I’m sure we all remember a time when Veganism was a strange and unheard of concept. I remember having to look up the definition of a vegan and thinking ‘no one is EVER going to do that’. Now around every corner there are adverts, billboards and promotions for cakes, meat substitutes, even Vegan cereal?!
What is Veganism?
Veganism is described by The Vegan Society 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 animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
In dietary terms this means nothing can be consumed which is from the animals body or produced by animals, including insects.
Veganism has grown as a movement over the last decade and even those who initially had no interest in it, are tempted to try and even ‘go vegan’ for the week.
What is the ‘Meat Paradox’?
Veganism has a strong connection to the ‘meat paradox‘ which was described by psychologists Bastian and Loughnan as being “the psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering”. Meaning that individuals are against animal cruelty, whilst still consuming factory farmed meat. Many people ask the question, can you be actively against animal cruelty if your actions reflect you support it?
In behavioural science we call this cognitive dissonance. This refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. This process of thought causes a level of mental discomfort. As a result it leads to individuals altering their behaviour in order to reduce this discomfort, and restore balance.
Many individuals have felt this through moral guilt for enjoying a food which is produced through the discomfort of another living creature. As a result they have made the switch to being Vegan and never looked back. However many people may have switched to being vegan for other personal reasons.
What is the role of technology?
I listened to a TED talk by Juan Enriquez about how technology changes our sense of right and wrong. He makes reference to how in the past it was acceptable to go and watch a beheading, and over time that view completely changed. Examples of people fighting to the death for entertainment come to mind. If someone were to suggest such a thing now, we would be disgusted. And yet back then, it was sport.
Because of these changes in perception of what is right and wrong, over time we see major shift of behaviour. Veganism is one of many of these shifts which has caused the direction of the food industry to change.
Examples on our doorstep?
Over the last few years we have seen the emergence of major food brands such as McDonalds, KFC and Burger King producing a ‘meat substitute’ for their burgers. If someone had told you that these fast food joints would be forced to make an alternative we would have never believed them.
The increase in cognitive dissonance has made people feel like they have to make a choice or be more outwardly supportive. With the constant bombardment from social media, people feel they have to pick a side and cannot outwardly be against Veganism. People want to identify with the group, celebrity or movement which seems to have the moral high ground.
And the advancement of technology has made this easier. We have seen supermarket chains dedicate entire aisles to vegan food stuffs, and provide meat substitutes which taste almost as good as the real meat. In fact there are videos where meat eaters cannot tell the difference between a real steak sandwich and a vegan one.
As this food technology advances further and further, people will look at vegan options as being a ‘cheaper alternative’ to regular meat’. Having huge racks of meat lined up will be a thing of the past, as the availability for an alternative increases. As a result people will see an economically sustainable choice which fits within their moral compass, and will happily make the switch.
In a sense, our perception of what is right and wrong will drastically shift, as it has done many times in the past. People of the future may even judge us for eating real meat, as we judge those before us who attended beheadings.
For this reason Enriquez reminds us to have humility and forgive. Humility for our ancestors who had different perceptions of what was right and wrong. And forgiveness for individuals in the present who may not hold the same views as us. I think in the current cancel culture we have, it is an important message for all of us to keep in mind.
I am not a vegan myself, but I have often been tempted to try it. Are you vegan? Do you believe this shift in behaviour is possible? Leave your comments below!