Rise of Vegetarianism

Vegans around the world commemorated the creation of the “V” word in November. World Vegan Day was launched on Nov 1, 1994. The day begins the World Vegan Month. Vegetarianism is becoming popular globally. The younger generation has, in recent years, embraced plant-based food with open arms. Vegetarianism is not only popular in India, due to cultural and religious beliefs, but its popularity is increasing globally due to various factors. According to a report by research firm GlobalData there’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegan in the U.S in the last 3 years. It’s pretty obvious that more and more people are moving toward a plant-based lifestyle. Ashok Malkani views the scenario and takes a look at various aspects of this growing global trend.

All over the globe, diets that limit or exclude meat are being favoured. Plant-based meal was, till about a decade ago, often viewed as weird or extreme – more the domain of hippies and activists than of large number of everyday people. In India meat-free diet can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization, and a great reverence and respect for animal life shows up in many religious and cultural texts. Three major religions of India - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - all encourage their followers to practice ahimsa (non-violence toward other living beings). But now it is advocated for health and other reasons. Tata Memorial Hospital has released a video on social media which shows synthetic steroids being pumped into chickens to fatten them. These chickens, injected with poisonous concoctions, when eaten, can have alarming and disastrous effect on consumers. Today, according to the hospital sources, one in every four human beings has cancer. 

Thus religious fervor is not the only cause for popularity of vegetarian diet. Today, it is found that more and more people are turning to vegetarianism. And it has nothing to do with religion! So why is vegetarian food becoming, increasingly, the preferred food? 

Aungshuman Chakraborty - Executive Chef, The Leela Mumbai avers, “Vegetarian food has always been important in India because of our culture and beliefs. However, lately, vegetarian food is becoming popular purely because of health reasons. People now realise that consumption of Non-vegetarian food more than a limit has adverse effect on one’s health.  

Neeraj Rawoot, Executive Chef, Sofitel Mumbai BKC reveals, that India is ranked top in the world with 38% of the total population being vegetarian. He adds, “This indicates that even Indians who do eat meat, do so infrequently, with less than 30% consuming it regularly. Though the reasons for doing so in India is believed to be mainly cultural and religious, people nowadays are widely accepting the F&B trends and are turning into vegetarians and are becoming Vegan, opting for one box meals, wholesome thalis, gluten-free meals and similar.”

He continues, “Nowadays, being a vegetarian is a lifestyle practice. People look out for food that is fast, yet satisfying and nutritious. People are now more appreciative of the nutritional value and health quotients of vegetarian food. Moreover, working professionals prefer food items that are light and easy to digest, yet flavourful. Furthermore, the emerging trend of raw food has gained much acclaim over the recent years as these ingredients show quicker results in weight loss and fight chronic diseases.”

Gagandeep Singh Sawhney, Executive Chef, Shangri-La Hotel Bengaluru, declares, “Indian cuisine is one of the few cuisines that offer a plethora of options for vegetarians. India is known for its diverse culture and is also diverse tastes when it comes to food within the Indian cuisine. Someone once rightly said, ‘Food landscape changes every 100 km in India'. Vegetarian food is nutritionally dense, high in complex carbohydrates and is essential for a complete meal. Apart f r o m vegetarian food forming a significant part of the Indian cuisine, it is also very popular in Thai, Balinese, Mexican and Italian cuisines. Dishes like tacos with beans and salsa, Vegetable fajitas, quesadilla, Tempe Goreng, GadoGado, Som Tam et al. are examples. 

Dominic Gerard, Executive Sous Chef at The Leela Palace Bengaluru says that vegetarianism has been a part of the Indian culture for ages. With the introduction of social media people are becoming more conscious of health and are trying various health diet plans and, with vegetarianism gaining popularity as a health option, more and more people are turning towards this cuisine. 

He adds, “In most Western countries vegetarianism is an evolving cuisine and has been popularised f r o m late 20th century. Some of the popular vegetarian dishes f r o m International cuisine include Eggplant Parmigiana, Fricassee of mushrooms, Ratatouille Niçoise, Provencal vegetable Tarts, Sicilian Eggplant Caponata.”

Sapnil Kalkar, General Manager, Howard Johnson by Wyndham Bengaluru Hebbal, however, states, “It would be incorrect to term that people are moving towards a vegetarian diet, I would rather say they are turning "flexitarian's"- meaning they choose to eat what suits them. With the modern sedentary lifestyle and the effects of over farming of animals for consumption, I feel the thought is to find a way out so that what is available f r o m plants, fruits etc. can be used for consummation. Producing vegetarian food is more ecologically sustainable and it reduces damage to the environment. 

“Today, vegetarian food is part of probably every cuisine in the world and it has always been that way. The reason why Indian vegetarian food has clear edge above everyone else is due to the enormous variety of vegetables and ingredients available in the subcontinent followed by type of cuisines and recipes which have evolved over hundreds of centuries. This combination has provided us with a choice which, coupled with our intent, has given edge to Indian vegetarian cuisine in comparison to other foods.”

Preference 

It’s not unusual for vegans and vegetarians to be the butt of the joke and even to find themselves on the receiving end of vitriol for living by their beliefs. However, plant-based companies are carving out a niche in the meal kit and meal delivery space. International catering giant, Sodexo, recently worked with the Humane Society of the United States to develop 200 plant-based and plant-forward menu items for its corporate foodservice facilities and campus dining halls.

So which is the age group that prefers vegetarian food which is making more F&B outlets introduce increasing number of vegetarian dishes in the menu?   

Aungshuman believes there is no age group as such. He feels, “It is more to do with the family culture and general beliefs of an individual. People opt for a vegetarian diet for different reasons but generally 40+ age people tend to reduce non-vegetarian intake for health reasons. The younger generation too have started turning vegetarian owing to cruelty towards animals.”

He adds that there are several reasons for people opting for vegetarian food. “Some of them are: 

Vegetables are typically lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins C and E.

They help in controlling obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

They have more of healthy cholesterol.

“Apart f r o m the health benefits NGO’s like PETA are influencing people and are urging people to eat more of vegetarian food.”

Dominic believes that the popularity of vegetarian food depends on the demography and lifestyle of people in a particular place. He adds, “In general vegetarianism is preferred by people of the age 35 and above, most often when they realise it is time to watch their health more than anything else.

“The reasons for more people becoming vegetarians globally can be summed up thus: 

  • Care for the Environment
  • Health reasons
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Water Saving

Neeraj avers that there is no particular age group which prefers to be vegetarian. It all depends on individual preferences. He adds, “For a large part of the world, vegetarianism is largely a matter of economics. Meat costs a lot more than, say beans or rice. The places where meat is not as expensive, people still choose to be vegetarian either because of individual preferences, religious beliefs or preventative health illness which is common amongst all. With nearly 38% of the population being vegetarian, India ranks top in the list of countries by vegetarianism rates.”

Sapnil says, “To my surmise, choice of food is certainly determined by age as this has got to do a lot with cultural practices, religious beliefs and surroundings. 

Some of the additional benefits of vegetarianism he cites are: 

  • Increased life span
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lesser risk of obesity and heart attacks
  • Reduced risk of diabetes
  • Improved metabolism

Gagandeep is more positive about the age group. He says, “Veganism is a choice made by people in an age range of 25-40 years.”

Varying Terms and Meanings 

Veganism has grown in two types of markets in India. The first is in cities where entrepreneurship and eco-conscious initiatives thrive, like Bangalore, Mumbai and Auroville. And the second is in areas with yoga and meditation retreats and ashrams, such as Goa, Rishikesh and Dharamshala.

However there seem to be different terms and formats that people have given to vegetarianism. The result is that a layman is puzzled by different terms like vegetarian, vegan, being used for plant based diet by gourmets. People are also being dubbed as ovo vegetarians and pesco vegetarians. What exactly do these terms signify? 

Dominic declares, “Vegans are people who abstain f r o m animal or animal byproducts, while Vegetarians do not consume meats, poultry or fish. However they still consume Diary and Diary based products.”

He adds, “As mentioned earlier there are many types of vegetarians with only a few actually being complete vegetarians, two such types are the Ovo vegetarians and Pesco Vegetarians or Pescetarians

“Ovo Vegetarianism refers to vegetarians who include egg and egg products in their diets, but may or may not include Diary and lactose based ingredients, though technically Ovo vegetarians do not include lactose in their diet. Pesco Vegetarianism or Pescetarianism refers to people who are vegetarians but include seafood in their diet. The belief is to avoid the cruelty to animals and save water at the same time not miss out protein supplements f r o m seafood and the healthy fats.”

Gagandeep is more explicit. He clarifies, “All vegans are vegetarians, but all vegetarians are not vegan. Veganism is a practice of eating vegetarian food sans animal products but not limited to milk, ghee, butter, and cheese. Veganism is a philosophy with several distinctions like dietary vegan, environmental vegan, ethical vegan and monochromatic vegan to name a few. Ovo vegetarians are vegetarians who include eggs in their diet whereas Pescatarians are people who eat seafood but avoid meat and chicken.”

Neeraj states, “Nowadays, being a vegetarian is a lifestyle practice. Different people follow different forms of vegetarianism. If intended to further differentiate the vegetarian group, it can be done on the consumption of either egg, diary or fish products in a vegetarian-like diet. So, when someone consumes egg but no diary product, they are termed as ovo-vegetarian. Whereas, the ones who eat dairy products but no egg, are termed as lacto-vegetarian. Additionally, in a vegetarian diet when someone consumes seafood, they are termed as pesco-vegetarians.”

Aungshuman explains the differences in terms thus: People who are vegans don’t eat any animal, animal product or animal by-product. Vegetarians on the other hand, while not consuming meat are fine consuming animal products and by-products. Ovo vegetarians are people who include eggs in their diet but not dairy products and Pesco (not posco) vegetarian are people who include seafood in their meals.” 

Sapnil too differentiates in a similar manner. He adds, “Ovo vegetarians are known to consume vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses and only eggs and not any dairy products, meat, fish & poultry, whereas pesco vegetarians consume aquatarian animals fish and products to their diet apart f r o m fruits, vegetables, legumes , grains & nuts.”

A passing Fad? 

A report by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), UK, claimed that vegans see ditching animal products as “a badge of identity” much like identifying...as a 'gym bro' or ‘craft beer nerd'. 

The report states that "By claiming their credentials as a vegan, young people believe this shows the world they are ethical, healthy and environmentally aware. They have taken to Instagram to follow vegan celebrities and lifestyle bloggers such as [Fat] Gay Vegan and Deliciously Ella. In fact, the growth of veganism has partially been fuelled by the growth in Instagram.

So what is veganism? Is it a movement or moment?  Is it a passing fad or a developing trend?

Neeraj avers that it is a passing fad. He adds, “Veganism has emerged as a popular trend f r o m western countries, Eastern Europe and Israel. According to The Economics, 2019 is the year of the vegan. About 550 per cent of Google searches were done for veganism over the last five years. Health, climate change, animal welfare is driving more people and brands to embrace a plant-based lifestyle. There are a lot of studies going on to depict the future of vegan lifestyle.”

Dominic too is of a similar view. He says, “As much as it is gaining popularity at the present level, I believe this would eventually be a fleeting fad. The growth in popularity owes its success to the social media which in itself, is time bound and  will eventually fade out probably in a couple of years when other issues or new diet plans would be in focus and change the trend accordingly. Nevertheless at this juncture Vegan food has attracted a lot of attention and found itself in menus across the restaurants, be it stand alone or in hotels.”

Aungshuman however, does not agree with the view that it is a passing fad. “In fact,” he claims, “it is gaining popularity each day. Vegan food items are becoming more accessible and there are a lot of alternative options available in the market today and this makes it easier for people to make the shift in their dietary preference.”

Sapnil is also of a similar view. He declares, “Vegan food is certainly not a fleeting fad, it is a way of life which a lot of people are adapting after having practiced and followed for some time. A lot of celebrities endorse vegan diet and, yes, it has added to its glamour quotient, but it certainly here to stay and grow!” 

Gagandeep declares, “Veganism is a philosophy and a choice made by certain individuals for various reasons and causes. Some of these causes are health, animal welfare, sustainable sourcing, and environmental footprint. Veganism extends beyond food and drink. For some, it becomes a way of life.” 

Conclusion

Gen Z or those people born f r o m about 1995-2007, are expected to make up 31% of the world’s population by 2021. They have deeply imbedded perceptions and beliefs about things related to planet friendliness. This generation believes that plant-based food is an ideal way of maintaining an eco-friendly atmosphere. Gen-Z’s championing of veganism is a phenomenon that knows no regional bounds or borders.   

Findings in the United States show that 60% of the Gen Z people are ready to base their diets on more “plant-forward foods”.

Yes, there is little doubt that veganism is becoming the diet of the future.
 

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