Yesterday was World Vegan Day and – according to one north-east academic – we should all consider making every day of our lives free from animal products.

Vegan diets are entirely based on plant foods – which means that vegans consume no meat; eggs; cheese, milk or other dairy products; seafood or fish.

For those of us who love a juicy steak or a nice piece of cheese, such a diet may sound like purgatory.

But according to University of Sunderland lecturer Dr Alex Lockwood – a journalism academic who studies the reporting of issues around animal welfare, the environment, diet and agriculture – that doesn’t have to be the case.

And Dr Lockwood claims there are a number of very good reasons why we should give veganism a try.

Dr Lockwood said, “I turned vegan nine years ago – or thereabouts. It isn’t an anniversary I have in my diary. But World Vegan Day on November 1st is as good a day as any to mark the celebration.”

“Like most of us, I’d grown up with animals as pets – or, as I prefer the term now, companion animals. They were the characters in my story books; they were the cuddly toys in my bed.”

“I didn’t know the links between animals and the food I ate. Everyone around me told me that eating animals was normal, natural and necessary.”

“But, as an adult, I understand that eating other animals and exploiting sentient beings for clothing or entertainment just isn’t part of who I am.”

“Millions of others are realising the same. Whether it be for environmental reasons: a plant-based diet is the biggest single impact you can have in reversing climate breakdown; or health benefits: the longest-living communities around the world eat the least animal products; or a respect for animals themselves, veganism has become mainstream.”

“It’s even had its own week on The Great British Bake Off.”

Reflecting on his own experience of being a vegan for nine years and on the findings of his research, Dr Lockwood suggests there are several surprising reasons why people should consider going vegan or at least try to eat less meat.

One reason, Dr Lockwood claims, is that plant-based diets can boost mental wellbeing.

Dr Lockwood said, “One in six people will report a common mental health problem every week. Vegan foods such as plants, nuts, grains and vegetables have been found, in a meta-analysis of 41 studies on the topic, to fight depression. If you want to stay happy, the studies say, avoid meat and dairy.”

“A number of studies also suggest that vegans suffer less stress and anxiety than meat and dairy eaters, with all the mood benefits that entails.”

Apparently, the types of foods common in vegan diets can also help us sleep better. Dr Lockwood said, “Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that people who eat the widest variety of foods, high in carbs and low in fats, and with a good range of nutrition found in leafy greens, nuts and pulses, really did have the healthiest sleep patterns.”

According to Dr Lockwood, veganism can be cheaper for the western consumer and help people living in poorer nations.

“It’s often said that veganism is a middle-class thing, too expensive for people on low wages. That’s only partly true – as the famous working-class chef Jack Monroe has shown, you can follow a vegan-based diet more cheaply than a meat-based diet.”

“But look outside our borders and see the global good that a vegan diet has for people in countries far less wealthy than ours. A vast amount of global crops are grown to feed animals that people in poor countries cannot afford; it’s made for us, in western countries. And this is while a billion people go hungry every day.”

So maybe we really should consider ditching the steaks and fried chicken, or at least eating them a bit less often.

For more information about veganism, visit the Vegan Society website at https://www.vegansociety.com/.

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