Background and History

What do Pythagoras and Venus Williams have in common? Well, they eat plants… and only plants. Whether it was because they believed in the transmigration of souls or wanted to cure an autoimmune disease, people have been choosing not to eat animals for thousands of years.

Within the anthropological field, it is widely accepted that humans actually began eating meat at some point in history, although the time and reason for the beginning of human carnivory is debated (Ferraro, et al. 2013). The term “vegan” was not coined until 1944 when a small group of activists wanted an easier way to refer to a strict vegetarian diet (“Key facts”). Before then, the more general word “vegetarian” was most likely used to refer to those who chose a diet without any animal products.

The activists that first used the term veganism to define their cause over 70 years ago founded the Vegan Society in the UK that same year. The society now coordinates public awareness campaigns, is home to a multidisciplinary research committee and works with brands all over Europe to include their trademark on packaged foods (“Key facts”).

In the past three years alone, the number of vegans in the United States has risen by a staggering 500 percent, from one percent in 2014 to the current six percent, according to a study done by Research and Markets. This same study on the top trends of packaged foods identified campaigns entitled “Go Meat Free?” and “Ethical Eating” as two of the top six trends impacting prepared foods ("Top Trends in Prepared Foods 2017").

Veganism is often associated with extreme passion and the often forceful opinions of those who feel as though they have woken up to gross injustice in the cultural practices around them and are hurt or confused as to why others are not coming to the same conclusions. But an increase the the availability of nutritional studies and films like Forks Over Knives and Vegucated have inspired waves of people to transition to a plant based diet for the health benefits alone.

The analysis of veganism as a cultural movement can be quite interesting when compared to many others. Since its success is measured not in changing legislature or politics, but in the number of people who change their daily lifestyle practices (Cherry, 2006). Because our habits and norms are so rooted in the society that surrounds us, breaking away from those things can be difficult and messy, no matter what is motivating the change.

Background and History