Why vegan food isn’t as eco-friendly (or as good for you) as you think
Not so long ago, buying a cup of coffee meant two choices: with or without milk. Now the barista rolls out a list of options that looks more like the contents of my kitchen cupboard: will it be soy, oats, coconut, peas, rice, cashews, or almonds in your americano?
Supermarkets have entire aisles of meat substitutes and dairy products, and it’s no wonder. Sales of specialty vegan foods (as opposed to vegan foods, like bread or an apple) increased by 18% in the UK in 2020.
Unilever, mayonnaise giant Hellmann’s, estimates that the global plant-based meat market alone will be worth $ 35.4 billion by 2027.
It’s also going upmarket: the vegan cheese maker from east London False imagery does a roaring trade in non-dairy “cheese”, with names like Fetamorphosis, Masquephoney and Bluffala, and prices starting at around five cents for a 100g slice. Rudy’s vegan butchers in Islington offers herbal versions of pastrami, pork ribs, black pudding and turkey slices, and recently opened a branch in Selfridges on Oxford Street.
In many ways, this boom seems like a good thing, giving our longtime vegan friends more choices, but also the opportunity for us omnivores to effortlessly switch to a less animal-dependent diet.
There are compelling arguments that intensive animal husbandry is bad for the planet and that we should eat less meat and dairy products if we are to fight global warming. A special report on climate change, published in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.
Then there are the health arguments. Meat and dairy are undeniably good sources of protein and other nutrients, but the NHS recommends cutting back on red meat and processed meat, due to the link to bowel cancer.
Saturated fat, abundant in some meats and cheeses, is also linked to cardiovascular disease. And anyway, we need to focus more on fruits and vegetables – according to NHS figures, less than 30% of us eat five a day, while health experts believe we should aim for 10 servings. .
Is vegan food the best option?
Omnivores often complain that plant-based substitutes taste disgusting and boil down to heavily processed Franken foods – pale imitations of the real thing.
And, yes, you’ll be disappointed if you expect a fillet of seitan to taste the same as a well-hung prime rib. But there are some awesome versions. I had a vegan “sausage burger” made by Moving Mountains (available in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose) that tastes at least as good as a cheap sausage. I would prefer this burger to the one made from a rude animal.