A look at the evidence makes one thing clear:
Veganism is experiencing an historic rise in the UK.
Research shows that the number of practicing vegans in the UK is now at an all-time high. A closer look at the data shows that recent interest in veganism is a new trend.
Case in point: there were only 540,000 vegans in the UK in 2016. By 2018, this number had increased to 3.5 million.
This meteoric 548.15% increase represents a growing nationwide interest in the practice of veganism.
A look at the data shows some promising statistics. Namely, the vast majority of vegans are millennial females. With 63% of all vegans being females aged 15-35, it can be inferred the future of UK veganism is bright.
These findings suggests youth are increasingly accepting of veganism—a trend that bodes well for the practice’s future.
The current interest in veganism in the UK has changed the national landscape. For instance, those looking to go vegan now have unprecedented access to ethical vegan products.
Additionally, as veganism takes more ground and is treated with more respect in the national narrative, it can be expected to keep growing.
But what spurred this increased interest in veganism? What conditions came together to allow for the number of practicing vegans to more than quadruple in just two years?
In short, veganism’s growth in the UK cannot be attributed to just one factor. Instead, it serves as a perfect example of synergistic happenstance.
For starters, it must be noted that the UK is not unique in their vegan growth. Studies have shown a similar 500% increase in veganism in the US during the same time period.
What this suggests is that the circumstances leading to the growth of veganism are happening at a global scale. At the very least, it may be attributed to a specific set of circumstances present in the Western world.
And as you may have expected, the majority of new vegans are millennials—regardless of location.
This information is important to keep in mind when examining the current vegan explosion in the UK.
A simple answer behind this movement may be to suggest that we are currently experiencing a cultural shift.
It could be argued, for instance, that millennials are rejecting age-old meat eating practices in favor of more humane options.
It may certainly be argued that today’s society puts strong importance on the term “justice.” In fact, as reported by The Guardian, some already do. The publication references Tim Barford, manager of VegfestUK, and highlights his thoughts on the current cultural shift.
“You’ve got a real cultural change among millennials, which is very much built around justice,” The Guardian reported Barford as saying.
But attributing the rise of veganism in the UK to a cultural shift alone does not do the issue justice. Instead, to truly understand the new vegan movement, further analysis should be conducted on specific social and economic conditions.
Below, we’ll delve deeper into several factors that have actively contributed to the rise of veganism in the UK.
To say that vegans now have a strong voice in the online community is an understatement.
Social platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have given new life to the vegan movement in a number of ways.
Namely, aspiring vegans now have better ways to be informed of the movement.
With famous vegan YouTubers like Sweet Potato Soul having nearly half a million subscribers, authentic vegan content is now more accessible than ever.
Additionally, these channels better promote the vegan lifestyle by spreading accurate information. With vegan cooking and fitness channels garnering millions of views, big-name YouTubers help combat misinformation and common stereotypes.
This has all worked to make adopting a vegan lifestyle easier than ever before. Because people are better informed, they are both more likely to become vegan and to successfully change their lifestyles.
But it’s not just everyday vegans who have managed to leverage the power of social media. Big-name organisations such as PETA have, too.
In fact, PETA notes that their 2016 social media campaign was so successful that just one video alone received over 15,000,000 views. And that’s just on Facebook.
Because of these platforms, the vegan movement has been able to reach an unprecedented number of individuals. And perhaps best of all, there’s no reason to expect this trend to slow down any time in the near future.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors to the rise of veganism is also a response to it.
As veganism has become more popular, an increasing number of vegan products has hit the market. This has made it easier than ever before to find affordable vegan food options.
In effect, the increase in vegan food options has reduced barriers for those looking to become vegan on a limited income.
It has also increased the number of ethical food options available for practicing vegans.
This trend has had a powerful effect in helping veganism achieve mainstream status. The market for packaged vegan foods, for example, is now expected to grow at a rate of at least 11% until 2020. This increased access to vegan food options will work to further the mainstream growth of the movement.
And it doesn’t stop there.
With veganism on the rise, some of the most respected names in the industry are joining the cause.
Now, they have released a total of seven new vegan cheese alternatives in the UK and US markets. VBites’ move looks to solve a long-standing issue for many vegans: namely, their cheeses have long been difficult to make and acquire.
As reported, in years past, even the best vegan cheeses were hardly worthy of comparison to dairy alternatives. However, with new vegan cheese-making techniques becoming more advanced, good-tasting alternatives are now on the market.
Additionally, the past decade has witnessed an increase in the number of restaurants offering vegan options. These may be all-vegan fast-casual diners or restaurants that have simply added vegan options to the menu.
And it appears that this has had a domino effect.
The Guardian reports the story of Paul White, who founded the first vegan restaurant in Blackpool. Immediately, White noticed a strong response from the community.
It wasn’t long before several other restaurants in the area noticed it, too. They quickly began to add vegan options to their own menus to capitalize on the new trend.
This domino effect has dramatically increased the number of vegan dining options available, making the movement more accessible for everyone.
Interestingly, a strong correlation between the rise of vegetarianism and that of veganism has been discovered.
A Model of the Dynamics of Household Vegetarian and Vegan Rates in the U.K., James Waters examines the relationship between the two food movements.
His research reflects a startling conclusion:
The more successful a vegetarian campaign is, the more the vegan movement benefits.
This positive correlation suggests that any appreciable rise in vegetarian rates in the UK will be felt by the vegan movement.
And the strength of the vegetarian campaign in Britain cannot be doubted. Some reports even suggest that the number of new British vegetarians increases by 2,000 people each week.
Based on Waters’ study, it can be inferred that this also appreciably benefits the UK’s vegan rates.
Increasing public awareness of veganism has also contributed to its rise.
As we have seen, social media campaigns have strongly benefited the movement.
However, they are not the only way the digital arena has come to bolster vegan rates.
Popular advocacy films, such as Netflix’s Cowspiracy, have worked to shed light on the vegan movement. Targeted to non-vegan audiences, these films work to cover hot-button issues in an effort to convert viewers.
And it goes without saying that these powerful documentaries benefit from social media. Viewers who share these vegan documentaries or discuss them online are able to bring about even greater awareness for the cause.
But it doesn’t end there.
One of the most powerful techniques that has been used to grow the vegan movement has been to associate it with other causes.
Netflix’s Cowspiracy, for instance, pushes the link between veganism with global warming.
It is a charge that has been taken up by other organisations and big-name news media.
NBC News, for instance, reported on a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study that linked meat eating with global warming.
The study, performed by researchers from Oxford University, made a strong case for the environmental utility of going vegan. In it, the researchers predict that there would be 8.1 million fewer deaths by 2050 if everyone were to go vegan, but most interestingly, however, they suggest that following a vegan diet would lower carbon emissions by up to 70%. It is something they argue would occur because of the decrease in emissions that arise during meat processing.
Likewise, PETA has worked to further elaborate on the connection between climate change and veganism.
In doing so, they reference the same Oxford University study, but note a separate finding—that those who eat meat produce nearly two and a half times as many as greenhouse gases per day as vegans.
They also reference studies conducted by scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who concluded that “reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural climate pollution down to safe levels.”
It is likely that millennials in the UK are taking notice of these findings.
As reported by The Independent in September of 2018, concerns over climate change in the UK are at recent highs.
This growth in climate concern could possibly be fueling a greater interest in veganism, as individuals look for ways to protect the environment.
In fact, climate change policies have grown increasingly common and popular in the UK in the last decade. England’s plastic bag tax passed in 2015, for instance, saw a whopping 62% support rate from the people.
The Opinium poll referenced by the Independent adds even more context. The poll found that 30% of British citizens classify themselves as “very concerned” about the possibility of climate change. Additionally, 42% note that they are “fairly concerned.”
With 72% of the population at least moderately concerned about climate change, it is within reason to believe that recent efforts to connect veganism with more eco-friendly practices has fueled interest in the movement.
As research into the connection between climate change and veganism continues, it may be that even more concerned UK citizens make the switch.
Clearly, the rise of veganism in the UK since 2016 has been nothing short of impressive.
With the number of vegans rising by over 500%, it is worth examining the political, cultural, and social conditions that have made this growth possible.
What we found is that several conditions have led to an increased interest in veganism—and that these circumstances are present at a global scale.
Namely, the ability of vegans and big-name vegan organisations to leverage digital media has played an integral role in the movement’s rise. By making veganism mainstream, these platforms have helped make veganism more accessible to the general public.
And because increased vegan food options and restaurants are now available, being vegan has never been more convenient.
These conditions have reduced barriers for those looking to adopt a vegan lifestyle. This is perhaps the largest contributing factor to the movement’s rise.
However, veganism’s connection to other causes must not be ignored.
By successfully linking veganism to pressing issues such as climate change, researchers and activists have made going vegan more than a moral issue. By presenting veganism as an alternative to increased death rates and climate change, activists have built on growing concerns over humankind’s current sustainability.
Together, these factors have produced a seemingly-unstoppable vegan revolution.
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