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Veganism is a growing cultural trend in many countries around the world today, and that proliferation is especially prevalent in Western countries lately who are arriving at all sorts of reasons why it makes sense. The phenomenon is growing at such a pace, in fact, that research shows food industries in Europe and North America will almost undoubtedly have to adapt to the trend eventually. This is particularly impressive in the US. in light of a new study that happens to suggest that, should America go vegan nationwide even just by themselves, an additional 350 million people can be fed. One other study raises a caveat of androcentric identity politics, however, criticizing men’s foray into veganism as potentially being a way of reinforcing White masculinity and masculine power.
A Canadian poll now shows in its results that young people are more likely than their elder counterparts to go vegan, and it was conducted by Dr. Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University. Charlebois says that this was a first-in-kind study, and its findings define these young people as a group currently of ages 35 and younger and observing them as exemplifying triple the likelihood of embracing a vegetarian or vegan diet compared to people aged 49 and older. The data also shows that 7.1 percent of Canadians currently identify as vegetarian whereas 2.3 percent call themselves vegan. Over half of the self-proclaimed vegans being under age 35 is a statistic that Charlebois couldn’t help but find fascinating.
“Those are really, really high numbers,” said Charlebois. “Even though we believe the overall rates have not gone up, they could go up over the next couple of decades as a result of seeing such a high number of young consumers committing to specialty diets. That will actually impact food demand over the next few decades and I suspect the food industry will need to adapt.” This, indeed, represents an entire demographic to whom the food industry will have to cater while older, carnivorous folks are effectually dying off and only becoming less and less representative of any given restaurant’s likely clientele. If trends continue in the direction they’re currently going, fewer and fewer people will be dining at the biggest restaurant chains in Canada, and knowing this, they’ll want to reorient themselves to accommodate this likely-to-grow group of vegans and vegetarians.
Charlebois says young people are doing this for multiple reasons; some embrace these diets to mitigate their environmental footprint, others to simply reap the health benefits and others still in the interest of animal welfare or in rebellion to agribusiness trends. “A lot of studies are actually discouraging consumers from eating red meats specifically. Even the World Health Organization has made processed meats a category one product, which means it could cause cancer, at the same level as asbestos. Health seems to be a big driver across the board. That really could entice consumers to commit to veganism or vegetarianism.”
This is to say nothing of longstanding traditions like that of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, a Christian denomination known for having espoused vegetarianism and a particular bias against red meats on a Biblical basis for well over a century-and-a-half. The Adventist Health Message has popularized in recent decades as more and more people embrace it for its unique insights into weight loss via nut-and-seed diets and Biblical health principles with which scientists have only recently caught up, determining them to be principles that correlate with longevity of life, a measurable mitigation of cancer risks and a reducer of heart disease susceptibility. The scientific community has followed, in fact, the progress of the Adventist Health Study and Adventist Health Study II as of late, finding those who adhered to the rudimentary facets of the Adventist Health Message to live an average of eight years longer than those who do not in the US. It represents, perhaps, the closest that any trend has brought the Millennial demographic to any church or religious group.
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The US Department of Agriculture already published a stat saying that over 41 million of the 327 million people living in the US will go hungry some time or another in the course of the next year. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, though, says switching to a plant-based diet for everyone in America would easily feed everyone in the country, too, along with 350 million people across other countries. That report looked directly at the prospect of American farmland that’s presently purposed with raising chickens, pigs, and cattle. The study found that this farmland, if used for plant cultivation instead of animal slaughter, would double the number of people it would feed.
“Concurrently replacing all animal-based items in the US diet with plant-based alternatives will add enough food to feed, in full, 350 million additional people — well above the expected benefits of eliminating all supply chain food waste,” according to the published study. Ron Milo, a Weizmann Institute of Science systems biology and sustainability researcher based in Israel was the lead author of the study. He and his research team studied all manner of eating habits and agricultural production unique to the US between 2000 and 2010 in order to figure out if this plant-based approach would help the country at all. They were surprised by the staggering results.
For the results to be at all realistic, though, the research team had to account for everyone nationwide still getting all the protein, calories, fiber, minerals and vitamins they need without any increases to cholesterol or fat. They successfully found that replacing all the country’s meat, eggs, and dairy products with a “nutritionally equivalent combination of potatoes, peanuts, soybeans and other plants, the total amount of food available to be eaten would increase by 120 percent.” This would make it possible for millions more Americans to be fed but could also put a serious dent in food loss rates, which farmers and scientists presently estimate to be between 30 and 40 percent of what agribusiness produces. Food waste, mind you, is “widely recognized as undermining food security and environmental sustainability,” the study says.
The hindrances to something like that coming to fruition are, of course, innumerable, but one ideological roadblock, in particular, is that of what Reason’s blog writer, Robby Soave, calls a conservative social science paper currently getting around in media. It’s entitled, “Meatless meals and masculinity: How veg* men explain their plant-based diets.” It somewhat brazenly suggests that veganism is a feminine trait that women embrace for emotional reasons and that men have co-opted for rational reasons, and it, thereby, asserts that men are unconsciously furthering patriarchy by becoming vegan.
The article summary in and of itself, Soave says, deserves to be derided for its gendered assumptions: “This article analyzes qualitative interviews conducted with twenty vegan and vegetarian men in a semi-urban area of the southeastern United States to better understand how they conceptualize and explain their food consumption identities in relation to their broader identity practices. I find their performances of masculinity often defy the conventional feminization of meatless diets, while also upholding gendered binaries of emotion/rationality and current tropes of white, middle-class masculinity.”
The author of the study, North Carolina State University’s Mari Kate Mycek, uses what qualifies as, at best by any scientific standard, a small sample size in the first place to assert several generalities about vegan men. Soave proceeds in his own article to lambast the study, but the bigger picture is that this is the kind of thing that’s being discussed already in media, including this very article itself. The mere discussion could serve as a hindrance to any attempt that the US might make toward plant-based agriculture and veganism. It’s often the ideological backlash, in fact, that forestalls a movement.
Cases in point would be the anti-vaxxer movement, the belief that global warming isn’t real, the notion that Christianity should inform lessons on biological evolution in school, the so-called Blue Lives Matter campaign, and a myriad of other ideologies in the US that hamper fact-based progress on critical fronts. Vaccines don’t cause autism and do immunize people. Man-made climate change is a meteorologically veritable phenomenon that does threaten to put the cap on the ongoing sixth mass extinction. Science classrooms should teach science, and Bible classes should inform them separately. The Black Lives Matter campaign was never a platform that suggested the lives of police were or should be undervalued, but police actions have suggested that Black life is undervalued.
It’s most likely that this is all it will take to derail any legitimate attempts to mount a concerted effort to “veganize” the US; nevertheless, with Millennials embracing vegan and vegetarian diets at the rate they are, research shows that the ends are worth trying.