Earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn indicated that he was making the switch towards veganism. His announcement follows a string of other big-name moves towards a plant-based lifestyle, including sports stars such as David Haye and pop stars such as Ariana Grande. Fuelled by ground-breaking documentaries like Cowspiracy and What The Health, Veganism has become more mainstream amongst us ordinary folk too. A survey conducted by the Vegan Society last year showed that in the UK, veganism has increased 360% in the past decade. Google reported a 90% increase in UK 'vegan' searches in 2016 and initiatives such as Veganuary continue to record year-on-year growth. The market is responding too, with shops stocking increasing amounts of dairy and meat alternatives. London even has its very own vegan-only supermarket!
When an individual switches to veganism it is great news on many levels, but in particular for the animals. The Vegan Society's veganalyser estimates that in switching to a vegan diet, an individual will prevent the deaths of an average of 37 animals a year. That's 37 animals saved from a life of cruel exploitation and 37 fewer contributing to environmental issues such as global warming (animal agriculture being the second biggest contributor), water pollution, water scarcity and poverty. With the health benefits of a balanced vegan lifestyle, it probably means less of a burden on the NHS too.
Of course when influential people like Jeremy Corbyn go vegan, the positive impact goes way beyond Jeremy Corbyn himself. As any marketer will tell you, celebrities act as huge multipliers on public behaviour. Whether it's Lenny Henry promoting a well-known hotel brand, Jess Ennis, health insurance or Russ Abbot, a cigar company (congratulations if you're old enough to remember the last one!), the impact of celebrity is significant. Malcolm Gladwell, author of ground breaking bestseller The Tipping Point, goes as far to argue that brands or movements only grow when highly influential are involved somewhere along the line.
There are some simple evolutionary reasons that explain why a celebrity switching to veganism is so influential. Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahnemann describes human beings as 'cognitive misers', due to our built-in tendency to take mental short-cuts. In our tribal days this enabled us to save energy for important activities like foraging for food and running from big cats. Although these activities are less of a priority nowadays, our brains continue to be hard-wired in this way. Letting people we trust guide our decisions is one of many examples of our cognitive miserliness. It's why surveys consistently show 'recommendation from friends or family' as the biggest driver of decision-making. It explains why sites such as TripAdvisor give hoteliers and restaurant owners sleepless nights. And of course, it's why our celebrity role models can have such a big influence on our behaviour.
We also have an evolutionary desire for status - being further up the pecking order traditionally meant that we didn't miss out on our 'tribe's' resources. Mimicking the people we perceive to be at the top of the status-chain is one of the key ways we meet this need. Luxury brands are particularly good at exploiting it - think David Beckham promoting Calvin Klein or George Clooney Chanel. But our mimicking is not restricted to the things we buy - it applies to all of our behaviours. If George Clooney went plant-based then no doubt there'd be lots of Chanel-wearing vegans walking the streets.
Love him or loathe him, Jeremy Corbyn has a huge, near-fanatical following. Part of his appeal is that he is regarded as trustworthy, authentic and 'normal' - even many of the people that dislike his politics see him this way. So when he suggests he is switching to veganism, he is likely to take swathes of people with him. Some of the people he takes along may be role models for other groups of people and so the multiplier effect continues. That's 37 animals saved many times over.
This is great news for the vegan movement and great news for the animals.