2019 is the year of veganism. Everyone’s said it, and not just vegans – The Economist, The Guardian, even Forbes. As we reach the middle point of Veganuary (a challenge where people who sign up try and eat vegan for the whole month of January), theories and opinions on this lifestyle going mainstream dominate TV shows, newspapers and, of course, social media.
Alongside people who are enthusiastic (or at least tolerant) of this trend, there’s many who seem to feel threatened by the popularity of the vegan movement, such as Piers Morgan, the forefront of the MEO (Meat-Eaters Opposition). Now that Greggs, McDonald’s and other inexpensive and not-so-healthy food chains are coming out with plant-based meals, the ethics of this ideology – if we can call it that – are being questioned not only by non-vegans, but by plant-eaters too. Should vegans buy from companies that create huge harm to the environment and that continue to produce the animal products they decided to boycott in the first place? Can we equate buying a sausage roll or a vegan Happy Meal to actively supporting the killing of animals? Is it even fair to place vegans on the same level as meat-eaters despite not consuming animal products?
Different people will have different answers to this question. I’ve heard both meat-eaters and vegans say that it is hypocritical for vegans to consume products that come from companies that profit from the oppression of animals, even if they purchase vegan food. While I can see the reasoning behind this argument – ten years ago McDonald’s produced the highest amount of fast food litter on our streets and it still is responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of cows and chickens every day – I still believe we shouldn’t be so harsh on plant-based folks choosing these convenient options (before you ask: yes, I am vegan).
As one of the most popular British vegan junk-food bloggers, Ugly Vegan, would say, there’s more to veganism than chia seeds. Sure, some prefer a diet rich in exotic fruits and green powders with questionable smells, but veganism shouldn’t be categorised as the diet of people who go to the farmers market every Sunday and do yoga in their free time. There are vegans of all sizes, genders and colours; there’s junk-food vegans; there’s disabled vegans. There are also poor vegans. Some have the means to cook every single meal from scratch with organic ingredients, others have lifestyles that make getting takeout and a bite on the go more convenient. Should it matter if it’s an avocado on toast from a hip café or a sausage roll from Greggs if no animal had to die for it?
There’s also the whole ‘supply and demand’ thing. It is undeniable that the more people opt for vegan foods rather than animal-based ones the more food suppliers will likely put out more vegan options. It is not by chance that almost every single supermarket in the UK has introduced a fully vegan range; it is also not by chance that compared to years ago eating out as a vegan has never been easier. Just a few days after the launch (and continuous selling-out) of the infamous vegan sausage roll, Greggs announced that it would be available in all of its 1,800 stores despite the original plan of trialling it in certain ones only. This wouldn’t have been possible if people hadn’t purchased it, and I think it’s safe to say that many other fast food chains will follow suit and make cheap and quick vegan options widely available in the near future.
It’s important that we – meat and plant eaters – ask ourselves: is it really that bad that veganism is going mainstream? Is it really that bad that veganism is distancing itself from its previous elitist cult-like façade to become a popular lifestyle that has the pro of being good for humans, animals and the planet? At the end of the day, “regular” sausage rolls or Happy Meals aren’t going anywhere – at least not for a few more decades. Personally, I think there’s more important things to argue over.
By Linda Mohamed
Illustrations by Alice Rigamonti