With the rapidly increasing number of vegan converts, Emma Purvis debates the benefits and pitfalls of this phenomena. With veganism straying away from its moral and economically sound roots, is the hype surrounding it a good thing? Or is it a step towards turning a valuable way of life into a fad and an oppressive diet plan?
So far, 2016 has been overwhelmed with talk of Pokémon Go, Stranger Things and Brexit, but out of all the popular trends, no one anticipated veganism to be among them. Most people on Instagram would agree that it has become nearly impossible to scroll down news feeds without coming across a smoothie bowl that looks more like an elaborate work of art than it does breakfast. The rising popularity of veganism on social media is undoubtedly supporting a worthy cause, yet it has also led to nutritionists addressing concerns about potentially restricting diets. In adults, as long as certain vitamins are substituted accordingly, a plant-based diet can prove healthy and rewarding. However, it seems to be a message that is being misunderstood by the worshipers of social media veganism.
The shift of perception regarding veganism has made the movement go from being animal rights based to a crash-course for weight loss. The diet itself can have astonishing nutritional benefits; but it can be debated whether or not vegan Instagram accounts, with emphasis on diet, are promoting the perfect bikini body for the right reasons. First of all, if a vegan diet is not correctly followed, it can create health issues such as anaemia and hypocalcaemia, especially in the case of early adolescents. Secondly, due to society’s ingrained idea of societal beauty it is easy to see how people interpret veganism as a two for one offer of a healthy lifestyle and perfect figure. Even though the diet may not turn out to be nutritionally restricting, veganism can risk becoming a restricting mind-set for young girls that want to lose weight for the wrong reasons. Celebrities endorsing veganism as a way to improve overall health is also a double-edged sword. Ellie Goulding championed going vegan because of the positive changes she experienced including feeling leaner and healthier. Nonetheless the word ‘healthier’ seemed to take a backseat to the ‘leaner’ when she spoke about her diet. Strictly following a plant-based diet in order to lose weight has led to the trend of ‘part-time vegans’ who adopt the diet but only sustain it until health problems vanish or the goal weight is reached. Giving veganism publicity in the way that Goulding has may have influenced many impressionable young people to go vegan simply for looks.
Even though people’s motives nowadays may be different to the traditional vegan philosophy of ‘’ending all animal suffering’’, it is still contributing to the animal-welfare movement. Still, converting to the vegan lifestyle is not always as glamorous as the colourful fruit and veg may imply. It involves abstaining from all forms of meat and animal products meaning what may seem a colourful fad on the surface is actually a decision that should be considered, as it is one that involves a certain degree of discipline.
So why are so many people choosing to make the switch? The answer to that is a combination of increased health awareness, a wider focus on ‘accidentally vegan foods’ and perhaps the cuteness of micropigs. In the past decade there has been a 350% rise in vegans living in the UK, showing that the once restricted food choices have now grown in variety, making the specialist diet more accessible. ‘Accidentally vegan’ friendly foods are those which coincidentally contain no animal products, with many of them luckily being student favourites. You can now choose to become vegan and still indulge in Oreos, chilli Doritos, original Pringles, dark chocolate and Pot Noodles. But the inability to cover meals with cheese (a student staple) may still continue to deter the average person. Still, the message is being spread and with the vegan food stall outside the union and nakd bars on offer in Essentials, it seems that the message has also reached Leeds.
By looking strictly at the wider animal welfare movement, the reasoning behind someone going vegan seems increasingly unimportant. Eventually, regardless of whether veganism is for the ‘ideal body’ or animals, the movement is contributing to the reduction of factory farming, sparking the 2016 phenomenon that one day may very well be referred to as “the rise of the vegans’’. It is, however, important to ensure that veganism is being followed and promoted correctly, so that insufficiencies and restrictions do not become a part of the movement’s reputation. Otherwise, we could very well witness a backlash in the near future that could lead to the ultimate “fall of the vegans”.