Killing vegans?

General Politics

That probably got your attention. It certainly got enough attention to ensure that the editor of Waitrose’s food magazine, William Sitwell, had to stand down after he joked that "killing vegans, one by one" was preferable to publishing a feature on plant based recipes. The story broke on World Vegan Day: talk about bad timing.

Is the uproar that ensued a sign of growing political polarisation? Or rather, are the market changes that produced the story suggestion Mr Sitwell didn’t like a further sign? As long as you don’t lean on the idea too hard, it might be.

If we consider that veganism serves as a loose proxy for ‘green politics’ or the more traditionally left leaning side of the political spectrum, it serves as an interesting lens to explore trends in polarisation and what it means for governing amidst growing disparity.

Over the last few years veganism has shot into the mainstream, with numbers on the rise in the hundreds of percentage points across countries globally, and sales of plant-based foods as one of the fastest growing sectors. Polling globally indicates growing support for action on issues like plastic pollution and climate change. With this seeming trend in favour of ‘green politics’, one would expect to see the rise of the left or the adoption of ‘green values’ by politicians garnering support.

And yet there has been a rampant rise in far-right sentiments across Europe and globally with far-right leaders and parties gaining greater footholds – or even winning – in an ever increasing number of countries. How do these two seemingly disparate trends relate to each other and what do they indicate for politics to come? A few recent elections provide some insight.

We saw this in Bavaria, where the biggest wins were for the Greens and the AfD anti-immigrant party. Bolsonaro may have won in Brazil on a right wing platform that included pulling out of the Paris agreement, but 14% of his fellow Brazilians now describe themselves as vegetarian or vegan, and veganism in Brazil is growing at 40% a year. Similarly, in Sweden, the far right party Sweden Democrats (SD) saw the largest gains in the recent Swedish election, though failed to achieve a majority where the two issues seen as most important in the election were migration and climate change.

Without jumping to too many conclusions on the connections between these trends, it is clear that there has been an end to big tent politics and a rise of voting by values. This will undoubtedly be reinforced next week as Americans go to the polls.  A likely result is an increasing need for governing by coalition and a potential pairing of more and more unlikely bedfellows. Before anyone points out that Adolf Hitler was a committed vegetarian, we should be clear that we can’t read too much into this, but it is an interesting sign of a wider polarising drift.


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