For a long time I've been thinking about writing about the history of veganism, as I often hear, "There were no vegans 50 years ago,“ as a reason for omnivores not to change their diets. Brushing up on the stats to prove them wrong is definitely on my to do list, but on the other hand, when I reflect on day-to-day life as a vegan in central Europe, plant-based living does seems to be becoming more and more accepted, understood, and easier in general.
As I've moved between communities several times since becoming vegan in 2003, direct comparisons and statistics aren't possible, though they'd certainly be interesting and I'm fairly positive that they'd indeed show an increase in the number of vegans and vegan restaurants. However, what I'm reflecting on here are the factors that show how a cruelty-free life is slowly becoming normalised in (European) societies, even if there's a long way to go yet. It's easy to feel helpless when considering the sheer extent of factory farming and lack of legal rights for non-humans, but even for a pessimist like me, it's important to remember the positives too.
- In 2003, most of the people I met were either unaware of what veganism meant, or had some rather strange misconceptions; according to a worrying number of persons, vegans 'only' eat red meat! In 2016, even though not everyone is supportive, most are familiar with the concept, with misconceptions being slightly more understandable. I was shocked myself to discover the problems with photo film and beer, but red meat? That should have been clear, no?
- In 2003, if I wanted to purchase dairy-free cheese, ice cream or yogurt, I needed to head to a specific health food store. Whilst I still like to support these, it's good to see Tofutti and Alpro products stocked in mainstream supermarkets, too.
- In 2003, I couldn't commit to a business trip or lunch meeting without a detailed discussion with the organisers first in order to discuss vegan catering. Today, I still always double-check that I'll be catered for, but it usually involves a quick phone call or e-mail to say, 'I'm vegan,' rather than photocopying and sending recipes to bemused recipients. In some organisations, registration forms now address dietary options and plant-based food now often has a tick box alongside Kosher and Halal.
- In 2003, I frequently was expected to sit quietly at food-based gatherings and it was even assumed that I'd just sit and sip drinks at restaurants whilst all those around me devoured animal products. Oh, how I wished I'd stood up for myself more at 15! Still, it contrasts 2016 when my dining companions will sometimes jump in and suggest customisations of menu items themselves, or make sure there are veggies and hummus alongside sausage rolls at a home-based gathering.
- In 2003, I never attended a demonstration with more than ten people. Perhaps I just lived in the wrong place, but nevertheless, to now campaign for animal rights amongst a group of one hundred others is an empowering feeling, even if it's a tragedy that any protests are still needed.
Naturally, 2016 is not an end-point in the journey towards recognition of veganism and cruelty-free, plant-based living, let alone animal rights. Humankind has a long way to go until exploitation of and discrimination against other species is not only a thing of the past, but an incomprehensible notion; vegans must wait further still for the end of dismissive language and for respect from all corners. But the slow acceptance and normalisation may be seen as a step in the right direction, and as a motivational tool for further change.
Photo courtesy of Montagious, used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.