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Veganism has never been so big, and is one of the most famous current gastronomic trends of the moment. Understand more about this concept and why it may be both a gastronomic movement and lifestyle choice.

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT VEGANISM?

Veganism is a term now tossed about freely by adherents from various backgrounds and all ages, including teenagers and millennials.It may even be close to becoming a gastronomic movement, if one considers its origins.

Although the term was coined in 1944, the concept of veganism has roots going back to both ancient Indian and early Eastern Mediterranean societies. Veganism is in general considered to be “an extreme form of vegetarianism” and the first documented mention of vegetarianism was in Pythagoras of Samos’ belief that humans should not cause pain to other animals and his recommendation of a vegetarian diet. 1847 was the year the first vegetarian society formed in England and the American Vegetarian Society soon followed, being co-founded by Rev. Sylvester Graham in 1850. Vegetarians may avoid most animal products but still consume dairy and eggs.

Donald Watson, a British woodworker, took the concept further when he created a new term, “vegan”, to describe those people who were vegetarians and did not consume dairy and eggs, in addition to not eating any form of meat as seen in vegetarianism. The concept of veganism, when applied strictly, goes beyond consuming animal products as it also prohibits the use of any products made from animals. By 2005, two million people in the U.S. and 250,000 people in Britain identified themselves as vegan. 

While vegetarianism has become generally accepted and can be seen in menu options, veganism may be strongly associated with the animal-right movement and elicit some measure of controversy.

WHO ARE TODAY'S VEGANS?

There appears to be a growing number of young people that identify as vegans. People may choose to become a vegan due to dietary concerns, a belief that veganism is a healthier option to follow, a decision to feed themselves and their families in a way that may be considered to be more sustainable and to do less harm to animals. Ines David, food writer and attendee of Berlin’s annual Veganes Sommerfest wrote:

“After watching a documentary promoted at the festival, I felt as if I had no other option. If I wanted to be true to my values, I had to be vegan. For me, it’s an ethical choice first and foremost.”

In 2016, 542,000 people in the UK consider themselves to be vegan. Many in the veganism movement are young, 42 percent of the practitioners are 15 to 35 years old, 44 percent are between 36 to 64 years of age, and another 14 percent are over 65. It appears that the rise of social media, summer camps for vegan teens and more understanding of food insensitivities and intolerances may work to create more support for the practice. In fact, social media may make veganism appear more appealing than in previous decades. Megan Malthouse, a 17-year-old from Hampshire said:

“On Instagram, people make veganism look like a very desirable lifestyle.”

While statistical surveys may show conflicting reports about exact percentages, veganism is expected to rise and Vegfest UK predicts that 55 percent of the population may choose to follow a mainly vegan diet by 2020. The rise of veganism is not only occurring in the UK and the US. Berlin appears to be at the head of the movement, with London and Paris running close behind. Berlin has 60 vegan restaurants, soy ice cream shops and a completely vegan pizzeria, as well as the famous Green Market Berlin for Vegans. 

It appears that strict followers of veganism have strong belief systems that cause them to not only eat non-animal foods, but choose clothing and other products, such as jewelry or soap,  made from certain materials. Many have personal values invested in their choice and some may choose to take action politically to support the cause. For such individuals, it is hard not to consider veganism to be a lifestyle.

HAS IT BECOME A GASTRONOMIC MOVEMENT?

As identified in a primary study that looked at molecular gastronomy and considers whether or not it may be classified as a culinary movement, there are four elements that help define a culinary or gastronomic movement. These four pillars are:

  • Initiation has occurred from established chefs at the top of their profession
  • Application and understanding of a broad range of technologies and sciences
  • Promotion and support from knowledgeable media
  • Occurring over a period of time to be considered fully established
     

While vegetarianism has had a long history of use, showing up in menu choices and studied as to its impact on health, veganism has only become a term in the middle of the 20th century. If proponents consider veganism to be strongly tied to vegetarianism and its origins, they might conclude differently as to whether or not veganism has attained that element. Promotion of vegetarianism is now commonplace but this is not as clearly seen when it comes to veganism.

Even though veganism may not yet meet all elements to be a gastronomic movement, it is difficult to say that those choosing to strictly adhere to a vegan diet are not making a lifestyle choice, when considering the many aspects of their lives and potential behaviors that would be impacted by such a decision. Clearly, more support from the media and those in the culinary industry would assist in the acceptance of veganism and strengthen its stance as a gastronomic movement.

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