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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Brooks

Exploring the global-rise of veganism

by Chelsea Brooks

Model and entrepreneur Devon Christenson will never forget seeing the gory images on TV of the animals she was eating.

She immediately stopped eating meat. 

“I remember accidentally seeing a slaughterhouse video and calling my mom crying telling her I never wanted to eat meat again,” said Christenson. “I then went vegan about a year after being vegetarian after I watched some documentaries on Netflix and found out about the dairy/egg industry and their potential effects on health.” 

It was  the end-all be-all for the now-vegan activist. 

“Once I made the connection that animals had to die and don’t want to die,” she added, “I couldn’t look past that.” 

Yes, there are physical benefits to veganism. 

Besides the ethical drive, like Christenson’s, to go vegan, many opt for a plant-based lifestyle because of its various health benefits. 

Individuals have found that a vegan diet has led to weight loss, increased energy levels, decreased blood pressure, as well as other benefits. 

Although what’s considered “healthy” looks different for everyone, a healthy diet in general is what contributes to optimal bodily functioning both physically and mentally. 

Regan Henry, College of Charleston’s registered dietitian nutritionist,  seeks to help people live their healthiest lives, and being vegan is arguably one way to do so. 

“A vegan diet is a climate-friendly dietary pattern, and when in the context of a healthy diet, it has proven health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” explained Henry. 

Other health professionals support this idea, like Jana Davis, registered dietitian nutritionist for Carolina Green Living

“Somebody may have a family history of a certain disease that they’re trying to prevent and by eating a plant-based diet, it might help support it. This could be anything from colon cancer to heart disease,” shared Davis.

Why the recent increase of plant-based proponents? 

According to a study done by Gallup in 2023, approximately 3.4 million Americans eat a vegan diet and 13.6 million Americans eat a vegetarian diet

The amount of vegans and vegetarians has steadily increased since the 1970s, when interests in plant-based lifestyles began to rise

Although slightly different, both diets promote refraining from consumption of animal products and are favored by many, but why the sudden surge of dietary change? 

Like any other lifestyle choice, social media has the potential to influence a wide-reaching audience of people through platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, where vegan activists and recipe-creators flood the food scene. 

Whether this be because of the new and increasingly popular film documentaries or social media posts regarding veganism, media coverage on the matter is becoming widespread, and that goes without question. 

Lockwood explains that even if individuals aren’t ready to become fully vegan, many have chosen to incorporate more vegan meals into their day to day lives, also known as “flexitarians.” 

For some vegans, like Christenson, social media may not have been the initial catalyst for change, yet it still can aid in promoting a cruelty-free diet. 

“Social media didn’t influence me, but once I was vegan I definitely started following like-minded accounts and even created my own vegan page!”

Veganism is not a new diet, and it hasn’t been favored by everybody

Despite veganism being on the rise as of lately, eating diets that are restricted from animal based products is nothing new

Unbeknownst to many, in ancient Greece, eating a plant-based diet was a societal norm. 

Cruelty-free diets are also common in India and have been for centuries because of religious ideals, such as those stemming from Hinduism. 

Despite this ongoing history and the various proponents of going vegan, there are others who believe being vegan isn’t the best dietary option. 

Recent college graduate and ex-vegan Avery McManus said her experience went downhill when she got to college and experienced negative side effects from the diet. 

“When I became vegan, I quickly realized that the tofu and all the alternatives were so processed and didn’t have many benefits,” McManus shared. “I actually ended up eating too much soy at one point when I was vegan because I was told that’s where you get your protein. I have never had acne in my entire life, but the soy led me to horrible acne issues. People don’t talk about this.” 

In correlation with McManus’ personal experiences, studies have shown that diets restrictive of animal protein aren’t always the healthiest. 

Another common occurrence in vegans is nutrient deficiency. 

For instance, many are deficient in B12, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. 

“Individuals who follow a vegan diet are also at higher risk of EPA and DHA deficiencies because these essential fatty acids are primarily found in fish and seafood,” Henry shared. “A vegan diet can be difficult to follow depending on circumstances and food availability, and there is a common misconception that just because a food is labeled as ‘vegan,’ it is ‘healthy,’ even though that might not be the case.”

How to determine what diet will work best

At the end of the day, what diet works best for an individual varies by each person, and health professionals are here to agree. 

Davis, for instance, does not argue in favor of an omnivore diet nor a vegan diet, but rather a balanced diet. 

“Even if someone is an omnivore, plants still need to be a priority,” Davis said. “It’s the diversity of plants in our diet that’s going to be a strong indicator of the health of that individual. If we don’t eat a lot of variety, we’re going to set ourselves up to not have optimal health.”

Whether someone is going completely vegan or just incorporating more veggies, finding what makes them feel the best is the most sensible approach.

“It is important to remember that any diet that completely restricts any food is not necessary (unless there is a medical diagnosis that indicates otherwise) and can cause deficiencies in important nutrients,” said Henry. “This restriction of certain foods can also impact mental and social well-being. An optimal diet is balanced, not restricted.”

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