“The world is waking up to climate change and it is a great driving force for veganism” – Meet Ireland’s veggie veterans who have given up meat for over 30 years


The word ‘vegan’ has become a buzzword in recent years, with many fast food restaurants, supermarket chains, and clothing brands now creating animal-free products.

Although the term vegan was coined in 1944 – the concept dating back to ancient Indian and Eastern Mediterranean societies – it has only recently become a widely used and recognized term.

In just 2018, the Collins Dictionary listed the word “vegan” in its annual list of notable words.

Being vegan is now often interchangeable with a plant-based diet, however, following a vegan lifestyle affects many aspects of a person’s life and would include changes such as not wearing leather shoes. .

More people are dipping their toes into plant-based diets as the conversation about climate change has grown exponentially in recent years.

As COP26 kicked off on Monday, one of Ireland’s veteran vegans Gerry Boland – who embraced the lifestyle over 30 years ago – said there was no doubt that the benefits of veganism for the environment had contributed to its growing popularity.

“The most important thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint as an individual is not to sell your car and buy a bike, it’s to stop eating meat, and a lot of people got used to it, ”he explained.

“Vegan is such a common term now, but it’s really new, a few years ago not many people said they were vegans.

“It’s definitely climate change because people are seeing the effects of it, and it’s in the last 12 to 18 months, in particular.

“People like Greta Thunberg have had a huge impact – the world is waking up to climate change and I think that’s the big driving force because I don’t think people would go veg in such numbers if it was just for animal rights or health reasons. “

While the Dubliner has said that the positive impact of being vegan on the climate is overwhelmingly positive, the reason he made the switch over 30 years ago was for the animals.

“I first became a vegetarian in the mid-80s and a few years later it inevitably led me to go vegan,” he said.

“Factory farming was the door that allowed me to give up meat altogether. “

The animal rights activist – who founded Animals Behind Closed Doors – said the main difference between being vegan today and 30 years ago is that there are so many more food options readily available.

“There is a big change happening, and it’s not a change that I had anticipated, but over the past two years I’ve seen so many changes – like just stepping into my Local supervalu, the vegan options they have are amazing. “

Nuala Donlan from Longford has been a vegan for 30 years and also decided to embrace this lifestyle after discovering the factory farming industry.


Nuala Donlan has been a vegan for 30 years.

Nuala Donlan has been a vegan for 30 years.

“I grew up on a farm and one day I made the connection that the meat on my plate was the animals in my field that I had such a close connection with,” she explained.

“It was a eureka moment and I thought..I have to stop doing this.”

Ms Donlan first became a vegetarian when she was a teenager and went vegan at the age of 20 while in college. However, at this point, she hadn’t really heard of the word “vegan”.

“When I left home I started to turn to factory farming and realized I had to go vegan,” she said.

“I didn’t know what the word was for someone who didn’t eat dairy or wear leather, didn’t know there was actually another word.”

Maureen O’Sullivan from Cork became a vegetarian at the age of 12 and has now been a vegan for 33 years.

As President of the Vegetarian Society in Ireland from 2013 to 2019, Ms O’Sullivan said there was no doubt that the conversation about climate change and the availability of information through smartphones have largely contributed to the rise of the veganism.


Maureen O'Sullivan became a vegetarian when she was only 12 years old.

Maureen O’Sullivan became a vegetarian when she was only 12 years old.

Maureen O’Sullivan became a vegetarian when she was only 12 years old.

“There is a greater awareness (on climate change) and the fact that information can be shared so quickly online and photos too,” she said.

“In addition, the population is more urban and we have had a large influx of people from different parts of the world who also bring their knowledge and different types of food. “

The most recent figures from Bord Bia’s Dietary Lifestyle report, published in November 2018, indicate that 4.1 pc of the Irish population report following a vegan diet (the report does not distinguish between diets based on plants and vegans.)

However, it is understood that ‘flexitarianism’ – someone who commits to eating less meat but does not become fully vegetarian or vegan – is becoming more and more popular as people want to reduce their carbon footprint without committing. completely in motion.

Mr Boland said he had “no time” for vegans who shame others for not doing better because travel is a process.

“A man told me he had quit eating factory-farmed stews and sausages and instead of saying to him ‘well why don’t you give up meat altogether’, I said” well done “.

“I don’t have time for people to accuse others of not going after it all the way – if you’ll excuse the pun.

“I don’t think that’s helpful, the way to deal with it is to be kindly persuasive.”

Ms O’Sullivan agreed, stating: “There is a hard-line tendency among some vegans who would say that vegetarians also do a lot of damage because they support the dairy industry, but, I see it differently because for me it’s was a slow process and things don’t happen immediately, and it’s not easy for everyone to make a change overnight.

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