Young people in the School Strike for Climate in Wellington, New Zealand: Image by David Tong. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Ben Northam explores why young people are leading society’s changing food consumption
A decade ago the notion of veganism would have prompted far-flung scepticism but in recent years interest in plant-based diets has undeniably exploded, with searches on Google increasing seven-fold between 2014 and 2019.
The immense gain in traction hasn’t gone unnoticed by the business world either as supermarkets race to release plant-based product lines and restaurants serve more and more vegan dishes by the day.
Unsurprisingly those accessing the most online content are also leading our transition away from animal products towards environmentally friendly ones.
I am talking about the youth.
Almost half (42%) of all British vegans are aged between 15 to 34 according to a survey carried out by IPSOS MORI for the Vegan Society in 2017. This begs the question: what is the driving force behind this youth-led embracement of veganism and why is it happening at such a rapid rate?
Younger people are more likely to question accepted behaviours and mainstream views, such as eating meat
The first candidate is media, more specifically social media. The widely connecting nature of online publications as well as platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are furiously spreading the immense benefits of plant-based diets for our health, animals and the planet. These benefits, promoted through health tutorials and by popular environmental and vegan activists, are being eagerly received by a young audience of millions.
This is not to deny the efforts of older generations but simply to highlight the role of the youth: a section of society which receives far too much criticism for our apparent zombie-like technology addiction.
In fact worldwide, young people’s actions have been instrumental in changing society’s dialogue around food consumption and the environment’s predicament.
World leaders assemble to hear environmental activists still at school while media outlets ranging from the BBC to the Guardian publish article after article on environmental campaigns highlighting the effects of global warming and the battle against it.
The second candidate originates in the lack of cultural conditioning we, as young people, have been subjected to. Societal norms become increasingly ingrained into us the older we get. This means, in comparison to older generations, younger people are more likely to question accepted behaviours and mainstream views, such as eating meat, that have trickled down through preceding generations.
Yet, the greatest barrier still facing young people considering changing their habits is the belief that one person can’t make a difference to the world.
When we see past the illusion that individuals can’t make an impact, is when we take ownership of our choices and begin enacting change ourselves
However, what some may have forgotten to realise is, every one of us is a cog in the supply and demand chain. When enough individuals choose plant-based options the machine starts to slow, rust and finally crumble and a new one arises in its place.
When we see past the illusion that individuals can’t make an impact, is when we take ownership of our choices and begin enacting change ourselves.
Profoundly put by Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru: “When individuals change, society will change. And when society changes, the whole world will change.”
Unknowingly, we vote for the world we want three times a day with our knife and fork.
- At breakfast we can choose cow’s milk or chocolate oat milk.
- At lunch we can buy a steak burger or a spicy bean burger.
- At dinner we can make a chicken curry or a sweet potato and mango chutney curry.
The first choice breeds the irreparable slaughter of our forests, natural habitats and betrays the animals we exploit so ruthlessly.
The second choice requires 75% less farmland, produces half the C02 emissions and makes us protectors of these unique and intelligent beings who share our earth.
Take your pick…
Ben Northam is studying English literature, philosophy and politics for A level. He enjoys the outdoors, reading and relaxing with friends. He hopes to get into writing or journalism when he leaves school.