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Q&A: Elizabeth Archer, vegan activist

Elizabeth Archer, vegan activist, discusses the increasingly popular Veganuary movement

Each January, the Veganuary movement gains
pace, and especially so this year. The challenge is, for the month of January,
you eat vegan. Can you explain what it means to be vegan? 

The Vegan Society defines veganism as,
“a way
of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all
forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any
other purpose.”
Many people think that veganism is a diet, but it isn’t.
Veganism is a belief in a lifestyle which doesn’t exploit animals in any way;
this includes eating a plant-based diet but also includes using cruelty free,
vegan toiletries, cleaning products and make-up, not supporting any industry
which uses animals for entertainment and not wearing clothes made out of animal
skin, fur or wool.


What are the reasons to go vegan?

The main reason for living a vegan lifestyle
is in support of animal rights; many people go vegan when they find out the
ways animals are treated on farms. Another benefit is that it is better for health
– scientific research has found links between the consumption of animal
products and cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis among

In terms of human rights, if the whole
population of the planet, or a large majority took on a plant-based,
vegan-friendly diet, we could end world hunger; it takes a lot more land to
produce meat and dairy than it does to produce the same amount of calories in
plant-based foods. Slaughterhouse workers are often the people most oppressed
in our society already, who have little to no choice over the work they take
on, and who are also found to be more likely to suffer from mental health
disorders. No one should have to suffer like that in order to produce food
which is unnecessary for our survival and health.


What are the effects of veganism on climate

Eating animal products is one of the biggest
ways we contribute to climate-changing emissions and also requires a lot more
land and water than producing plant based foods. We have been given 12 years by
scientists to sort the planet out before the damage is irreparable and we
succumb to natural disasters due to climate change, so thinking about it
seriously we have to decide what is more important: The whole planet, our
future survival and that of future generations, or a bacon sandwich? If you're
being sensible the answer should be obvious!


Why did you personally choose to go vegan, and
to be a vegan activist?

I chose to go vegetarian at the age of 11
because I believed that killing animals unnecessarily was wrong. The moment I
decided to go vegetarian was while listening to “Meat is Murder” by The Smiths…
hearing the cries of the cows in the slaughterhouse in the background of the
song just reinforced my view that killing animals was wrong. At that time, I
believed that animals weren’t harmed for animal products other than meat, so I
continued eating and using those. Flash forward 14 years and I am studying for
a Masters degree in Animal Behaviour, being shown around the college’s dairy
farm. The farmer explained the process of artificial insemination and of
de-horning of the cattle and talked about how the farm was “RSPCA approved”. I
started thinking that these cattle didn’t seem to have particularly happy lives
and that some of the procedures carried out on them seemed cruel and painful. 
found out more about the animals used in farming and realised that they were
very similar to humans in terms of sentience, bonding and in their capacity to
feel pain, which made me question whether we had a right to use these beings at
all if we didn’t need to in order to survive? At this point I decided to give Veganuary
a go.
I watched “Land of Hope and Glory” on Youtube to see footage of farms and
slaughterhouses all over the UK, and knew right in that moment that I would
never eat an animal product again. I also wanted to make sure that other people
had easier access to this information, and to work to help the animals. So I
decided to become an activist.


Veganism is the biggest growing social
movement in the UK. Why do you think Veganuary has been particularly popular
this year?

One big reason is because more people have
been interested in cutting down their meat consumption over the last few years
for ethical, health and environmental reasons. Because of this there has been
more demand from consumers for plant-based, cruelty-free products, leading to
companies supplying more vegan options. Seeing these options arriving will have
made people more aware of veganism and shown them that it is getting so much
easier to go vegan!

 I also believe that activism and research has
played a big part in encouraging people to go vegan. Lots of documentaries have
been made and released on popular sites such as Youtube and Netflix which show
people what really goes on in the majority of farms as well as sharing the
science behind the damage that consumption of animal products is doing to our
health and the environment. Also, street activist groups such as Anonymous for
the Voiceless have grown exponentially. Now that this information is becoming
more well-known people are acting upon it and making changes to their lifestyles,
using charities like Veganuary for support.

Of course, the hard work and dedication of the
Veganuary team themselves is also a massive factor in why Veganuary has become
so popular. The founders of the charity, Matthew Glover and Jane Land (who are
actually from York!) have worked so hard, using all of their lifesavings
creating this wonderful charity which has grown from 3,300 participants in 2014
to an estimated 300,000 in 2019.


Have you tried a Gregg’s vegan sausage roll?
What do you have to say to Piers Morgan’s response? 

I’ve had two already and they were lovely!
think Pier Morgan’s response was rather childish. However, he seems to have
helped the cause, with people who aren’t even remotely interested in veganism
trying vegan products such as Gregg’s vegan sausage roll just to annoy him!
think it is inevitable that some people will react in extreme and childish ways
as for many people change is scary! I still have hope for Pier’s though… Other
celebs who were very against vegetarianism and veganism in the past are now
actively promoting it, so you never know!


What do you think of the vegan alternatives
beginning to become available now?

I think it’s great that more alternatives are
coming out! One question that I’m often asked is why vegans eat want to eat
“fake” meat when they don’t agree with eating animals… Many vegans are not
against the taste of meat, fish, eggs, milk etc. and may have enjoyed eating
them in the past, they are just against the cruelty and exploitation involved
in their production. So, if we can get products that taste the same without any
animal exploitation then that’s great!


Do you eat honey or use leather?

I don’t eat honey or use leather as they
involve the exploitation of animals and therefore aren’t vegan. I have however
tried a few vegan honey substitutes such as Agave and Coconut Honey which are
very nice! I am pleased that so many eco-friendly leather substitutes are now
being released as well, so we don’t have to rely on man-made materials.


What do you have to say to anyone going vegan
for Veganuary?

Well done for taking the challenge and good
I think one thing to remember is that everyone makes mistakes and not to
be disillusioned if you eat something non-vegan accidentally. Just keep trying,
it gets easier I promise!

To keep costs down and get the most health
benefits eat more wholefoods; rice, pasta, vegetables and fruit, rather than
relying on a lot of processed foods and ready meals. Veganuary will send you
loads of great recipe ideas! If you can, try and get hold of the Veganuary book
“How to go Vegan” as well which has loads of helpful information!
planning before going out or on holiday can be useful! There are so many places
providing vegan options now that you can generally find options wherever you
go, but it’s always safe to have an idea before leaving the house where you can
find something to eat.
is a good resource for finding vegan food options when out and about.
you’ve cracked veganism, if you fancy another challenge or want to help the
animals and the planet further, have a look into zero-waste and/or becoming an
activist. There are loads of great groups on Facebook where you can find out
more! I found becoming an activist was very positive in lots of ways,
especially making lots of new friends with similar values to myself.


Which age groups and countries have the
highest vegan populations?

According to Veganuary's research, females and
those between the ages of 18 and 44 are most likely to take the Veganuary
challenge. The top countries to take the challenge are the UK, USA and India.
In terms of veganism in general, past research has shown that the countries
with the largest percentage of vegans are Israel and Sweden. This research also
shows that the largest proportion of vegans were non-religious, liberal and of
a lower income bracket, rejecting the myth that veganism is very costly! Although
this research suggests that certain people are more likely to go vegan, there
are vegans from all backgrounds, religions, political beliefs, genders and age
groups and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the NHS have both stated
that a plant based, vegan friendly diet is suitable for all people of all ages.

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