Paging Morrissey: More U.K. Residents Than Ever Think Meat Is Murder

But is the boom in veganism a temporary trend or a long-term lifestyle change?
Vegetable stall at Borough Market, London. (Photo: Alex Segre/Getty Images)
May 19, 2016· 3 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Perhaps years of Morrissey singing “Meat Is Murder”—and his penchant for prohibiting the sale of meat products at concert venues where he’s performing—has begun to sway the masses. Or maybe repeated viewings of Beyoncé dancing around in a sweatshirt with the word Kale across the front in her video for the song “7/11” did the trick.

Whatever the cause, a record 542,000 people in the United Kingdom now identify as vegan—the largest number ever.

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That’s the main finding of a survey conducted by market research company Ipsos Mori for The Vegan Society, the world’s oldest official organization advocating a completely vegan diet. Although that number is only about 1 percent of the total British population ages 15 and up, it represents a 350 percent increase in vegans since 2006, when only 150,000 Brits said they didn’t eat any animal products. The survey also found that about 3 percent of the British population, around 1.68 million individuals, are either vegetarian or vegan.

The shift to a plant-based diet is mainly among millennials, with nearly half of respondents ages 15 to 34 saying that they don’t consume any meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, or honey. In comparison, of the respondents over 65, only 14 percent said they’re vegan. People living in urban areas were also more apt to identify as vegan. A full 88 percent of city dwellers said they’ve ditched animal products completely.

Is the growing popularity of a vegan lifestyle simply a matter of young Londoners jumping on a trendy dietary bandwagon?

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“It is true that younger people are generally more open to trying new things and being more open-minded and exploring new ideas and lifestyles. They question more and may be more easily influenced (by peers, media, etc.) to follow a ‘fashionable’ lifestyle,” Jasmijn de Boo, the chief executive officer of The Vegan Society, wrote in an email to TakePart.

The survey’s results come as veganism is shedding its crunchy-granola image, in part thanks to young celebrities adopting the lifestyle. British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding and Aussie actor Liam Hemsworth, who starred in The Hunger Games, have both been vocal about being vegan. Since 2013, Beyoncé has asked her fans to get into formation by abandoning animal products. Last year, Bey even launched a vegan meal delivery service with celebrity fitness expert Marco Borges.

The Vegan Society survey didn’t ask in-depth questions about what is driving the shift to veganism. But in a world plagued by obesity and related diseases, being vegan is increasingly seen as a lifestyle that leads to better health. Studies have shown that vegans have a lower percentage of body fat and a reduced risk of heart disease.

Growing concern about the welfare of animals, as well as greater awareness of the environmental impact of meat production, might also be contributing to the growth in veganism. A study released in March by researchers at Oxford University found that widespread adoption of a vegan diet could cut food production–related greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent. Oxford University researchers found in 2014 that the carbon footprint of a vegan is about half that of a meat eater.

Despite the many benefits to giving up meat, skeptics might doubt that these young vegans will stick with the lifestyle. A 2014 study from the Humane Research Council found that 70 percent of vegans go back to eating animal products and 86 percent of vegetarians backslide into eating meat.

“People change for all sorts of reasons as they grow older and trying to ‘conform’ is one major factor. In that process we often see people give up certain habits in order to ‘fit in’ better, so retention may be an issue,” acknowledged de Boo. “However, the fact that the percentage of total vegans (all ages) has increased from around an estimated 0.25 percent in 2006 to 1.05 percent indicates that more people not only become vegan but remain vegan.”

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The Vegan Society, whose six founders coined the term vegan, was created in 1944 by a group of vegetarians who got together to discuss the adoption of nondairy vegetarian lifestyles. De Boo wrote that one of the aims of the survey was to unpack “vegetarians’ resistance to reducing their animal product consumption and find out what the barriers are.”
As people have greater access to information about the health and environmental benefits of not consuming animal products, The Vegan Society expects the number of vegans to grow. “I’m hopeful that the proportion of vegans will double again in the next five years, as we really have no choice but to change our food habits,” wrote de Boo. “I hope we will reach the 10 percent tipping point within the next 15–20 years, when a social movement becomes mainstream.”