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Going Vegan Like Beyonce?

'Vegans on ice'; 'I'm a vegan celebrity - get me out of here'; 'BBC Vegan Breakfast', 'The One Vegan Show'; 'Come Vegan Dining With Me' and 'ITVegan' have not yet caught on, but the news that Jay-Z and Beyonce have tried a plant-based diet has sparked a lot of interest and controversy.

'Vegans on ice'; 'I'm a vegan celebrity - get me out of here'; 'BBC Vegan Breakfast', 'The One Vegan Show'; 'Come Vegan Dining With Me' and 'ITVegan' have not yet caught on, but the news that Jay-Z and Beyonce have tried a plant-based diet has sparked a lot of interest and controversy.

It could be said that veganism is at its most popular ever since the coining of the word vegan by the founders of The Vegan Society in 1944 (we celebrate our 70th anniversary next year). Veganism was for a long time associated with the counter-culture and seen as 'difficult' but we are now seeing it enter the mainstream, much in the way that vegetarianism did in the 1980s.

Veganism is increasingly viewed as healthy, environmentally responsible and aspirational. Those in our society who have the most choice in their diet are increasingly choosing a plant-based diet. Only two weeks ago the American press claimed that Al Gore had become vegan joining high profile vegans such as Bill Clinton and Biz Stone. Books such as 'Vegan Before 6' have also popularised veganism.

The Vegan Society has been encouraging people to take the Vegan Pledge - either for a week or a month - for five years. Last month's World Vegan Month pledgers included comedians Dave Spikey and Lucy Porter. We have seen an increase in pledges in the first three months of this year over the same period in 2012 of 39% worldwide and 26% in the UK. Interestingly, this does not seem to be related to the horse meat scandal with only two pledge takers specifically mentioning it. A similar increase in interest in veganism can be seen in the increase of searches on Google for 'vegan' and in the attendance at vegan fairs around the UK as well as the number of vegan cookery books being published.

In the UK veganism has always been associated with a concern for animal welfare and/or animal rights. You can almost assume that a British vegan names animal protection as at least one of his/her reasons for being vegan. Therefore, most UK vegans attempt to live without the use of animals e.g. shoes, bags, woollens, silk, cosmetics and toiletries etc. Dietary veganism is not commonplace in the UK. In the US, however, an increasing number of people choose veganism because of a concern for their health and dietary veganism is quite common.

In the UK, many vegetarians wear leather and wool and most 'transitioning' vegans will own and wear animal products until worn and no longer usable. The products will usually be replaced with vegan alternatives. One of the most common questions from new vegans is about where to buy vegan shoes and clothing. In this sense Jay-Z and Beyonce are not unusual in wearing leather. Most new vegans will address their diet first and other aspects of their lifestyle (if necessary) later. While we encourage people to make compassionate choices in clothing (the value of an animal's skin contributes to the reason he or she is slaughtered), it is not helpful to suggest that those taking the vegan pledge are hypocritical if they wear animal products or cosmetics tested on animals. We accept that pledgers need time to become better informed to make the necessary changes, and we believe they should be supported and encouraged to do this. Criticism in the early stages of veganism can make new vegans feel that the standards are too high and that there are too many changes to make. They may feel overwhelmed and give up on their attempt to be vegan.

One can become vegan in stages - there are no rules and you are only answerable to your own conscience. Not everyone can afford a new wardrobe while they do the pledge, nor a new sofa, carpet, pillows, duvet, and so on. We are a welcoming movement to all who are interested in living a compassionate lifestyle.

Whether or not Beyonce deliberately wore the fur coat to be provocative, we can't be sure. Nor do we know whether she is aware of the cruelty involved in the fur industry: animals kept in tiny cages, killed in extreme ways such as gassing, anal execution, or stripping animals of their skins while still alive in order to make fur coats or trimmings.

But who says Beyonce should be the role model new vegans should look up to anyway? Let us rather admire amazing vegan athletes, such as Fiona Oakes, who has just broken two world records. Fiona set a new female record for running marathons on seven continents and the polar ice cap in an aggregated time of 31 hours and 12 minutes. She broke the world record of combined time in the seven continent races by 3 hours, despite missing one kneecap. And she ran all 8 marathons during an elapsed time of 225 days, while the previous female record stood at 324 days. Her story is truly inspiring.

A new world opens up when transitioning to veganism; try new flavours and new dishes, and live in tune with your compassionate values. It's never too early to start with that vegan breakfast or lunch option, that is, you don't have to wait until the New Year's resolution!

Support is on hand from The Vegan Society.