VEGANISM – FOR THE FEW OR THE MANY? How should food businesses respond to the vegan trend?

The Food Ethics Council Business Forum is a group of progressive business leaders in food and farming, who meet to discuss the big issues of the day, under the Chatham House Rule. This is one of a series of events open to Business Forum members. For anyone who is not currently a member but is interested in attending, please contact

Speakers for this Business Forum will include Simon Fairlie, who is author of ‘Meat: a benign extravagance‘, editor of the Land magazine and runs a micro-dairy; Dr Richard White, Reader in Human Geography, Sheffield Hallam University, whose work includes exploring Critical Animal Geographies and the role of veganism; and a short response from Ruth Layton, Founder and Director of Sankalpa and Trustee of the Food Ethics Council. Chair for this meeting will be Patti Whaley, Trustee of the Food Ethics Council.

There are an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK (2019). Some would say the rise of veganism is a temporary fad and would highlight that despite recent growth, the number of vegans in the UK only represents just over 1% of the population. Others would point to a quadrupling of the number of vegans in the UK since 2014 and argue that the rise in veganism in mainstream society is here to stay. According to the Vegan Society, interest in veganism increased seven-fold in the five years between 2014 and 2019, based on Google trends.

Many food businesses have responded, with the UK launching more vegan products in 2018 than any other nation. But what is driving this growth, is it likely to continue and what should food businesses do?

Our Founder Director Ben Mepham, when reviewing a book entitled The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, concluded that “if the aim of ethics is to choose the right, or best, course of action in specific circumstances ‘all things considered’, it is arguable that adherence to such an absolutist agenda is simplistic and open to serious self-contradictions.” Or, as Simon Fairlie put it, ‘to conclude that veganism is the “only ethical response” is to take a big leap into a very muddy pond’.” Some people are becoming vegans and/or eating more vegan food for a range of legitimate reasons. However, should veganism be a lifestyle choice for the (relatively) few or should it be something that many or even everyone aspires to?

The meeting will provide an opportunity to:
• Examine the true extent of current and projected trends towards greater veganism – alongside vegetarianism and flexitarianism

• Weigh up the overall impact of the vegan trend on the fairer food systems we would like to see

• Consider how any unintended consequences for society, animals and the environment may be addressed

• Explore the opportunities for food and farming businesses looking to provide for the growing number of vegans and people eating vegan food


21st January 2020
4:45 - 8:30 pm


The Zetter Townhouse
Saint John's Square

Sign Up