According to the Finnish Vegan Society, the number of vegans and vegetarians in the country is growing steadily.
They say that every generation thinks that it invents sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and vegetarianism. Not four words that you might normally see in the same sentence, but it is true that every now and again certain food trends seem to be on the rise or fall. These days, with the global credit crunch in full effect and more of us feeling the pinch, it turns out that fast-food outlets such as McDonalds and Subway are enjoying something of a renaissance with their cheap, cheerful and unhealthy products. Perhaps it’s time to bring vegetarianism back.
A steady trend for vegetarianism
Well, I say bring it back, but of course despite me feeling like there was a big craze for eating veggies in the early-90s, the truth of course is that vegetarianism is as old as mankind itself, and seems to be at least maintaining its popularity in this country. Senni Kela, a spokesperson for the Finnish Vegan Society (Vegaaniliitto), suggests that the number of Finnish vegans and vegetarians is increasing.
“According to several studies, the number of vegans and vegetarians is somewhere between 3 and 5 per cent of the population,” she said. “I believe that the number is constantly growing, especially now when people are realising that their meat and dairy-heavy diets contribute to climate change.”
The figure of 3 to 5 per cent would put Finland somewhere in the middle of the global vegetarian league tables. A 2008 study indicated that 3.2 per cent of Americans are vegetarian, and a 2006 report indicated that 6 per cent of Britons are the same. The country with the most vegetarians – in fact, more vegetarians and vegans than the rest of the world combined – is India, where 40 per cent of the population, or more than 400 million people, don’t eat meat. This is mainly to do with class and religious concerns: the Brahmin caste is expected not to eat meat, while Hinduism suggests vegetarianism and Jainism demands it.
Why no meat?
In Finland, of course, there are few cultural or religious reasons for becoming vegetarian or vegan, so why do most people choose this diet? “The main reasons for being vegan are ethical, ecological or health-related,” explained Kela. “Vegans do not want to support the unnecessary exploitation and killing of animals. The vegan diet is also ecological and healthy.”
The connection between diet and the environment has become increasingly well known over the past decade. The number of cows, for example, required to fulfil humanity’s beef and milk needs is immense, and those cows produce a lot of methane gas, which is often seen as one of the main contributors to global warming. “Also,” said Kela, “they say that a vegan saves a hundred lives a year. Plus the food is delicious.”
Although there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your diet, I’m always bemused by those people who say that they are vegetarian ‘but eat fish/chicken’. Surely, then, they aren’t veggie at all? “I guess everyone can say that fish isn’t a vegetable, therefore these people are not vegetarians,” said Kela, providing a semi-official rebuttal for me next time I meet one of these ‘fishtarians’.
It does seem sometimes that in today’s world of ever-increasing consumption, changing your lifestyle to exclude all animal products à la veganism would require too drastic a shift in habit to be truly realistic. Is a significant change in behaviour required? “No, I don’t think so. Being a vegan is quite easy nowadays. There’s a constantly growing market for vegan products, such as food, shoes etc. When you get used to the lifestyle, you don’t even have to think about it,” said Kela.
Surely there are some areas of farming, like dairy production, where it is such a part of our economic and dietary history that it is simply unreasonable to expect people not to drink milk, for example? Kela swiftly rejects that argument: “Dairy farming is one the worst forms of animal exploitation. Dairy cows have to give birth every year to produce milk and the calfs are separated from their mothers almost immediately. They are rarely allowed to nurse their young. It is unprofitable to keep cows alive once their milk production declines. They are usually killed at 5 years of age, though their normal life span exceeds 20 years. Dairy and meat production are actually closely linked to each other.”
So there are health benefits, environmental benefits and ethical reasons for choosing a vegan or vegetarian diet. But can you give up that crispy fried bacon? “There’s nothing I miss about eating meat,” said Kela. “Vegan food just tastes so much better.”
More information in English about vegetarian-friendly restaurants and cafes in Finland from:
Nick Barlow - HT
Lehtikuva - Ville Myllynen