Plant-based foods are on the rise, but are they more than just the next big thing in the local culinary scene?
Long gone are the days where you’ll get a confused look accompanied by “huh?” or “what?” when you talk about the vegan lifestyle. Vegans abstain from any animal products whereas vegetarians still consume dairy and eggs. These days, veganism is making its mark in the food scene, from readily available products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to cafés and restos serving up delish plant-based, cruelty-free nosh. People are even switching up their diets and cutting out meats after watching documentaries like The Game Changers. But is veganism just another food trend or is it here to stay?
What’s the beef?
There is more to veganism than just doing it for the animals or to improve our health. Over the last few years, climate change has been a hot topic (no pun intended) and the push towards veganism has been sprouting alongside it.
“Animal agriculture is one of the most resource-intensive and emission-heavy industry on the planet,” says Stephanie Dickson, co-founder of Green is the New Black, the company behind The Conscious Festival that encourages people to live sustainably. “There [are] a lot of different versions of the facts circulating but it is cited that the industry produces between 15%-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And those numbers don’t even include the impact of deforestation.”
If you’re wondering how farms can possibly cause such disastrous effects on the planet, well, these days farms are a far cry from what they used to be.
“Animal agriculture accounts for a major proportion of human-produced greenhouse gases, more than all the fossil fuel-powered transport,” says George Jacobs, chairman of Animal Allies (the animal welfare arm of Centre for a Responsible Future).
Think lesser happy animals leisurely basking in the sun and more miserable creatures crammed in unlivable conditions. These farms, run as money-making industries, are designed in a way to maximise production at little to no cost. However, that comes at a hefty price.
“The impact of the industry not only affects CO2 emissions, but also water supplies, land degradation, soil loss, deforestation, biodiversity loss, etc – all of which have an effect on our changing climate,” Stephanie adds.
The proof is in the (vegan) pudding
With melting ice caps and rising sea levels plaguing the Earth, these days it is all about reducing our carbon footprint. And it looks like going vegan could just be one of the ways to help with going green at an individual level.
There were a lot of oohs and aahs when Impossible Foods debuted in Singapore earlier this year with its plant-based “beef” that’s as close to the real deal as we’ve ever tasted. Beyond Meat may have landed first, but it looks like Impossible has taken over eateries across the island, which are now serving its “meat” in everything from burgers and dumplings to kebabs and pizzas. Plus, Impossible’s got big plans: The company’s aiming to replace animal-based foods with plant products by 2035.
“There is definitely a growing community of vegans in Asia, and even more so, a growing community of eco-conscious consumers who are receptive to vegan food,” says Alex Tan, CEO of VeganBurg, on the popularity of vegan food in the local scene. “And surprisingly, [as] Singapore’s demand continues to grow, so will the number of vegan dining options – which is great! In fact, Singapore was named the second most vegan-friendly city in Asia by PETA and sixth most vegan-friendly city in the world by HappyCow.”
According to him, when they first opened, the customer base consisted of only 30% non-vegetarians. That number has now increased to 80%.
So are people really switching their knives for forks?
Co-founder of Afterglow, Carmen Chua has also noticed that the bulk of her diners are not actually vegan. Perhaps ‘cos it’s easier to strive for a well-rounded, plant-based diet without fully committing to the vegan lifestyle. “Over the last one to two years, the customers are getting younger, [and] we are also receiving many young families. Most of our customers are here because they enjoy incorporating more plant-based food items but are not necessarily pure vegans,” she explains.
That said, veganism doesn’t only stop at what’s on your plate. Living clean and green extends to all parts of your life, from ditching fur jackets to using cruelty-free beauty products.
“I think that people are increasingly aware of the benefits that vegan products bring to our bodies and the environment in general,” says Hildra Gwee, founder of homegrown vegan skincare line Oasis Skin. She also encourages her customers to reuse their bottles and containers by refilling them at the store when they are done (#littlegreensteps)!
It all points to the right direction, though we can’t help but wonder, will veganism still be as popular 10 years from now?
Fad or future
There will always be two sides but as people are more informed, veganism is leaning towards the mainstream side of the spectrum. “Instagrammable food, clean food, food technology, clean meat – these are just some of the keywords and trends that encapsulates 2019’s food industry,” Alex mentions.
“Plant-based food is here to stay because eating vegetables have been part of human’s diet,” says Carmen. She attributes the vegan trend to targeted marketing but believes that good, quality plant-based products will always have an audience.
For George, veganism isn’t going anywhere. “The world’s biggest players in the food space have jumped aboard. For instance, Nestle, the #1 food company, has launched the Incredible Burger (a vegan burger). Even more impressively, Tyson, one of the world’s largest meat producers, has their own vegan offerings.”
So how does one make the shift to a plant-based diet?
Stephanie believes that every little bit counts, all of which add up to a bigger collective impact. “We don’t expect everyone to go vegetarian or vegan overnight, but it is easy to start with one meal a day, or a day or two a week,” she adds. After all, change is all about taking baby steps.