Green Living: Vegan Goes Mainstream?

A couple of days ago, the Arizona Daily Star declared that "Vegan Goes Mainstream". Pretty much every other environmental website talks about veganism on a daily basis. Many people have embraced the vegan lifestyle extending it to even include the clothes they wear. It has become less hippy and more mainstream.

The vegan cookbook "Skinny B****" was on the New York Times best-seller list and it launched vegan cooking into the mainstream. Vegan staples like brown rice, tempeh and tofu are no longer available only in specialty stores. Many restaurants offer and promote vegan dishes on their menus. Veganism has been further advocated by celebrities like Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Emily Deschanel etc.

In a 2009 survey, advocates at the not-for-profit Vegetarian Resource Group reported about 1% of Americans are vegan, roughly a third of the people who reported being vegetarians. A separate survey released last year by the same group found a similar breakdown for Americans from 8 to 18.

Veganism definitely offers many benefits. Not only is it environmentally more attractive, it is also lower in fat, making it ideal for the weight-conscious. Many cultural sects do extol the benefits of a meat-free diet. However, animals products and meat has historically been part of human diet.

It is true that we are eating a lot more meat than we used to across the board. This phenomenon is on the rise not just in America but also in countries like China and Brazil. This has invariably put a lot of environmental stress. It can be argued that eating meat alone is not responsible for this but how livestock is raised. On the flip side, it has been found that a vegan diet can come its own set of environmental issues.

Recently, Cranfield University in the UK released a study that found that, "switching from British-bred beef and lamb to meat substitutes imported from abroad such as tofu and Quorn would increase the amount of land cultivated, raising the risk of forests being destroyed." According to the WWF, production of meat substitutes can be energy intensive. They also concluded that, "a switch from beef and milk to highly refined livestock product analogues such as tofu could actually increase the quantity of arable land needed to  supply the UK."

There are also health concerns about soy and soy-based products which are the most common vegan protein-substitute. Naturally occurring phytoestrogens in soy are said to be harmful and excessive consumption can lead to hormonal imbalance and certain cancers. The other issue is that a vegan diet lacks in many essential nutrients if it is not properly balanced. The health concerns surrounding a diet high in meat has an obviously bigger rap sheet which is why many Governments are taking a proactive stance to introduce a more 'meat-easy' diet.

Through initiatives like Meatless Mondays and even proposals for introducing a 'meat-tax', vegetarianism and veganism are rapidly becoming attractive options.