Being a long-time vegan, I have a unique perspective. I have been living a vegan lifestyle for 27 years and I have seen exciting changes in people’s attitudes and perceptions. Though meat-eating still stubbornly persists – a discouraging reality for new and long-term vegans alike – the progress we’ve made in the past three decades is truly amazing, and gives me hope.
In the past, the usual reaction to someone discovering that I’m vegan used to be a range of skepticism, criticism, and condemnation, if they even knew what the word “vegan” meant. When people would find out that I was vegan, it wasn’t uncommon to become the target of a rude or disrespectful joke. It always seems unfair to me to be ridiculed for making an ethical, healthy lifestyle choice, but a negative reaction was almost inevitable.
Attitudes are changing, and while there is still cynicism at times, it’s now more common when people hear that I’m vegan to say things like, “Oh, I don’t eat much meat” or “We drink almond milk.” These new reactions imply an acceptance, almost a declaration, not only that “it’s ok with me that you’re vegan,” but that they, too, are making healthier, more compassionate food choices, and they want me to know this. Instead of trying to alienate me, they are actually trying to relate to me, which almost never seemed to happen in the past. It’s a subtle but significant shift that I believe is a sign of changing times.
The social inclination towards ethical eating seems to be picking up momentum and signs of a veggie take-over are everywhere! I live near Berkeley, California in what is now, at least compared to a couple of decades ago, a vegan paradise. You can go to the all vegan “butcher shop” and get a meatball and mozzarella sandwich, then head down the street to indulge in a gourmet vegan cinnamon bun, and then just a few blocks away, pick up all your vegan specialty cheese and ice cream at an all vegan grocery store that supports a farmed animal sanctuary. My vegan self from 1989 is so jealous!
Public awakening to the suffering of animals is influencing business and corporate behavior. Significantly, Ringling Brothers Circus has announced the retirement of its performing elephants, and SeaWorld has agreed to stop breeding orcas. If SeaWorld fulfils its promise, the company’s remaining whales will be the last of the largest marine mammals in SeaWorld captivity. I believe such progress won’t end there and attention will shift to the plight of tigers and bears in the circus and the dolphins and walruses at SeaWorld. Animals bred in captivity will soon be a shameful relic of a barbaric past. People now have sympathy for animals suffering for entertainment and their concern is gradually extending to farmed animals as well.
Change Is Coming
Encouraging signs are everywhere. In the largest poll to ever quantify the vegan population, Great Britain has over half a million vegans who never consume any animal products including meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, and honey. Ten years ago, there were only 150,000. This makes veganism one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements in England, Scotland, and Wales with young people leading the revolution; 42% of vegans surveyed were under 34.
Google calculates trends each year to measure what people are searching for on the Internet to gauge what’s hot and what’s not. Data collected from January 2014 to February 2016 under “Food Trends” found that searches for vegan foods are dramatically increasing, while foods with the word “bacon,” like bacon cupcakes, are declining, indicating that the bacon fad may finally be fading. The “rising star” foods were all vegan, with food searches amplified for: “vegan cheese” (up 80 percent), “vegan mac and cheese” (up 69 percent), “vegan chocolate” (up 86 percent), and “vegan ice cream” (up 109 percent).
Even the sports world is taking note. Super Bowl 2016 aired a commercial mentioning “vegan” and actually pronounced it correctly! Although it was in the context of a joke, advertisers took for granted that Super Bowl viewers know what a vegan is. For me, that’s progress!
Here’s the best news: from 2007 to 2014, 400 million fewer animals were killed for food in the U.S. That’s 400 million animals who didn’t have to endure the horrors of animal agriculture and a brutal slaughter. People in the U.S. and Europe are eating fewer animals and the trend is seeing a decrease year after year. Animal products are in decline and delicious vegan foods can be found just about everywhere. Not just at health food stores, but at Costco and Walmart. It’s easier than ever to be vegan.
Though our work is far from over, I believe the next two decades will see more animals saved as we get ever closer to becoming a truly compassionate society where no animal suffers needlessly at human hands. With vigilance and veganism, we can achieve this. Life can be beautiful, please go vegan!