Veganism and Vegetarianism: no laughing matter

In London's Borough Market.
There is a common stigma attached to veganism and vegetarianism, but are they really bad lifestyle choices?

Want to hear some anti-vegan jokes? Of course you do! “What do you call a vegetarian who goes back to eating meat?” “Someone who lost their veg-inity!” Haha! Hoho! Oh, brilliant, right? Hey, here’s another one – “How many vegans does it take to change a lightbulb?” “Two, one to change it and one to check for animal ingredients!” I mean, you couldn’t make these up! (Actually, someone with a terrible sense of humour did, but still.) Okay, one more! “Do you know that vegetarians have a 20 per cent higher life expectancy?” No? Seriously, they do. And that’s no joke. In fact, both vegetarians and, perhaps more frequently, vegans, are the subject of ridicule on a daily basis, simply because they don’t eat meat. Well, I wonder who the joke is on now…

It has been revealed recently that processed meats – such as bacon, sausages and ham – cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. In its report released in the last week, it said that consuming 50g of processed meat a day – which isn’t even two slices of bacon – increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent. In the UK, around six out of every 100 people get bowel cancer at some point in their lives. Meaning, theoretically, if everyone had an extra 50g of bacon a day for the rest of their lives, then the risk would increase by nearly 20 per cent to around seven in 100 people getting bowel cancer. And that’s almost as awful as some of the anti-vegan jokes I found online.

If these figures are true, especially in the society we live in today, then how is there still so much stigma around vegetarianism and veganism? Vegetarian diets have been linked to lower risks of several chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. An estimated three million Britons, around five per cent, are vegetarian and never eat meat or fish, and to gain more of an insight, I spoke to Faith Clarke, a second year Journalism student and vegetarian, about her experiences, and how, in effect, it has changed her life.

“I’ve been a vegetarian for a couple of years now and have recently made a gradual transition to veganism. Personally, my decision to not eat meat and animal products rests predominantly on ethical reasoning, though I like to think my dietary choices are both healthier and more environmentally-friendly also. I frequently get asked why I don’t eat meat, and it is a question I struggle to answer. It is not because I lack the passion to elaborate, but rather because I dislike the way in which I am made out to be the ‘odd’ one, when in my mind I find it hard to believe that people can eat meat and dairy products without some kind of guilty conscience.”

“There are so many myths that surround vegan and vegetarianism, with ‘you can’t meet nutritional requirements’ being the most popular. If people took the time to research the elements of a stable vegan diet they would discover that you can quite easily encompass everything you need to be healthy – if anything, with a lot more ease than a meat-based diet. I also think that the stigma surrounding veganism is largely to do with a lack of education; people fear breaking away from the diet they have been raised on because they simply do not know what else they can eat. I hope that the recent revelations concerning the negative impacts of meat consumption make people think twice about what they are consuming; if not for ethical reasons, for their own health and well-being.”

Ditching meat and fish in favour of a vegetarian
diet can even have a dramatic effect on the health of your heart. A recent
study of 44,500 people in England and Scotland showed vegetarians were 32 per
cent less likely to die or need hospital treatment as a result of heart
disease. Incredible really, that there remains so much of a stigma
around, what is, undoubtedly, a better way of living your life. Though I’m not
vegan or vegetarian, I fully understand the reasoning behind this monumental
decision. And that is no joke.

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  • Been vegetarian for 30 years. Just because I love veges. They are beautiful, healthy, so good to cook with…
    What I hate about being vegetarian is – as you suggest – the stigma: the jokes (which I feel obliged to laugh at out of politeness); people who continuously challenge my lifestyle or my (supposed) moral stance and tell me I’m a picky eater; the fact that I have to justify myself, listen to discussions about meat-eating that arise purely because I am in the room (I don’t even have to say anything!); having to listen to people lying to me about how little meat they eat, justifying themselves, and undermining me…Do I really care what other people eat?
    After all these years, it’s very very wearing… sadly…
    I hope that one day people will just treat people who don’t eat meat with the same tolerance as people who don’t eat sprouts. Live and let live.