that, “social media has set light to the vegan movement” and that before the internet, “to be vegan was largely to be alone.” Those days are well and truly over. Being able to connect with other vegans online makes communicating issues surrounding diet – and promoting upcoming vegan food fairs, events and protests – much easier. Young vegans rave about aspirational YouTubers, such as Bonny Rebecca and Freelee the Banana Girl, who share their vegan lifestyle tips with millions of viewers.

Sean Callaghan, or Fat Gay Vegan, has a huge online following. Grace states: “I hold Sean and his blog and his Instagram responsible for how veganism’s grown in my life. If a vegan product has been added to a supermarket, Fat Gay Vegan covers it. If a high street chain is experimenting with a vegan dish, Sean will be on the case.”

And Social media has crucially made sharing recipes much easier. Ian Theasby and Henry Firth from “Bosh!” create simple and imaginative vegan recipes which are filmed and broadcast to over 1.4m Facebook users. Their videos are short, intoxicating, with no agenda or fuss – just showcasing delicious, comforting food that happens to be meat free. On their website, Ian and Henry say they have “a burning desire to show the world just how easy it can be to eat plants.”

6. Celebrity endorsements

High profile and celebrity vegans are showing young people that it’s possible to be successful, and look and feel amazing without consuming meat and dairy. Among those making eating soya look sexy are Ellie Golding, Natalie Portman, Ellen De Generes, Joaquin Phoenix, Russell Brand and Miley Cyrus.

Jay Brave also cites the UK grime scene as being hugely influential. There are artists from the old-school US hip-hop scene –Russell Simmons from Death Jam and RZA from the Wu Tang Clan – who have been advocates of vegan eating for years, and now young British grime artists are also leading the charge – singing and rapping about veganism on our airwaves.

7. Greater opportunities to choose vegan

Vegan stalls, cafes and restaurants are popping up all over the country. Fat Gay Vegan Set up the hugely popular Hackney Downs vegan market, now weekly, and also runs vegan beer festivals. Maria Rose has just opened Purity Petal vegan cafe in Barnstaple and hopes that it is slowly creating a more enlightened scene in North Devon.

On top of specialist vendors, mainstream suppliers are now recognising the viability of vegan food. Top restaurants increasingly offer vegan dishes and in most supermarkets there’s now a whole range of plant based milks to choose from: almond, soy, rice, oat and coconut to name a few! Eating vegan has never been so easy.