01 October 2018, 15:57 PM
  • With more Britons than ever investing in a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, days like International Vegetarian Day give us pause to examine where the veggie scene stands today
The world of vegetarians on World Vegetarian Day

According to Kantar Worldpanel, in the first quarter of the year, 29% of evening meals elaborated in the UK were vegetarian, up from the 26.9% in 2014. In the last year, meat substitute company Quorn has seen growth of global sales of 16%. Meanwhile, vegetable sales are up, with spinach up 43% and aubergine 23% in the last year. Vegetarian diets are on the rise and show no sign of stopping. The reasons are multiple, from environmental sensibilities to health awareness, and the market is taking notice. 

Research by Mintel has found that the desire to limit meat consumption is pervasive, with 28% of Britons saying they’ve reduced their consumption in the last six months, and 14% of adults saying they are interested in reducing their consumption. 49% of these cite health their primary reason, with 29% pointing towards weight management, 24% towards animal welfare, and 24% towards the environment.

On International Vegetarian Day, we’ve taken the time to ask the question: “Why be vegetarian?” across a number of sectors and gotten an array of answers.

Why be vegetarian? Answer: Health

Ever since 2015 research by the World Health Organisation declared that processed red meats is carcinogenic, red meat has come under heavy critique. People looking for alternate, healthier options to fill their dinner plates turned towards meat-free diets. While many adults are making the switch, as shown by recent figures, it is the younger generations that are really driving the trend. In the Kantar Worldpanel report, figures showed 12% of people followed vegan or vegetarian diets, the figure jumping to 20% in the 16-24 age range. According to Amy Odene, the manager of School Plates, “The younger generations seem to be driving the vegetarian and vegan movement. The Veganuary statistics show that the category of younger people aged 25-34 were highest entrance of Veganuary for 2018. That’s an interesting age bracket, showing how younger people are starting to make more ethical sustainable food choices. I think because it’s more popular now and there’s more awareness to younger students and children that are coming up to make their own choices; they know what veganism is, they know what vegetarianism is, where previously it wasn’t so popular or well-known. It’s becoming more mainstream.”

A new School Plates programme launched this summer has teamed up with food awareness organisation ProVeg to provide new meat-free options on primary school menus. According to Odene, “Public Health England recently released statistics showing that currently, in primary aged children, we have the highest rates of obesity since records began. Research shows that if children are overweight in childhood, it is probable they will go on to be overweight in adulthood, leading to many life-threatening and debilitating conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Conversely, if we can get children introduced to more vegetables and plant-based options when they’re younger, the likelihood is they will remain cooking like that until adulthood. We’re trying to educate people about not needing to have animal produce as part of a healthy balanced diet.”

So far, the scheme has met positive reception, with a projected 3.1 million vegetarian meals looking to be made available to students in this year’s school cycle. Odene says, “There has been a fantastic response from both schools and local authorities because of the recent interest in vegan and vegetarian diets. More than ever they’re getting requests from parents and students at the schools asking about free-from options. Local authorities are having to look into it, whether they’re proactive themselves or not.”

But it is not just the world of school lunches that is seeing this health-oriented effect. According to Jumana Kapadia, founder of roasted lotus seed company Yumtaz Lotus Bites, “Snacking is one sector that until recently has struggled to grow up, for too long protected as a category where ‘dubious eating habits’ and ‘curiously synthetic flavour profiles’ ruled the roost.  In today’s ‘healthier living times’ it almost seems madness that these ‘highly prized ‘ hunger pitstops aren’t seen as an opportunity for delicious nutritionally robust treats of an all-natural persuasion to flourish.” Dan Featherstone, founder of premium snack company Made for Drink, agrees. As purveyors of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks, Featherstone says, “Snacking, for too long a food category identified with ‘comfort’ and ‘a timeout from food discernment’ has really benefited from the emergence of credible vegetarian offer, bringing some much needed ‘healthy’ and ‘tasty’ credentials to a category historically stifled by ‘nostalgia’ and bad eating habits. Vegetarian thinking has been at the forefront of shattering the popular myth that healthy and tasty can’t co-exist.”

Why be vegetarian? Answer: The environment

With global warming unleashing its effects on the planet, carbon footprints are at the forefront of public consciousness. Advocates for vegan and vegetarian diets often cite environmental benefits.  With research published in the journal Science stating that reducing meat and dairy intake is the single biggest way of reducing carbon footprint, campaigns like Meat-free Mondays have taken hold over the public.

According to Susan Gafsen, co-founder and director of natural food brand Pep & Lekker, appealing to a vegetarian diet and appealing to the environmentally-conscientious often goes hand-hand. The company put together three pieces of data: the tendency for 50% of UK consumers to seek healthier snacks, the fact that many of these are looking for vegan or vegetarian snacks, and the societal tendency towards the environmental. Gafsen says, “Vegetarian snacking is taking the lead with regard to plastics… at Pep & Lekker we are using compostable pouches for our seed snacks as we believe that people following a plant-based diet are making environmentally conscious choices.”

Why be vegetarian? Answer: It’s easy!

Ten years ago, a “vegetarian option” on a menu might have a salad, or a plain cheese toastie. Today, there are a whole host of options everywhere from restaurant menus to supermarket shelves. According to Odene, “The availability of vegetarian options has skyrocketed in recent years. Every day we’re hearing about some new development, new restaurant choices ranging from fully vegan and vegetarian restaurants opening to chains adopting fully vegan and vegetarian menus. The offer and the range out there for anyone looking to reduce their animal produce consumption is huge, and now it’s easier than ever.”

Rose Levick, who will be opening the Jackfruit Café in Saundby in the next month, cites her daughter’s veganism as the inspiration behind her opening a “plant-centric” coffee shop. “My daughter took me to several vegan cafés and restaurants in London and I was just massively impressed by how seriously good the food is. It also became apparent that even in London, choice for vegans is pretty limited. I live in a fairly rural part of Nottinghamshire and the amount of plant-centric eateries is practically non-existent.” With a 100% vegetarian menu, with around half of it vegan, the coffee shop will making “choosing vegetarian” easy.

According to Levick, “During my market research, I have been surprised at how ‘offended’ meat eaters seem to be at the idea of a vegetarian coffee shop! I think actions speak louder than words and the way to get people eating more of a plant-based diet is to show them how good it is. We are purposely avoiding saying it’s ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’, we’re going for ‘plant-centric’ and only then if we’re asked. Labels tend to marginalise people or ideas and we want our coffee shop to be inclusive to all.” The inclusivity of vegetarianism is one of its key allures. Odene says of the new ProVeg Food Plates scheme “The great thing… is that vegetarian and vegan options are suited to a number of diets. It’s not limiting the choice; we’re making sure that every meal we suggest is suitable to a wide range of students. We’re not singling out, we’re adding to the menu something everyone can enjoy.”

Why be vegetarian? Answer: It’s cost-efficient

A recent study by YouGov found that one in adults in the UK between the ages of 18 and 24 think that by the year 2030, people will entirely stop eating meat, with 57% of respondents saying food price will be an important factor in determining their future shopping habits. According to Odene, one of the reasons the School Plates scheme has experienced success is because vegetarian options are often cheaper than the alternative. “Councils are stretched, schools are stretched, and so when we come in and say look animal produce is some of the most expensive produce you buy, it seems like a no-brainer to make the switch.”

Co-founder of ProVeg International, Dr. Melanie Joy, says “If we could enhance the health of our people, help protect them from killer disease in the long-term, reduce our impact on the environment and save money all at the same time, why wouldn’t we?”

Days like International Vegetarian Day provide an opportunity for reflection. They can be fun, with events held in restaurants and offices that provide an interesting way of learning about the topic. Whether an opportunity to spread awareness, or a chance for people to participate in a worldwide movement, these campaigns have proven successful thus far in achieving their goal. Research by Mintel found that 39% of meat reducers say campaigns such as International Vegetarian Day have made them more conscious of the benefits of eating less meat.



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