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Sunderland expert credits social media for encouraging a 'new generation' of vegans

Sunderland University's Dr Alex Lockwood says a host of reasons are leading people to become vegan.
Sunderland University's Dr Alex Lockwood says a host of reasons are leading people to become vegan.

The trend of sharing snaps of snacks on social media to word spreading through hashtags has been credited with encouraging more people to turn to veganism.

Sunderland University lecturer Dr Alex Lockwood has been looking at how platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter have led to a new generation of vegans - and not just a younger one.

Dr Alex Lockwood has been studying how veganism has been given a boost thanks to the internet.

Dr Alex Lockwood has been studying how veganism has been given a boost thanks to the internet.

There are an estimated 540,000 people who eat a solely plant-based diet in the country and with major supermarkets now offering more options and festivals bringing together producers and street food traders, it is becoming more widely-adopted.

Dr Alex Lockwood, who is also a vegan campaigner, said: “Without a doubt social media has transformed the way people think about food—and it isn’t just the Millennials.

"The over-55s are the second-biggest demographic in terms of Facebook users this year.

“But the sheer amount of information, imagery and community around vegan and vegetarian foods online mean that everyone is learning how much healthier for the body and the planet a plant-based diet has become.”

According to Dr Lockwood, the rise in flexitarian diets – a plant-based diet which allows occasional meat dishes - shows just how much people are becoming conscious of the impact of their diets on their health and on the planet.

Films such as Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives, readily available online or on Netflix, are also believed to be responsible for changing people’s relationship to what they eat.

Dr Lockwood said: “There’s more media coverage every day showing that the biggest impact people can have individually on the environment is by choosing to ditch meat and dairy from their diets.

“Some people aren’t willing to do that every day and become vegan, but most people do care about the environment and want to do their bit.

“But for the Millennial generation and younger, a vegan lifestyle just makes more sense.

"Those under 30 are far less likely to associate with older generational labels such as completely masculine or completely feminine, or to ascribe to 20th century ideas of a job for life, or that our relations with animals or the planet need to be based on exploitation.

“For more and more young people the idea that we need to consume meat and dairy to be health or normal just doesn’t make sense in their well-informed, social media led, fluid sense of who they are in the world.”

Social media influencers are believed to have played a significant part in the rise of the vegan in a number of ways:

*#vegan has had more than 61 million posts listed on Instagram

*The number of Google searches for veganism has spiked in recent years

*According to Google, in 2008, ‘veganism’ had a popularity rating of just 17 out of 100 – 10 years later this has increased to 88.

*Celebrities such as Ariana Grande – who has more than 56million followers on Twitter - don’t eat animal products

The growing trend, according to Dr Lockwood, reflects a change in young people’s attitudes towards the environment.

Dr Lockwood added: “When young people really care about the environment, then they tend to stop eating animals too.

"That’s because they know the main cause of climate change, ocean pollution, deforestation, and water use, is animal agriculture.

“That information isn’t hard to find—it’s right in front of us. We should all be inspired by young people making these changes—and by the trends that Waitrose, Iceland and the other supermarkets are following.”

In January this year, more than 168,000 people pledged to go vegan for the month, under the Veganuary campaign.

The benefits of a vegan diet include the nutritional value, as its foods are packed full of essential nutrients but it’s important people still consume the right amount of protein in the absence of meat.

It is also credited with disease prevention as they contain fewer saturated fats, vegan diets have been shown to reduce heart disease risk and what’s more, data shows conclusively that vegans and vegetarians suffer from fewer diseases caused by a modern Western diet.

A bonus to sticking to a vegan diet is the positive effect it has on weight.

Vegans typically weigh less as a result of a diet comprised of fewer calories in the form of grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

A plant-based diet is also better for the planet as it requires much less energy and farmland to feed a vegan.