By Alex Eng-Nguyen
For Unwind magazine
There has been a recent influx in the number of vegans within the United States, and surprisingly, many of those who choose to make the transition to veganism are millennials.
Vegans are a minority within a minority. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, 7.5 million, or 3.4 percent, of U.S. adults consider themselves vegetarian. Of that group, approximately 1.8 million are vegans.
Like vegetarians, vegans have a strictly no-meat diet. However, according to peta2, an affiliate of PETA, vegans eliminate all animal-based products, while vegetarians eat certain animal products such as eggs and dairy.
People go vegan for a variety of different reasons, from ethical to health-based. In 2015, the World Health Organization labeled bacon, among other meats, a carcinogen.
Many vegans have also made the switch for environmental purposes. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of human-causeds greenhouse gases.
“Younger generations in particular are waking up to the fact that they can live healthy, happy lives without contributing to animal exploitation — and thanks to the internet, they can access the information they need to make the change,” said Elena Orde, a representative for the Vegan Society, a British organization that promotes vegan living.
Veganism has spread not only throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, but other areas of the world, as well. A study from Mintel divulges that in Germany, “the number of vegan-labelled meals and meal centres has grown more than twenty-fold since 2011.”
Others expect the growing trend to become a permanent fixture. Kathy Stevens, for Huffington Post, predicts that the U.S. will be vegan by 2050. She attributes this to changing markets, such as the increasing amount of meat substitutes found in supermarkets and the popularity of vegan options at chain restaurants such as Chipotle. The veganism trend seems to be hitting the University of Maryland as well. The university already promises “green dining” and sustainability, as noted on the university’s dining website, but more changes have been made to accommodate vegan lifestyles.
Veganism has become more popular at this university, as is seen through the changes made in Dining Services in the past year.
“We have had [the vegetarian/vegan station] ‘Sprouts’ in the diner for over nine years and this year expanded to the other two dining halls,” Sister Maureen Schrimpe, the university’s nutritionist, said. “We were actually on the cutting edge of having a totally vegan station. We have grown it a great deal since the early days much with the help of the students.”
These changes in university dining are thanks in part to the growing number of students turning vegan.
Casey Webbert, a sophomore elementary education major, is in the process of transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism. She has maintained a vegetarian lifestyle since December 2013, but she feels that veganism is “the most compassionate diet and lifestyle.”
“Veganism is a bit more difficult, especially with cooking,” said Webbert. “Eliminating cheese and ice cream… will be more difficult, but the sacrifice is totally worth it for me.”
Maille O’Donnell is another University of Maryland student that has made the switch to veganism. O’Donnell, a sophomore government and politics and philosophy major, is fairly new to veganism, having been one for just a month and a half.
Like Webbert, she was previously a vegetarian, initially for environmental purposes. She attributed her vegetarian lifestyle to “the water use and carbon emissions that go into meat production.”
O’Donnell said that her decision to go vegan was influenced by all the same reasons for why she went vegetarian, but wanted to delay going vegan until after studying abroad in Spain next year.
However, O’Donnell added, “This summer I started to learn more about animal agriculture and the dairy industry and all the health consequences of dairy… [I] started kind of avoiding dairy and then just realized I didn’t want to wait any longer to go vegan.”
She believes witnessing environmental issues play out is a key reason why veganism is getting more popular within the younger generation.
While Alyssa Mariano, a sophomore business student, is not a vegan, she said she does see the benefits.
“I am not a vegan but I’ve considered becoming one for humanitarian and economic purposes,” she said.
While there is no sole reason for the recent boom in the amount of people going vegan, increased awareness of the lifestyle is a significant contributor. In the words of the Vegan Society, an advocacy group based in the UK, “Going vegan is easier than ever before. With veganism becoming increasingly mainstream, more and more people from all walks of life are discovering the benefits of living this way.”