Veganism is at an all time high, even among non-vegans

Veganism is hitting peak popularity and, if the trends continue, it’s on course to become the new normal, but what’s motivating such rapid change? 

Recent studies into veganism and vegan products found that sales of plant based foods in the US rose by 20% in the year ending June 2018. Market-research group Nielsen reported that this was ‘ten times the growth in food as a whole that year and two and a half times faster than vegan foods grew in the year before’. Considering that the Nielsen estimated value of the vegan food industry in 2017 was $5 billion, that’s a substantial leap forward.

Trends, availability and awareness are three factors which could be prompting people to make the change. Food delivery service Just Eat stated that there was a 987% increase in demand for vegetarian options last year, and with new figures set to be released in the coming weeks, it will be fascinating to see what the developments in those numbers have been since.

There are now more vegan options available in supermarkets, more vegan restaurants appearing in cities and at pop-up markets. Celebrity chefs such as Bosh!, The Happy Pear, Deliciously Ella and Max La Manna (who we recently interviewed) are highlighting the ease and benefits of the vegan lifestyle to the Instagram generation.

Veganism has long since moved away from the marginalised straight edge and new age scenes where it first rose to prominence and, since then, has simply become part of everyday culture and with it an important message. That we all have a part to play, and that we can all make a positive difference in the world.

“McDonald’s is offering McVegan burgers in Scandinavia. The American restaurants in the TGI Fridays chain sell soyabean burgers that ooze blood made of beetroot juice. Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat producers, recently bought 5% of Beyond Meat, the company which makes them. Waitrose, a posh British grocery chain, introduced a range of vegan food in 2017, expanded the selection by 60% in mid-2018 and says sales of vegan and vegetarian foods in July 2018 were 70% above the level in July 2017.” The Economist, “The retreat from meat”, Nov 2018. 

2018 has also seen a huge shift in focus to climate change, with reports coming out from the United Nations backed IPCC, and the US government. Both painted a bleak future, with an impetus on reducing carbon emissions. One of the largest causes of carbon emissions has been identified as the agricultural industry. In the wake of these reports, publications such as The Guardian have overhauled their content strategy to highlight these issues with impressive resolve.

“The global food system is broken, leaving billions of people either underfed or overweight and driving the planet towards climate catastrophe, according to 130 national academies of science and medicine across the world.” – Damian Carrington, Environment editor, The Guardian

Carrington wrote back in May of this year that “Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth” and this is advice that people are now taking very seriously indeed. Social media is full of, not just veganism and vegetarian recipies, memes and forums, but also rising numbers of the curious, tentative or part-time vegans. Hashtags such as #meatfreemonday ( a campaign which is backed by the McCartney family) highlight those who are willing to make the change, albeit one step at a time.

The dairy industry has come under massive scrutiny recently, after being highlighted as a leading cause of environmentally harmful emissions.

Tim Benton, professor of population ecology, at the University of Leeds recently stated that “Whether you look at it from a human health, environmental or climate perspective, our food system is currently unsustainable and given the challenges that will come from a rising global population that is a really [serious] thing to say.” 

All of this points to using less meat and dairy. “It is vital [for a liveable planet] that we change our relationship with meat,” adds Benton, “especially with red meat. But no expert in this area is saying the world should be vegan or even vegetarian.”

A recent study from Alon Shepon of the Weizmann Institute (published in The Economist) put the prospects in very clear terms: “By 2050 greenhouse emissions from agriculture in a vegan world would be 70% lower than in a world where people ate as they do today; in the “healthy global diet” world they would be 29% lower.”

Veganism My Good Planet
Veganism is the way to go for a better planet and better personal health.

“The savings are not all owing to cows; but a large part of them are. Raising cattle produces seven times more in terms of emissions per tonne of protein than raising pork or poultry does, 12 times more than soya and 30 times more than wheat. Giving up beef captures many of the benefits of going vegan. Other animals make a lot less difference. Getting your protein from insects—very efficient converters—might be almost indistinguishable from veganism in environmental terms” – Weizmann Institute

With science backing the rise in veganism, it is inevitable that its encroachment upon mainstream culture will come.

The vital questions remains – Will it come quickly enough for us to make a difference?

Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.