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The loyal disciples of  veganism grow in their numbers with every passing year. Talks of veganuary – an annual event where individuals are encouraged to graze on a plant-based diet – are all over social media, Internet ads and Youtube pop-ups. It’s the age of the herbivore and a rebirth of social consciousness.

The latest meat-free breakthrough comes from global corporation McDonald’s who have released a McFalafel happy meal in Sweden.  Since the turn of the millenium McDonald’s has tried to ‘clean up its act’ by offering ever healthier options alongside its naughtier staples. 

Let it not be misunderstood that the cause of innovation is more likely to be attributed to the forces of supply and demand rather than an initiative of good conscience. Animal Rights Sweden reports that almost 10% of the population now follows a vegan diet – that’s obviously a huge market for McDonald’s to tuck into (pardon the pun) but at least the by-products are beneficial to animals and mother nature. 

The McFalafel come in decent sized chunks of mashed up chickpeas, parsley, garlic and cumin. You can complement your Levantine nuggets with fries, some fruit and some exclusive dips. Hungry? 

McDonald’s has recently introduced a new ‘El Veggo’ burger in Finland a new Indian-inspired vegan burger ‘McAloo Tikki’ in Chicago. Could McDonald’s in 50 years be entirely vegan? 

Students of social sciences and Economics may find the rise of veganism and vegetarianism within businesses to be something worth researching. Earth scientists and geographers may want to consider the environmental impacts that the meat industry has on the planet. 

Discussion around the waste of food predominates at the end of the supply chain, the supermarket shelf.  The focus of food waste around this area of the food industry led to France becoming the first country to legally force supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities and food banks.  But of the 7.1 million tonnes of food annually wasted in France only 11% of this comes from shops. 

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that a third of the food made for human consumption is squandered.  Each year around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted worldwide and the majority of this food is lost before it reaches a consumer shelf.  This is mostly due to crops not being harvested and loss during transport and storage. 

European farmers can find that it costs more to harvest the crop than it will make in a saturated market.  A detailed study in 2009 found that wasted crops in Italy had a nominal value of around €3.5 billion.  Attempts to combat this issue often lead to overproduction, such as the European Union’s policy of guaranteeing a fixed price for farmers regardless of the market size leading to additional cost to dispose of the unused food due to lack of demand.

Paradoxically it would seem that being frugal, to reduce this food waste, would have a colossal economic cost.  A study in 2017 found that food waste in Europe equated to 76 kilograms per person per year, which they labelled an “unsustainable level of waste”.  Yet they predicted that removing this waste this could lead to the loss of 600,000 jobs in Germany alone.  This highlights the complexity of the relationship of what we eat and what we need.

Economics applicants can research EU and other international regulations on food prices and the effects of this on their respective markets.  HSPS applicants can consider government rhetoric related to the overemphasis on waste by supermarkets compared to limited action earlier in the supply chain. 

Raw honey is considered to be a natural energy source, antioxidant and handy hayfever preventative, but how different is it to its cousin which is found on the supermarket shelves?

Recent studies have shown that commercial honey is often more than just stored, heated, chemically refined, pasteurised and filtered (if that wasn’t enough). Much of the honey sold in the United States has been declared by food health and safety experts to consist largely of sweeteners, unrefined sugar, corn syrup and a tiny amount of real honey. This process of passing off impure honey as real honey is now known as ‘honey laundering’.

When one imagines cartels dealing in illegal substances, honey isn’t often the first thing to spring to one’s mind, however honey is a very valuable product! The sticky substance is consumed in vast quantities in the States, either in baked products or used as a topping. The US Department of Justice has indicted two American companies for selling mislabelled honey and has handed out several million-dollar fines to other brands.

Honey imported from Asia contains even more horrors than that produced in North America, such as metal toxins and antibiotics. These bee antibiotics are banned in the USA, however the unpleasant taste can be disguised by more added sugar in imports. The Chinese ‘bulked up’ honey can be sold for far lower prices than its real counterparts and, as a result, Chinese honey is subject to heavy duties. To avoid these import taxes, honey from China is often shipped to neighbouring countries, before passing to the US to disguise its original origin.

It can be difficult to judge the difference between real honey and ‘fake’ honey, however there are some subtle signs that a consumer can pick up on. Pure honey should be thick and viscous in texture, have no saccharine aftertaste, and be silky when rubbed between the figures.

Students that desire to study PPE at Oxford or HSPS at Cambridge should examine the ethics that are involved in the sale of ‘natural’ foods. Aspiring Medicine students should consider the harm caused to public health by contaminated honey. Those interested in pursuing the study of Economics should read up on the consequences of a market flooded by counterfeit products.

As a lover of second-hand clothes and flea markets, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad also happened to be the eighth richest person on Bloomberg Billionaires Index.  Hailed as one of the most influential business men and entrepreneurs of the twentieth century, Kamprad’s wealth was estimated at around $73.8 billion.  Sadly, the mogul passed away late last month aged 91, leaving behind his staggering fortune.  Regrettably for his families and heirs, they will inherit a mere fraction of Kamprad’s enormous wealth.

Starting at the age of five, Kamprad sold matches to his neighbours and gradually progressed to selling seeds, stockings and stationary from his bicycle as a teenager.  By the time he was 17 he had founded IKA; the first mail-order catalogue launched in 1951 and in 1955 the famous flat-pack furniture was launched.  By 1985 it had stores in Europe, Norway and the US, eventually establishing 412 stores across 49 countries.

Kamprad grew up on a farm in southern Sweden and attributed his financial outlook to the attitude of the agricultural region in which he grew up.  This functionality displayed in his business model permeated to the style of furniture he sold.  Rooted in his homeland, he even conducted meetings in the downstairs of the flat in which he was living and grew up.

Although renowned for his internationally successful flatpack empire, Kamprad was equally known to be frugal in his financial dealings and perspective throughout his life.  Bloomberg reported that his purpose is charity donations and ‘supporting [design] innovation’.  Most of Kamprad’s furniture stores are owned by the Stichting Ingka Foundation and controlled Liechtenstein-based Interogo Foundation.  The latter foundation is itself managed by Stiftungsrat Foundation Council, consisting of a Supervisory Council in which, as Bloomberg reports, the Kamprad family ‘ha[s] been and shall always be in minority’.  The Kamprad family has no control over ownership of the company’s shares, with Kamprad arranging all the logistics personally so that they have no control of the IKEA company and will therefore receive minimal sums.  They will receive a small amount from Ikano Group, owned by the family and who runs a number of businesses in a variety of industries.  IKEA Foundation’s Chief Executive, Per Heggenes, confirmed Kamprad’s philanthropic outlook, stating in 2012 that he was ‘not interested in money’.  The complex structure put in place by Kamprad not only means that profits can be reinvested into the company but also ensures IKEA’s longevity, as not even a direct heir can take control after his death.

Applicants for Economics, PPE or Land Economy might want to consider the complex nature of the internal structure Kamprad set up to protect his company’s reputation and longevity.  Although he himself had not been involving in running IKEA since the late 1980s, with his son taking his place on the board of Inter IKEA in 2013, Kamprad had set in place the foundations to remain in control of his company and maintain the ethical values he practiced throughout his life and were inspired by the place in which he group up.

A New York exhibition featuring the artwork of Guantanamo prisoners has sparked calls by the US Department of Defence for a review in the policy which gives the Cuban jail a claim to the drawings, paintings and sculptures created in their art classes. The prison houses around 50 prisoners suspected or convicted of offenses relating to terrorism. If the policy is changed, the art created by the prisoners in the state sanctioned lessons (which we started by President Obama in 2008), will now be the property of the American government.

Whilst the policy is under consideration, no art pieces will be allowed to leave the island. The 36 artworks submitted to the exhibition, were mainly loaned by lawyers who received them as gifts or who have been entrusted with their safekeeping. Several of the exhibition pieces are now up for sale and it is this that has caused the Pentagon’s concern. The exhibition’s curators claim that the only pieces that are up for sale are works by former inmates that have be cleared of all charges. One former detainee artist who wrongly served a 15-year sentence in the jail is selling a piece as he needs the money to pay for family medical expenses.

The organisers of the exhibition have created a petition to challenge the policy review, however there are few legal provisions to protect the civil liberties of inmates.

Fine Art and Art History applicants should consider the impact and humanising quality of artworks created by prisoners and criminals. Future law students should consider the rights of those that are or have been incarcerated in this controversial prison.

Apple recently released their new 10 year anniversary model of the iPhone, the iPhone X.  It’d be reasonable to assume that Samsung, their biggest competitor, is hoping it flops. Yet Samsung could make more money from iPhone X sales than they do off their own phones. How?

Samsung have cornered the market of OLED displays.  For every iPhone X made, Samsung pockets $120.  Compare this to the iPhone 7 Plus, on which they made around $45 per LCD screen, and the power of Samsung’s dominance is clear. Apple, keen to maintain strong profits, have pushed this onto the consumer: it’s no coincidence the new iPhone costs a whopping £1000.

To overcome Samsung’s dominance Apple have begun investing in Samsung’s only rival in the market, jump-starting the competition with a $2 billion investment in LG Displays. Google, following suit, has invested $800 million.

The complexity of this situation deepens when one considers the relationship between Apple and Samsung. Since 2010, the two companies have been locked in a legal war over Samsung’s alleged copying of the original iPhone design. While this drawn out legal battle has cost Samsung over $150 million, Apple will give billions to its arch-rival for parts in the next couple of years.

The iPhone X captures the tech industry in all its messiness. Apple and Samsung are enemies, but Apple needs Samsung and Samsung profits from its rival’s success.  At the end of the day, these enormous companies really need each other.

Economists can consider how massive corporate structures create increasingly complex and sometimes paradoxical relationships.  They might also consider how monopolies are allowed to form, and what might stop them.  HSPS students and Politics students can consider the impacts of globalisation on supply chains and the new era of mega tech companies.

Normally when we refer to addiction, we are talking about substance addiction or gambling, but in recent years, that definition has broadened to include many other addictions, such as social media. As well as the countless studies showing our increasing use of social media and technology, anecdotally, the way in which we reach for our phones first thing in the morning, and scroll endlessly through social media feeds during the morning commute demonstrates this addiction we have to social media.

Now, Sean Parker, former Facebook President has admitted that Facebook was designed to exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology, namely through making users crave social validation through likes and comments. Many drugs target the brain’s reward system, causing a release in the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to feelings of pleasure and euphoria. This feeling then reinforces use of drug, contributing to a cycle of addiction. In the same way, Parker has explained how likes and comments on Facebook are designed to give users a “dopamine hit” driving their attention on the app, and contributing to a social-validation feedback loop where users continue to post content, in order to receive validation.

Psychology students can consider the structure of reward pathways in the brain and how changes in neurotransmitters can drive behaviour and lead to addiction. Computer Science students could look at the nature of the algorithms that drive the content we see most of on our newsfeeds, and how this can change the user experience, whilst Economics students could consider the financial benefits to a company in ‘hooking’ users to an app, to ensure that they continue to use it. 

Psychologists believethey have found a way to persuade people into helping to save the planet through a scientific theory that generally is used to account for prejudice and violence in the world. Developed in the 1990s, the theory is known as social dominance theory, and discrimination and violence to humanity’s social structures. Essentially, the theory explains that people with power will always seek more desirable things in life for themselves at the expense of those they believe are their subordinates. Recent studies have shown how people’s views on social equality which can be understood through this theory effect the way they think an act on environmental issues.

Jim Sidanius, who originally developed with the theory, developed a scoring system known as the social dominance orientation with his colleague Felicia Pratto, which acts as a measure of how much people will accept social ineqaulity, based on agreement or disagreement with a series of statements. Environmental researchers are now adopting this scoring system to establish concern for the environment. A recent paper gathered data from 25 countries and 5,400 participants, determining their SDO score and their intentions towards the environment, such as signing petitions in support of the environment or making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint. The conclusion was that those with a higher SDO score, ie those who are more accepting of social inequality and are less altruistic tend to be less concerned about the environment.

This deeper understanding of the ‘laws of social systems’ in relation to the environment is prompting the emergence of new ideas for manipulating human behaviour towards creating a more sustainable future for the planet. For example, environmentalists could re-frame environmental messages to suit socially dominant groups (who tend to have these higher SDO scores) in the US by framing pro-environmental actions as patriotic or as protecting the status quo, which are aspects of their social structure that they value.

Psychology and HSPS applicants can explore social dominance theory and the ways in which it can be applied to different developmental issues, from climate change to racism and gender inequality, and how we can use it to make sustainable change in these areas. Politics and Economics students might consider how these kind of theories can be used nationally to change a national outlook, or the perspective of a certain social demographic.

When the topic of tensions between Iran and the US arises in conversation, one would not necessarily think to bring up nuts.

The pistachio industry is one of the most recent victims in the most recent development between the two countries. Iran has been growing pistachios for thousands of years, whereas US farmers have only recently planted their strain of nuts in the 1930s. The western name ‘Pistachio’ is derived from ‘Pisteh’ which from Persian origin, meaning the green almond. The nuts are famous in Iran, mentioned in their native literature, beliefs, traditions and have a place in annual rituals and festivals.

However in the last 40 years, Iran has faced pressures from economic trade sanctions. Pistachios were not specifically mentioned on the list of sanctioned products, however restrictions of global banking meant that it was harder to trade these delicious treats. Iranian pistachios were able to undercut the US market by a significant amount. The drought in California in 2014 meant that their harvest suffered, and US prices soared from $3/lb to $5/lb, meaning Iran could undercut their prices by 0.20/lb regarding the Chinese market.

In 2016, things got easier for Iran. The ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’ meant that Iran could export much easier. However, in a recent speech made by President Trump, he stated that the agreement gave Iran a ‘political and economic lifeline’, and decertified the agreement. This means that the sanctions placed on Iranian trade and products will most likely be reinstated, meaning Iran will once again be plunged into red tape when it comes.

But which tastes better? The nuts that are grown in the US and Pistachio are largely grown from the same strain, however Iran, unsurprisingly, claims that theirs tastes better.

Politics, Economics and HSPS students may want to think about the wider implactions of trade deals and sanctions.

Personally, I’m a fan of walnuts, but that’s a different story…

This week McDonalds have trialled the ‘McVegan’ burger in Finland, citing promising results. Anyone who isn’t Finnish, hoping to get their hands on a McVegan burger, should keep their fingers crossed for good sales.

Veganism has increased 360% in the UK since 2010, and 500% in the US since 2014. There is no doubt that this way of life, and indeed the phrase ‘veganism’, which at one point was widely ridiculed as ‘hippie kooks or radical politics, veganism’ has ascended to the astral plane of aspirational living’, whether it be an ethical choice, a health choice, or a choice made by intolerance to certain food groups. So why has veganism become so widely adopted in the western world?

The health benefits are hard to argue against. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegans are less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure than meat-eaters are. Biology students might want to think about how this nutritional choice may affect people’s health.

Also ethical campaigns about the dairy and egg industry being unsustainable and morally bankrupt, such as documentaries such as ‘Cowspiracy’, ‘Vegucated’ or ‘Live and Let Live’ (available on Netflix) are increasing in popularity.

However, the idea that veganism is a predominantly western phenomenon. Countries such as Taiwan and Korea have a raging vegan-friendly culture because of factors such as Buddhism and dairy products not being widely available. Geography and Land Economy students may want to think about why companies choose certain countries to trial their products, and how a small community can represent a larger demand.

So what about the people within the vegan community? Well, the average age of the vegan comes in at 42, whilst the political orientation is 52% liberal, with 32% being neutral, and 47% do not actively practice any religion. Psychology students might want to think about how personal traits can affect other lifestyle choices.

Now, perhaps the most controversial question to pose. Is veganism a fad? Well statistics show that there are many more former vegetarians/vegans than people who currently eat this way. One third of a survey maintained the diet for three months or so, and 53% of former vegetarians/vegans maintained the diet for less than a year.

Economics students may want to think about the economic implication of a growing vegan community to the meat trade. 

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