Every November, World Vegan Month may be a time for optimistic vegans to celebrate as they acknowledge the progress made in advancing the message of veganism - a message of love, kindness, harm reduction, ethics, environmentalism, and healthy living. If we look at the impact of the vegan movement in recent years, they may be on to something!
Surveys suggest that the number of vegans is rapidly growing with The Economist naming 2019 'The Year of the Vegan'. According to a survey by The Vegan Society and BOSH!, 37% of Brits say they have actively reduced or removed animal products from their diet in the last five years. This year, 580,000 took part in Veganuary by pledging to go vegan for the month of January - up from 400,000 in 2020 and 250,000 in 2019. Personal health and environmental reasons are the some of the main motivators for people to reduce their meat and dairy intake. Ethical considerations, animal rights and taste preferences also provided great reasons to make the change.
The trend towards plant-based lifestyles is apparent in our purchasing habits, and has resulted in an increase in the availability of vegan products as businesses take advantage of the growing market. 55,000 products now have the Vegan Society's vegan trademark, including 18,000 food and drink items. Brands that traditionally have made their money from animal products such as leather have benefited from releasing vegan versions to keep up with shifting attitudes and modern technologies that can assist in the creation of more versatile product materials. This year, for the first time, British supermarkets have run television and radio adverts promoting Veganuary, and information and recipes specifically for vegan meals. Meat and dairy alternatives have been refined and improved over the years, and delicious vegan food options are now more affordable and widely available. In many of the world's major cities it is unusual to find restaurants that don't have vegan options or even entire vegan menus to cater to the demand for tasty meals that didn't involve the torture or death of animals, excessive harm to the environment or increased risk of health issues. Although many industries have suffered recently, Deliveroo saw orders of vegan food increase by 163% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Scientific environmental and nutritional reports support the movement towards plant-based diets and lifestyles. A study from Oxford University suggests that "...between 2010 and 2050, as a result of expected changes in population and income levels, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity." The study analyses options for reducing the environmental effects of the food system, including "dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste." Similarly, the EAT-Lancet Commission proposes recommendations for sustainable production and consumption patterns that could potentially support 10.2 billion people within the planetary boundaries the study analysed. As well as management of cropland, water and waste, dietary changes would be crucial. The recommended 'planetary health diet', that is healthy for humans and for the environment, emphasises a plant-forward diet comprised of a greater proportion of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Joseph Poore from University of Oxford, who lead research on 'Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers' in 2019, stated that “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use... It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.” As the human population grows, there has to be an entirely updated sustainable approach to food production systems that operate within planetary boundaries. One of the key recommendations from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change report in January 2020 was to reduce demand for carbon-intensive activities through diet change - reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. Action by the biggest corporations and organisations will make a huge impact and we have already seen public sector caterers pledging to cut the amount of meat they serve by 20%. David Foad, editor-in-chief of Public Sector Catering magazine, said that attaining the 20% target would remove 9m kg of meat from plates every year, equivalent to 45,000 cows or 16 million chickens.
As individuals, we can support the businesses that are taking real steps towards this goal, supporting vegan and environmentally conscious organisations, and continuing to reduce our meat and dairy consumption. We need to incentivise efficient agricultural systems that can feed our growing populations by demanding ethical options, supporting farmers of fruit, veg and legumes. We need to show that there is a continuing demand for vegan meat and dairy alternatives so that availability and affordability of vegan food can increase.
The global environmental crisis is one of the most pressing issues facing us and it is necessary to stress the importance of altering the current food systems to those that have the power to enforce national and international change. The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is on in Glasgow from 31st October until 12th November 2021 which is during the first two weeks of World Vegan Month. You can participate in events at the Scottish Events Campus on 1st November (World Vegan Day) and at global mass actions for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on 6th November. If you are unable to attend, you can still show support by signing and sharing online petitions, and spreading the word about what we can all do to create the cultural shift we need.
Happy World Vegan Month, and here's to many more inspirational, record-breaking, world-changing Vegan months to come!
Support the Plant Based Treaty: https://plantbasedtreaty.org/
Ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion: https://plantbasedtreaty.org/edm434/
Sign the petition to get animal agriculture on the agenda at COP26: https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-demand-world-leaders-support-a-plant-based-diet-to-help-save-our-planet
Participate in vegan campaigns: https://www.vegansociety.com/get-involved/campaigns