Vegans hope the popularity of their diet is going to be accelerated as a result of Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton’s backing for the lifestyle choice. Chris Burn reports.
Formula 1 drivers are probably just about the last group of people you would associate with veganism, but the biggest star of the sport Lewis Hamilton has caused something of a stir by announcing his intention to cut all animal foods from his diet.
While some eyebrows were raised at a racing driver’s professed concern for the environment and despite Hamilton being far from the first well-known face to attempt removing meat, dairy and eggs from their lifestyle, officials from The Vegan Society say they hope that the three-time world champion’s decision will encourage some of millions of fans around the globe to pursue a similar path.
Dominika Piasecka, a spokesperson for The Vegan Society, says: “Celebrities are often seen as role models - their influence helps to bring veganism to the mainstream while their position allows them to speak out for the animals in a loud, confident voice that inspires other to take action.
“Celebrities like Lewis Hamilton lead hectic lives and yet can be vegan, proving that this lifestyle is really not as difficult as people may think.
“Their fans will often research the meat, dairy and egg industries to understand the reasons behind their idol’s decision, which is when they discover that animals deserve better than being used and abused by humans in so many different ways.
“We wish Lewis all the best with his new vegan lifestyle and hope that he will inspire others to experience the benefits for themselves.”
Veganism is growing in popularity in this country, with research carried out last year suggesting more than 500,000 people now follow such a diet, which involves avoiding meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and honey. This is three-and-a-half times the number recorded by a similar survey in 2006, making veganism one of the fastest-growing “lifestyle movements” in the country.
Dilys Cluer, a Green Party councillor in Scarborough, has been a vegan for as long as she can remember, having been raised by vegan parents who ran a health food shop.
Now almost 70, she said public perceptions of veganism have changed greatly in recent years and hopes Hamilton can continue the process.
“Going out was very difficult. As a family, we used to take sandwiches everywhere we went and hardly ever went out to eat with anybody else because they just didn’t understand in those days.
“It has got a lot easier and I hope Lewis Hamilton will make people talk about it. People used to think vegans were really peculiar, they didn’t understand it at all. Most people know what it is now.”
Cluer says there are several different reasons why she is a vegan. “If I think about it, I get very upset about how animals are treated. I’m a health-conscious person and believe it is good for health and I’m very concerned about the environment - it takes up so much less land and water than meat-eating.”
Hamilton told a press conference that after watching a documentary about the meat industry and its effect on the environment, he has been inspired to take action.
The 32-year-old stopped eating red meat two years ago and has now cut out chicken and fish. While in Singapore for a recent race, chefs served him only plant-based food.
He said he was particularly concerned at the amount of CO2 emissions from cows which are bred for meat, as well as animal welfare issues.
“They say it is more than what we produce with our flights and our cars, which is kind of crazy to think. The cruelty is horrible and I don’t necessarily want to support that and I want to live a healthier life.”
Other prominent vegans include former Yorkshire cricket coach Jason Gillespie, who became a vegan after his father died from a heart attack. His strong stance on the issue has seen him call for the dairy industry to be shut down and raise concerns about cricket balls being made from leather.
Other notable vegans include actor James Cromwell, who famously became a vegetarian after playing Farmer Hoggett in Babe and has subsequently gone on to become an animal rights activist.
In recent weeks, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, already a lifelong vegetarian, has indicated he is mulling going vegan because of improvements in the food available.
Hamilton added he feels that veganism will also improve this health by reducing his chances of heart disease and diabetes. “By letting people who are following me know, maybe that will encourage a couple of people to do the same thing.”