It was World Vegetarian Day on the 1st of October. More and more people are realising that they can save animals, improve their health and combat climate change simply by ditching meat, which is making vegetarianism more popular than ever, and that's a cause for celebration. Today 12 per cent of adults in the UK leave animals off their plates, an impressive leap from five years ago, when only 2 per cent of Brits were vegetarian. The number of 16- to 24-year-olds who say they are vegan or vegetarian is even higher: 20 per cent and growing.
Last year, PETA received 35,000 requests for our free vegan starter kit - up from 14,000 in 2013. The vegetarian market is worth £820 million a year in the UK - four times what it was in 1991 - and is predicted to grow to £2.38 billion by 2041.
All those numbers lead to one conclusion: we are experiencing a fundamental shift in our collective psyche towards a kinder, more respectful way of living, and as more of us embrace ethical eating, supermarkets and restaurants are quickly catching on and meeting the demand for plant-based products.
A stroll through the supermarket confirms that making conscientious choices about what goes in our trolley has never been more convenient. Tesco has expanded its "free from" choices with ice cream chocolate sticks and toffee and vanilla cones. Veggie burgers, vegan chicken fillets, vegan cheeses and an array of other animal-friendly foods are no longer confined to the specialty aisles.
In March, Zizzi began offering a vegan mozzarella cheese on its pizzas, which has received rave reviews. Other chains have added samosas (JD Wetherspoon), fajitas (Las Iguanas) a Veg-Mex burger (Handmade Burger Co) and loads more.
Making the vegetarian choice a convenient one will have lots of positive effects. Last year, the World Health Organization listed processed meat - including sausage and bacon - as a carcinogen in the same category as tobacco and warned that red meats are "probably carcinogenic". Its study found that eating 50 g of processed meat a day (less than two slices of bacon) increased one's chances of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent. Another study found that eating exclusively plant-based foods lowers the risk of developing prostate cancer by 35 per cent. Being vegetarian or vegan also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, some of the country's biggest killers.
It also helps ensure a greener tomorrow. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that a staggering 51 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide is a result of "livestock and their by-products". It's no wonder the United Nations has concluded that a global shift to a vegan diet is vital to alleviating the worst effects of climate change.
And then there is the most compelling reason of all for swapping beef burgers for veggie burgers: stopping the horrific suffering involved in getting every piece of animal flesh to the table. Animals raised for food live in misery and deprivation before finally being loaded onto lorries and sent off to abattoirs to have their throats slit. Considering what we know of pigs, cows, chickens and other animals - that they have their own personalities and a desire to live and that they love their babies and mourn them when they're taken away to be turned into a chop or reduced to some other body part, it's impossible to justify killing them for food. And perhaps 20 years ago, we could also claim ignorance of the fascinating lives, intelligence and sensitivity of fish, but today we know that not only do they feel pain, they also use tools and have impressively long-term memories. A recent study even found that guppies like to hang out with "ugly" friends in order to make themselves look more attractive to potential mates - that shows planning and cunning.
As more people see animals for the wonderful individuals they are, a boom in the number of people who no longer feast on their flesh makes sense. If you're not yet one of them, then World Vegetarian Day is the perfect time for you to take the plunge. Do it for animals, do it for the planet or do it for yourself, but whatever your reason, just do it.Suggest a correction