Vegan eating soared to new heights in 2018, sparking menu innovations, business opportunities, new laws and increased conflict. The year was one of contrasts, where watermelon hams burned up the internet while raw hog waste poured into the Atlantic Ocean after Hurricane Florence slammed into North Carolina.

The end-of-year climate talks in Poland were criticized by some for serving too much meat and marked by the dire reports issued at the gathering. The World Resources Institute released one such report that found livestock is responsible for 60 percent of agricultural emissions.

The assumption that everyone does or should eat meat faded somewhat during the past year. We saw this when Monopoly launched a Millennial version in which all players are vegan; Google removed the egg from its salad emoji to make it vegan-friendly; the US Vegan Climate Index fund went live under the ticker VEGAN; and co-working company WeWork banned its 6,000 employees from expensing meals that contain meat.

Also significant: The New York Times published an opinion piece calling for a carbon tax on beef, which echoed an earlier report warning investors that meat taxes will be adopted by select countries within five to 10 years.

HiGH-STYLE VEGANS

Meat taxes are too wonky to register on the pop culture radar, yet the glamorous and the influential continued their high-style embrace of plant-based foods in 2018.

During the Christmas holidays the British papers were full of news that Carole Middleton, mother-in-law to Prince William, is eating vegan. Middleton told a style reporter she planned to serve vegan options at the Christmas dinner she hosted for her family, which now includes four heirs to the throne.

A month earlier and on this side of the Atlantic, First Daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted about two of her children from the annual White House turkey pardon: “Joseph and Arabella have sworn off turkey and are insisting on a vegetarian Thanksgiving!”

The year saw the Wu-Tang Clan endorse White Castle’s vegan sliders, British TV chef Jamie Oliver host a vegan episode encouraging viewers to eat less meat or none at all, and Beyoncé go vegan for a month and a half before headlining the Coachella music festival in California. Beyoncé wasn’t the only celebrity benefiting from vegan eating’s transformative health effects. Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Smith, Ne-Yo and will.i.am all praised the vegan lifestyle during 2018.

VEGANS VS. MEAT-EATERS

As the year wore on, the continued shift toward plant-based eating caused butchers, factory farmers, dairy operators and meat lobbyists to ramp up calls for government protections, labeling laws and other marketplace barriers.

In August, the French city of Calais canceled a vegan festival, a cancellation that the organizers blamed on “hunters and farmers” who’ve made “very clear threats about what would happen if the event went ahead.” Earlier in the summer, butchers in France (ground zero for the foie gras trade) asked for government protection following reports of vegan activists throwing fake blood on butcher shops. “Some people have suggested that butchers are overstating the threat based on a few incidents,” NPR reported in its story on the conflict.

Here in the United States in 2018, the conflict played out in the political and legal arenas. The most significant was when North Carolina factory pig farm neighbors won two multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the farms’ corporate owners for the human disease, stench, flies and general nuisance the operations create. North Carolina lawmakers responded by making it more difficult to file such claims.

Missouri politicians took a similar tack with a first-in-the-nation labeling law that, since August, has made it illegal to sell food labeled “vegan burger” or “plant-based sausage” in the state. The Missouri move follows a French ban enacted in the spring which outlaws meat and dairy terms on vegetarian foods sold in that country. Consumer groups and plant-based meat producers are challenging the Missouri law in court.

LOCAL ACTION

It’s no secret the culture is different on the West Coast, where the California legislature passed a law in 2018 requiring healthcare facilities, hospitals and prisons to offer vegan options. At the close of the year, Los Angeles lawmakers seeking climate change relief were considering a similar requirement for all large entertainment venues in the city.

On the other side of the globe, residents of Tel Aviv organized an all-vegan political party this year to run candidates in municipal elections. Over in The Netherlands, the government released new dietary guidelines calling on Dutch citizens to eat much less meat, fish, eggs and cheese due to the outsized environmental footprint of animal-based foods.

In Toronto, a growing cluster of vegan businesses moved into the Parkdale neighborhood, rebranding it Vegandale. The Canadian government itself drew applause from both farmers and vegetarians when it pledged $180 million to support research and development of plant-based proteins.

Here in the eastern half of the United States, progressive cities also embraced the societal shift away from animal-based diets. In September, Philadelphia’s tourism bureau launched a publicity campaign touting the city’s “robust vegan dining scene.” In October, Miami held its first vegan restaurant week. The municipal government of Asheville, North Carolina, along with the local hospital and the Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, held a weeklong vegan challenge in June, during which restaurants added vegan dishes and city residents were encouraged to eat vegan.

And in July, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a proclamation calling on residents to eat less meat in order to lower the city’s carbon footprint.

CHANGING MARKETPLACE

In 2018, savvy entrepreneurs saw opportunity in plant-based foods. And those hostile to them found themselves with fewer customers. Consider these restaurant tales from 2018.

First the story of a new, all-vegan fish and chips restaurant in London, which was opened by the owners of a traditional fish and chips shop. The manager of the vegan shop told a reporter: “When we put vegan options on the menu of our other shop, there was so much demand we could hardly keep up.”

Contrast that with the news in September that a 128-year-old London hand pie shop was closing, and the owner blamed its demise on changing demographics and the rise of vegan eating. The owner said customers asked for vegan options and he refused, calling the requests “some kind of bad joke.”

Finally to Hong Kong, where the owner of a meat-heavy restaurant knew the menu was in direct conflict with his desire to protect the oceans. So against everyone’s advice he took the menu 100 percent vegan. The restaurant remains packed and the owner says any customers he lost in the switch were replaced by new customers seeking vegan food.

Despite the efforts of lawmakers in France and Missouri, vegan versions of animal products saw sales climb in 2018. Beyond Meat even filed for a $100 million initial public stock offering in November.

Canadian fast food chain A&W added the company’s vegan Beyond Burger to its menu this year, and the resulting demand triggered a nationwide shortage of the burgers. Earlier in the year, purchase data from a leading supermarket in California revealed that Beyond Meat burgers were out-selling animal-based burgers in the grocer’s meat case.

I’m afraid more tough times are ahead for hamburger hawkers: In 2019 the vegan Impossible Burger, sold only in restaurants until now, will be rolled out to supermarkets.

After a year like the one just past, I expect momentous vegan strides to be made this year. Turns out, the editors at The Economist agree. In the prestigious magazine’s annual look-ahead forecast released in December they christened 2019 “The year of the vegan.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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