The secret is officially out: meat and dairy production and consumption is ruining our planet. If the UN says it, it must be true. In the wake of unearthing probably the best kept secret since Caitlyn, the shift to vegetarianism and veganism, primarily by more affluent countries, has gained prominence. Adopting this lifestyle has undeniably secured a place in the dietary trend hall of fame. Vegans and vegetarians are popping up left, right and centre with kale and quinoa in hand. As a vegan, part of me is overjoyed at the widespread shunning of meat, fish and dairy but part of me feels somewhat cheated.
To me, veganism is not a dietary requirement nor is it a ticket to some elite, morally superior denomination of society. When people find out that I’m vegan, the first question they ask me is ‘why?’. Although I am sure you would be thrilled to read a 5-page rant of all the reasons I became vegan, I sadly have a word limit in this article. The short version is that I am passionately against the commercial exploitation, environmental destruction and mass genocide that accompanies the meat and dairy industries. Why should an animal suffer or die, or the environment be corrupted, just so that I can eat something that tastes good? Especially when – brace yourself – vegan food tastes just as good. The follow-up invariably entails a comment along the lines of ‘I don’t know how you do it’ or ‘what do you miss the most?’. The truth is, for me it really isn’t hard and I honestly don’t miss anything. This is because I have formed such a strong connection between these foods and the horrifying consequences of them to the point that they not only lack appeal but disgust me. I won’t pretend it isn’t sometimes a challenge – ordering in a restaurant or navigating a dinner party can be awkward – but these foods have such severe connotations to everything I stand so strongly against that I never feel the need to cheat.
The problem is that the commercialisation of vegetarianism and veganism has caused a loss in identity. At its core, veganism is not about personal health, social acceptance or self respect. The primary motivations for new wave vegetarians has distorted a selfless sacrifice and protest into something selfish and detached from reality. Becoming vegan because of self benefit is like saying ‘I’m not racist because it’s socially unacceptable’ instead of the inherent injustice and cruelty. Vegetarianism because of reasons including wanting to look or feel better, fitting in with your friends or because you want to come across a certain way completely undermines the entire foundation and definition of what being vegan means. The importance of these issues cannot get swept under the carpet and treated as a side effect instead of a cause. Moreover, without a deep understanding and passion for the true reasons of veganism it is impossible to sustain such a restrictive lifestyle.
It goes without saying that I support anyone reducing their consumption of animal products. My concern is that the fundamental concept is being disregarded and replaced by superficial influences. Do your research, understand the movement and decide if it makes sense to you. If it does, that’s amazing. If it doesn’t, reduce your consumption without claiming to be vegan or vegetarian.