As veganism edges further into the mainstream, the founders of a new online community have unveiled ambitious plans to make a virtual “vegan nation” with its own “cruelty-free” cryptocurrency.

Partly brought to widespread attention by high-profile figures like Beyoncé and Ellen DeGeneres, the last decade has seen a spike in interest in veganism, which involves rejecting all animal products, from meat to milk and leather.

Research has also pointed to the benefits of reducing meat consumption: A 2016 study at the University of Oxford, for instance, found that a global switch to predominantly plant-based diets could save eight million lives by 2050, as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and save money on health care.

Launching today, VeganNation bills itself as the first vegan-friendly community platform to have its own cryptocurrency, called VeganCoin.

The platform features an online marketplace for vegan products and services, enables users to share vegan-focused content such as recipes, and order food from nearby vegans. (That is if enough people sign up). VeganNation users will be able to use VeganCoin across these services.

rawpixel-com-358748-unsplashVeganNation is a new community for people who follow a plant-based lifestyle.

By harnessing blockchain technology called smart contracts, its founders claim VeganCoin will offer a level of transparency that makes the cryptocurrency “cruelty-free.”

And it looks like they mean business. VeganNation plans to make an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in the future at an unconfirmed date. Comparable to an initial public offering of stock, an ICO is a way for companies to raise funds by accepting other forms of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

Isaac Thomas, the co-founder and CEO of VeganNation, has been vegan for two years and hopes that the platform will help make the lifestyle more accessible and sustainable.

VeganNation5The interface of VeganNation. VeganNation

“As the world population is expected to reach over 9 billion people by 2050, veganism will become necessary,” Thomas told Newsweek. “Consuming this same amount of meat and dairy will be even more unsustainable than it is today.”

“A nation is only strong as its economy and an economy is strong as its currency,” Thomas said. “I see a great future with the blockchain technology allowing the creation of nations that will be based on shared ideology and beliefs rather than on geographical location. Being able to give our new nation a monetary system will empower the individuals and the community as a whole.”

“The same guidelines that make a vegan choose a small cruelty-free restaurant instead of a cheap fast food chain are those [that] will make him choose a cryptocurrency,” he added. “An ecosystem based on smart contracts and a currency that is completely transparent, provide a type of certainty that fiat money does not. I see the vegan community as very likely to connect to these values.”

But not everyone is convinced by VeganNation and its promises. 

“VeganCoin looks like one of the many gimmick ‘currencies’ riding off of the buzz around Bitcoin,” Fran Boait, the executive director of U.K.-based research organization Positive Money, told Newsweek.

Dr Larisa Yarovaya, lecturer in accounting and finance at Anglia Ruskin University, echoed Boait’s concerns, and questioned how VeganCoin can call itself cruelty-free.

“Cryptocurrencies are decentralized peer-to-peer assets, and do not require authorization,” she explained. “If VeganCoin follows a similar model to other established cryptocurrencies, it will be guaranteeing the anonymity of its users.”

Dr Yarovaya also raised questions over how VeganCoin will be monitored and controlled when cryptocurrencies are anonymous markets which can be accessed by anyone, not just vegans.

“Other cryptocurrencies have been associated with all sorts of criminal activity, including the funding of terrorism, illegal pornography, drugs and tax evasion,” said Dr Yarovaya, adding: “The vegan community might want to think carefully about whether it wants to put its name to an asset that can be so easily abused.”

Rob Kelly, financial director of Marriott and Kelly Accountacy Ltd. and a cryptocurrency expert, is more optimistic, however. 

“Cryptocurrency has always been a way of investment, or a quick way to make some money if understood correctly. However, VeganCoin is turning it into a useful tool to create a community and a market place for people to trade and buy products and services.  

“I would recommend people test it first to see its efficiency and effectiveness before buying into it. Also, it is still unclear the benefits between using this cryptocurrency over normal ecommerce,” he added. 

But Thomas says he openly welcomes critics.

“The greatest changes we’ve seen since the dawn of humanity have been ridiculed and mocked,” he said. “Criticism makes you work harder and think of things in new and different ways. A lot of people made fun of Tesla and Space X until they sent that beautiful red Tesla to space. Obviously, VeganNation is not building any shuttles but we are here to make an impact.”