Even though the “Go Vegan” message has become louder and clearer in recent years, shifting the public towards a plant-based diet in reality requires more practical strategies. Individuals’ concerns of such a dietary change such as nutritional imbalance, lack of tasty plant-based options and inconvenient access to them, or even standing out in a social gathering will make them hesitant about the switch. Tobias Leenaert, co-founder of ProVeg International, details in his new book, How to Create a Vegan World, strategies he found effective and impactful from his over 10 years’ experience of championing the plant-based movement in Europe. He co-founded EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative) in Belgium which was the world’s first organisation to receive structural funding from its government. Moreover, EVA successfully lobbied the Belgian city of Ghent to officially support a weekly vegetarian day. He shares in his book a few particular strategies that will drive the global movement even further.
One of the most effective ways is to make plant-based alternatives on a par in variety, quality and pricing with animal-derived products. One example is the widespread use of Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo, the egg-free mayonnaise, in the US. All 7-Eleven stores across the country have switched to Just Mayo in their food items because it is cheaper and its taste is more or less the same as real mayo. “This saves over 81 million gallons of water, preserves over 4 million square feet of land, and prevents 191 million grams of CO2 emission,” according to Josh Tetrick, founder of Hampton Creek. In light of the rising demand for foods free from animal-derived ingredients, egg suppliers in the US even started to manufacture plant-based mayo after their failed attempt to stall the growth of Hampton Creek. They were suing Hampton Creek for misleading customers with the name “Mayo” as mayo by definition has to contain eggs. In this case, we can see that the growth of the plant-based industry not only provides customers with more options, but it also prompts conventional businesses to launch plant-based alternatives.
A completely plant-based world is far-fetched as making dietary change is a lot more complicated than some activists think. We can take a step back and increase the number of meat reducers, also known as flexitarians. In fact, meat reducers are crucial in the movement. The booming of the gluten-free market can give us some insights. Gluten-free options exploded because more and more people believe that avoiding gluten has a positive effect on their health. Thanks to this demand, people suffering from celiac disease now have a wider choice of gluten-free products. This strategy is echoed by Yves Potvin, founder of Gardein, one of the leading meat alternative companies. He admits that flexitarians are their largest consumer group. This group is on the rise and they hold the key to changing the market as vegans and vegetarians still make up a tiny percentage of the population. Therefore we have to put in more efforts in encouraging people to become meat-reducers.
One of the strategies that vegan activists may overlook is the stigma of the term ‘vegan’. Products labeled as ‘vegan’ may in fact turn away non-vegan consumers since they cannot relate to the term. Whole Foods Market actually removed the vegan label from one cupcake a few years ago. The sales were then reported to be three times better. This tactic shows that we in fact have to downplay the word ‘vegan’ to keep the appeal of the products.