Veganism is growing in popularity as a way of life, one which carries many benefits, not just for the person choosing to be vegan, but also for the planet. There are an increasing number of hotels and restaurants that specialise in vegan food and most menus nowadays have a choice of vegetarian and vegan options which go far beyond the ubiquitous ‘nut loaf’ that was the staple alternative to meat only a few years ago.
The global vegan food market was estimated at $26.83 billion in 2021, and is projected to rise to around $65.4 billion by 2030. Europe has fierce competition in the meat substitute markets and even take aways and fast food chains have got in on the act, spending millions on the development of meat-free alternatives for vegetarians and vegans.
So what is all the fuss about and is it really better for our health and the planet?
World Vegan Day is celebrated on 1st November and aims “to promote animal welfare and encourage people around the world to lead a healthier lifestyle through substituting meat and animal products with plant-based alternatives.” One of the main aims is to raise awareness of the positive benefits of veganism and some of the issues that we are currently facing due to our consumer choices; issues which are having an effect on the entire planet through climate change, food production techniques and land use.
Worldwide, more than 74 billion animals are bred every year for the food industry, mostly chickens, pigs and cattle; and in Europe per capital consumption of meat is around 80kg per year although up to 20% of that food ends up being wasted. Vegans argue that a plant-based diet is cruelty-free, better for the planet and uses resources more sustainably than our historical meat-eating traditions.
Benefits to the planet
The meat industry has been associated with environmental practices that have been linked to climate change. These include the intensive farming of cows. The livestock sector is responsible for about 16% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming. Intensive mono-farming has also been linked to the destruction of natural habitats and a reduction in biodiversity which can lead affect farming yields and the sustainability of the ecosystem.
Many vegans advocate a more seasonal approach to food which considers the natural harvest times of different types of food and can reduce transport costs and energy consumption. Switching to alternatives to cow’s milk could also help. When compared to plant milk, cow’s milk has the largest environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use.
Benefits of a vegan diet to people and the planet can include:
- Reduced risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes
- Reduced blood pressure
- More efficient and equitable food systems
- Protection for all sentient beings
- Cruelty-free food and products
- Biodiversity protection
- Reduction in greenhouse gases
- More efficient use of water and land
- Less competition for food resources (e.g. humans vs. livestock feed)
- Reduced dependence on antibiotics for farmed animals
Ways to move to a more vegan diet
Many people who want to try a more plant-based diet are worried that they will not get the same nutrition (especially protein), or that their choices will be very limited, or that they will not know how to prepare and cook vegan food. However there is lots of information and advice available to help people make better choices and the internet is bursting with delicious, mouth-watering recipes which are easy to make.
Alternatives to meat protein include:
- Seitan/wheat protein
- Lupin protein
- Green spelt
- Oat flakes
- Black beans
- Pea protein
The vegan food plate
Many of us remember the ‘healthy food plate’ from food technology at school. But did you know that there is a vegan alternative which was developed by nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health? The vegan food plate illustrates what proportion of each food group should be consumed per meal and suggests:
½ of the plate should be vegetables and fruit - fruit and vegetables are an important source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre, important for a healthy diet, with the recommendations from nutritionists is 5-7 portions per day
- ¼ of the plate should be wholegrains – wholegrain cereals such as oats, rye, spelt, wheat, barley, rice and millet as well as other pseudocereals such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat which provide complex carbohydrates to help maintain a healthy heart and provide a more sustained release of energy
- ¼ of the plate is protein – on the vegan food plate, the protein comes from pulses (e.g. lentils, peas and beans), cereals and soya products such as tofu and tempeh, or seeds (e.g. hemp, sunflower seeds, chia)
- Healthy plant oils in moderation – in a vegan diet, unsaturated fats can be found in nuts and seeds as well as cold-pressed oils such as rapeseed oil, olive oil and avocados
- Sufficient water to stay hydrated – this is typically 2 – 2.5 litres of water per day
Some easy switches
- Apple sauce can be used to replace eggs in baked goods
- Aquafaba is the viscous water in which legumes such as chickpeas have been cooked in, and can substitute for egg whites in meringues, mayonnaise or ice cream
- Black salt (kala namak) can be used in place of eggs and is often used in Asian cooking
- Ripe bananas can replace eggs to add moisture and sweetness to a recipe
- Tapioca starch can be used as a thickening agent for sauces, puddings and condiments
The great thing about World Vegan Day is that you don’t have to be a vegan to join in. Many people are learning of the benefits of eating less meat and less saturated animal fats, and although they may not have become totally plant-based, they may have made a conscious decision to cut down on their meat consumption.
World Vegan Day is a great opportunity to try some tasty vegan food, share it with your children and families and connect with other vegans right around the globe. So why not take up the challenge this year, follow some easy plant-based recipes for kids such as vegan:
- Chocolate brownies
- Thai Curry
- Mac and cheese
and have a very tasty World Vegan Day!