Ask any vegan why they have chosen not to consume animal products and you’ll invariably get a reply firstly, about animal welfare and secondly, about our health – and in the broadest terms, our health includes the health of the planet we live on. Veganism, for the moment, is inextricably tied up with these two branches.
And therein lies the ground for so much confusion because not all animal rights organisations are vegan and not all vegan food is healthy. You can be on a plant based food diet for health reasons and not be particularly interested in animal welfare. And you can be a completely unhealthy vegan, feasting morning and evening on unhealthy plant based, but highly processed, foods. Veganism and plant based diets are linked, but do not necessarily go together like chick peas and hummus.
Stripped back to its roots, the first reason for veganism is grounded in the belief that animals are sentient beings, just like humans, and that our enslavement of them is unnecessary in today’s world. Somehow, we have become so inured to the cruelty inflicted on animals that we consider it normal to have animals reared and killed in mass production systems, the scale of which are beyond comprehension. The cruelty and destruction of the environment these systems entail are far in excess of anything we have seen before. It doesn’t matter for animals if its cage farming, rape, forced feeding, overdosing on hormones or antibiotics – it’s a pretty miserable life for any animal and we consider all these things ‘normal’ because surely corporations wouldn’t promote these things if they were harmful, right? The irony of course, is that many of these systems are the very reason that humans are literally eating themselves to death, bite by bite, acre by acre, and thus the second reason for veganism – plant based diets which are not necessarily rooted in the first reason for veganism.
In recent days, vegans have marched in Cologne, London, Leeds and Truro and there are over 42 large scale marches planned around the world, most of them taking place over the next four weeks. Vegans, as a percentage of general population, generally account or between 0.5-2% of the population but in developed countries, this can head well north of 4% (7% in the UK, 6% in the USA) (1). The growth rate of veganism is exploding, with rates of 600% over three years being quoted in America. (2)
Seeing the opportunity, companies have begun falling over themselves to offer vegan options in their listings. Beyond Meat burgers, plant based milks and cheeses, vegan pizzas, vegan fast food, clothes and makeup are all attracting serious financial investment with large companies keen to promote their own vegan credentials, just not alongside their meat based offerings.
And therein lies the biggest challenge for veganism – those in it for animal welfare are happy to go along with large corporations launching vegan products – even when those vegan products are processed and unhealthy for us. Which in the long run could dilute the argument for veganism if we end up with the same diseases and imbalances in our bodies because of plant based foods and products that have been highly processed. Those who happen to be vegan for health reasons have rightly pointed out that these highly processed foods may be no better for us than traditional animal foods. But for the purist vegan, they still are a better option than harming animals – the rationale being that if you are going to eat yourself sick, why not do it on a plant based diet rather than an animal based diet.
Veganism is part of a global awakening, a growing consciousness that what we do affects everything around us. It is part of a movement that has at its core, a recognition that we cannot act in isolation in this universe by virtue of the fact that we are but one part of it. Keeping the central tenant of veganism to the fore – a refusal to inflict cruelty and harm on sentient beings – is important, but a very close second is promoting unprocessed and healthy foods.
This second cause, is what can drive veganism from an animal rights issue, to an awakening of the power of the individual. Veganism has grown from the ground up and it could become a movement that has the ability to break the power of large corporations and even governments.
Every time you buy locally grown, organic plant based food, you are taking away some of the power base from a corporation. Corporations can only survive if they continue to make money which means selling us stuff we probably don’t need.
Refusing to be cajoled into borrowing hundreds of thousands to purchase property that is being built with environmentally unfriendly products will literally break banks apart. The entire financial system would crumble without people borrowing.
When people don’t borrow, they don’t have to get on the treadmill of working just to keep a basic roof over their heads. Which means they have an awful lot more time to engage in their own communities and finally see the subservience under which they exist. With the constant cycle of earning more just to buy more broken, people would have time to consider the policies implemented by governments and whether those policies were actually in the interests of the many rather than the few.
Vegans act and think because of the animals forced onto the treadmill of birth, their harrowing lifetime and then a cruel death. Yet we think nothing of getting on the same treadmill ourselves. We literally exist to work, like good little robots, nine to five and probably a lot longer, for the majority of our lives until we eventually get too old to be really, really productive. If we’re lucky, we get a few years respite at the end without ill health before we finally croak. Veganism has the potential to change all this. But only if it keeps to the path of being unprocessed. It may be an animal rights issue to begin with for most vegans, but if you are truly anti-speciest, refusing to go down the route of supporting large corporations and governments that have us on a never ending robotic treadmill means striking a blow for human as well as animal rights.