Stereotyped as pretentious hippies, vegans have been the target of much ridicule for decades. But as it turns out, those who choose a diet entirely free of animal products might get the last laugh.
Veganism is currently on the rise in many western countries, particularly for those under the age of 34, and the new converts are singing its praises.
Berlin is considered the vegan capital of Europe with around 80,000 vegans, 10% of the total number of vegans in the Germany, according to the news agency France24. Berlin is at the forefront of a vegan movement happening all over Europe, with Paris and London not far behind. The city has 60 vegan restaurants to choose from, with offers far exceeding the underwhelming salad that might come to mind when picturing a typical vegan meal. There are soy ice cream shops galore and even a 100% vegan pizzeria.
In a blog post titled “How moving to Berlin helped me go vegan,” food writer Inês David talks about attending Berlin’s annual Veganes Sommerfest where vegan food vendors and animal rights activists come together to celebrate a lifestyle free of animal products.
“After watching a documentary promoted at the festival, I felt as if I had no other option,” she writes. “If I wanted to be true to my values, I had to be vegan. For me, it’s an ethical choice first and foremost.”
She explains that going vegan in Berlin was easy because of how accessible vegan restaurants and grocery stores are. “Berlin is considered the vegan capital of Europe for a reason. Its vast variety of vegan restaurants and cafés perfectly marries the many Berliners bringing the movement to a whole different level of vegan living,” David writes.
Germany is just one of several European countries to see a spike in veganism in recent years.According to the Guardian, there were 150,000 vegans in the U.K. in 2006. Now, there are over half a million — a 350% increase.
Seventeen-year-old Euan Reece of Northamptonshire told the Guardian he believes social media, as well as the open mindedness of young people, has played a huge role in the expansion of vegan diets.
“Veganism is definitely more common among young people now. I feel that social media has played a major part in this, but there’s also the fact that younger people aren’t bound as much by traditional values, so they are more likely to change to a more left field thing such as veganism,” he said.
Abigail Wheeler, also age 17, told the Guardian “I went vegan for three reasons: animals, health and the environment. People worry about the lack of B vitamins when going vegan, especially B12, so I eat food supplemented with it, such as nutritional yeast. Being vegan is inherently quite healthy, however, because you eat so much fruit and veg.”
Isabella Hood of New Zealand, age 15, also cited the environment as one of her main reasons for becoming vegan.
“There is so much I could say about why veganism is the only sustainable choice for people. I could spout so many shocking statistics and facts. For example, animal agriculture is the leading cause of CO2 emissions, deforestation and pollution of our waterways. It has been predicted that if the whole world went vegan, then world hunger could be solved five times over,” she said.
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The true health benefits of eating vegan have been contested for years, with staunch advocates on both sides, but until recently, the argument that it’s better for the environment hadn’t seen much opposition. Earlier this month, Quartz published an article featuring a study conducted by Elementa, which looked at how many people we could feed in scenarios where the whole world followed a specific type of diet. The results show that veganism may not benefit the whole of humanity as much as we think.
The gist of the argument is that all of Earth’s population going vegan would mean wasting available land that could otherwise be used to feed more people. Not all crops can grow in every type of soil, and the grazing land currently being used to raise livestock wouldn’t be able to support vegetable crops. The vegan diet was the only diet in the study that didn’t use any perennial cropland, resulting in less food for people overall.
But the likeliness of the whole world going vegan is pretty slim to none, and there is a lot of evidence that shows reducing meat consumption, even partially, is beneficial for the environment. Enter: the “flexitarian.”
Millennials are more health conscious and care more about the environment than previous generations, leading many of them towards a plant-based diet. In the U.S., the annual meat consumption per person has fallen 15% in the last year, according to The Star. Even those that aren’t fully vegan or vegetarian are choosing to be meat-free at least several days a week, giving rise to the flexitarian moniker.
Young people especially are becoming increasingly alarmed at the toll that meat production takes on our planet. Being a flexitarian allows them to be environmentally conscious and healthy, while still giving into that fillet mignon craving every now and then.
Of course for many strict vegans, the main philosophy behind their lifestyle isn’t necessarily land sustainability, or even health for that matter. They truly believe that animal husbandry shouldn’t be practiced. They’re passionate about animal welfare, and as many of us know all too well, there’s no changing the mind of a passionate millennial.
As 15 year-old Isabella Hood told the Guardian, “The main reason I became vegan was because I see all animals as my friends and I would not want to eat a pig, just as I would not want to eat a dog. Every animal is a living, breathing and feeling creature who doesn’t want to die. I don’t want to contribute to their deaths.”