Veganism Is Now 'Cemented in Our Society'

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Quinoa Pattie sandwich

Alejandro Lopez / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

A BBC report has called 2017 the year veganism went mainstream. No longer viewed as extreme, veganism is now a respected goal.

2017 was the year veganism went mainstream. In an article for BBC, writer Caroline Lowbridge explores the various factors that have led to the rise of veganism and the unexpected way in which it is now cemented in our society.

Veganism started as a very tiny offshoot of the Leicester Vegetarian Society in 1944, the brainchild of woodworking teacher Donald Watson, who coined the name because it "marked the beginning and end of vegetarian." For decades veganism was viewed as an extreme, fringe movement, but this has changed in recent years, with an estimated 540,000 people following the diet in the UK alone (as of 2016).

One reason is the Internet. Now that Instagram makes vegan food look delectable and appealing, YouTube stars churn out how-to videos on a daily basis, reaching millions of fans in a matter of seconds, and food websites offer vegan search filters for recipes, veganism no longer seems unattainable for ordinary home cooks.

Another factor is veganism's adoption by celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus (she has the Vegan Society logo tattooed on her arm), Ellen Page, Jessica Chastain, Ariana Grande, Joaquin Phoenix, and Moby. Says Samantha Calvert of the Vegan Society, "[The diet] was suddenly being associated with the celebrities, with the successful people, with the beautiful people."

As demand for vegan food has increased, restaurants and grocery store owners have responded, which in turn makes it easier for more people to adopt the diet. Many popular food producers now have vegan versions, even those long associated with dairy, such as Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Bailey's, and Pizza Express. Go into any supermarket and you'll find all the meat and dairy substitutes you need to make delicious vegan food.

what vegans eat
What people think vegans eat vs. What vegans actually eat.  Mad Gags / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Calvert is amazed by the growth, telling BBC:

"If you had asked me in 2012 I would have thought that maybe by now it would be calming down, that people would have moved on to another trend. You tend to expect these things to ebb and flow but they don't usually last this long and that's been the interesting thing."

It's possible the popularity is driven by the fact that people go vegan for a variety of reasons, whether it's health, environmental, or ethical concerns. This draws on a much broader support base than if there were only a single reason for making the switch. Not surprisingly, these reasons blend into each other over time -- for example, vegans who start doing it for health reasons may become ethical vegans after learning more about animal rights.

Campaigns such as Veganuary started in 2014 and modeled after Movember as a month-long campaign to reduce consumption of animal products, as well as the Vegan Society's 30-day pledge that has a remarkable 82 percent retention rate, help make it achievable for vegan beginners.

It seems that veganism is here to stay. In the words of Sean Callaghan, who blogs at Fat Gay Vegan, "I'm not sure a day went by during the year where at least one mainstream newspaper wasn't reporting on vegan advancements."