A few weeks ago, my daughter announced that she would no longer be eating lamb after seeing a lorry of animals travelling to the slaughterhouse on the motorway. I believe that my children should be free to express their own opinions and I should support them as much as possible. I wanted to honour her decision and so for the past few weeks, I have started to look at alternative family meals. I also heard an interesting programme on Radio 4 concerning the issues of following a vegetarian or vegan diet and I have to say that it really made me think about the amount of meat that we as a family, consume.
Vegetarianism in the Seventies and early Eighties was often regarded with suspicion. Vegetarians used to be treated like some sort of social pariah in most restaurants, with very few offering vegetarian options. I remember someone calling vegetarians, “The Brown Rice Brigade”. Vegetarians were often called hippies or accused of wearing sandals. I remember taking a school trip to France in the early Nineties and asking for a vegetarian meal for some students. They were given a plate of chips with bacon lardons on top! We have come a long way since those years of ignorance. There are a vast range of vegan and vegetarian cookery books, numerous vegan and vegetarian restaurants and most restaurants and cafes nowadays offer decent vegetarian and vegan options. The change to veganism is especially popular amongst the Under 35 age bracket.
So, what are the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet? What are some of the reasons for changing our diet in this way?
Cruelty to Animals
Many people are concerned with the cruelty towards animals of a carnivorous diet, especially regarding factory farming. Those who become vegan frequently cite the belief that dairy cows and egg-laying chickens lead miserable lives.
There are several reasons why a switch to veganism reduces someone’s impact on the environment. A great deal of land is required to look after and feed livestock, making it a considerable contributor to deforestation. Water used by animal agriculture, mostly as irrigation for crops, makes up around 8% of global human water use. Farmed animals generate waste and pollution since cows belch out enormous amounts of methane every day. In total, animal agriculture is responsible for around 14 to 18% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. 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.
There are many health benefits of following a meat-free diet. Vegans tend to have lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, a lower body mass index, and reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer.
Social media and Celebrities
Social media has greatly influenced the move to veganism by many young people. Being able to connect with other vegans online makes communicating issues surrounding diet – and promoting upcoming vegan food fairs, events and protests – much easier. There are many new vegan YouTubers who share their vegan lifestyle tips with their millions of viewers. Social media has also made sharing recipes much easier. There are also many celebrities who endorse a vegan diet.
Greater opportunities to choose vegan
We are seeing increasing amounts of vegan restaurants, vegan food fairs and vegan cafes. Many high street chains also provide vegan and vegetarian choices on their menus with Greggs also making a vegan sausage roll. Even coffee shops are offering vegan alternatives to dairy. It is becoming increasingly easy to become vegan.
During rationing and right up until the 1980s, meat was expensive, and many families were not able to afford to eat it every day. Whilst I am not going to switch to veganism just yet, I do think as a family we need to have meat-free days. I think the most important reasons concern health and the impact on the environment. With more and more supermarkets offering vegan alternatives, and more recipes available to try, then it is certainly something I shall be doing in 2020.