Veganism is by no means the fringe movement it was five years ago. Most restaurants now offer vegan meals and all supermarkets stock a substantial number of vegan products. Many people have also become more accustomed to the idea of not having a piece of meat with every meal. Generally, cutting animal products out of your diet is presented as a healthier and more sustainable way to live.
However, being a vegan isn’t straightforward. Getting all the nutrients and vitamins, particularly B12, you need from a vegan diet is tougher than it would be from a flexitarian one. Finding this balance in a vegan diet takes more time, energy and sometimes money. Furthermore, finding the time to plan and ensure that you are balancing the intake of all the nutrients your body needs can be tricky in the fast-paced world in which we live.
But a lack of nutrients is not the only thing harming vegans and the vegan movement. The aggression to be found in some devoted groups and individuals, as well as the hypocrisy that this sometimes exposes, are a terrible advert for veganism. For example, while many involved in the movement berate others for eating unsustainably, the consumption of foods such as avocados and soy-based products (poster foods of the vegan diet) is hugely damaging to the environment and has a massive carbon footprint.
According to WWF: “Without proper safeguards, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe.” This, coupled with the transportation needed to get soy from the ground to our plates, creates a huge issue.
In order to engage with people about the impact of the human diet on the planet, we must start small. The only way to secure the support of a large percentage of the population is to go for the softer approach of the flexitarian diet. This approach to eating involves a vegetarian or plant-based diet with the inclusion of a small amount of meat and animal products. It is the only way that the public will get involved and not become alienated. Change cannot take place overnight; for many, to halt their consumption of meat altogether is not a viable option.
Many of our industries in the UK are built on dairy or meat production. To halt production in these areas altogether would create mass unemployment and severely damage the economy. To gain people’s interest, it would be much more effective to start with suggestions, such as one or two vegetarian or vegan meals a week. Change must start somewhere, however small.
The reality is that many people in this country rely on the very industries that hardline vegans are seeking to disperse. You cannot threaten these livelihoods if you wish to get these members of the public involved. The government’s most recent announcement for sustainable farming over 50 years is a step in the right direction, even if it could have gone further.
In 2019, a report released by the EAT foundation outlined the importance of a change in our diet. Professor Walter Willett stated that a “transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50 per cent […] A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
However, the release of such reports is in itself not enough. One thing the report really emphasised was the need for a focus on health and nutrition alongside increased sustainability. In order to properly inform people about the nutrients they need, an overhaul of our education system is needed. Health and sustainability must coexist if we are to make any lasting changes.
Furthermore, the price of nutrient-rich, sustainably sourced and healthy foods must be brought down to make them more accessible. Sustainability isn’t something we – or our planet – should have to pay extra for.
Get these things right and we might just have a chance of convincing the wider population that veganism is the right way to go.
Matilda Martin is a freelance writer, specialising in mental health and consumer affairs
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