The year of the vegan
Where millennials lead, businesses and governments will follow
John Parker correspondent The Economist
For the past half-century, veganism has been a minority within a minority. In America in 2015, according to one survey, 3.4% of the population were vegetarian and just 0.4% were vegan. But 2019 will be the year veganism goes mainstream.
Interest in a way of life in which people eschew not just meat and leather, but all animal products including eggs, wool and silk, is soaring, especially among millennials. Fully a quarter of 25- to 34-year-old Americans say they are vegans or vegetarians.
The business of providing vegan meals is booming. McDonald’s has started selling McVegan burgers. Sales of vegan foods in America in the year to June 2018 rose ten times faster than food sales as a whole. Giant food firms are clambering onto the bandwagon, creating vegan lines of their own, buying startups, or both. Tyson Foods, a meat behemoth, has a 5% stake in Beyond Meat, which sells meat-free patties to TGI Friday’s, a restaurant chain. Even Big Meat is going vegan, it seems.
The school district of Los Angeles, America’s second-largest, will start serving vegan meals in all its schools during the 2018-19 academic year. In its annual meeting in 2018, the American Medical Association called on hospitals to offer more such meals. But most national governments have been reluctant to encourage veganism. That could start to change in 2019 when the European Commission at last begins the process of formally defining what counts as vegan (and vegetarian) food, providing a measure of legal certainty.
At the same time, vegan firms are making meat substitutes that actually look and taste like meat. Beyond Meat’s patties ooze with blood made of beetroot juice. When a vegan steak made by a Dutch firm, Vivera, arrived on supermarket shelves in June, 40,000 were sold within a week. If plant-based “meats” take off, they could become a transformative technology, improving Westerners’ protein-heavy diets, reducing the environmental hoofprint of animal husbandry and perhaps even cutting the cost of food in poor countries.