Once considered a fringe notion, the idea of eliminating all animal products from one’s diet is rapidly becoming mainstream, whether for one’s own health, to protect the environment, or for the sake of the animals. Here we explore some of the reasons for the increase in veganism and why veganism is on the rise.
What Is Veganism?
At its core, veganism is a philosophy that espouses compassion by eschewing products made from animals. Especially in countries like the United States, where factory farming is the norm, animals are treated very poorly and are forced to endure conditions that increasing numbers of consumers deem unacceptable, including intensive confinement, mutilations performed without any anesthesia, and slaughter methods that cause unnecessary fear and stress.
Veganism is most commonly thought of as a diet. A vegan diet is one that consists exclusively of plant-based foods. Eggs, milk, meat, and even less obvious products like honey are off the menu. Yet veganism is also a broader lifestyle. So many of the items people consume in daily life are either made from animal body parts or produced in a way that subjects animals to cruelty. For example, leather shoes and belts are not considered vegan. Many vegans also avoid certain products that are tested on animals, such as cosmetics.
Because of veganism’s central ethos of doing no harm, some vegans are also conscious of the negative impacts food choices can have on people. Certain brands of chocolate that are devoid of animal products nevertheless make use of exploitative labor practices during the fabrication process, including child labor and slavery. Some vegans avoid these products in order to maintain ethical consistency across their consumer choices.
Is Veganism Growing?
As an idea, veganism is growing in popularity and visibility, especially in countries like the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia, even if the recorded tally of people identifying as entirely vegan remains relatively constant. People love meat products, dietary change can be challenging, and switching to a vegan diet isn’t always easy given that cultural and socio-economic factors can affect plant-based food accessibility. Despite these challenges, however, veganism is slowly gaining mainstream popularity.
One of the most reliable ways to measure the growth in veganism is to look at what people are buying. Retail sales of vegan products have been sharply increasing for years, as has the availability of products. The plant protein sector is also booming in terms of both investment dollars and innovation. Overall, vegan trends are pointing up and to the right.
Increase in Veganism
Veganism is growing in many different countries worldwide. While growth may still seem slow in some places, there is an undeniable increase in both vegan culture and populations who identify as vegan.
Vegan Population in the U.S.
It can be difficult to get an accurate picture of how many vegans there are in the U.S., but one survey found a 300 percent increase in vegans between 2004 and 2019, amounting to about 3 percent of the total population or nearly 10 million people.
There are other trends pointing towards changing diets. Flexitarianism, meaning people who are consuming less meat and are sometimes vegetarian, is on the rise. One report found a decrease in those who consider themselves “meat eaters”, going from 85 percent in 2019 to 71 percent in 2021.
Vegan Population in the UK
Veganism is also popular in the United Kingdom. One survey conducted in 2016 found that the number of people identifying as vegans rose a whopping 360 percent in the previous decade, and it appears that plant-based diets have continued to grow in popularity. The year 2020 brought more global awareness of the connections between disease and meat consumption, which may be responsible for the 40 percent increase in vegans in Britain according to one report, bringing the estimated total to 1.5 million people.
Global Vegan and Vegetarian Population Statistics
Meat consumption remains popular around the world, but there are many places where plant-based diets account for a significant proportion of dietary choices. Germany has been leading a vegan revolution, with a proliferation of vegan restaurants and vegan lifestyle businesses popping up in recent years. An estimated 1.3 million Germans identify as vegan, while a further 8 million are vegetarian. Israel is another country that has also been spearheading the vegan movement, boasting a robust vegan population and a thriving alternative protein innovation sector.
India is the classic example of a country that has traditionally been more vegetarian. As the birthplace of ahimsa, essentially meaning “nonviolence”—a concept at the core of the vegan diet—it makes sense that between 20 and 40 percent of the population identify as vegetarian. Jamaica and Vietnam also boast large vegetarian populations, at an estimated 10 percent each.
It used to be the case that, aside from the fruit and veggie section, vegan options at the grocery store were limited to tofu and soymilk. On restaurant menus, salads and french fries were the go-to options for vegans. In the last decade or so, things have significantly changed, with a proliferation of vegan products now available in grocery stores and restaurants in many countries.
Plant-based milk, commonly made from nuts like almonds, macadamias, or cashews, or from oats, has been rapidly gaining popularity and is said to be responsible for a decline in cow’s milk consumption. A report by the United States Department of Agriculture found that plant-based milk sales are impacting sales of cow milk, with consumption rates down an average of 12 percent.
Plant-based Meat and Fast Food
Plant-based meat has been soaring in popularity thanks to the now-household brand names of Beyond and Impossible. Both companies began by making hamburgers that look, taste, and feel remarkably similar to meat, and have since branched out into other products including meatballs and ground beef.
Vegan Industry Statistics
There’s no doubt that the vegan industry is growing, and at a very rapid rate. The Good Food Institute has summarized some key statistics from a 2021 report regarding the retail sales of plant based foods:
- Plant-based food sales have been increasing for years, but they grew nearly three times faster than total food sales from 2018 to 2020.
- The total retail market value for vegan foods is estimated at seven billion dollars, up significantly from 2019.
- Plant-based food sales have grown by 45 percent in the last two years alone.
Vegan Athletes and Celebrities
One of the stereotypical images of a vegan is someone who is skinny and unhealthy-looking. But this image is slowly being dismantled thanks to the rise of celebrities and athletes who practice vegan diets and lifestyles.
Vegan athletes are becoming more common, with many claiming that a vegan diet improves their body’s performance. The 2018 documentary Game Changers featured some of these athletes, along with a compelling deep dive on the benefits of a plant-based diet versus one heavy in meat and animal products. Respected athletes such as Colin Kaepernick are helping to spread awareness about veganism as well, by practicing the diet and speaking publicly about it.
The list of celebrities choosing veganism is also long and is having a profound influence on public awareness. Beyoncé has exposed her millions of fans to veganism by promoting a plant-based diet. Other influential people, including Billie Eilish, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, Lizzo, and Zac Efron have also dabbled with a vegan diet.
Why Is Veganism on the Rise?
There are numerous reasons why people decide to give veganism a try. Here are a few factors responsible for the rise in veganism’s popularity.
In an age when sugary, processed foods rife with unhealthy fats are the norm for so many Americans, people are turning to healthier options to optimize wellbeing. A vegan diet based on whole foods (such as fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains) can provide many important benefits, from improving heart health to decreasing the risk of diabetes and cancers, while providing the essential vitamins and nutrients required for a long, healthy life.
Weight gain happens for many reasons, and an unhealthy diet rich in processed foods like chicken nuggets and bacon can tip the scales towards a high body mass index. A vegan diet has been shown to help people slim down. But it’s important to eat a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables and avoid processed food, since there is a ton of vegan junk food that is not much better for your health than, say, a McDonald’s quarter pounder.
Over roughly the last half-century, factory farms have carefully hidden the realities of their operations from the public eye, most notably by placing farms in remote areas and enacting ag-gag laws. But with the rise of undercover investigations and concerted awareness campaigns, the inner workings of factory farms are increasingly coming to light—and people tend not to like what they see.
Animals are treated poorly on factory farms across the board, forced to live in conditions that are widely condemned as being unacceptable, whether battery cages for egg-laying hens, gestation crates for pregnant pigs, or the heart-wrenching separation of mothers and their newborn calves. As people are exposed to footage and reports of farmed animals’ lives, some are compelled to give veganism a try.
The intensive animal agriculture industry in the U.S. and globally has a wide variety of environmental impacts, and none of them are good. As awareness grows about factory farming’s carbon emissions and its role in water pollution, deforestation, and other impacts, the number of people who abstain from animal products that cause these catastrophes is growing too.
Concern Over Antibiotics
Antibiotics are given to farmed animals as a preventative measure against disease, and also sometimes to increase their body’s ability to produce more of the flesh or secretions that are demanded by consumers. But antibiotics are also critical to help stave off diseases in human beings, and the efficacy of these drugs declines when they are over-used on farm animals, as the pathogens they are designed to fight off begin to develop resistance. Antibiotic resistance is considered one of the most dangerous threats the world currently faces.
What Role Do Influencers Play in Increased Veganism?
In this age of influencers, social media provide a platform where ideas can spread and minds can be changed. There are many vegan influencers with robust platforms that do appear to be changing hearts and minds—or at the very least, providing free education to the masses. On Instagram, for example, influencers can post recipes, share statistics, and make the vegan lifestyle appear just like any other. Considering that this list of influencers collectively boasts hundreds of thousands of followers, it seems clear that influencers do play a role in spreading vegan lifestyles, diets, and attitudes.
How Can You Become Vegan?
Becoming vegan is not something you should do all at once, since quitting something cold-vegan-turkey can make you more likely to revert back to where you began. Starting slowly by gradually reducing your intake of animal products, while supplementing with plant-based foods, will help you build the foundation for lasting change.
There are tons of great online resources available to help you navigate this dietary change. Also, be sure to connect with like-minded folks in online spaces or see about volunteering with a local group that espouses veganism or that helps animals.
One thing is for sure: with the proliferation of exciting new vegan products and so many people who are on the same journey towards an animal-free lifestyle, adopting a vegan diet is easier than ever.
Sentient Media editorial team.