Once seen as just a hippy, radical lifestyle for bleeding hearts and animal rights activists, vegetarianism and veganism are rapidly becoming mainstream across the world. Figures released by market research company Kantar Worldpanel show that in the 12 weeks up to the end of January, 29 percent British meals contained no fish or meat. What’s more, British-based Quorn Foods has enjoyed an increase in sales across the globe, up by 16 percent compared to last year.
So, what’s behind the rise in interest in meat-free diets, and is it a passing fad?
Part of the rise is a result of Veganuary — the no meat equivalent of taking a month off from alcohol after the festive season. In 2014, just 1,500 people signed up for the challenge of a meat-free month while this year, it was 78,000 people. Even more impressively, research shows that 67 percent of people who took part in Veganuary last year said they were still vegan or vegetarian six months later.
Social media has been another driving force, with Twitter reporting an 85 percent rise in the use of the hashtag #veganlife since 2016. As people discover more about vegetarianism and veganism, the diet is moving in from the fringes to become a normal and even obvious life choice. Increased awareness of the cruelty of factory farms, highlighted by social media, is also having an impact.
The diet of high-profile figures is also helping to demystify vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. No longer is it just the radicals like former Smiths frontman Morrissey and electro-hippy Moby who follow the diet; today, we have a host of vegan stars, including everyone from Woody Harrelson to Liam Hemsworth to Sia to Miley Cyrus. Vegan director James Cameron is even working with vegan world poker champion Daniel Negreanu on a documentary aimed at dispelling the myth that “real men eat meat.”
Sports stars too are heading the charge away from the butchers and into the fruit and veg shops. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, turned vegan in 2012, and Lewis Hamilton went vegan midway through last year’s Formula One season. Neither has seen their success diminish in the slightest because of the diet changes, with the Williams ladies still dominating world tennis and Hamilton clinching the World Drivers’ Championship by a country mile. Despite concerns about a lack of competitive testosterone if he gave up meat, Hamilton never finished lower than ninth all season, with nine wins and four second places from twenty races.
Such is the momentum behind the vegan movement that even McDonald’s has launched a vegan burger. And the more that veggie and vegan options are available, the more people will feel confident in moving over to the diet, building and building on the numbers.
“Veganism is here to stay,” says blogger Sean O’Callaghan, better known as the Fat Gay Vegan. “We have reached a tipping point and it’s not going to fall back.”
Great news for all followers of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. No longer will we be marginalized and frowned at in restaurants. The days of the ubiquitous nut cutlet or tofu as the only menu options are on their way out. Healthy, ethical eating is moving into the mainstream as Veganuary becomes Veg-all-year-round.