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The Rise of Veganism

agawareness
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10/8/2015 3:45:21 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
I've noticed all over the web and also in personal experience that veganism is a very rapidly growing phenomenon. The nutritional and environmental reasons for veganism are highly debatable and I don't want to waste my time with that. However I'm particularly interested in the ethical reason for veganism. Why did humans eat meat for thousands of years and then suddenly come to the conclusion that it's ethically wrong. Why now?
Garan
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10/8/2015 5:30:46 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
This is just opinion, so please take what I say with a grain of salt. I've listed some factors I can think of below.

* Availability of food
Although humans have been around for a long time and cooking for about a million years (http://discovermagazine.com...), it is in fact only recently that we have been able to reduce 'eating' to an activity that takes only a small portion of our waking hours.

Until the industrial revolution, simply producing enough food to feed a growing population was a struggle and vulnerable to pests, climate, and even wars (where able bodied workers went off to war, leaving their lands to fallow). Reliable home refrigeration, supermarkets, ever easier to carry/operate stoves, and restaurants ready to cater for any change in popular diet has meant we can eat when we want to, how we want to in a way our ancestors never imagined.

* Calories, energy, goats
Given the ready availability of fresh, out of season foods 24-7, 365/366 days a year, we now have access to calories from plants and nuts that would have been scarce or seasonal before. Nuts and beans especially, that contain a vast store of nutrients and energy for their small size. Combine this with the modern methods of food preservation, compacting, additive adding, supplement supplementing... you end up with high energy cereals for breakfast, super-charged genetically modified mushrooms, and fresh kale every day of the year for that kale juicer.

All of this super-charged energy food was previously unavailable (at least not regularly) and even a generous plant diet would have left a prehistoric hunter gatherer or a dark ages serf starving after a hard day of hunting/farming. These super energy foods are also encouraging us to be goats, grazing through the day and snacking on food as we like it (be they celery sticks or cronuts), supplementing our body's energy needs without conscious effort, something that was impossible without ready availability of high-energy foods.

* Choice
Given the development of high food availability and high energy content in food, we are no longer eating for simple sustenance, we are eating for enjoyment like the nobility of old and in that, we have room for choice. We have also seen the rise of obesity as a disease (like the portly nobility of old) as people in developed nations get access to ever cheaper junk food and ever more available luxury foods. Food is now identified as the enemy or friend of health for the first time in history (rather than just sustenance or at best 'yum or yuck' when not poisoned).

Taste is no longer the only choice when it comes to eating. We get to decide if it looks good enough, if it's expensive (sometimes we want expensive), if it's healthy for us, if it's good for the environment, if it's ethical, and so on. We have choice now.

* Healthy food is expensive, healthy meat is super expensive
This tag probably doesn't need explaining. Organic literally means: compounds of carbon (http://dictionary.reference.com...), and used to mean everything derived from something once living. The modern meaning however, means 'natural, without chemical additive' and in some cases 'without genetic interference'. Generally, consumers simply think: organic = healthy.

With fears about chemical contamination, toxins, diseases from meats etc running rampant after scary news (best news is scary news, as any news room will tell you), organic is a logical choice for many. Organic foods also tend not to be meat heavy (further enhancing that 'healthy' image), but most notably, organic meat when one can get it, tends to be extremely expensive. Organic products being already expensive, and there being a tendency to go 'full-organic' if one bothers at all, meat then becomes a smaller part of the diet for reasons of expense.

When you browse the cheaper ready-made meal options and time-saver meals also, it's hard to see a healthy choice. Ready-marinaded and junkier precooked meat products also tend to be cheaper than a good quality cut of meat, whereas vegetables and fruits are fairly cheap. So when the choice is between cheap, junky food, or cheap, veggie food, many families might make the healthier choice and cut out or reduce meat, bulking up with beans, rice and other available options that taste fine with exotic spices and sauces previously unavailable.

* Internet, social media, peer pressure
As social animals, we have always been suckers for peer pressure. People have often noted that friends influence what they eat, and studies have been done into it (the link is from pubmed, there are many others but this was the easiest one to access for me). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...

With the rise of the internet, our social animal instincts led to the creation of social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Unlike the older 'share' sites of before (mainly blogs, journals and sites), the new social media encourages instant sharing, in the moment updates about life. With the importance of looking good, living longer and healthier, and keeping fit fueled by media encouragement, food and diet has become a more important choice than even two decades ago.

We also now have more access to information about food, how it gets to our plate, what is involved from the start, while for the first time, also being separated from its root production. So ethical choices about the entire route of a steak's journey from calf to plate as well as other factors that could never have even entered the minds of a hunter gatherer now become the norm for some before every meal.

It is also easier now to be a 'food rebel'. As an adolescent (formative years of your dietary habits), you no longer have to eat what your family eats, there is support, advice, recipes, reviews and every other thing under the sun available on the internet if you choose to be vegan.

* Appeal
In an internet society that shares food choices constantly and there is in fact general pressure to 'eat healthy' (interestingly, less to eat 'in balance'), fad diets are common. Veganism differs from fad diets in that it is not a diet purely designed to lose weight. It encompasses several selection factors groups might favor that makes it easier to choose. I have listed these popular beliefs, not including debate and discussion on the actual efficacy of the diet vs the belief since this is discussing the appeal of veganism.

- Religious (Buddhism etc)
- Environmentally friendly
- Healthier for you
- Keeps you thin
- You live longer
- Ethical, doesn't involve killing animals
- Ethical, doesn't involve exploiting animals
- Difficult to keep to (sense of achievement combined with social recognition)
- Food rebel/activist/fashionista title
- Fashionable (seems tautological, but in the internet age, things become fashionable/popular from being considered fashionable/popular. E.G. the Kardashians)
- Celebrity endorsement
- Politics (related to peer pressure, when you hang out with a political group/community that prefers a form of diet, it is easy to be affected by the group's general choice)
- No chance of eating horse meat, mad cow disease, cysticercosis (I said I won't add my own opinions but want to point out eating raw or unwashed vegetables and fruits can also lead to this tapeworm related condition).

In conclusion. With advances in society and resource management/growth, being vegan and alive is now a viable combination for everyone, not just the Buddhist few. Given the appeal of a vegan diet for the modern person (it really ticks the right boxes), and the unavailability of cheap, healthy meat options (and the fact veggies are faster to cook), it's no surprise many of us are going vegetarian/vegan. Sadly also no surprise that more of us are overeating and eating junk.