Veganism has long been seen by those on the right as one of the defining features of the “woke generation.” The archetype of the Woodstock-style hippie who rejects modern life often puts off the average person to the whole idea of veganism.
However, the vegan diet is fundamentally about choice, not governmental, societal, or economic pressures. It’s a question of what provides the most consumer satisfaction, be that morality, taste, or price. Veganism presents an opportunity to help the environment in a way that does not involve regulations or subsidies, but can lead to healthier, freer lives for people and animals.
Veganism is an increasingly popular lifestyle choice
From switching to oat milk in our tea and coffee, to Quorn pieces instead of chicken in our tikka masala, the demand for plant-based and meat-free foods has skyrocketed in recent years. The rise of veganism and the subsequent response from the markets is a perfect 21st century example of businesses providing what consumers want.
In 2019, the worldwide plant-based food market grew by a substantial 11%. Just Eat, a takeaway delivery company, reported that in 2017 alone, their UK restaurants saw a 987% increase in demand for meat-free options. Of new food products launched in the UK in 2019, 23 % were vegan.
Companies have become aware of a gap in the market for cruelty-free and environmentally friendly products, and are beginning to innovate in those areas. Furthermore, the evident success of the vegan food market has materialized despite competing against heavily subsidized meat options.
It has been suggested that switching to a vegan diet is the single most significant way to reduce an individual’s impact on the environment, and has the potential to seriously limit the effect of non-vegan farming. Around 23% of the world’s land surface is used for animal agriculture in some form. PETA reports that one calorie of animal protein needs eleven times the fossil fuel input that one calorie of plant protein requires.
There is clearly potential, through the growth of the plant-based market, to reduce the use of land and fossil fuels. This would free up crops and fuels to be used more effectively in other industries.
Free markets and free choice make morality a more achievable goal
One of the defining principles of liberalism is a belief that through a free market economy, people and their communities can thrive and realize their best potential. Liberals believe that a truly free market is alert, innovative, and improves living standards for everyone.
In a world of climate change treaties, regulation, subsidies, schemes, and policies, veganism presents a liberal’s panacea of how to improve the wellbeing of our planet. The United Nations Environment Agency has estimated the global cost of adapting to greenhouse gas-led climate impacts is set to increase by $140-300 billion per year by 2050. So why engage in expensive subsidies and regulations which destroy the economic wellbeing of the worst off in society when we can have the best of both worlds?
Aside from environmental issues, many vegans report one of their motivation factors in switching to a plant-based diet as being an aversion to animal cruelty. Many start off vegetarian, and as the market advances to offer them more vegan options at reasonable prices, they transition to veganism.
Therein lies a recognition that, although they feel there is some form of morality in not causing undue pain to animals, this must be balanced with the realities of accessibility, health, and cost. Markets are the best mechanism to bring all of these concepts to bear and allow greater amounts of moral actions in a sustainable way.
Thanks to the comparatively free markets of many Western countries, it appears that an increasing number of consumers now feel that the taste and price of vegan products are sufficiently satisfactory to justify switching. More and more households, while still consuming some meat, have adapted to buying plant milk, as producers have innovated to the extent that buyers don’t feel significant change, or even prefer the taste anyway.
The growing success of vegan food in Western markets has thus been a triumph, showing that environmental issues can be tackled via a naturally occurring increase in demand.
Governments subsidize the meat industry and environmental destruction
Animal agriculture in Europe is privy to substantial amounts of government handouts and subsidies. Up until the end of 2020, UK farmers received £3.4 billion a year from the EU to keep their businesses going. This included £38 million towards lowland and upland livestock, which makes up around 90% of the industry’s profits.
Even when looking at the £40 million in subsidies that cereal farmers receive, it is estimated that half of the cereal goes towards feeding livestock. The EU is also set to introduce regulations that prohibit businesses from labeling their goods as “alternatives” to meat or dairy products in an attempt to make the plant-based products seem less favorable on the supermarket shelves.
These regulations and subsidies create uncompetitive markets that are environmentally unsustainable. If the animal agriculture industry wasn’t so heavily protected and subsidized, vegan products would be even more attractive to the masses as their relative cost to the consumer would be lower.
Additionally, Singapore’s recent move to allow the sale of lab-grown meat spells a victory for tackling the negative externalities that animal agriculture brings. This satisfies demand for meat without destroying land, wasting grain, and killing animals. Hopefully more countries will see similar deregulation in this area too.
The bottom line is that consumers are drawn to products that are healthier and more ethical, and new technologies and innovations are enabling shoppers to have access to these products more easily. This is what a free market, coupled with the compassion of humans, can achieve. Veganism is a movement that champions a more ethical and less destructive way of living, and is working hand in hand with the free market to achieve such goals.
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