According to Health Navigator New Zealand, 94% of Kiwis class themselves as meat-eaters, 1-2% opt to just eating chicken and fish while 2.3% are lacto-ovo vegetarians – that is, people who won’t eat meat but will consume other animal products such as dairy and eggs. There are no exact figures for vegans (though, for comparison, the UK’s Department for Health and Food Standards Agency estimates less than 1% of Brits to be vegan, rising to 2% in the US according to some studys), but it’s a lifestyle that does appear to be ever-more popular. And we’re not just talking food.
Late last year, PETA UK held it’s third annual fashion award show celebrating the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney. “These are exciting times as compassionate consumers change the face of fashion,” commented the organisation’s Yvonne Taylor. “Animal-free fashion is the future.” Forward-thinking designers, she said, are experimenting with innovative, high-tech materials that are vegan, providing ethical consumers with “a vast array of cruelty-free choices — from high-street to high-end.”
Even former unofficial UGG Boot ambassador Pamela Anderson has long since ditched the sheepskin kicks and released her own range of cruelty-free footwear. Made from recycled electronics, the suede-like boots are affectionately named ‘Pammies’. “Sensuality is a sexy kindness,” she states on her foundation’s website. “Empathy is realizing that every choice we make effects others.”
People are undoubtedly making more informed choices, with plant-based food widely tipped as one of the top trends of 2016. Yahoo Food notes: “Now, more than ever, vegetables are taking on the starring roles on many restaurant menus, as chefs are challenging themselves to create tasty, hearty entrées from plants alone.” According to The Globe and Mail, legumes, beans and peas are poised to become the food of the year, with 2016 named by the UN as “The International Year of the Pulses”. Growers in Canada, who make up over a third of global pulse production. are hoping to repeat the success of 2013’s “International Year of Quinoa” which saw Northern Quinoa Corp., one of the nation’s leading producers, unable to keep up with demand.
“There is certainly a far greater awareness of veganism and far more companies catering for it,” says Claire Insley, media spokesperson and a member of the board of trustees of New Zealand’s Vegan Society. “Also, with the rise in allergies, many of the ‘free from’ options such as dairy-free and gluten-free products are vegan-friendly as well.”
Claire, who has been a vegan since 2000, says that the days of soy milk that tastes like four and water paste are long gone (“thankfully, because orange juice on cereal just wasn’t right!”), with animal welfare being one of her main motivating factors. She adds revelations that animal farming increase greenhouse gas emissions further strengthens her resolve.
But, vegans — or anyone else, for that matter — should certainly not become too complacent by assuming the vegetable choice to automatically equal the most environmentally-friendly one. A study by Carnegie Mellon University, published in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions, found lettuce to be “over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon”.
“Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calories than you would think,” said study co-author Paul Fischbeck. “Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.” Though, it should also be noted that the report never argued against the idea that we should be eating less meat, or that we should be finding more efficient ways of farming it.
Numerous studies have also shown that a thoroughly thought-out vegan diet to yield a wealth of health benefits. One, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, found an “uncooked extreme vegan diet causes a decrease in bacterial enzymes and certain toxic products that have been implicated in colon cancer risk”. Others have discovered it to further reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.
“When I began my experimental research program on the effects of nutrition on cancer and other diseases, I assumed it was healthy to eat plenty of meat, milk and eggs,” writes renowned biochemist and nutrition author T. Colin Campbell for the Wall Street Journal. “… Our findings, published in top peer-reviewed journals, pointed away from meat and milk as the building blocks of a healthy diet, and toward whole, plant-based foods with little or no added oil, sugar or salt.”
Claire, too, noted an improvement in her health when she went vegan: “I used to suffer excruciating period pains which halved in their severity once I adopted a vegan diet.” She makes the point that we don’t realise the damaging effects of daily consumed foods such as dairy until we actually take a break from them, warning that so much food in the meat industry is contaminated by the likes of growth hormones and antibiotics. “I absolutely recommend that people reduce their meat intake and have at least one vegetarian day a week,” she adds. “Even better, why not just try becoming a vegan for a month and see how you get on. It might just surprise you.”