Veganuary and beyond: Supporting future food sustainability

Girl learning to be a food scientist

What is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the environment and ensure food sustainability? According to recent studies, the answer is simple: veganism. While eliminating meat and dairy products from your diet is a big ask for many, there are simple ways we can reduce our consumption and, consequently, secure a sustainable food system.

Veganuary: a trend

Since 2014, the Veganuary campaign has endeavoured to make vegan food more accessible and encourage people to change their diet for the first month of the year. Beyond some of the personal health benefits veganism can bring, studies also show that veganism has a significant role to play in future food sustainability. Understanding not only the Veganuary trend but also changing longer-term consumer habits is therefore essential for food scientists and others working in food innovation to predict, implement and support ways to work towards a sustainable future.

Food scientists do not have to look far to see how popular veganism has become – Veganuary has inspired and supported more than one million people in 192 countries to try and be vegan for January. Food companies across the world have altered their product lines in response to meet this demand. So, why has veganism become so popular and is it here to stay? And how does a shift to veganism impact food sustainability?

Veganism and sustainability

Adapting to a sustainable food system is one of the most compelling challenges facing society today. The impact non-vegan diets have, include:

– Contributing to global warming, widespread pollution, deforestation, land degradation, water scarcity and species extinction (The Vegan Society)
– Livestock is estimated to take 700 million tons of food each year
– It takes at least three times the amount of water to feed a meat eater compared with that used to feed a vegan. For example, it takes 15,500 litres of water to produce 1 kg beef, contrasted with 180 litres for 1 kg tomatoes

If land was used to grow plants instead of house livestock, it is suggested that the air would be purer generating positive impacts on our environment. Veganism can therefore offer a more sustainable dietary option and with continual population growth, climate change and other factors, the strain on food availability is a growing concern.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy product consumption could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. Supporting this, Quorn, the leading meat alternative brand, is the first to have its products’ carbon footprint certified by the Carbon Trust. Quorn’s beef alternatives boast a carbon footprint thirteen times lower than beef, creating a more sustainable eating option for the future.

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Going beyond Veganuary

Engaging consumers in food policy is an increasingly important part of the change process. With variations of veganism such as ‘chegans’ and ‘flexitarians’ becoming more common, and food producers launching more vegan products year on year, veganism is no doubt becoming more mainstream.

Both well-known businesses and smaller start-ups are creating new products that mimic meat-based alternatives yet are totally plant-based to cater to this growth. In the UK in 2019, popular bakery Gregg’s released a vegan sausage roll, and food outlet Marks and Spencer now have over 50 plant-based dishes. In the space of just one year to Nov 2020, Deliveroo reported a 115% increase in demand for plant-based meals. Another popular product is ‘The Impossible Burger’ from Beyond Burgers. The ‘burger’ is made from soy and potato proteins, an incredible development in food science technology.

Want to learn more about the science behind food?

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