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 . 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 https://futurenormal.org.uk/. 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
 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.