Veganism is a term which is doing the rounds these days, and is often confused with vegetarianism. While both practices actively avoid the consumption of meat, they have different perspectives when it comes to the consumption of animal by-products. Vegans refrain in entirety from the consumption of all animal products like milk, cheese and butter whereas a vegetarian is a lot more flexible and often even consumes eggs and fish.
The roots of vegetarianism can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The practice is said to have originated around the South Asian subcontinent that is now India and Pakistan. However, back then, Vegetarianism was probably involuntary and not a lifestyle choice like it is today, since countries along the equator had abundant plant-based nutrition, as they enjoyed ample harvests throughout the year, in contrast to countries towards the north, that had limited farming capabilities and relied on rearing livestock and preserving meat and cheese over the winter months.
Religions that originated around South Asia – Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, all practiced veganism or vegetarianism in different capacities. The first records of strict vegetarianism tell us that it was practiced by various Indian philosophers such as Mahavira, Acharya Kundakunda and Valluvar. While this was most prominent in Asia, there have been reports of Greek and Roman philosophers and poets doing the same.
Veganism in Western countries did not gain prominence until the 20th century with the founding of various vegan societies across the United Kingdom and United States. People began adopting this as a lifestyle choice and cited morality and health as reasons for giving up the consumption of meat. The 1960s saw the “hippie” culture sweep through the United States with the younger generation realizing the downsides of consuming meat on a regular basis. This saw a lot of musicians and rock stars such as Paul McCartney becoming vegans or vegetarians, and their fans followed suite.
This market was extremely niche in Western countries and most people were flexible as restaurants and major food chains barely served a variety of vegetarian foods. It wasn’t until the 21st century that veganism started to gain popularity. With the introduction of “mock meats” people were given a product that tasted like meat but was made up of plant-based substitutes. These were often priced at much higher than meat products, but millennials who embraced the “hipster” lifestyle did not shy away from shelling out extra money and undertaking more effort to set themselves apart from the rest.
Since 2012 the mock meats market in the United States has increased by 12% and is valued at over $500 million. Millennials have managed to substitute all necessary animal by-products with an equivalent plant-based product such as almond milk, tofu, soy patties and various vegan butters, which have flooded the market with their demand constantly increasing. Naturally, the prices of these products are also considerably higher than their animal-based alternatives.
The practice of veganism has been to promote healthy lifestyle choices where people are in control of their senses and consume food in correct quantities. The upside to this practice is the glorification of the reason behind adopting such a practice. Vegans often try to persuade meat eaters to stop consuming meat because it harms animals. They share videos of cows and pigs butchered mercilessly to change the minds of meat eaters.
However, they forget that there are other liberal approaches to advocate the ban of cruel animal treatment. Many companies have identified the dissatisfaction of their customers when the products are not “free range” (animals should not be caged but nurtured). There are many cases where parents jump on the veganism bandwagon and force their toddlers and adolescent children into the same practice without offering an option. In cases where such a practice is coerced, it breeds contempt.
Some vegans are heavily disliked for their judgement against meat eaters. Meat eaters are blamed for their food choices when in reality, it was decided by natural selection and the need for a balanced ecosystem that humans be on top of the food chain. It is usual to want to consume meat, which is definitely not a crime. The fact that some vegans would try to force veganism on the rest of the world simply proves how extreme some popular cultures can get. We must remember, therefore, that it is necessary to advocate positive lifestyle changes that safeguards animal rights, but this must never translate into coercion or lack of choice.
Picture Courtesy- Food Revolution Network