Source: The Sunday Post

Veganuary vs. #Februdairy: the debate over diets

Source: The Sunday Post
Source: The Sunday Post

Over the past month it has been almost impossible to avoid conversations about Veganuary, a one-month challenge for non-vegans to eat vegan. There is no doubt that veganism will be a rapidly growing trend and topic through 2018. In response to this challenge, UK dairy companies have promoted a ‘#Februdairy’ campaign, which aims to increase confidence in and support the UK dairy industry. I think this highlights the growing debate regarding the pros and cons of following a vegan diet, particularly through signifying several ethical and health reasons both for and against.

Someone who follows a vegan diet does not eat anything that contains animal products, meaning animal meat as well as products such as eggs or milk. Since the beginning of the year, veganism has become increasingly prominent in mainstream media and general discussion. Arguably this is largely because of Veganuary, a registered charity, who aim to inspire people to try veganism for January as well as throughout the rest of the year. Jane Land, the co-founder of Veganuary, stated that roughly 167,000 people pledged to try veganism in January 2018, compared to 60,000 for January 2017.

The most significant reason why more people in the UK are trying veganism is thought to be for moral reasons. More specifically, because of an increased awareness of what goes on in UK farming industries and more people wanting to ethically source the food they eat. Many vegetarians feel ethically unable to eat animals slaughtered for meat. Similarly, many vegans believe egg-laying hens and dairy cows lead unnecessarily short lives in terrible conditions. Both cows and chickens have natural lifespans of at least a decade (20 years for cows), yet both are slaughtered well short of this when their productivity rates drop.

There is an argument that buying only free-range, organic, or ‘Red-Tractor approved’ animal products is a perfect compromise. Although I do agree this option is better than factory-farmed or caged products, the majority of the population have a misconception on what these terms actually entail. When discussing the example of eggs, free-range guidelines in the UK allow a maximum of nine birds per square metre (equal to fourteen human adults living in a one-room flat). Furthermore, beak trimming is common practice in order to stop the birds pecking each other in the confined space. Also, while the guidelines state the animals must be allowed time outside, there is no specification on how much time this is. There is plenty more information out there which I could ramble on about the realities of free-range products, but I highly suggest you do your own research on the issue. 

More people are also turning to veganism purely for health reasons. Many grains and vegetables (that are staples in vegan diets) are high in vitamins and fibre, as well as being naturally low in fats and cholesterol. As a result, many dieticians see lower BMIs, blood pressure, cholesterol levels in vegans and vegetarians compared to non-vegans. Similarly, there are also reports of decreased rates of type II diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease. Despite this, there is strong evidence that veganism also requires additional supplements and consultations with professional dieticians to ensure the individual is getting all the nutrients they need.  

Despite the rising prevalence of veganism, there is still a growing counter-response to it. This has become recently prevalent in the ‘#Februdairy’ campaign, which aims to support UK dairy farmers through being transparent about UK dairy farming, throughout the month of February. Supporters of this campaign (mainly UK farmers) argue that vegan activists unjustifiably demonise dairy farms, and do not portray the industry accurately.The goal of the campaign is to educate customers on the ‘truth’ of the dairy industry and use facts to promote meat and dairy products. DEFRA Minister George Eustice voiced his support for the campaign, arguing that dairy products are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet.  

More than anything, I think this campaign highlights the trouble dairy industries are now facing. As Jane Land previously highlighted, veganism is evidently a growing trend in the UK, and consequently this threatens the livelihood of many farmers. Unsurprisingly, the #February campaign has faced mass backlash on Twitter, with people standing up for the rights of the livestock and “telling it like it really is”. Arguing against dairy, the most popular point made is that it is not natural or just for us to take milk from another mammal who, like us, only produce milk when pregnant or have recently given birth. In order to do this, the calf is often taken from the mother so the milk can be harvested, which is very distressing for both mother and calf.

As you can see, there is a lot of contradictory information circulating about the pros and cons of veganism, and it is evident that more research needs to be done on the diet. I am personally very intrigued in a vegan lifestyle, and it is something I am working towards. Nevertheless, I do not oppose someone’s personal choice to eat meat, yet I believe it is important not to be ignorant to the fact of where your meat comes from. I recommend anyone to educate themselves on the pros and cons of both veganism and non-veganism, which starts with research into the realities of the UK farming industry.

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Alice Forsyth

3rd-year History & Politics | Comment & Politics Editor for The Yorker, 2017/2018