Vegan it's a word that has started to infiltrate mainstream culture, but what is veganism? Put simply, it is a belief system whereby people who choose to not eat any products derived from animals; meaning meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk and honey are not consumed. Some vegans -myself included - choose not to wear leather products, silk and wool, too.
The Vegan Society estimates that there are 150,000 full time vegans in the UK, and a meat free diet is firmly on the map in the UK. Mintel recently revealed that 12% of adults in in the UK follow a vegetarian or vegan diet with this figure rising to 20% of 16 to 24s.
So why is veganism becoming increasingly popular? I believe a key factor has been the recognition of veganism as a healthy lifestyle choice - celebrities such as Jay-Z and Beyonce, publicly embarked on a 21 day vegan challenge earlier this year, while Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt, Woody Harrelson all follow a vegan diet full time.
With regular frequency studies are released showing how a meat free diet decreases your chance of cancer, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, proving it isn't just fashionability that's driving this increase in lifestyle or diet choice.
Scandals like the horsemeat crisis highlighted just how little we know about where our food comes from, and chefs like Jamie Oliver have recognized the increase desire/need for us to eat more plant based food and the vegan content on his website has increased tenfold, introducing the two times vegan world champion freerunner, Tim Shieff, to cook and chat on his FoodTube channel.
The information age we live in has made it easier for us to discover where our food comes from and how the animals we eat are treated. Earlier this month Animal Aid revealed through undercover investigations that Defra had underestimated the amount of animals that were mis-stunned during the slaughter process by 99.9%. The truth about livestock farming from meat to diary to eggs is there if we so choose to open our eyes to it. A great starting point - albeit one not for the faint hearted - would be the film Earthlings.
So, how easy is it to be vegan?
The truth is, there has never been a better time to go vegan. Awareness about the diet is higher than ever and with vegan products infiltrating into the mainstream supermarkets, following this lifestyle is more viable than it once may have been. Supermarkets like Sainsbury's have launched their own Vegan labeling system. Whilst 32% of chocolate and sugar confectionery products using a glazing agent now boast a vegetarian or vegan claim up from 13% in 2009.
Some people find going vegan easy, others much more difficult. For me, I went from meat reductionist, to pescatarian, to vegetarian before finally going completely vegan. When I chose to go vegan I had played out all the arguments and scenarios in my head many times, over and over, and being strict from the get-go was fairly reasonable.
The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to go vegan; honestly, despite being one of the best things I have ever done in my life, I would be lying if I said there aren't hard moments. After a few months you don't miss the foods you give up, your body and mind feel much better.
Increasingly there are options out there for people who want to gradually move towards Veganism. The author Kathy Freston calls this gradual approach to vegan transition, 'leaning in'. And in my experience too many people are hasty, believing just because they ate something that was non-vegan during transition that they are incapable of ever following a fully vegan diet. For many, Kathy's mantra of just 'leaning in' is a gentle reminder to be kind to yourself when embarking on this journey. You can listen to Kathy talk about this on the Rich Roll Podcast.
The truth is; nobody is perfect, and we should all try to do the best we can and find the level we are comfortable with in our hearts. Everybody has a different comfort zone and sometimes that can vary - I'd hope people reading this can fall into the completely vegan bracket, however others are comfortable with vegetarian, flexible vegan (or flexi-vegan), and a person whose vegan with a slight seduction for non-vegan items (most likely vegetarian products).
Veganuary: a campaign that encourages people to try a vegan diet for a month of January, has managed to market this lifestyle to the masses, influencing many people to try a Vegan lifestyle. They offer support that will hopefully see people adopt the diet long-term but equally they are keen for people to learn more about plant-based living and try a vegan lifestyle.
Generally, the most difficult thing about going vegan is the constant social pressure people receive from society around us. Food is so integral to our personal stories and generally products rich with animal products are always pride of place in any family celebration, when someone abstains from these products people are sensitive to such changes and often take them as a personal affront to their own choices.
As people we don't choose our food culture; we inherit it. I honestly believe this is why some people get so defensive when a friend goes vegan. In our hearts, we all know that eating less or completely eliminating meat is much better for us, and we know that the animal suffering that is endured to put food our plates is not something we want to confront. The person who chooses a vegan diet is always going to receive annoying questions and critiques. To ready for this but stay calm, because ours is the path of the warrior.
Once your peers adjust to your new eating arrangements, you will generally find they become interested and accommodating. Recently a friend of mine threw a raw vegan dinner party; I was the only vegan in attendance, but everyone enjoyed the beautiful food and curiosity about veganism sprouted from this. Following a vegan diet helps you feel increasingly connected to animals, nature and world in general, sharing your experience is always a wonderful thing to do.
So what are you waiting for, go and get some more plants in your life...