Vegetarianism and veganism are no new concepts, but alternative diets have been receiving newfound attention and proliferation. To many, veganism seems like a trend or a fad, but adopting a vegan diet radically changes your lifestyle and way of thinking, and it’s only just beginning. According to Food Revolution, “Back in 2014, only 1% of Americans identified as vegan. However, statistics from last year showed that the figure had jumped to 6%” meaning more Americans than ever are making the switch to plant-based diets. Why are people choosing vegan diets and why is veganism seeing such exponential growth in America?
Most vegans choose this diet for a combination of reasons: for the animals, for the environment, or for personal health. Investigative journalism and documentaries have exposed the inhumane practices of factory farms to the public. However, there are some shocking “Ag-gag” laws that prevent activists from going undercover and investigating animal rights abuses.
Even if farms were as humane as possible, the slaughtering of an animal in and of itself is enough to sway some to vegetarianism. Additionally, learning about calves taken away from their mothers for milk production and male chicks being mutilated and killed during egg production sways some to veganism. Check out YouTuber Earthlig Ed’s videos where he talks to meat-eaters and asks them a series of questions, hoping they reach the logical conclusion of veganism on their own.
Beyond livestock animal species, all plants and animals in the world are deeply affected by animal agriculture. Fairly recently, the impact of animal agriculture on climate change has been brought up. The amount of resources involved in animal agriculture is exorbitant and according to Climate Nexus, “In order to accommodate the 70 billion animals raised annually for human consumption, a third of the planet’s ice-free land surface, as well as nearly sixteen percent of global freshwater, is devoted to growing livestock.” What’s even more problematic is that the land required to raise livestock usually has to be deforested first. So not only does cattle raising and livestock transportation emit greenhouse gases, but it also destroys important carbon sinks. The documentary “Cowspiracy” provides more information on how animal agriculture affects the enrvionment.
Surprisingly, some view animal agriculture as not only an animal rights or ecological justice issue, but also a human rights issue. Instead of funneling crops through animals to use as food, the crops could be used to feed the millions of people around the world that are starving. There is a debate around how much veganism could actually impact world hunger.
Lastly, many people go vegan for the unbelievable health benefits. A National Center for Biotechnology Information study found that a low-fat vegan diet can substantially mitigate the impacts of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease and also lowers the risk of colon cancer, better combats obesity than other prescribed diets, and reduces the risk factors associated with cardiac disease. And when you hear the explanations for why veganism has these effects, it makes a lot of sense.
For example, it lowers the risk of colon cancer, but how? Humans are not true omnivores because we evolved from apes which are frugivores (mostly plant-based diet with the occasional insects). That means that our intestines are much longer than an omnivore’s or carnivore’s because we are biologically supposed to eat plants almost exclusively. When humans eat animal products, those products have farther to travel through our intestines so they stay inside our bodies longer and begin to rot. The byproducts associated with the breakdown of the rotting substances are what can increase the risk for colon cancer.
Veganism is growing and it isn’t going anywhere, so how is the food industry reacting to this change?
Corporations see the potential market for plant-based alternatives and are taking advantage of it. For example, California locations of Fatburger recently started offering a vegan “Impossible Burger” that tastes so real I had to double check that it was actually vegan. Companies like Silk, Earth Balance, Beyond Meat, Follow Your Heart, and Gardein have been sprouting up with great success. Beyond Meat announced that it will be tripling production and, according to Food Navigator, sales of meat alternatives rose more than 6% between 2016 and 2017 to around $554 million. Investments are pouring into animal product alternative companies, and not just because of ideology, but because it is economically productive.
The growth of this compassionate and more sustainable lifestyle shows no signs of stopping. A vegan diet saves animal lives, drastically reduces your carbon footprint, and enables you to enjoy various health benefits. In the coming years, we will see what an increasingly plant-powered society can do.