This article discusses eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers.
From culture to dietary restrictions to recovery from eating disorders, there are many reasons why veganism is still inaccessible.
by Clara Roche
In recent years, both veganism and vegetarianism have left the fringes of society to become one of the fastest-growing dietary trends of this century. Once associated with counter-culture caricatures like the bohemian Phoebe Buffay or the Buddhist saxophone player Lisa Simpson, veganism is no longer an outlandish and unconventional lifestyle, but instead increasingly viewed as a reasonable response to the climate crisis. As veganism has entered the mainstream, vegan options and resources have improved. Interest in adopting a vegan diet has surged as it has become, for many, a viable course of environmentalist action. However, even as veganism becomes progressively more convenient and its benefits widely recognised, veganism is still an inaccessible option for many.
“For example, a standard Cadbury Dairy Milk can be bought in SuperValu for €2.50, while the plant-based alternative of the same size is €4.00, almost double the price.”
Dublin students with the wherewithal to explore the city beyond The Perch will find a host of tried-and-tested vegan restaurants to choose from, namely Cornucopia, Veginity, and Vegan Sandwich Co. There are very few well-loved snack foods that have yet to see a plant-based alternative enter the market, with Cadbury’s recently announcing the creation of the Cadbury Plant Bar, its first-ever vegan chocolate bar. Yet, availability of plant-based options depends almost entirely on where you live. Almost 90% of the world’s vegans live in urban areas, largely due to the increased prevalence of vegan cafés and restaurants, the proximity of supermarkets with satisfactory vegan options, and the ease of joining a vegan community. Beyond the urban versus rural divide, some 200,000 people in Ireland are experiencing “food poverty” or living in “food deserts”, adversely affecting the choice of food they can afford to buy, and where they can buy it from.
Students often find themselves committing to a sort of involuntary veganism when confronted with the price of meat. While it is true that veganism as a whole is generally cheaper than a meat-based diet, it is disingenuous to suggest that price does not inhibit the transition to veganism, especially when it comes to everyday changes that particularly affect those on tight budgets. For example, a standard Cadbury Dairy Milk can be bought in SuperValu for €2.50, while the plant-based alternative of the same size is €4.00, almost double the price. Starbucks only recently dropped the surcharge that was in place for plant-based dairy milk alternatives. (The same fee still exists in many coffee shops around the country.) Furthermore, those relying on food provision schemes due to financial disadvantages, such as free school lunches, have limited access to plant-based meal options.
Any evangelical vegan will reassure you that, with careful planning, veganism can be equally as nutritious as an omnivorous diet. Putting together three well-balanced vegan meals a day generally takes more preparation, both in sourcing and cooking food. For people with time constraints, certain health conditions or disabilities, such intensive planning and preparation is undoubtedly a barrier to becoming vegan. Although many resources are available online to assist in planning and sourcing vegan meals, reports suggest that, on average, vegans skip more meals than non-vegans, likely due to the additional time needed to plan and prepare meals.
“Unfortunately, the association between veganism and “clean eating” or low-calorie diets sometimes attracts those looking to lose weight or restrict their food intake to veganism”
Excluding the consumption of all animal products, veganism is inherently restrictive. Due to its restrictive nature, vegetarian and vegan societies advise against converting to veganism without first being fully mentally and physically healthy. An eating disorder clinic in the United Kingdom found a correlation between those suffering from eating disorders and those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Unfortunately, the association between veganism and “clean eating” or low-calorie diets sometimes attracts those looking to lose weight or restrict their food intake to veganism. This means that veganism occasionally becomes a sustaining factor for an eating disorder, and may need to be avoided by those in recovery.
Beyond eating disorders, other dietary restrictions may render some individuals incompatible with veganism. Coeliacs may struggle to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, as gluten is a common ingredient in many meat substitutes. The fibre-rich nature of fruits, vegetables, and some dairy substitutes may also make veganism a difficult diet for those suffering from IBS. Lastly, those with soy allergies often struggle to find alternatives to tofu, tempeh, and most meat replacement bars.
The benefits of veganism are well-documented, and as resources continue to improve, veganism will become a more accessible option for many. Vegan communities around the country, like those at Irish Vegan located at irishvegan.ie, are working on compiling useful lists of vegan restaurants and groceries. However, as it stands, veganism is not a suitable lifestyle for everyone. Luckily, veganism doesn’t demand anyone practise it who lacks the ability to. The pressure to become a ‘perfect’ vegan might turn some people off the diet entirely. But, of course, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ vegan. Reducing your meat intake in any aspect is better for the environment and likely for your health than doing nothing at all. A plant-based lifestyle doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, a bit like how it’s better to buy more of your clothes on Depop than Shein, even if you still buy your socks in Penneys.