Being a vegan.

I can’t recall whether I have previously shown this to you …

I don’t think so.

(But see my note at the end of the piece.)


Why people become vegans: The history, sex and science of a meatless existence.

By   Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Oregon

November 19th, 2018.

At the age of 14, a young Donald Watson watched as a terrified pig was slaughtered on his family farm. In the British boy’s eyes, the screaming pig was being murdered. Watson stopped eating meat and eventually gave up dairy as well.

Later, as an adult in 1944, Watson realized that other people shared his interest in a plant-only diet. And thus veganism – a term he coined – was born.

Flash-forward to today, and Watson’s legacy ripples through our culture. Even though only 3 percent of Americans actually identify as vegan, most people seem to have an unusually strong opinion about these fringe foodies – one way or the other.

As a behavioral scientist with a strong interest in consumer food movements, I thought November – World Vegan Month – would be a good time to explore why people become vegans, why they can inspire so much irritation and why many of us meat-eaters may soon join their ranks.

Early childhood experiences can shape how we feel about animals – and lead to veganism, as it did for Donald Watson. HQuality/

It’s an ideology not a choice

Like other alternative food movements such as locavorism, veganism arises from a belief structure that guides daily eating decisions.

They aren’t simply moral high-grounders. Vegans do believe it’s moral to avoid animal products, but they also believe it’s healthier and better for the environment.

Also, just like Donald Watson’s story, veganism is rooted in early life experiences.

Psychologists recently discovered that having a larger variety of pets as a child increases tendencies to avoid eating meat as an adult. Growing up with different sorts of pets increases concern for how animals are treated more generally.

Thus, when a friend opts for Tofurky this holiday season, rather than one of the 45 millionturkeys consumed for Thanksgiving, his decision isn’t just a high-minded choice. It arises from beliefs that are deeply held and hard to change.

Sutton and Sons is a vegan fish and chip restaurant in London. Reuters/Peter Nicholls

Veganism as a symbolic threat

That doesn’t mean your faux-turkey loving friend won’t seem annoying if you’re a meat-eater.

The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain famously quipped that meat avoiders “are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”

Why do some people find vegans so irritating? In fact, it might be more about “us” than them.

Most Americans think meat is an important part of a healthy diet. The government recommends eating 2-3 portions (5-6 ounces) per day of everything from bison to sea bass. As tribal humans, we naturally form biases against individuals who challenge our way of life, and because veganism runs counter to how we typically approach food, vegans feel threatening.

Humans respond to feelings of threat by derogating outgroups. Two out of 3 vegans experience discrimination daily, 1 in 4 report losing friends after “coming out” as vegan, and 1 in 10 believe being vegan cost them a job.

Veganism can be hard on a person’s sex life, too. Recent research finds that the more someone enjoys eating meat, the less likely they are to swipe right on a vegan. Also, women find men who are vegan less attractive than those who eat meat, as meat-eating seems masculine.

The fake meat at one Fort Lauderdale restaurant supposedly tastes like real meat. AP Photo/J. Pat Carter

Crossing the vegan divide

It may be no surprise that being a vegan is tough, but meat-eaters and meat-abstainers probably have more in common than they might think.

Vegans are foremost focused on healthy eating. Six out of 10 Americans want their meals to be healthier, and research shows that plant-based diets are associated with reduced risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.

It may not be surprising, then, that 1 in 10 Americans are pursuing a mostly veggie diet. That number is higher among younger generations, suggesting that the long-term trend might be moving away from meat consumption.

In addition, several factors will make meat more costly in the near future.

Meat production accounts for as much as 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and clear-cutting for pasture land destroys 6.7 million acres of tropical forest per year. While some debate exists on the actual figures, it is clear that meat emits more than plants, and population growth is increasing demand for quality protein.

Seizing the opportunity, scientists have innovated new forms of plant-based meats that have proven to be appealing even to meat-eaters. The distributor of Beyond Meat’s plant-based patties says 86 percent of its customers are meat-eaters. It is rumored that this California-based vegan company will soon be publicly traded on Wall Street.

Even more astonishing, the science behind lab-grown, “cultured tissue” meat is improving. It used to cost more than $250,000 to produce a single lab-grown hamburger patty. Technological improvements by Dutch company Mosa Meat have reduced the cost to $10 per burger.

Watson’s legacy

Even during the holiday season, when meats like turkey and ham take center stage at family feasts, there’s a growing push to promote meatless eating.

London, for example, will host its first-ever “zero waste” Christmas market this year featuring vegan food vendors. Donald Watson, who was born just four hours north of London, would be proud.

Watson, who died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 95, outlived most of his critics. This may give quiet resolve to vegans as they brave our meat-loving world.


Jeannie has been a vegetarian all her life and I willingly adopted the lifestyle back in 2008 when we first started living together. Then in 2017 we took the final step to becoming vegan on account of there being too much uncertainty about fish, chicken and dairy products.

We both feel great on a vegan diet and more and more people seem to be coming across to this position.

(N.B. And this post has been published before – oh well it won’t do any harm in being repeated.)

13 thoughts on “Being a vegan.

  1. I think that there are a lot of us who minimize meat and dairy simply because of the unscrupulous habits of the respective industries. My hope is that those industries will eventually put themselves out of business as more and more people learn about their inhumane practices. I keep expecting somebody to link growth hormone injections in cattle to cell growth (cancer) in humans!

    Conversely, more humane processes may eventually be dictated as necessary based on shifting trends of consumers. We cannot rely on business ethics, so the ball is well and truly in our court. If we don’t buy it, they will stop producing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes! You have opened up a rats nest in this one. (And that’s not to be unkind to rats.) More or less the same with hens. The number of male birds that are sent to slaughter immediately because they can’t lay eggs. Millions. Then there’s fish and contamination with mercury. Not all the time and not all fish, of course, but sufficient to cause uncertainty.

      I don’t know what the answer is? Well apart from the manufacturers having a rethink about what constitutes good food!

      Thanks for your reply.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been a gluten-free Vegan for only 4 years, and vegetarian for 3 years beyond that…

    I try not to be sanctimonious about it because everyone can choose what they eat.

    The factory farming industry is hideously cruel and in my opinion, tainted meat full of adrenaline is the end result of it.

    Can people be sure that the meat they consume has come from a happy animal? I think it is hard to prove. Our concept of animal farming is biased, so even in the best circumstances their maybe a form of control that is not what the animal may want for itself. I am reminded of this in Asia, where people capture wild male Bul, Buls, (a sort of skylark), put them inside tiny bamboo cages where they can neither fly, nor really even spread their wings. There, these tiny birds sing their hearts out with the most beautiful notes. This is why they are captured and detained. Their only reward, some grain to feed on and some water to drink. The birds are in good appearance, loved by the people who captured them, but they are not allowed to be in a natural habitat or have a female partner and offspring or live as they would choose. Most people in the West, I would think, would see the BulBul’s imprisonment as cruel. But we make different assumptions if it serves our purposes.

    I think the realisation that most Vegans come to, is that we can live perfectly well without meat. Meat is a lazy way of getting a bunch of nutrients from different sources (after all the animal ate lots of plant sources for its nutrition). As Vegans, we just need to be more careful about balancing foods for optimal nutrition.

    Veganism is also the preferred choice for people who see the
    individuality of every animal. They feel, want, need just like we do. I can’t eat someone!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. But I did once upon a time, eat meat without giving it a second thought. We do a lot of things without thinking the process through. I guess Vegans think that they have woken up to ‘the possibilities’ of being more compassionate on a wider scale than before. Meat eaters tend to feel somewhat worried that they will do themselves disservice or even physical damage if they give up animal protein they believe provides for their wellbeing.
      I can assure them, that if they give Veganuary a try… and for the next three weeks, buy some of the meat replacements in Supermarkets and drink their tea and coffee without milk, by the end of that few weeks, they will feel more energised, will have dropped a lot of cravings (like cheese) and will genuinely be in a better position to decide if animal products should be on their menu. If they decide to go full Vegan, there are plenty of Vegan recipes online to try out, and for a bit more info…

      … has a plethora of information.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow! So much information but what you say is perfectly true. Fundamentally this is an easy decision and giving it a trial run is a brilliant idea. Added to which is an urgent need to cut back drastically on the meat protein that we are eating. For the sake of the planet.

        Thank you, Colette, for your contribution!


  3. HuMom often tells the tail …oops I mean tale of when she & her younger sister would not eat meat as children. They found several ways to make it disappear; the family dog was the best way😉
    HuMom often repeats, “ I don’t need to take a life to sustain life.”
    Another favourite, “Non human animals are not product, food, entertainment, sport or test subjects.”🐾💜🐾
    💜gentle nose nudges 💜


  4. My Daughter and partner were vegetarians for many years, now they are total vegans they are healthy and when we go over for meals they are gorgeous meals. My husband who is a meat eater is impressed. informative post Paul thank you


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