The past year has seen a huge rise in vegan food openings in the capital and beyond. London has hosted vegan food markets, Vegfest; the UK’s biggest vegan trade show and Vevolution, a super cool vegan and conscious living platform that attracts the start-up and media communities advocating for a plant-based future. Between 2012 and 2016, there was a 185% jump in the number of vegan products launched in the UK, the green pound is strong and shows no sign of slowing its growth.
What has surprised many vegans and our vegetarian brothers and sisters is that many high street chains are now adding vegan dishes and even full menus to their offering. Big businesses such a Pret a Manger , McDonald’s, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut and Wagamama's have all jumped on the vegan wave in the past 18 months. These types of businesses mark everything in terms of profitability, if it didn’t make good financial sense they simply would not bother.
The number of vegans in Britain has risen by more than 360% over the past decade with more than one per cent of the population adopting a plant-based diet. A February 2017 report from Mintel More found than one in 10 (11%) of UK consumers have tried a vegan diet, that figure rises to 20% for the under-35’s. Veganism now one of Britain’s “fastest growing lifestyle movements”.
Let’s talk about McDonald’s – McDonald’s vegan burger is made with soy protein and all the trimmings. It is being trialed in Finland until November when the company will assess its success and determine its adoption elsewhere. Given the current trend for vegan burgers like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger the likelihood of a US roll out is highly possible. London based burger startups V Burger, Big V London and Mooshies have gone from strength to strength this year with further and permanent sites planned for 2018. Impossible Foods' burger mantra is "for the love of meat", now, how does this sit with vegans? I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with it – some may ask, "why are we trying to recreate meat?" The fact is this may be the only way to go cold turkey on our addiction, like vaping for carnivores.
However, not all herbivores are happy with the mainstreaming of their protected lifestyle choice. Many true green vegans would never eat in McDonald’s or Nando’s because of their questionable ethical stance. Questions could be raised on their exploitation of using a vegan menu as marketing smoke to white wash over the inhumane and substandard methods of farming and slaughter used for their regular products. These businesses, especially McDonald’s, symbolize all that is bad about modern food production, consumption and capitalist ethics. Shouldn’t food as a commodity go against everything that a vegan stands for?
But let’s not forget the new generation of millennials, they are brand-savvy and build their world and value structure around the brands they consume and what their favourite celebrities endorse. The liberal, free-thinking niche in our social bubble are not the people that need converting. It seems sensible to start targeting the meat eaters and people outside the vegan world future ambassadors of plant-based eating’s normalisation.
Could we not think of the high-street chain as a vehicle, the Trojan horse of the green revolution? The vegan pound as the carrot used to get big multi-million pound businesses spending their marketing budgets on vegan promotion? Big business with a stake in selling plant-based foods will start to become less resistant to the growth of plant based alternatives, shifting power to the consumer rather than the traditional food industries that have held influence for so long. With the rise of an Instagram-perfect, plant-based paradise and lots of hard hitting documentaries, teenagers are seeing the ‘cool ‘in plants and the ‘cruel’ in animal-based food. Beyoncé has launched a vegan home delivery service; 22 days, and Leonardo DiCaprio among other high profile celebrities is investing in Beyond Meat. Should we not should use the tools available to us and manipulate the system where possible to spread the word?
“Every time you request or order a vegan meal, you are casting a powerful vote with your wallet.”
– PETA UK
I spoke to some foodies and plant-based entrepreneurs to gauge their thoughts on the subject.
Mr. Cumberbatch // Kitchen with Cumbers – food blogger, chef and health & wellness coach – part time plant based.
"Wagas vegan menu is a big development but however in touch Japanese culture is with plant based foods why have they only launched it now, I see it as supply and demand. Veggie Pret in Shoreditch is in a hot bed for the ‘hipster vegan’ even though most still eat a bacon sandwich on Sunday! As we all know Pret is owned by McDonalds’s so it's a good marketing ploy."
Judy Nadel & Damien Clarkson – founders of Vevolution – Vegan Campaigners.
"We think that vegan choices becoming mainstream is a positive thing, it makes plant-based eating more accessible to the masses. Having plant-based options on mainstream chain menus, makes it easier for people to make the conscious choice. It plants the seed that there is another way to eat and it doesn't exclude them from their friendship circles at dinner. That said we shouldn't lose sight of the fact restaurants like McDonalds and Nandos are responsible for billions of animal deaths a year. We should keep encouraging them to add plant-based options until the day comes that these organisations no longer want to serve animal based products."
Julian Warowioff // Managing director, Charitea & Lemonaid UK – Lifetime vegetarian now vegan.
"Having more vegan options on the menus of mainstream restaurants is a mile stone for the vegan movement, leaving its niche and reaching millions of customers who discover for the first time that plant based foods can be delicious and convenient. Nevertheless, there should always be an ethical consideration for consumers. A MacVegan burger doesn’t make up for all the decades of supporting the factory farming industry, misleading advertising aimed at children and sugar loaded menus."
Adrian Hodgson // Co-founder of Real Kombucha – Vegan sympathiser.
"I feel that veganism has in the past got some bad press due to the sometimes extreme views that are portrayed in the vegan community. It may seem like a marketing ploy but the true value for me is that you are now giving people a healthier choice. There is a rise in the number of people in the UK that have restricted diets due to health and treatment for many is avoiding meat and dairy. If people can go to the high street and eat a more rounded diet opposed to meat and saturated fats then I think this registers a massive importance."
Written by Zoey Henderson @adventuresofzuzu