It is my guess that a common new years resolution for many was to try and cut down on meat or dairy consumption, perhaps even try going vegetarian or vegan. January is also the month for the ‘Veganuary’ campaign, occurring when people are most likely to want to start afresh and make changes for the new year, so many try and be vegan for a month. This blog post will discuss the growth of veganism along with looking at how the industry is adapting and considering the difficulties when it comes to product labelling.
Veganism is defined by The Vegan Society as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
So, let’s try and start at the beginning of veganism…
The term vegan comes from the first two and last three letters of vegetarian and was described by Donald Watson as the “beginning and the end of vegetarian”. It is always difficult to try and pinpoint the origin of something like veganism. The Vegan Society was founded 70 years ago, however, people trying to avoid meat in their diet is something which stems back much further ago. Although, one of the first public objections to eggs and dairy was in 1806 by Dr William Lambe and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Their opposition to dairy and eggs was due to an ethical standpoint which was quite unusual at the time.
The growth of veganism
Even though it took a little time for veganism to gain a proper definition, it has really taken off over the last few years as “one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan” (The Guardian). Almost half of UK vegans made the change to veganism in 2018, so 2018 was a massive year for alterations in consumer preferences. A lot of people’s decisions to go vegan was mainly due to ethical reasons and to also follow a healthier lifestyle.
The rise in Veganism can also be attributed to the availability of social media, streaming platforms such as YouTube and Netflix which allow people to share educational content are a huge influence in people’s lives, especially young people. An example of this is a Netflix 90 minute documentary named ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’, explaining how agriculture is the most destructive industry in the world today. Programmes such as these have changed the mindset of many people, even though some claim that certain documentaries are exaggerating facts, especially about the level of greenhouses gases which are produced by animal agriculture.
Of course, there are benefits to being vegan in that animals will not suffer, according to the BBC, “if vegetarianism was adopted by everyone by 2050, the world would have about 7 million fewer deaths every year - and veganism would bring that up to 8 million”. However, there are also downsides of veganism if you consider people who work in the livestock industry who would need a new career, potentially causing mass unemployment. Of course, this is unrealistic as the world will not turn vegan over night, if ever. However saying that, according to a survey done by Compare The Market, the number of vegans in the UK soared last year to 3.5 million with 31% of people eating less meat so we are seeing a rapid increase in those eating fewer animal by-products.
From looking at Google Trends over the past 5 years, the topic of veganism has steadily increased worldwide. There are also an increasing amount of celebrity advocates for veganism, some include Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Bryan Adams and Natalie Portman, which fuel the public’s inquisitions about the benefits of being vegan.
To date, over 250,000 people from 193 countries have taken the pledge to be vegan for a month and the Veganuary campaign are expecting a further 300,000 people to join by the end of January. The 2018 Veganuary grew by 183% compared to the year prior and the campaign has grown from 3,300 people in 2014 to 168,500 in 2018. This is also only people who officially signed up to Veganuary, there are also people who don’t sign up so there are many more who take part than shown in the statistics!
The increasing availability and emphasis on vegetarian and vegan food has also started a new type of diet called a ‘flexitarian diet’, these are people who are actively cutting down on meat, usually for health or sustainability reasons but still eat animal products occasionally.
So, what is the industry doing?
Retailers such as Pizza Express, Pret A Manger, ASK Italian, Zizzis and Yo Sushi (to just name a few), offer a lot of vegan alternatives which makes their menus inclusive for all. Restaurants such as Homemade Burger Co. are offering a Veganuary deal of a free side every time a vegan burger is ordered and supermarkets such as Waitrose have dedicated sections of their shops to vegan products, focusing on increasing their vegetarian and vegan produce.
Tesco have also released their ‘Wicked Kitchen’ range, featuring ready meals and food to go such as sandwiches and wraps. An example of one of their products is the Wicked Kitchen Italian Cold Cuts Sub which holds celeriac, Gouda style cheese, green pepper, spinach, pesto mayo, pepperoncini in a soft and squishy mixed herb roll.
Even retailers such as Greggs have entered the new year with a vegan sausage roll, following strong consumer demand and a petition by PETA which gained over 20,000 signatures. It has crispy pastry and a bespoke Quorn filling.
What are we doing?
One of the key challenges facing the food industry at the moment is making sure the correct information on ingredients is available to the customer.
Companies have a legal obligation to publish the ingredients in a product and highlight the presence of any allergens (of which there are 14 recognised).
In addition to this, many consumers want to know if the product is suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Being vegan and being allergic to certain animal by-product (e.g. milk, egg) are two separate issues. It is our duty to keep our customers safe so we must ensure that we label our products properly. Many of our breads are suitable for vegans but we do make many brioche breads, which contain egg and butter, in the same bakery. The risk of our vegan products containing a non-vegan contaminant is extremely low and we operate a good manufacturing practice in accordance with the BRC Global Food Safety Standards (which includes standards for allergen control).
At Fosters Bakery, we have worked incredibly hard to find butter substitutes and formulate recipes so they don’t require egg (and we have developed a delicious vegan brioche style bread!). However, because we still produce products which use dairy and egg on the same complex equipment in our bakery, it is our duty to put a ‘may contain’ note on even our vegan products.
Our customers are then able to make an informed decision on whether they eat our products!
The Vegan Society outline guidance from the Food Standards Agency regarding the labelling of products if you would like to read in more detail.
We’d love to know what your opinions are on veganism! Let us know in the comments below.