Restaurants closed, hamburgers uneaten: why vegan products remain on the shelves | Jennifer Yule

IIt would be easy to assume that the rise of vegan diets and products is now inevitable. More than 700,000 people have signed up to the official Veganuary campaign in 2023, more than four times as many as in 2018. Vegans were once seen as humorless, sanctimonious and sanctimonious, but a new generation has changed the image of the diet, bringing a fun, vibrant and health-conscious approach to a vegan lifestyle that avoids some of the most common elements. strict and appeals to young people. -conscious consumers. Terms and trends such as “flexitarian,” “pescatarian,” “Meatless Monday,” and “vegan” have become popular as consumers abstain from meat in a more relaxed, less consumptive way.

Influencers such as the channel’s Fearne Cotton and reality TV star Lucy Watson share easy vegan recipes and lifestyle content, and convey to their audience that switching to a vegan diet is relatively simple and focuses no less on why this diet is the right ethical choice. As a result, what once seemed extreme and out of reach for many is now much easier to integrate into an existing lifestyle.

But there are signs that veganism’s growth is waning. Plant-based meat companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are suffering from declining sales. The Meatless Farm company recently ceased trading before being saved from administration when a competitor, VFC, acquired the brand, and vegan brands Oatly and Heck reduced some products.

Restaurants, including the popular Neat Burger, have closed their outlets, while others have changed their menus to offer a more balanced offering of vegan and non-vegan dishes. Our increasingly polarized political culture is also having an impact: the last vegan restaurant left open in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex recently complained about having to “block 10 people a day on social media” which had sent angry messages about his factory. menu based. At a time when we are becoming more and more aware of animal rights and the effects of the climate crisis, why is veganism taking a hit?

It’s true that the diet’s growing popularity has led to backlash – as some veganisms have become a dirty word. Right-wing culture warriors see meat-eating as evidence of masculinity, while veganism is labeled feminine and only for “soy boys.” For right-wing media, veganism is now synonymous with “wokeness.”

But I think the real reason for the decline in sales is simpler: it’s the economy. The modern vegan – forced to endure a cost-of-living crisis and record-high food inflation – is cash-strapped and time-poor. Cooking Instagram-inspired dishes, such as vegetarian tofu dishes for breakfast or jackfruit tacos for dinner, is a time-consuming process. And working hours in Britain are among the longest in Europe, leaving less time to prepare a meal at home with ingredients that can be harder to find. Plant-based ready-to-eat products, such as burgers and meat-free convenience foods, have helped many consumers adopt a vegan routine. But this choice can still seem like a luxury when the price of the products is significantly higher than that of their meat equivalent. For some, vegan alternatives are simply too expensive.

The current economic situation is also reflected in the public’s sense of well-being: census data shows that only 24.2% of British adults believe they have a very high level of satisfaction with their life, while only 30.5% consider themselves happy. This inevitably impacts what people want to eat. Food and sadness are old friends: emotional eating to soothe the soul often means comforting, pleasurable food, i.e. high levels of fat, sugar and salt – untypical characteristics of a vegan meal.

Veganism has come a long way. It has shed its holier-than-thou aesthetic, now has a wider membership base and is considered trendy and aspirational. What was once considered an all-consuming lifestyle is now less rigid; and people can participate on their own terms with products that push the traditional boundaries of vegan beyond vegetables and legumes. But there remains one obstacle to overcome: cost. Until production costs fall or Britain’s bleak economic outlook improves, it is likely that the vegan revolution will continue to stagnate.

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