In Kent, Joanna Earle, 36, has gradually reduced animal products for the past year. Though going fully vegan was appealing, Earle says her lifestyle prevented it. When eating at restaurants or on-the-go work lunches, it was tough. With these elements removed, Earle found sticking to a vegan diet easier.
“I feel great and I don’t think I will [go back to animal products],” says Earle. “I love all the delicious meals and plant-based foods I make, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on nutrients.”
Also in Kent, John Ellis, 51, cut out meat after being diagnosed with heart disease at the onset of lockdown, and having three stents fitted.
“Nothing seemed normal anymore, including eating meat.” Ellis prefers fruits and vegetables (and still eats fish) to processed vegan options, but is “developing a taste and appreciation for the alternatives.” He doesn’t expect to go back to meat, but isn’t putting pressure on himself.
Sreedhar Krishna, an NHS consultant dermatologist from south London, says health reasons prompted his switch to a diet consisting solely of vegan meal replacement shakes. “A bit extreme, I know,” he concedes. He says during lockdown his hospital didn’t need him as part of their pandemic response, so he had a rare holiday.
“I felt refreshed and took some time to reflect on my lifestyle,” Krishna explains. With family members having died from presumed cardiac issues in their 30s and 40s, “I thought something had to change.”
No longer were unhealthy pastries and soft drinks, scoffed down between patients, appealing. “I had known this for a while, but it was only with the time away from work that the penny dropped that I had to act.”
In London, Amelie Barrau, 33, struggled to find ingredients in local supermarkets at the beginning of lockdown. As a local butcher quickly ran out of stock, a greengrocer and organic shop became the only options. They primarily offered plant-based food, and the lack of queues appealed. Barrau has switched to a 90 per cent plant-based diet.
Barrau, who feels “the best I’ve felt in years”, was thinking about it since before lockdown, for health and animal welfare reasons. She began to educate herself with her increased spare time, and says “the pandemic has definitely highlighted the many issues behind the intensification of farming.”
This brings up a factor that has long been known among experts but seldom discussed in wider society: that our hunger for meat, and the way it’s produced, is considered a vector for disease. As Valentina Rizzi of the European Food Safety Authority said in May: “The majority of emerging new infections in humans in the last 10 years really come from animals or food of animal origin.”
It was likely true of Sars and Mers, and seems to be the case for Covid-19. Additionally, several large outbreaks around the world have been linked to meat processing plants. The UN, citing links between zoonotic infections and the current animal production system, is insisting on a rethink of farming practices.
The past few years have seen a significant rise in veganism, from an estimated 150,000 in 2006 to 600,000 in 2018. As health, environmental and animal welfare issues become clearer, many more are attempting to cut down their meat and dairy intake, if only for a few days a week. The lockdown has changed the way we eat in many ways – perhaps providing the plant-based movement with a further shot in the arm will eventually be seen as the most significant.