"We must do something about that 150,000 figure," a friend and benefactor said last summer. He referred to the estimated number of vegans in the UK in 2006. I agreed wholeheartedly, as all the signs--media, commercial and public understanding--were pointing to a significant increase in people eating vegan diets in recent years. The trouble is, no-one knew how real this was.
For the last decade, The Vegan Society has been asked on a weekly basis how many vegans there are, and all we've been able to say in recent years was that we thought numbers would probably have doubled since 2006. On occasion, I've also replied that everyone eats vegan food on a daily basis, but that vegans just eat a little more plant-based than others.
The Vegan Society uses evidence-based information, so we needed solid facts to tell us how much Britain's society has changed since 2006. Following our first major donation, we partnered with Vegan Life magazine to fund and organise a project to get those facts. The Vegan Society assessed reputable research companies and were pleased to commission Ipsos Mori. The survey investigating vegan eating and lifestyle habits--the first of its kind--questioned nearly 10,000 people aged 15 or over across England, Scotland and Wales last February.
The findings confirmed that at least 542,000 people are following a vegan diet. This denotes an increase of more than 3.5 times the number of vegans over the past decade, making veganism one of Britain's fastest growing lifestyle movements. The movement is being driven by young people making more ethical and compassionate choices - 42% of all vegans are in the 15-34 age category compared to just 14% who are over 65. This indicates growth is likely to rise further in the future.
In total, 3.25% of the British population, around 1.68 million people, are either vegetarian or vegan. More than 850,000 of vegetarians and vegans also avoid leather, wool and other animal products. The recent rise in popularity of fake leather jackets and a variety of non-leather footwear indicates that these products appeal to many more people than vegans alone.
The vast majority of vegans live in urban or suburban areas (88%) compared with rural areas (12%) and this is reflected in London, where 22% of all vegans in Britain live. Considering availability of vegan options this makes sense, as provision is typically better in urban areas, although there are some surprisingly fantastic vegan finds up and down Britain. Apart from those with certain allergies, vegan options are inclusive and suitable for anyone, making them the ideal choice for anyone interested in healthy, delicious, compassionate and environmentally friendly food. The number of vegan recipes online and vegan cookbooks has also grown exponentially.
Putting these figures into international context, a similar proportion (1.1%), or 900,000 people, in the German population are estimated to be vegan, with 8% of the population vegetarian and vegan. In Austria, the overall proportion of vegetarians and vegans may be even higher at 9%, of which around 80,000 vegans. Comparable age demographics were found in German speaking countries with more younger people eating vegan than older people. In the USA, a similar percentage of the population is estimated to be vegan, resulting in around 3 million people. Globally, veganism is growing on most continents, even in countries such as China and Mongolia.
A groundbreaking recent study from the University of Oxford (Springmann et al., 2016), which estimated both the health and climate change impacts of a widespread adoption of a plant-based diet, found that by the mid-century such a diet would:
• avert 8.1 million premature deaths every year;
• reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%; and
• save up to $1 billion per year in reduced global healthcare costs.
The founders of The Vegan Society coined the word 'Vegan' in 1944, when the organisation started with just 25 members. It was a time when food rationing was heavily in place. Food in developed countries is now plentiful, but this has come at the expense of a billion people in developing countries; and at the expense of the planet.
If the world is serious about tackling climate change; reducing and preventing lifestyle diseases; ensuring a fair food distribution system that allows everyone to have enough food to thrive; and pays due respect to the 60 billion land animals and a trillion marine animals currently killed for food and other purposes, a vegan lifestyle is the most sustainable and affordable solution.
You can try going vegan with the 30 Day Vegan Pledge. Sign up for free at www.vegansociety.com/pledge and receive daily emails of advice, info and lots of great recipes.