On social media message boards, vegans market T-shirts and other items with the message, “The World is Vegan! If you want it.”
That implies that a nonviolent, compassionate world that quits animal farming is possible if vegans continue to inspire and follow the rule of what is right.
It means leaving our comfort zones so that Veggie Pride Parades and assorted animal advocacy conferences or gatherings are not presented as the revolution.
The revolution by which a collective decision is made to transition to a vegan diet necessitates engaging everyone: the vegetarians, flexitarians, the grass-fed meat-eaters, omnivores and protein zealot-carb-haters, who don’t always distinguish between simple carbs and beneficial complex ones.
We must include them in our lives—educate them, dine with them and maybe even cook for them. Living in a vegan bubble isn’t reaching the masses, and it’s not changing a mind one meal at a time.
It’s mind-boggling that consumers are eating $3.3 billion dollars’ worth of vegan food, but we aren’t seeing a growing vegan population. That’s because plant-based foods like the newfangled veggie burgers arriving at fast-food chains are also targeted at omnivores. Brace yourselves: Meat eaters are consuming almost 90% of the Impossible Burger.
So how many vegans are there in the U.S.? Since it’s a controversial question, Sentient Media put together a timeline tracking 24 surveys of vegans over the past 25 years. The result: Vegans are between 1 – 2 % of the population.
However, more than a third of U.S. residents are trying to consume more plant-based foods, and some of them are shy of the word “vegan.” They’re prompted by health, compassion and environmental concerns such as how much water goes into producing a pound of beef and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from livestock as they burp up methane during digestion.
Today about 5% of residents say they’re vegetarians—the same as in 2012, but the world’s population keeps growing. In a recent diet-based government study that surveyed about 10,000 people, researchers asked participants what they had eaten in the past 24 hours. Of those who identified as vegetarian, 64% had consumed a small amount of meat.
Clearly, the word vegetarian can be misused.
The number of vegans and vegetarians isn’t as important as recognizing the number of doomed animals who are still ending up in slaughterhouses despite the explosion of vegan products.
For sure, consumers are eating less meat, and most everyone says they oppose factory farming, yet 99% of U.S. farmed animals live on factory farms and spend their abbreviated lives in horrid conditions before being killed.
And there’s no refuge in saying one buys organic or free-range egg, meat and dairy products, as slaughterhouses are the same for all.
Whether consumers are eating a small or large amount of meat, they are still fueling the meat industry, and there’s no separating dairy milk or eggs from it. Baby calves and goats are yanked from their mothers and these separations are excruciating—all so that another milk product is created for which there are numerous vegan alternatives.
On a routine basis, there are articles written exposing the scary effect of eating meat and dairy products on our health. The surge in drug-resistant infections is a health threat, and one of the main causes is farmers who dose millions of cows, pigs and chickens with antibiotics to keep them well enough before slaughter.
REDUCING OUR CLIMATE FOOTPRINT
Livestock supply chains account for 14.5% of all human-induced global greenhouse emissions each year. That’s about the same amount as the emissions from all airplanes, ships, trucks and cars combined. Cattle (beef and dairy) are the main contributor to the sector, representing 65% of emissions. Pigs, poultry, buffalo, sheep and goats each represent between 7 and 10% of livestock sector emissions.
A study published in Scientific Reports in August revealed that if every American replaced all beef, chicken and pork with a vegetarian option, they would save the equivalent of 280 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide every year—that’s the same as taking about 60 million cars off the road.
As the research piles up there’s no denying that pressing toward a vegan culture is the biggest step we can take to save the planet from a warmer future and treat animals with respect.
During my recent trip to a fitness resort in Mexico, I saw a friend who said spending a week with me there five years ago inspired him to become vegetarian. He said I talked to him in a matter-of-fact way that emboldened his change. This time he said he was going home to become vegan despite his dependence on dairy.
That’s the sign of an unfolding vegan culture, where the decency and joy that comes from eating plant-based food and shunning all animal products takes center stage.
This is what change looks like.
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, has presided over the international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She has also served as president of the San Antonio-based sanctuary Primarily Primates and is a food activist and author of three vegan cookbooks.