Vegan Options Put More Choice On A Menu, They Don’t Limit What Meat Eaters Can Have
I’m admittedly somewhat of a carnivore, despite my generally quite gentle nature. I love blooded steak and bacon fat. Golden roast chicken and lamb so juicy it slips straight off the bone.
I would therefore be lying if I told you I could easily follow a vegan – or even just a vegetarian – diet. I’ve tried but, as with many aspects of my life I find it hard to fully commit to anything I’m not used to.
Although I can live meat-free quite happily for days at a time, I will eventually give in to a sausage casserole or a big plate of beefy spag bol. But honestly, with so much variety on offer, I’ve come to genuinely enjoy my meat-free days.
All throughout Veganuary, many mainstream and typically meat-heavy brands unveiled tasty vegan additions to their menus. And many meals have fast become dinnertime staples, even as we move into the decidedly less virtuous territory of February.
From Greggs to Frankie & Benny’s, Subway to Costa Coffee, it’s now easier than ever to get yourself a delicious and – not necessarily mega-healthy – vegan alternative.
This is great for vegans, but it’s also great for people like myself who are looking to cut down on meat while trying out new and adventurous dishes. No longer must you forage the titchy-tiniest corners of the menu for a limp salad or an uninspiring flap of veggie lasagne.
In the past few weeks alone, I have enjoyed a truly belting vegan Thai green curry, a deliciously filthy vegan hotdog and a meat-free steak bake that quite honestly warmed me head-to-toe, inside and out.
Veganism has now hit the mainstream. According to statistics from The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between the years 2014 and 2019, while takeaway orders of vegan meals boomed by 388% between 2016 and 2018.
In sync with this, British restaurants are getting evermore creative with their vegan menus, offering the sort of delicious options that would tempt even the most bloodthirsty of meat eaters. And the UK foodie scene is getting way more interesting for it.
UNILAD spoke with Matt Turner from The Vegan Society about the changing landscape of British veganism in recent years:
When people learn about the ethical, environmental and health benefits of the vegan lifestyle, as well as the sheer amount of choice and variety on offer, they will never look back.
We hear about vegan product launches on an almost daily basis to satisfy the growing demand for plant-based food. It’s brilliant to see how veganism has made its way from the corner of health food shops to occupying aisles in the supermarkets – we’re showing no signs of slowing down.
Vegan options are big business, and are no longer relegated to quirky cafes and alternative supermarkets. Indeed, Sainsbury’s sales of vegan cheese surpassed initial predictions by 300%, while demand for Tesco’s vegan haggis in Scotland soared by 120% in 2018.
Major ice cream companies Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers and HäagenDazs all now offer vegan ice cream, while Burger King’s vegan Rebel Whopper – which landed in November 2019 – turned out to be one of their largest product launches to date.
Matt told UNILAD:
It’s becoming the new normal. Who would have thought ten years ago that global brands would be launching vegan burgers left right and centre?
The image of veganism is undergoing the most radical change in its history, while shedding some tired, old stereotypes. People now closely associate it with health, fitness and well-being.
It’s no longer portrayed as an unusual lifestyle, it’s easy and accessible. There has never been a better time to be vegan.
But, despite a growing appetite for vegan products, there are some people out there who get their knickers in a twist over the way in which vegans are being better catered for.
Perhaps most notoriously, we saw Piers Morgan react to vegan sausage rolls with the air of a toddler forced to eat carrots, but this is far from the only high profile instance of anti-vegan fury.
In 2018, Waitrose Food magazine editor William Sitwell stepped down from his position after joking about ‘killing vegans, one by one’. While in 2019, NatWest was forced to apologise after one of their employees told a customer, ‘all vegans should be punched in the face’.
Such violent dislikes of veganism appears to partly stem from overblown and sensational stereotypes perpetrated by certain media outlets and TV shows.
For years, vegans have been treated as catastrophising and melodramatic; the butt of the joke on sitcoms and enragement bait for frothing-at-the-mouth publications. In reality, this sort of ridiculing lumps together a diverse variety of people who practice veganism for a multitude of reasons.
As in any walk of life, there will be vegans who you do not see eye-to-eye with. But, on the whole, the label ‘vegan’ encompasses countless pleasant, ordinary people who simply want to go about their day whilst staying true to their convictions.
According to Matt:
The anger directed at vegans can sometimes be a case of cognitive dissonance. Holding up a mirror to the choices of others can be an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. This can result in an overly defensive attitude at times, which is to be expected.
Sometimes this means that people are raging about additional food choices being available even when no animal product options have been removed. It’s clearly illogical to be annoyed by increased choice so it must be a defensive response.
The backlash to this greater variety appears to centre around the idea that such supposedly ‘inferior’ dishes are being foisted on us, when in actual fact we are being given more choice.
In recent times I have come to recognise the benefits of having meat-free days, not least to help reduce my carbon footprint and keep my blood pressure at a healthy level.
But also, critically, I’ve come to realise that cutting down on meat doesn’t necessarily equate to making sacrifices and depriving yourself of flavour. Indeed, this can and should be viewed as an opportunity to branch out and expand upon your list of favourites.
This wider variety of options reflects a rise in flexitarianism – a semi-vegetarian diet where a person will eat meat occasionally – as well as the growing popularity of ‘Meat Free Mondays’ among the environmentally conscious.
According to a 2019 report from YouGov, 14% of the UK population regard themselves as flexitarian, with over a quarter (26%) of meat-eaters agreeing they were actively trying to reduce their meat consumption.
This sort of personal effort can have a profound impact. According to a 2018 study published in Nature, if the world moved towards a flexitarian diet, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would be snipped by more than half.
Most people’s hearts and minds are in alignment with veganism in the sense that they care about animals and generally want to lead healthier and more compassionate, sustainable lives. Despite that, they are also resistant to hearing the truth about animal exploitation.
If some convincing needs to be done, ‘gateways’ don’t necessarily have to be food. There’s an abundance of documentaries that illustrate the huge impact veganism could have on the well-being of animals, the environment, and your own personal health.
Like many other well-meaning people, I often feel sincerely guilty about my less than perfect eating habits, and I strongly admire anyone who can put the greater good above their own deeply ingrained appetites.
Firstly, I’m an animal lover with two beloved dogs whose every bark I humanise and give meaning to. I’m aware that pigs have comparable intelligence to dogs, and that sheep are capable of forging friendships, and yet these are uncomfortable facts I choose to ignore when browsing for ready meals.
I know I’m a hypocrite in many ways. I write articles slamming animal cruelty on a daily basis – urging people to adopt kittens and puppies – before heading over to Aldi for a cheap packet of chicken breasts for tea.
And yet, there is a lot to be said about accepting you might never give up meat entirely, while endeavouring to make little alterations to reduce the damage you inflict upon the planet to the best of your human, fallible abilities.
Branching out to include more vegan meals within my daily routine has made my diet vastly more interesting, and has saved me from chowing down on the same few well-trodden dinners night after night.
It’s also made me a far better and more versatile home cook, introducing me to a vast array of mouthwatering flavours I would otherwise have completely overlooked, to my own detriment.
Matt told UNILAD:
We should never discourage someone who wants to cut down on animal products in their life. After all, the vast majority of us were meat-eaters at some point and many people have used ‘flexitarianism’ or vegetarianism as a stepping stone to veganism.
Unless people start somewhere, they will never realise how easy and enjoyable it is to be a vegan, where they can make an even greater contribution to the lives of animals and the health of our planet.
We need to remember what encouraged us to be the change we wanted to see in the world and to offer to support others on that journey.
Instead of slamming vegans, let’s take a lettuce leaf out of their book and consider how something as standard as a Wednesday night tea can be made so much more inventive and planet friendly with just a few simple swaps and changes.
More options are good, and you’re not having anything taken away from you. Remember that next time one of your favourite fast-food chains launches a new vegan option.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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The Vegan Society