We’re midway through Veganuary, the annual challenge to those who typically consume animal products to spend a month going vegan. Reports suggest half a million people in the UK have made the pledge to eat only plant-based food as part of the initiative this year, and the number of participants has risen rapidly since the initiative was inaugurated in 2014. The organisers of Veganuary also work with food producers and supermarkets to get more plant-based food on the shelves, making taking part easier for everyone. Begun in the UK, Veganuary is now grabbing attention around the world, and genuinely might indicate a shift in how humans understand their relationships with food.

After all, time and again evidence shows the environmental problems resulting from current levels and methods of meat production. Reducing meat intake is the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact upon the Earth given the amount of land used, and emissions produced, in meat and dairy production. In 2019 a report commissioned by the United Nations showed that other efforts undertaken with the goal of reducing environmental damage – for example, reducing car use – are largely pointless unless accompanied by “drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets”.

I became vegan about 6 years; I’d been vegetarian for about 5 years before that. In that time I’ve seen such activity become significantly more mainstream. Interestingly, debates about how humans treat animals also seem to have become more common, and this appears to me to be part of a generational shift. When discussing the topic with undergraduate students, for example, the idea that thinking about the treatment of animals seems quite normal, and part of wider concerns about social and environmental ethics and justice; yet I find if the conversation comes up with people who are older – such as my own age – the discussion is often categorised as fringe or faddish.

Here’s my experience of becoming vegetarian, and then vegan. The former I found required much more of a shift in terms of thinking about what to cook and how to shop, because I was raised – like many – to understand meat as the central part of a meal around which everything was placed. Once I’d got over that assumption – and discovered the amazing opportunities for trying new Indian, Mexican and Thai that I’d been missing out on before – going vegan was not that big a step.

For me, it is this hurdle of rethinking what you’re used to that often functions as the biggest barrier for those considering removing animal products from their diet. In that sense, Veganuary is a useful initiative, encouraging everyone to give it a go and find out that it’s not that hard – the Veganuary website itself has a vast resource of delicious recipes. There is still a week left – so why not give it a go?

Brett Mills is Visiting Professor of Media at Edge Hill University, UK, and Honorary Professor of Media and Culture at the University of East Anglia, UK. He is the author and co-author of five books, including Animals on Television: The Cultural Making of the Non-Human (Palgrave 2017).

Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska from Pexels

World Vegan Day: What Does the Research Say?

November 1st 2020 is World Vegan Day, a day when vegans around the world will celebrate veganism. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on recent research about veganism undertaken by academics including those from Edge Hill University.

In the last five years veganism has moved from the margins to the mainstream. This is best illustrated by the growth of vegan products in supermarkets; a response to a shift in consumption practices in the UK. Estimates have the UK market for meat alternatives valued at more than £1.1 billion in the next three years. It’s no surprise therefore that Asda recently trialled vegan-only aisles in more than half of its stores and Tesco has committed to increasing sales of meat alternatives by 300% by 2025.

There are some important drivers behind these changes to our supermarket aisles. Academic studies have revealed that meat and dairy production are a main contributor to climate change as well as being a leading cause of habitat destruction, deforestation and biodiversity loss [1]. In response to these findings and the pressing need for a radical overhaul of our food systems, two years ago Tesco partnered with The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) with a pledge to halve the environmental impacts of the average UK shopping basket.

A recent 2020 study by Mintel discovered that COVID-19 has made a vegan diet more appealing to UK consumers particularly those in the 21-30 age group. Health, climate change and compassion were cited by the report as driving the interest in vegan diets with consumers looking to dietary changes to boost their immune systems and tackle the environmental impacts and ethical issues associated with animal agriculture.

The three motivations for becoming vegan – health, climate change and animal ethics- are well known to academics working in critical animal studies and the emerging field of vegan studies. At Edge Hill University, the Centre for Human Animal Studies (CfHAS) has been involved in key research that has identified how non-vegans understand and respond to pro-vegan messages and the types of communications that resonate with consumers.

The eighteen-month project was funded by The Vegan Society and undertaken by Professor Claire Parkinson (Creative Arts), Dr Richard Twine (Social Sciences), Dr Claire Blennerhassett (Applied Health and Social Care), Dr Lara Herring (Creative Arts) and Dr Naomi Griffin. Amongst the 48 key findings, the research revealed that non-vegans were more receptive to pro-vegan messages about health and environmentalism than animal ethics and that family dynamics play a major role in sustaining a vegan lifestyle. While pro-vegan messages about health may appeal to non-vegans, animal ethics is cited as the main reason for people continuing to stay vegan. This suggests that motivations for becoming and staying vegan may change over time.

Research undertaken by academics at the Centre for Human Animal Studies has informed the ‘Vegan and Thriving’ and ‘FutureNormal’ campaigns New research set to begin in 2021 will explore the lived experiences of BAME vegans.

If you are Vegan, non-vegan or just interested in veganism – do get in touch, and Happy World Vegan Day!

Professor Claire Parkinson is co-director of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University

[1] Gerber, P.J et al. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay