It can hardly escaped anyone’s notice that it’s been a busy day or two on the vegan and vegetarian front . Today is World Vegan Day, for a start. Waitrose have produced a report noting the irresistible rise of non-meat eating. William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated for 20 years lost his job as a result of a somewhat intemperate outburst – or irony or heavy-handed joke, take your pick – about vegans and veganism. And there’s been a good deal of white noise on the subject on social media.
According to the Vegan Society, there were 540,000 paid up vegans in 2016 although they now reckon there are now over 600,000, up from 150,000 four years ago. That is pretty impressive growth, and may well continue. Add to that the number of vegetarians, and you have, possibly, 3.25% (or 2,145,000 if my maths is correct) of the population who do not eat meat, with 1.05% (693,000) who do not eat animal products of any kind. It’s tricky to get sound, verifiable figures. Those proposed by Waitrose are based on their analysis of their customers’ buying habits plus a survey of 2000 non-Waitrosers. I hesitate to suggest it, but I’m not sure that the profile of Waitrose customers is a paradigm for the country as a whole. However, it’s clear that the general trend is along these lines.
To provide some kind of perspective, let’s look at some other figures – Manchester United has 2 million fans in the UK; some 9 million people have a hearing loss of some kind; around 490,000 play bowls; approximately 1.25 million people go to Butlins every year.
The population of the UK stands around 66 million. If 1 in 8 people are vegan, then it stands to reason that 7 in 8 people aren’t. If the total number of vegetarians plus the total number of vegans comes to almost 3 million, then 63 million people aren’t. Then there are the flexitarians, pescatarians, poultrarians and contrarians, those who see fish or poultry as part of a vegetarian diet, or who dip in and dip out. There’s a certain fluidity in the practices of many of the brothers and sisters of dietary rectitude.
And much is made of the fact that millions of Britons suddenly seem to have given up meat ‘Third of Britons have stopped or reduced eating meat – report’ screamed a headline in the Guardian. Quite how they arrived at the figure of 33.3% is something of a mystery, but it simply isn’t true. The fact is that 100% of Britons have been steadily reducing their consumption of meat over the last 30 years, perhaps longer. Almost certainly this long-term trend has more to do with the consistent weight of medical opinion and dietary nostrums than it does to a sudden Pauline conversion to the vegan or vegetarian cause on the grounds of moral revelation.
I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians and I’m second to none in my love of the vegetable world, but we should try to keep some sense of proportion. We shouldn’t mistake the white noise of social media as a serious social movement. There’s a world of difference between a fad and a trend. In the context of the current debate on what and how we should eat, such words and phrases as ‘lifestyle’, ‘mindfulness’, ‘environmental issues’’, ‘moral responsibility’ and ‘healthy eating’ seem to be bandied around an awful lot, while the words ‘pleasure’, ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ don’t get much of a look in. Pity.
PS. In case you’re wondering, the picture is a close up of a carciofo alla giudia that I ate in Da Giggetto in Rome last weekend. Pure delight.