Something has changed recently in the way we eat. Today, our eating habits go beyond taste or nutrition: ethics and politics have found their seat at the table, as well as in refrigerators and on menus. The biggest evidence of this trend is veganism, a worldwide movement that seeks to abolish animal exploitation. Veganism is often associated with nutrition, but its philosophy embraces a greater cause.
Almost everyone has an idea of what it means, but the exact definition of the term can still be misleading. Veganism is a lifestyle that bases its choices on the idea that animals have rights and should not be seen as “things”, to be exploited or consumed. Vegans refuse to eat any product of animal origin as far as possible. They do not eat meat, milk, honey, or eggs; nor do they wear fur, leather, or silk. They also reject products tested on animals.
Animal rights and ethics have been discussed for a long time. The term “veganism” was coined in 1944 by Englishman Donald Watson in order to distinguish vegetarians who do not consume eggs and dairy products from those who do. Why is veganism no longer a niche movement, after 70 years of debate? Why has it only now started to penetrate mainstream society? It could be because of new arguments that are being added to the animal cause: today, being vegan goes beyond recognizing the moral difference between an apple and a steak.
The future is vegan
Global warming, climate change, lack of water. Environmental issues are urgent and relevant. In 2013, the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the livestock sector is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from methane, which has a 25% higher impact on the ozone layer than carbon dioxide. Released the following year, the documentary Cowspiracy blames factory farming for decimating the planet’s natural resources and explains why this crisis has been largely ignored by major environmental groups.
It is no coincidence that interest in veganism grew when people started relating it to environmental concerns.
While Brazil lacks studies that quantify the number of people adopting this lifestyle, search analysis for keywords such as “vegan”,“veganismo”/veganism,” and “vegano”/vegan” on Google Trends show an increased and fast-growing interest in the topic over the last three years.
The editor of Canadian magazine Véganes wonders if the vegan generation could come after the Millennials. In Canada, 12% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 declare themselves vegetarians. In his words:
“These young people have grown up aware of an ecological crisis. They cannot turn their backs on the environment.”
The (vegan) youth is coming up with channels for debate and inspiration in a more authentic way than traditional media. The internet is full of motivational initiatives for change, from recipes websites to digital magazines that show what vegans eat, wear, and how they live.
Many channels today portray how vegans live to the smallest detail, making this choice ever more attractive and accessible. Traditional media often addresses the cause, especially in celebrity coverage, which increases the appeal for this lifestyle, even though it is hard to identify who is a legitimate vegan and who is just seeking to boost their image. Some celebrities use their influence, time, and money to promote the cause, while others advertise veganism hastily as a new diet to achieve the “dream body””.
Like people, some brands have identified the need to reposition themselves. This is the case of Elmhurst, an American company that recently started selling vegetable milks only — made from cashew nuts, almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts — after 90 years of selling traditional bottled cow’s milk. Henry Schwartz, the company’s CEO, says that cow’s milk is “out of fashion.”
According to a study by Nielsen consumers are willing to put their money where their heart is. It is up to the vegan brands, or to those who are becoming vegan, to educate the public and show that this idea is worth the investment.
As more people join the movement, vegans keep broadening the spectrum of their concerns and raising issues that link animal ethics to human and environmental ethics, such as intersectional activism and the universal right to healthy eating. The world is running on an inefficient and unbalanced system, still very dependent on exploitative production techniques. We can only wonder if the environmental argument will be enough to develop a society that is more protective — of animals, of people, and of its own future.