THE RISE OF VEGANISM: BEYOND NUTRITION

 

Veganism has experienced a dramatic surge in popularity over the last decade, with the rise in Britain alone standing at a 350% increase between the years 2006 and 2016. With an explosion of vegan food products on to the market, and the permeation of vegan alternatives into mainstream restaurants and supermarkets, the term 'veganism' has become synonymous with a diet that is free from animal products. 

In actual fact, veganism in its entirety is a much broader philosophy that opposes the exploitation and maltreatment of animals. The Vegan Society define it as:

"A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."

This broader conception of veganism has far-reaching applications; from cosmetics to bathroom products, and from dog and horse racing to any products tested on animals. One person who is pushing this philosophy in to the mainstream is Erez Nevi Pana, an Isreali designer who is experimenting with different materials and processes to create vegan furniture. His exhibition 'Vegan Design - Or the Art of Reduction' was recently on display during the 2018 Milan Design Week, and aimed to provide an intellectual point of departure for other designers, whilst also raising awareness of the use of animal products in the furniture industry. He says, "choosing awareness leads to action, thereby expanding the discussion to much more than diet – a broader questioning arises regarding usage in general, whether vegan or not."

 

Erez Nevi Pana's salt covered stool is made with sodium-heavy water from the Dead Sea

The spirit of reduction that the installation celebrates is being echoed elsewhere as well. An example of this is the growing number of people who are rejecting fur products and opting for faux alternatives instead. Many of these people may not follow vegan diets, but recognise this unnecessary use of animal products and choose to apply vegan principles to this area of their lives.

Others have followed suit in the art of reduction by adhering to a so-called 'flexitarian' diet, a predominately but not strictly plant-based diet. Back in August 2017 a report from Mintel found that "over a quarter (28%) of meat-eating Brits had reduced or limited their meat consumption in the previous six months, with the figure expected to grow. The trend is also growing in the US, where approximately 7.3 million people consider themselves vegetarian and approximately 22.8 million are considered flexitarian. There are a variety of motivating factors for a reduction in meat consumption such as environmental and health benefits, but in practice, they all further a vegan philosophy.

This soft approach to veganism is an area of contention for the vegan community. Does it adhere to an anti-vegan conviction that the exploitation of animals is acceptable if it is 'only in moderation'? Or does it make veganism more accessible to the masses, opening the door to people who would find it too daunting to ditch all animal products at once?

There's no straightforward answer to these questions, but one point that can surely be agreed upon, is that the reduction in animal cruelty and exploitation can only be a good thing.