In 2016, the vegan society estimated that there were over 540,000 vegans in Britain and going vegan was one of the biggest food trends in 2018. Having tried (and failed) at being a vegan myself, I understand the desire to reduce your impact on the planet and make a contribution to improving the treatment of factory farmed animals in this country. However, there are questions around its accessibility. Often dubbed as a food trend popularised by bloggers and influencers and associated with a moralistic middle class who can afford alternative milks and meat substitutes, it is important to ask how accessible veganism is and whether the movement alienates certain people.
I became a vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals which describes the horrific treatment of factory farmed animals in America but warns that the situation is not much better in Britain. Numerous studies have researched the positive environmental impact of a vegan diet, researchers at the University of Oxford found that a vegan diet could reduce one’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. The researchers found that the manufacture of animal products is responsible for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and so a reduction in consumption would lead to a reduced carbon footprint (J.Poore and T.Nemecek). The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that we must reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 if we are to avoid the devastating impact of global warming. It is commendable that more and more people are going vegan to reduce their carbon footprint.
Although it’s possible to follow a basic vegan diet made up of vegetables and carbohydrates at a relatively low cost, many staples of a vegan diet, such as meat substitutes and alternative milks, cost much more. Oat milk from Tesco costs twice as much as cow’s milk (£1.50/L vs £0.71/L) and vegan Beyond Meat burgers cost £24.30/kg compared to £5.51/kg for Tesco’s beef burgers – these substitutes are not cheap. Furthermore, for those who live in a food desert, veganism is near impossible as access to fresh fruit and vegetables is severely limited. The cost of substitutes means veganism is a privileged choice.
For many cultures, meat and dairy products tend to be a main ingredient. This can make efforts to reduce people’s consumption of animal products an appropriation of ethnic recipes. It is important that efforts to ‘veganize’ recipes comes from people of those ethnicities and that veganism is not forced upon cultures and cuisines. It is OK for the change to be gradual.
The benefits of veganism are clear and people’s drive to reduce their environmental impact is admirable. However, it is important to recognise the privilege that comes with deciding exactly what you want to eat. The decision to cut out all animal produce and supplement it with other forms of protein and non-dairy products is not a choice everyone can make. Veganism may not be accessible for everyone but that doesn’t mean that those who can do it, should not do it. If you have the resources to follow a vegan diet, it is a great thing to do. The movement needs to be more understanding – removing animal products from your diet one day a week is still contributing to the health of our planet. Going vegan is great if you can do it, and if you can’t, there are many other ways to help.