Being vegan: dealing with negative stereotypes despite increasing popularity

Finding a variety of vegan food can be a challenge (source: metropolico via flickr)

By Lucy Sullivan

Is veganism practical in our commonly carnivorous society. Are the likes of Nando’s meat-packed menus simply too cheeky for Joe Vegan-Bloggs?

While vegetarian and vegan meal options are on the rise, major high street chains accommodate minimally to non-meat eaters. Could this be a marketing “misteak?” Regarding the future economic margins of vegan produce, profitability is set to be high. The vegan council predicts the ‘Dairy Alternative Market to Reach $21.7 Billion, Globally, by 2022.’ Meanwhile, many vegans and vegetarians feel constrained.

I spoke to to Eva Marie, a Cardiff Uni student who has been a practising vegan since April 2016 to get her take on the issue. She made the transition based on personal ethics. Eva is concerned about the health of humans, animals and the environment. Eva confirms that eating out often means she is ‘limited to a couple of choices.’ She also notes that ‘there is not much variety between restaurants’ and adds that she even feels ‘many restaurants do discriminate’ against the vegan lifestyle. “False advertising” can cause further strife for non-animal product consumers. Eva explains that she was once served a sandwich containing mayo even though it wasn’t specified on the menu. While the high-street food market might not be the most vegan friendly, Eva does not feel otherwise stigmatised saying that most people are supportive of her choice. However, she does admit she doesn’t particularly enjoy tired old comments such as ‘if we don’t milk the cows, they’ll explode!’

There are conflicting and subjective opinions which determine people’s general attitudes towards veganism. Many vegan advocates maintain that this LDL cholesterol reducing diet has health benefits as it limits our risk to cardiovascular disease and vulnerability to cancerous cells. Ethical reasons are also often mentioned; animal farming accounts for a third of the worlds water consumption, and as such the breeding of animals for meat actually contributes to water scarcity. It also generates mass amounts of methane; contributing to 9% of all Greenhouse gas emissions. Numerous vegans also express serious concern for the extremely poor conditions and treatment of livestock.

Trends such as ‘Vegan January’ and influential popular ‘perfection’ culture can feed into the negative connotations attached to veganism. In specific cases, concerns have been raised about the real intentions behind veganism; some people seeing it as a diet undertaken by people with low body confidence as a way of losing weight. Everyone has the right to feel comfortable in their own skin and chose their personal diet however these decisions should not be to linked genuine vegan morals but have somehow become mixed up with them. Devastatingly, 1.6 million of the UK’s population struggle with an eating disorder and some people have held vegans accountable for such statistic, suggesting they promote this kind of disordered eating. It is important to address this issue as veganism is primarily a moral issue and not a weight-loss diet. Still, these kind of ideals are attached to and reflect badly on the vegan community.

Vegan supporters constantly face challenges. Consequently, action is being taken to implement a vegan variety. Patrick Brown, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and former paediatrician has recently invented the ‘Impossible Burger.’ The product has been designed to replicate the taste and texture of an authentic meat burger. Brown and his team of researchers have been investigating biological human cravings. They propose that our classically carnivorous tendencies can be attributed to the ‘heme’ compound contained in meat. This is Browns key ingredient; it is hence extracted and inserted into the mixture of vegetables that form the ‘Impossible Burger.’ Its production however, has been met with controversy. So far, the product is exclusive to America.

There it is offered by just four high-street restaurants. Moreover, these chains are considered ‘high-end’ and not socio-economically practical for many vegans. Could it thus be argued that the high-street not only condemns the vegan diet but also the type of custom for which it caters? Perhaps it conjures the concept of the vegan elite.

This stereotype may deter the enthusiasm of aspiring vegans and vegetarians. However, Brown told a BBC reporter that “By the end of the year we will be selling the product at a price where thousands of restaurants can sell it to their customers at the same price range as other stuff, and we will make money on every pound of [fake] meat that we sell.” Perhaps the vegan diet is socially sustainable after all. Yet, how would Less Economically Developed Countries afford such production? Can veganism offer a solution to the global food crisis?

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