One of the big news items this week in the world of veganism has been the decision of Roger Whiteside, the chief executive of Greggs, the High Street baker chain, to go vegan. Greggs, well-known for its meat-based pastry treats, famously introduced the vegan sausage roll earlier this year, which proved a huge marketing success. They are now looking to produce meat-free versions of some of their other treats, and have already introduced the vegan wrap and vegan mince pie.
So how much did these new vegan products influence Roger to step into the exciting world of veganism. Well, not much by all accounts, although his decision is sure to see more vegan products in the Greggs range. No, his decision was health-based, having watched a Netflix documentary called The Game Changers, which highlighted the benefits in terms of health and performance in athletes who have turned vegan.
But Roger also recognises some of the other reasons people turn to veganism, saying “Obviously there are arguments based around animal welfare and the environment, but this was all about the health benefits and I thought I would give it a go”.
This lead me to wonder about the myriad of reasons why people decide to adopt the vegan lifestyle, as it is estimated that there are up to 700,000 vegans in the UK alone, and last year more vegan products were launched than in any other country after demand for meat-free food grew by almost 1000%.
Research has shown there are six main reasons why people go vegan. Following Roger Whiteside’s decision, the first and most obvious is the health benefits touted by scientists and dietary experts like Dr Michael Greger. There is certainly no shortage of evidence that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and eliminating meat products from your diet, contribute to a healthy body and brain. Research shows that vegans generally are of better health than ominvores, and many health experts recommend plant-based diets for people who have heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health conditions. This must be tempered by a recognition that a vegan diet may not provide all the nutrients required for good health, especially in children, and a vegan diet must be properly planned in consultation with health experts.
Allied to the health benefits are the growing concerns about animal protein, particularly in red meat. Health practitioners have long advocated that consumers should eat less meat, especially beef and pork, which research shows can possibly lead to heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Although some would argue that the evidence linking red and processed meats to illness and disease is weak, as is the link between saturated fat contained in meat and clogged arteries. But all the evidence that a plant-based diet can prevent certain diseases and improve general health is overwhelming. But we also must recognise that there is no diet that is appropriate for every person, and people must look at the evidence and make their own decisions.
Key to the decision to go vegan for many is concerns over animal welfare. Vegans around the world believe that animals have the same rights as humans to life and freedom. Having a strong emotional attachment to animals who, let’s face it, are living beings on this planet in the same way as humans are, lead many to adopt a strict vegan lifestyle, avoiding any clothing, cosmetics, cleaning agents and more that contain any form of animal products. Research shows that having more pets early in life, and not just cats and dogs, increases the likelihood of having an emotional attachment to animals which will lead to the decision to go vegan.
High on the political and ethical agenda at the moment is concern about the environmental effects of animal agriculture. Indeed, the UN has recently called for a plant-based diet to curb climate change. But at the same time the environmentally-aware must also focus on reducing food waste, minimizing single-use plastics, using public transportation and walking or biking instead of driving. Total lifestyle changes, not just veganism, are required to turn the imminent environmental disaster around.
Personal beliefs about human needs are also prevalent in a vegan’s decision. Many believe that humans do not need animal sources of food to survive and thrive. While this is certainly true, as we have already suggested vegans should always ensure that they consume sufficient nutrients which are contained in many animal products – such as vitamins B12 and D, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, zinc and iron – through the taking of supplements. Many of the new plant-based foods, such as the latest meat-free burgers widely available, are fortified with the same nutrients found in real beef, which may be an alternative source for those new to veganism.
And finally, many people choose to follow a plant-based diet through personal preference. They may simply not enjoy the taste of meat or dairy products, or may have sensitivities to them, such as lactose intolerance.
The likelihood is that most vegans follow their chosen path for a myriad of reasons, including some or all of the above. But no matter why, it is a personal decision and vegans should never feel obligated to explain their choices to anyone. Personal freedom is key to living a happy life, and if that is to follow a vegan lifestyle, so much the better.