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The vegan thing

"Vegan Australia is more than our name, it's our goal!"

After my waffle on waffles yesterday I thought it was time to turn to a more serious thought piece. And vegan is something I have been meaning to tackle for a while.

I don't think there is really a lot to say about it, and what I do have to say is probably obvious, but anyway here I go.

Before beginning this 'investigation' I confess I was a bit anti veganism. Probably mostly because of the extremists who take extreme actions to make their point. I did not include in this antipathy the vegans who need to be vegans because of some health issues - lactose intolerance, allergies - who knows what they are, although I do know there are some conditions that require people to be vegan. I think there are a few religions - coptic Christians? - who are required to be vegan too. Not a good enough reason for me, but I do respect people's right to their weird religious ideas, as long as it does not harm others.

Veganism is indeed on the rise and there seem to be a few different opinions as to why. Some are obvious, some not - at least on first acquaintance. So in no particular order here are the potential reasons for the rise.

Celebrity influencers. Yes people do emulate their heroes - or in this case mostly heroines - in all sorts of ways, and if they are pushing veganism then they will follow. Influencers that were mentioned - admittedly an American article - were Miley Cyrus, Ariane Grande and Ellen DeGeneres - though I see one of the Hemsworths - Liam - is a vegan too. He's Australian. And as an aside, it seems that most vegans are indeed female. But honestly I am so out of this part of the digital and celebrity scene that I can't really comment. Nevertheless it is an important reason and should never be underestimated. I mean look at the influence that Donald Trump had - if he had promoted veganism who knows how many people would have followed. As it is the #vegan on Instagram has 87 million followers. Never underestimate the power of stardom.

Expense. Now this probably wasn't something you thought of was it? It also rather contradicts my thesis that it's only the rich that are vegans. The poor are not. But of course I know see that this is very wrong. Meat and dairy products are expensive, vegetables are not. And nowadays the fast food chains - mostly patronised by the poor, all offer at least vegetarian, and increasingly vegan options. Mind you I suspect I am fundamentally right and that the poor are not a large proportion of the vegan adherents.

Cruelty to animals. I'm a bit conflicted on this one. It's something I don't really like to think about because of course it's wrong to kill animals for food. Somehow or other though my brain is able to somehow disconnect the idea of killing animals from eating a steak. I do try to eat less meat these days, but I don't seem to be able to give it up entirely. We generally have at least one, sometimes two vegetarian meals per week.

The other aspect of cruelty to animals though is not the killing thereof, but how those animals are treated during their lives. We all know about the evils of various kinds of factory farming, but if we are wealthy we can avoid this by only eating organic, and free range meat, free of hormones etc. If you are really into this aspect of eating meat, then you can go further than relying on supermarket labels and actually find out where your meat is coming from and how the animals are raised. These options are an extra expense for the poor though. But if you can put aside the fundamental cruelty of killing animals for food then you can eat meat that is ethically raised.

You don't kill animals for milk or eggs though do you? Yes you have the same ethical concerns over factory farming and inhumane conditions, but this too can be avoided. And I think that this is really where I part company with the vegans. I totally understand why one should be vegetarian but why do you have to discard dairy food? If you are careful about your sources then surely it's Ok to eat dairy and eggs? Well - male calves are killed when too young to eat because they are useless economically to the dairy farmer and there is something about keeping the cows giving milk when they don't really need to. So yes problematic ethically speaking.

Which brings me to the reason most embraced by the young - concern for the environment. Animals kept for food, are basically destroying the planet. Well I guess that's a bit extreme, but only a little. Cattle destroy the land they tread upon. They consume a lot of food - I believe at least as much agricultural land in the world is for feeding animals rather than people. This means that huge areas of the world's forests are being destroyed in order to grow food to feed animals. Cattle also emit most of the methane that is destroying the earth's atmosphere. I know that work is being done on overcoming this problem, but it's not going to be taken up by everyone and most likely will produce problems of its own. So I suppose that this is indeed a good reason not to eat dairy and eggs as well as meat.

And finally health. As I mentioned there are various conditions that require one to be vegan. But vegan missionaries would have you believe that veganism in itself is healthy. Well not necessarily. I saw an interesting article which included a brief case study of a chef called Adam Guthrie, who had been an obese vegetarian but lost huge amounts of weight by becoming vegan. Nevertheless he did point out that:

"You can drink Coca Cola and eat Oreos and that's vegan," Adam Guthrie

Yes indeed you can still eat an enormous amount of junk food and be a vegetarian or a vegan. So veganism in itself is not automatically healthy. And remember you have still got to find other sources of protein. Meat and dairy foods are the best sources for these.

Australia it seems is the second in a table of countries showing vegan popularity, which is in direct opposition to Australia being the country that consumes the largest amount of meat per capita in the world. The UK, not the USA, (no.13) which is what you might have expected, is the top of the vegan popularity stakes. But look at the graph. All of these countries are 'wealthy' western countries - even Chile. There is not a single Asian or African country in the list - Israel may be technically Asia but it's not really what we think of as Asian is it?

Veganism is very definitely on the rise here though. Vegan Australia - a not for profit organisation, believes around 400-500 thousand Australians are vegan. They have a FAQ page on their website which will answer lots of your questions - if in a somewhat biased way. What are the indications, other than statistics that veganism is on the rise?

Your supermarket has an increasing number of vegan products on its shelves, and these products have improved considerably in quality and taste over the last few years. Every café and restaurant these days will have at least one vegan option, often many more, and even more vegetarian ones. And of course there are an increasing number of vegan only restaurants, cafés and shops. There are vegan cooking shows, countless vegan cookbooks, and foodie magazines generally have several vegan dishes or little boxes telling you how to convert to a vegan version. Celebrity chefs do this - even Delia. And many cookbooks of the non-vegan variety will label their recipes as vegan (and/or gluten free or vegetarian) in the index. The minority is large enough these days to be pandered to. No I should say catered for.

It seems the young are vegan for environmental reasons, although this won't make them consider lab raised meat. Nobody really seems to know why that should be though other than just the icky factor. The old go vegan for health. And presumably those in the middle go vegan for the ethical reasons.

Honestly - It does bother me that I eat animals. Although obviously not enough to give up eating meat and fish or dairy. Which doesn't make me a great human being. Part of my failure is my love of good food, but part of it is the missionary zeal and extreme activities of the vegan movement. I should heed these words.

"the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do." Steve Jobs

Not everyone liked Steve Jobs either, but he did change the world. For good or ill is another question. And he was a fruitarian - an even more extreme version of veganism. You could say it helped kill him. So not good for his health.


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