Meat taking a Back Seat
Over the past few years there has been a decided shift in our eating habits towards vegetable-led dishes and closely linked to this, there’s also been a dramatic rise in the number of people identifying as either vegetarian or vegan, particularly among the so-called Millennial generation. As meat and fish take a lesser role in our diet, plant-based eating is now becoming the new normal.
This trend is being driven by a number of factors, including by those looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle and by those reacting to an increased awareness about sustainability and the effect of mass meat and fish production on the environment.
According to research undertaken by The UK Vegan Society the number of people identifying as vegan in the UK has risen to over 600,000, quadruple the 2014 figures, while 2017 YouGov data showed that 25% of millennials claim to be either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian. Similarly the Mintel ‘meat free food’ report, published in May 2017 estimates that the UK meat-free market will increase from £559m in 2016 to £658m in 2021.
Looking to the environmental impact of farming meat, the EAT-Lancet report, a scientific review published in January 2019 to define healthy diets from sustainable food systems, has recommended an almost entirely plant-based diet will be necessary by 2050. The report allows for a worldwide ration of about 14g of red meat a day by 2050, which is approximately one serving a week – a number that would represent an 80 per cent cut in the amount of meat consumed by the average Briton. A further report, this time from Greenpeace (2018) found that ‘global meat and dairy production and consumption must be cut in half by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change and keep the Paris Agreement on track. If left unchecked, agriculture is projected to produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of which will come from meat and dairy.’
So all evidence points to both the vegetarianism and veganism movements, not only growing but being here to stay. In fact it seems we are at the beginnings of a complete sea change in how we buy and consume food – one that’s laying a blueprint for how we, as a global population, are likely to eat in the future. As Waitrose’s managing director, Rob Collins puts it: ‘Being mindful of how we live and eat has become a priority in today’s world. As we become increasingly mindful of our own health, the well-being of our family and that of the planet, we’re reshaping how we shop, cook and eat.’
Plant-Based Eating and Veganism goes Mainstream
While the concept of vegetarianism has been gaining traction for many years, veganism has tended to remain a fringe movement, but as the figures above show, this is no longer the case and in the past few years it has evolved beyond recognition to become a mainstream lifestyle choice. The offerings have become more creative and these days vegan dishes can rival their meat and fish counterparts for flavour and texture. There’s even been a boom in ‘dirty’ junk-food style vegan food – as after all, most vegans don’t want to eat healthy food all the time.
Tied in with this, the past few years has seen large-scale investment in faux-meats, that is, vegan food that replicates the taste and texture of real meat. Companies such as California’s Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Ocean Hugger Foods, have all gone from strength to strength in the US, and are capitalising on this and expanding into new territories. Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger is now available in the UK (stocked at Tescos) alongside a number of other European countries, and in order to meet the growing demand from this new market, the company will start making its plant-based meat substitutes in Europe as of next year. It has also announced a deal with discount supermarket Lidl, which will see the burger stocked in all its German stores.
The UK’s leading supermarkets and large-scale food manufacturers have responded to this rising demand by increasing their vegan offerings as well as developing many new product lines. For example Waitrose has dedicated vegan sections in many of its stores, while M&S has recently launched its Plant Kitchen – a brand-new collection of plant-based and meat-free meals, snacks and ingredients.
Unsurprisingly restaurants, from fast-casual and grab and go establishments to high-street chains and fine-dining establishments are now offering a range of vegetarian and vegan options. Even fast-food operators such as McDonalds and Burger King have recognised the growing demand and so now also have vegan and plant-based offerings alongside their regular menu items. There has also been a rapid growth in new modern vegetarian and vegan eateries, such as Stem and Glory, By Chloe and Veggie Pret. In fact Veggie Pret has proved so successful that with Pret having just bought out rival chain Eat it is now planning on converting many of these new stores into stand-alone Veggie Prets to meet demand. Street food has also embraced veganism – in London you can get everything from vegan tacos and kebabs to pizza and fried chicken (with seitan replacing chicken). It seems that these days even the most meat-focused restaurant now offers at least some vegetarian and vegan options, meaning that customers adhering to or adopting such diets have more choice than ever when it comes to dining out.
Looking to the future, Oxford academic Dr Marco Springmann has attempted to model what a vegan planet would look like, in the face of intensifying climate change, food shortages and population growth. He projected that were the world to adopt a vegan diet by 2050, the global economy would benefit to the sum of US$1.1tn savings in healthcare costs and US$0.5tn in environmental savings, and a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. It’s quite hard to argue with numbers that speculative (source: The Guardian April 2018).
With people becoming more aware of the correlation between body and mental health and diet and with the aforementioned issue of climate change becoming an increasingly urgent global concern, there is every indication that over the coming years a vegetarian or vegan, plant-based lifestyle is going to become the new norm rather than the exception. These movements are not just the here and now, they’re also most definitely the future.
The much photographed celeriac shawarma at Noma
Image courtesy of @reneredzepinoma via Instagram
Here are some restaurants from London, New York, Los Angeles and Sydney that are championing the cause – from those that are purely vegetarian or vegan to those that are still meat and fish focused, yet also offer creative and interesting plant-based dishes.
Stem + Glory
Honey & Co
What the Pitta
Rudis Dirty Vegan Diner
Maple & Kings
Sutton and Sons
Temple of Camden/Hackney
Wild Food Café
Truffle and wild mushroom filled morels, young peas and fava beans at Le Bernardin
Image courtesy of @ericripert via Instagram