The term ‘vegan’ was coined in the 20th century, but evidence of people opting not to eat animal products can be traced back over 2,000 years. As early as 500 BC, Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras promoted harmony among all species and ate a vegetarian diet. At around the same time, Buddha was discussing vegetarian diet with his followers. 

In the early 19th century, the concept of veganism was beginning to be formed, with Dr William Lambe and Percy Bysshe Shelley amongst the first Europeans to publicly object to consumption of eggs and dairy products on ethical grounds.

In 1944, the Vegan Society was formed. This group differed from vegetarians in that they chose not to eat dairy, eggs, or any other products of animal origin, in addition to refraining from consumption of meat. The term ‘vegan’ was apparently chosen by simply combining the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’. Veganism can be succinctly defined as lifestyle choice that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it from food, clothing, or any other purpose.

What do vegans eat?

Vegans avoid any and all animal products for environmental, ethical or health reasons (or a combination of all three). Instead, they eat a variety of plant-based foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and products derived from these foodstuffs.

What do vegans not eat?

Food not consumed by vegans includes: Red meat or poultry; Fish or shellfish; Eggs and products containing egg, e.g., mayonnaise; Butter, cheese, cream, ice-cream, milk and other dairy products. Another food that many vegans avoid is honey. This may surprise some, but it is in line with the aim of reducing exploitation, which includes beekeeping practices that can be harmful to bees.

Is veganism becoming more popular?

In a word, yes. Interest in veganism has hit an all-time high and does not show any sign of slowing down. Veganism is more popular than ever; with countries whose cuisine is traditionally meat and dairy based seeing a significant rise in veganism including, notably, the United Kingdom. The rapidly growing interest in veganism may in part be due to COVID-19 and in particular because of the source of the reputed origin of the pandemic, a wet market in China, as a consequence of transmission of the virus from animal to humans. Research suggests that more vegan restaurants opened than closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Environment, Ethics and Health

A 2010 United Nations (UN) report argued that animal products generally require more resources and cause higher greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based options. Animal agriculture contributes significantly to global emissions of nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide – the three principal greenhouse gasses involved in climate change. Animal agriculture can also lead to deforestation when forested areas are burned for the land to be used for crops or pasture and it

Vegans are also opposed to the psychological and physical stress that may be endured by animals as a consequence of modern farming practices.

Some people choose veganism for its potential health effects. For example, eating plant-based diets and at last lowering your consumption of meat and dairy may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Whatever the reasons, there can be no doubt that there is a rapidly growing interest in vegan diet.