Well, it’s finally January. After a few weeks of over indulgence, it’s time to make some changes. I’m sure many of you will have set New Year’s resolutions – maybe you want to lose weight, do more exercise or read more books. Maybe you’ve been thinking about taking part in Veganuary, the charity-led campaign encouraging people to try veganism for the month of January. With over 250,000 people across 193 countries having already taken part, it’s growing traction with record numbers signing up this year.
In fact, the number of vegetarians and vegans is on the rise in general. A survey by comparethemarket.com shows that 7% of people in the UK identify as vegan (with a further 14% identifying as vegetarian). That’s 3.5 million vegans that the food industry needs to cater for. Veganism has been bubbling under for some time now, fueled by Netflix documentaries (Cowspiracy, What the Health etc.) along with the influence of high-profile celebrities like Brad Pitt and Miley Cyrus. Throw in a few super-tanned, super-toned Instagram influencers such as @carolinedeisler and @healthychefsteph and you’ll start to see why the plant-based lifestyle looks so appealing.
I think we need to dig a little deeper, as veganism moves into more of a long-term trend than a fad. I was fortunate enough to speak at Food Matters Live in November 2018 – my topic, “Generation X: Exploring the demand for plant-based diets, functional foods and nutraceuticals.” Through research for this talk, I noticed a few things; the vilification of meat, the re-iteration of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables and the psychological and physical availability of vegan options.
Let’s start with meat. The UK government has called for the removal of nitrates from bacon and ham. With news headlines such as ‘Yes, bacon really is killing us’ (The Guardian), it could be a lot safer (and simpler) to cut out meat entirely. The World Health Organisationhave classified processed meat as a Group 1 Carcinogen (sufficient evidence that it causes cancer.) It’s as deadly as tobacco.
Red meat doesn’t fare much better either, classified as a Group 2a Carcinogen (probably causes cancer) and linked to increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes. Red meat doesn’t sound quite as appealing now, does it?
Conversely, the benefits of plant-based diets have become an increasingly popular talking point in the media. Fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of mouth, throat and lung cancer and are a vital part of any balanced diet - low in calories and crucial to help maintain a healthy weight; obesity being the second biggest preventable cause of cancer (Cancer Research UK).
Even with all the evidence, it’s really a no-brainer that incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet will make your healthier, even if you don’t choose to become vegan. Flexitarianism is a great option for those looking to make a smaller change – this means making a conscious effort to reduce meat and dairy intake, rather than cut it out entirely. Campaigns such as ‘Meat Free Mondays’ by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney encourage switches to plant-based alternatives too. A survey conducted by MMR in October 2018 found that 53% of flexitarians choose this lifestyle for health reasons (whereas vegetarians and vegans are more motivated by animal rights).
All these options have been made far more accessible due to brilliant innovations across both food service and retail. Long gone are the days of miserable, bland tofu and watery soy milk. Here are some of my personal favourites that I’d encourage you to try:
Easily one of my favourites of 2018 – the ‘Beyond Burger’ is a great alternative to beef. It looks like meat and some say it even ‘bleeds’ (due to the use of beetroot juice in the recipe). Even better, you can order a Beyond Burger at All Bar One or Honest Burger. It feels indulgent, and yet is completely vegan.
Hot off the press… Greggs have launched a Vegan Sausage Roll made with a bespoke Quorn filling. Not the healthiest but at least it will keep your Veganuary on track! All good things in moderation.
Finally, Hellmann’s Vegan Mayonnaise. Rather than quietly advertising as a ‘free from eggs’ alternative, it’s loudly and proudly vegan. It’s had some rave online reviews too, delivering on taste and texture.
As my colleague Ally wrote about in her recent blog, veganism doesn’t have to mean compromise!
Consumer demand for plant-based diets is no longer about restriction. It’s about opening up a new world of different flavours and textures, celebrating everything that nature has to offer. I won’t be committing to Veganuary, but I will definitely be trying to include more plant-based products into my diet and reaping the benefits (plus enjoying all of the tasty new products!). I'm now in the search of some pulled jackfruit for lunch...