03 Dec 2018 by Jennifer Sutcliffe

Is Veganism Ruffling Feathers or Making Waves?

As veganism marches on, we take a little time to reflect on the biggest food trend for 2018 and how it is having an impact across the industry and in our lives.

The V Word

Veganism. What does it mean to you? For some, it’s a way of life that overhauls previous behaviours and habits in order to make some positive difference to the living world. Whether that be to your own body, the animal kingdom or the environment; it’s defined as being more conscious and responsible. For others, it signifies a tapping out of the taste game or a raising of the white flag in the crusade for good food. In short, for many it takes away from the everyday bliss that food can bring and the journey of creating great flavour. But can you have your eggless cake and eat it? Can you be a vegan gourmand?

To Foodie or Not to Foodie

To the resolutely carnivorous, it would seem you cannot. If you’re not open to eating absolutely anything; if you have chosen to prioritise the wellbeing of animals over the taste they produce, then you can no longer be deemed a “foodie”.  From this viewpoint, the system of values has shifted, knocking taste off the top spot and making the term “foodie” no longer applicable to vegans. A twist on the French saying might be: foodies live to eat, vegans eat to live.

But with places such as Michelin-starred Pied à Terre doing vegan tasting menus as well as others, like Gauthier Soho, going from serving 20kg of foie gras each week to being 100% vegan within two years, there are certainly sophisticated vegan offerings out there. We are especially excited by the relatively-fresh-on-the-scene, Plates, which declares itself “a plant-based food studio and restaurant, influenced by art and inspired by nature”.

There the Executive Chef Kirk Haworth, together with his Creative Director (and sister) Keeley, are really pushing the boundaries for vegan fine dining by using Michelin-star techniques focussed solely on seasonal, organic plants. With Nigel Hawarth as a father and the restaurant being based in Hoxton (near to the JAMS office), we will have to find out for ourselves and report back in our monthly JAMSession!

With the recent announcement of the Michelin Guide for 2019 revealing a more inclusive attitude, this PR agency wonders how soon it will be before a vegan restaurant makes it onto the list. l’Arpege in Paris is the ultimate veggie-centric icon, having retained its three Michelin stars since it earned them in 1996, but at the moment, it cuts quite a lonely figure. Considering how swiftly veganism has entered into the mainstream in the last two years, perhaps the Michelin judges will continue to embrace change and welcome more plant-focussed restaurants into the hallowed starry world of awards.

A Meteoric Rise

Veganism is an obvious trend at the moment with products and dishes popping up at an ever-increasing rate. Most recently, we have seen Domino’s announce its Vegan Supreme pizza and receive a very enthusiastic response, as well as another vegan option, which is still being trialled, but is on the way. Also recently, the national pub chain, Marston’s, became the first to put Moving Mountain’s “bleeding burgers” onto their menus, as part of a £1m deal.

These meatless burgers gain their  “bleeding” status from beetroot and their umami hit from mushrooms. They have clearly received the seal of approval in the vegan community as they are now served in vegetarian stalwart, Mildred’s, as well as, newcomer to the veggie/ vegan scene, Tell Your Friends (owned by Made In Chelsea star Lucy Watson) . But will the Moving Mountains burger reign supreme for long? Or will it soon be surpassed by the much talked about impossible burger? Perhaps, if the burger ever makes it to these shores.

Designed by a small US company, it is telling that Beyond Meat has had to postpone its UK supermarket debut because it would struggle to meet demand. Now that it is receiving funding from America’s largest meat processor, Tyson Foods, it will surely be taking the impossible out of its journey, at least. Some vegans, who do not like to support meat production, may be miffed by the brand’s association with a meat producing corporation. But there is an argument that working to change from within can be very effective.

There have been some significant reductions in meat and dairy consumption recently. For instance, beef, lamb and pork are all in volume decline with chicken only growing by 0.5% this year. According to DEFRA’s National Food Survey, the sale of meat products overall has reduced by almost 7 per cent since 2012. In dairy, milk sales fell by around £240m between 2014 and 2016 in the UK. In light of this and also predictions that the global vegan cheese market will skyrocket to almost $4bn by 2024, it is not surprising that dairy giant Danone has invested $60 million in dairy-free products.

Nor is it very shocking that big retail is expanding its vegan ranges when one considers the success it has having. Online grocer Ocado enjoyed a staggering 1,678% increase in sales within its ‘vegan’ category between 2015 and 2016. While Sainsbury’s sales of its vegan cheeses surpassed the company’s predictions by 300%. More recently, Tesco’s rolled out Wicked Kitchen vegan meals at 600 stores and sold more than 2.5 million units in the first 20-week period ending in May 2018 — more than double the company’s sales projections.

Moving back to consider the restaurant industry, this time in America, a recent study has shown that 51% chefs added vegan items to their menus in 2018 and this is not because these chefs found veganism (becoming vegan does sometimes have a whiff of religious zeal about it don’t you think?), it is because doing so is profitable. The study also reveals how social media is the driver, which makes sense, as social media has a history of moving things forward as part of the counter-culture as well as being able to make big noise for a small movement.

Although veganism is certainly leaving the fringes of society and becoming more widely accepted and catered for, it must be noted that real options are only really concentrated in the cities. Also, the figures do tend to get hyped. For instance, it is often quoted that there are 3.5 million vegans in the U.K. This is not true. According to The Vegan Society, there are only 600,000 vegans in Great Britain in 2018. In other words, 1.16% of the population is vegan. It is quite impressive, therefore, how much news coverage veganism gets in the media! But this disproportionate coverage really comes down to two things.

Veganism is as Veganism Does

First is that the UK has an estimated 22 million “flexitarians”. Yes, the term does define people with the backbone of a jellied eel and that’s why the word is so icky. However, it is an important part of the meat/ veggie spectrum. As a gateway to veganism or simply, as a way to significantly reduce consumption of meat, fish and dairy, flexitarianism is a valid choice as well as a significant consumer. This is especially so when one considers how the youth are the main adopters. In 2017, YouGov found that 25% of millennials were either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, while 44% of all consumers are willing or committed to cutting out meat. With the youth mobilising through social media and testing the waters with flexitarianism, veganism is understandably making waves in the media, as many consumers crave to learn more.

The other reason comes down to the highly charged times we live in. The world is either on the precipice of nuclear war or languishing in an endless refugee crisis, but overarching all of these issues comes climate change. And with it there is a a growing awareness that, if agriculture continues at its current rate, it will be producing 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of which will come from meat and dairy. The youth have shown themselves to be the most moved by these projections, which is why perhaps 1 in 5 of young adults believe meat will not be eaten by 2030. This statistic comes from a recent study conducted by YouGov for technology company ThoughtWorks, where young adults are classified as 18-24 year olds.

So there is a highly charged climate, environmentally and politically, but on a more a personal scale, the reason that the debates rage so furiously online and offline is because food is so essential to our identity and our social interaction. You are what you eat and when those everyday choices and rituals become something we are forced to defend, battle lines are drawn very quickly. When people do not have the ability to break bread together, discussion can get fractious and people become divided.

Note the effect of veganism on friendship groups deciding where to go for dinner, picked up by our hard-nosed journalistic team/ going about our normal lives…! On this topic it is interesting to note the President Of National Restaurant Association USA, Dawn Sweeney, who was quoted saying, “​any restaurant that does not serve vegan food is burning money. Everyone knows that the vegan chooses where the group eats.” But is this true Dawn? Is it not more the case that vegans start to find more vegan friends with whom they can eat out and that omnivores have to lament the loss of a foodie partner in crime? Perhaps the vegan and the meat eater can’t be friends, perhaps veganism is tearing us apart?

Innovation Stations

Either way, there has been an increase in negative reviews reported, which highlights how vegan expectations are rising. This is according to new research by guest feedback, recovery and social reviews service Feed It Back. The 5% increase was calculated from surveying more than 400,000 consumer reviews of restaurants, quick service restaurants and pubs between January and May this year. It mainly concerns the lack of options as well as a problem with being charged the same for a dish that has had ingredients removed.

For restaurants and retail, it looks as though the small, but powerful growth for vegan products as well as the rising expectations for vegan offerings will indeed require providers to focus on innovation, variety and bespoke dishes. Luckily, some media outlets and restaurants are trying to keep the peace. Time Out is offering two people the opportunity to dine out at nine vegan-friendly restaurants with 50% off their bill. While Google, kindly removed the eggs from its salad emoji. What inclusive and progressive times we live in!

Although it must not be forgotten, that some attempts for us to all get along are seen for the marketing ploy they really are. Witness, the so bad it’s good call out from Argos, who launched the “world’s first ever vegan barbecue” this summer. It was just, as you may expect, a barbecue. We love Argos and we love how coy their justification sounds, “we took one of our most popular barbecues and re-launched it especially for the ever-growing vegan market”.

 

Unfortunately, barbecue season is over, but at least, Bake Off is back! And with it came the announcement that there will be a week dedicated to veganism. As the second most influential cooking show, after Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals, this really does put veganism on the mainstream map. If it’s on prime time telly it must be true! Although, research last year does show that 22% of Brits get their recipes from YouTube, 18% from TV and 62% from recipe books, which somewhat undermines TV’s power to influence our eating habits.

One lady who certainly inspires us with her vegan recipes is Kali Hamm. Via Kali Cooking and Palm Greens, Kali delivers fresh, healthy, plant based and consciously sourced food. Having recently become one of only 6% of applicants accepted into the KERB InKERBator programme, we are really proud and excited for the future of Kali Cooking and Palm Greens, especially as veganism is integrated more and more into a Londoner’s lifestyle.

You can find her vibrant salads at KERB West India Quay on Tuesdays, Granary Square, Kings Cross on Wednesdays and St Katharine’s Dock on Thursdays, as well as Broadway Vegan Market on Saturdays. She is also available for supperclubs and private events.