Veganism: Force for Good or a Fashionable Fad
Lately, there seems to be incessant debate regarding the benefits and detriments of veganism. There is controversy about whether we have a moral obligation to avoid cruelty to animals by following a plant-based diet and using cruelty-free brands. Never before has this strict lifestyle choice been so prominent in the media, with notable celebrity endorsement from Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and Jared Leto, to name just a few. In response to increased demand, major supermarkets are making veganism more convenient, with a wider range of plant-based foods now available. However, with its newfound popularity, has veganism become a fashionable fad or is it truly a worthier way of life?
Without a strong stance on the matter, I felt obliged to explore my own perspective on the issues raised. So, I decided to follow vegan principles for five days. I hoped to gain an understanding of the challenges faced at College by a person who chooses to be vegan. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of living without milk chocolate filled me with trepidation, especially in mid-December with the daily temptation of my Lindt chocolate advent calendar! In spite of this, I refrained from eating any foods containing animal products, including meat, poultry, dairy, fish, eggs and even honey. My main concern was whether I would be able to maintain and enjoy a balanced diet with all of the nutrients that non-vegan foods offer. Rather than bringing in food from home, I purchased all of my lunchtime meals from the canteen to discover what food is available for vegans at College.
Catching the bus at 7.40am each morning means I need a breakfast that is quick to prepare and eat. Fortunately, most cereals are suitable for vegans, including Weetabix and Cornflakes. I substituted cow’s milk for almond milk, an adequate alternative once I got used to the taste. Lunch was the most challenging meal of the week as it differed most from my usual diet. Nonetheless, there were reasonable choices on offer in the canteen, ranging from salads, falafel and even a roast dinner, with mushroom pie and vegan gravy. I tried various snacks throughout the day, including sweet potato chips and a cashew, chia and pumpkin seed quinoa bar, which sustained me for a good few hours.
In the evenings, my parents agreed to eat vegan meals with me to avoid extra cooking and inconvenience. The impact that such a radical diet change has on other members of the household is a consideration for anybody who wants to be vegan, particularly given the additional expense this may incur. We had meals that were adaptations of our usual diet, such as substituting meat with vegan Quorn. Before the week, I was unaware that there was a difference between vegetarian and vegan Quorn. Luckily, the clear food labelling was a great help. We enjoyed what we ate, but agreed that food was not always as flavoursome.
As I followed the vegan diet for just five days, I only had time to try a limited number of recipes and we tended to adapt meals more familiar to us than to try new alternatives. I’m sure that with more time I could learn to cook a wider variety of vegan meals. There are plenty of food websites that offer help with options for creative vegan recipes, like BBC Good Food and The Vegan Society website. As the week went on and I found myself craving chocolate. Luckily, my mum had a Montezuma’s dark chocolate calendar, which turned out to be suitable for vegans, so she let me share it. I also tried a pudding one evening – bananas and custard, made with almond milk. The custard looked more like mustard in colour, but it was nice to have something sweet. Had I continued on a vegan diet for longer, I would have made sure to find alternative options.
Despite my initial reservations about the restrictive nature of the vegan diet, I support many of the principles that vegans adhere to. Their willingness to sacrifice a conventional diet in protest of the inhumane treatment of animals, as well as the excessive addition of pesticides and antibiotics in our foods, is a highly-principled basis for such a strict diet. However, I do wonder whether there are other, more understated, ways of making ethical food choices. For instance, I would find it difficult to justify omitting eggs from my diet providing the welfare of hens could be assured.
Likewise, I would not want to knowingly eat meat and other animal products without a guarantee that it is ethically farmed, as I am absolutely against the abhorrent abuse that animals suffer in factory farms. The RSPCA has made the sourcing of ethically farmed meat more accessible on their website ‘RSPCA Assured’. This allows people to view every location in the UK where responsibly sourced meat is sold.
Another problem is the expense involved in ethical approaches to farming due to necessary factors such as greater space for the animals and more expensive animal feed. This is likely to pose problems for lower income families who may not be able to afford this. However, reducing the amount of meat consumed is something we can all do and it could make a massive difference. I was shocked to discover that by just one person adopting a vegan diet, up to 95 animals per year are spared.
Ultimately, the aim of the meat-free movement is virtuous, causing us to question the morality of our food choices. For this reason, endorsement by celebrities that identify with the cause can only be a force for good. Although personally, I would find the change to a vegan diet to be a step too far, I do intend to cut down on the number of animal products I use by replacing some of my meals with plant-based recipes. I am also going to make much more effort to ensure the food I eat is ethically sourced. Veganism certainly encourages a more varied, creative and healthy diet. So, will you take up the challenge and make a change?