OPINION: Why vegan is the fastest growing food movement in the world

As the latest global food trend, plant-based dining is being taken very serious by chefs around the world.

OPINION: By MATT PRESTON, DELICIOUS on MAY 28, 2017 | The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.

Once upon a time, the word vegan was a bit of culinary joke, associated with nut roast, lentil curry and a bad case of wind. But now vegan is one of the most appealing food trends and, importantly, it is also becoming delicious.

It has helped the vegan cause that a succession of global issues have plagued animal and fish production, such as bird flu, mad cow disease, cancer links with cured meats and links between some animal fats and heart disease. Not to mention concerns over everything from foie gras production and the cruelty of intensive factory farming, to excessive hormone use in feed and over-fishing.

Australia is the third fastest growing market in the world for vegan foods, with the value of vegan-labelled food mushrooming from $135.9m in 2015 to $153m in 2016, according to research by Euromonitors International. This has been driven in a large part by the non-dairy category, which includes soy, coconut and nut milk.

The growing interest in plant-based cuisine has had an amazing impact. Top restaurants such as 11 Madison Park and Blue Hills in the US, and Osteria Francescana in Italy, are now willing to create vegan menus for tables of guests. Mario Batali’s Del Posto, an upscale Italian restaurant in New York, offers both vegetarian and vegan menus.

World media is going crazy for dishes like salt-baked turnips cracked at your table at P.Y.T. in LA, the black rice vegan sushi at Beyond Sushi in New York and David Chang’s meat-free burger that looks, tastes, and even bleeds like meat at Momofuku Nishi, also in New York.

On the other side of the Atlantic, London has the raw vegan menu at Nama in Notting Hill, the vegan fine dining menu at Vanilla Black and the vegan degustation at Lyle’s in London’s East End. Paris is also in the grip of a vegetable revolution. Top chef Alain Passard has declared this “the golden age of vegetables”. He and fellow top chef Alain Ducasse have created vegetable-driven menus, though can’t go fully vegan as Passard needs a little butter for his sautees and pralines, and it’s the Comte cheese that makes Ducasse’s cauliflower and black truffle Wellington sing.

It is Berlin, however, that is considered the vegan capital of Europe. The city boasts 60 vegan restaurants, which serve the 80,000 vegans living there – 10 per cent of Germany’s vegan population. Hold the bratwurst sausage.

At the other end of the dining spectrum, vegan fast food is also on the rise. The big chains in Australia are starting to come to the meat-free party with companies such as Subway, Domino’s, Nando’s and Go Sushi offering vegetarian and vegan menu options.

More and more eateries are operating under the clean eating banner. Cruelty Free Shop has stores in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, selling more than 3500 vegan products, including 50 vegan cheeses. An increasing number of Australian consumers are into anything branded vegan, even if they don’t live as vegans. It seems “vegan” is the new foodie buzzword.

Over the last year, Google searches containing the word “vegan” have spiked dramatically with more searches per capita made in Australia than in any other country.

A growing understanding of the environmental cost of meat production, including its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and the issue of agricultural run-off, makes the idea of a vegetable-driven diet more attractive and, for some, also the right thing to do.

Despite that, there still aren’t that many true vegans out there. The number of Australians eating a mainly vegetarian diet has risen by over 23 per cent in the last four years, according to Roy Morgan research. As of March last year, 2.1 million people living in Australia said they ate a complete or mainly vegetarian diet. That makes up 11.2 per cent of the population. This trend, dubbed “flexitarian eating” by one of the US’s hottest diet books, shows a burgeoning interest in plant-based diets.

This is all begs the question – can you be a part-time vegan? Given the food politics, ethics and ecology in the vegan movement, I’d suggest not. But then, you don’t need to own a motorbike to buy a Deus Ex Machina T-shirt.

So maybe – and the old nut roast brigade will hate this – “vegan” is just the latest label for a fashion-conscious, food consumer.

My top five vegan cookbooks:

1. Veganize It! 
The latest cookbook from the vegan world’s most prolific author Robin Robertson.

2. Smith And Daughters’ Vegan Eat 
This is Australia’s rather gorgeous contribution to vegan recipes.

3. Thug Kitchen 
Foul-mouthed, funny and painfully hip gangsta vegan cookbook.

4. The Blossom Cookbook 
Recipes from one of America’s favourite vegan restaurants.

5. But I Could Never Go Vegan! 
100 vegan recipes plus loads of advice about turning vegan.

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