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Is social media behind the rise in UK vegans?

vegan diet of healthy colourful foods

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By Poppy Joy Watson

A recent survey has found the number of those opting for a plant-based diet in the UK has increased by 360% in the last decade, jumping from 150,000 to 542,000.

So what has so many Brits ditching the meat and reaching for veggies?

From research, there are a number of likely explanations. The leading causes appear to be an increase in access to information online and of course, the mighty influence of social media.

The animal agriculture business is being exposed in new investigative documentaries, such as ‘What the Health’ and ‘Cowspiracy’, both available on Netflix, and as a result, people are more aware of the environmental benefits of not consuming animal products. 

Another key contributor to the rise in vegans in the UK, over the past 10 years, is the promotion of health benefits that come with the diet. Whilst items such as cigarettes have had clear health warnings attached for years, certain animal products have only recently been highlighted as dangerous foods.

A recent study shows that those under the age of 65 eating a diet high in meat, eggs and dairy increase their chances fourfold of developing cancer, diabetes and obesity. It seems an increasing number of Brits are therefore looking for healthier food alternatives – which often happen to be plant-based.

The role of the internet in the upward trend of veganism cannot be overlooked. Not only has social media acted as a platform for vegan advocates, promoting the personal health and environmental benefits of following a plant-based diet, it has also helped entirely transform the vegan stereotype. 

The stylish, health and environment conscious Instagram vegan of 2019 is a far cry from the dreadlocked hippy carrying a ‘meat is murder’ sign brought to mind a decade ago.

Kathryn Veroni, owner of newly opened vegan cafe, Kind Crusts, believes social media has been vital in transforming the vegan movement.

“It means more people are provided the information and knowledge to enable them to become vegan, or at least choose to consume less animal products. Without a platform like social media, veganism would not be as wide-spread as it currently is.”

Perhaps this could help explain why 42 per cent of those who identified as vegan in recent surveys were between the ages of 14–34, compared to just 14 per cent who were over the age of 65. Social media is more widely used among young people, after all. 

So could it be that veganism is no longer viewed as an alien concept because our nation has more access to information than ever before? This certainly rings true with many young adults who have chosen to adopt the vegan lifestyle.

Zoe, 20, has been vegan for two years. She explains how information online influenced her: “I changed my eating habits after watching a documentary on Netflix which highlighted how damaging animal products were to the environment.”

21-year-old student Craig also discovered the vegan lifestyle online. He cut animal products from his diet after watching a series of videos on YouTube that highlighted the health benefits of veganism. “It all just made perfect sense to me.” 

He also finds social media extremely helpful for those moments when he lacks imagination in the kitchen: “Online recipes and videos show there are loads of fun and tasty things you can eat as a vegan — I’ve never eaten such a large variety of food before.”

Business at existing vegan restaurants has grown considerably in recent years. This points towards a clear increase in demand.

More chain restaurants are opening their doors to vegans with a range of animal-free options to choose from. From the traditional pub chain Wetherspoons to the popular Italian restaurant chain Zizzi’s, both of which have recently launched entirely vegan menus. So, why are food and beverage businesses suddenly catering to the one per cent of UK citizens that are vegan?

I asked Umer Malik, owner of coffee shop chain, iCafe, why they are among the many businesses that now offer a wide range of plant-based options on their predominantly non-vegan menu. Malik explained he decided to provide vegan options after noticing it was a trend on social media and in the food and beverage industry. “Most companies will see what the new ‘in’ thing is and go with it.”

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