Why vegan meat substitutes aren’t the way to fight climate change – Stephen Jardine

Vertical farming is an efficient way to grow vegetables (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Less than two per cent of UK adults follow a vegan diet, according to the latest figures from market research firm Minitel. But walk down the High Street and you’d be forgiven for thinking the real number is at least ten times that.

Veganism has been the hot trend in the food industry for the past two years, with sandwich shops, burger chains and supermarkets vying for position in the face of the expected consumer tidal wave. Except they didn’t materialize.

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Burger King recently ended a trial of a vegan restaurant in London and has no plans to repeat the exercise. Additionally, an American vegan fast food chain recently closed its four UK locations and Honest Burgers abandoned its only meatless outlet after customers continued to demand beef or chicken.

How do you know someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you in a few minutes. It’s a tired old joke, but there seems to be a disconnect between people’s willingness to declare their meat-free status on social media and their willingness to put it into practice.

If you’ve ever tried a vegan burger, you might not be surprised that the industry is slowing down.

Often a disappointment and rarely a delight, the fake meat industry behind vegan fast food has also come to a standstill. Beyond Meat, the company behind many plant-based products, burned through $580 million in capital last year to post a loss of $182 million.

Taste may be a factor, but another issue is undoubtedly the cost of living crisis. Vegan meat alternatives tend to be heavily processed with long lists of ingredients needed to achieve the necessary mouthfeel and flavor. That makes them more expensive, and right now that’s a problem.

Of course, we should all eat less meat and more vegetables, the very future of the planet depends on it. But this will be achieved through casual vegetarianism rather than the rigorous demands of veganism.

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Food brands and supermarket retailers would have realized that if they had done some real research and not rushed headlong to change their approach based on Instagram hashtags or what Love Island competitors say they like to eat.

At the moment, the market is distorted. Teenagers are much more likely to be those who declare themselves vegetarians, so parents take them to restaurants and shop in supermarkets where their tastes will be catered for.

As a result, we have vegan menus that very few people order and vegan ready meals that often end up on the thin shelves.

The answer is to move away from a world where food scientists try to create a meatless burger, sausage, or meal that tastes like a meat dish using vast lists of additives and ingredients.

Instead, we should focus on making vegetables the centerpiece of every meal with meat as the occasional treat.

Scotland is now leading the way in vertical farming, a technique developed by NASA scientists to allow crops to be grown indoors in stacked containers. It is effective and durable, and the potential is vast.

Instead of fake meat, real vegetables grown here are a much more appetizing prospect.