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Young vegans want more than meatfree Mondays

In many homes and schools, meat-free Mondays are increasingly common. Is it possible, asks researcher Matthew Adams, principal lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton in the UK, that we could one day live in a meat-free world?

Adams cites Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Harper, 2015), written by Yuval Noah Harari, who opined that our treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is “perhaps the worst crime in history”, annually causing at least 55 billion animals around the world to suffer.

Adams has researched the complex psychological bargaining process that human beings put themselves through every time they tuck into a juicy steak. He calls it “cognitive dissonance”: what it amounts to is our ability to justify that eating meat is normal or natural. Adams has noted a gradual planetary tendency to shift to a plant-based diet, or a diet that is based on “meat substitutes”, produced by an increasingly sophisticated technological society. This move is matched by a what Adams calls a “resurgent concern for the welfare of non-human animals” such as dolphins, orca whales, circus and zoo animals, and a “burgeoning legal movement defending the rights of animals in court… strengthened by growing recognition of the emotional, cognitive and social complexity of non-human animals”.

In addition, says the United Nations, “large-scale industrial farming of animals is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” (Cows, for example, produce alarming amounts of harmful methane gas.) And, as temperatures change farming conditions around the world, less and less land is available for the rearing of livestock. The combination of these facts, says Adams, may well be driving rocketing numbers of vegans. Leading research group Ipsos MORI found in 2016 that in the UK, close to half of all vegans are in the 15–34 age category (42%), compared to just 14% who are over 65. The study also revealed that at least 542 000 people in Britain are either vegetarians or vegans. The trend is influencing food consumption in many interesting ways, says Adams, pointing to the fact that the German government recently banned meat from all official functions for environmental reasons. 

Category: Winter 2017

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