‘Tipping point’: Australia’s ‘vegan future’
While farmers, pollies and everyday Aussies fired up over the disruption caused by animal rights activists yesterday, history might not be kind to their unwavering loyalty to the meat industry.
That's the view of plant-based food experts who see yesterday's headline-grabbing vegan antics as a monumental tipping point that could reshape Australia's future.
One of those is Vegan Business Media and the host of Vegan Business Talk podcast, Katrina Fox, who told news.com.au the fiery debate following the protests presents us with an opportunity to become a "leader in alternative proteins and embrace the booming global plant-based economy".
She said that last year, when Dominion - the film vegans want everybody to watch - was released, there were protests but the media coverage was non-existent.
"This year, they decided to just go all-out and the media coverage was everywhere," Ms Fox said. "And yes, the media coverage was quite negative because the media likes controversy and conflict.
"But there's going to be a certain percentage of people who are willing to look beyond the headlines, start asking questions and find out why people are doing this - it's a wake-up call."
She admitted it may have stirred some Aussies up the wrong way, but it was a small price to pay.
"Is it a perfect action? No," Ms Fox said. "But when we look at all social justice movements in the past, none of those have come about as a result of nice, polite activism. There's disruption and that's necessary."
As a vegan for 22 years, she never believed she would see a moment - or a "tipping point" as she calls it - when veganism would get so much mainstream attention.
However, she said this moment has been brewing for about three to four years, as Australians began embracing plant-based diets at an alarming rate.
She said that, according to Google Trends data, Australians searched for vegan-related terms than any other nation last year and a Roy Morgan poll found 2.1 million of Australian are vegetarian and meat-free.
According to industry research company IBISWorld, sales of vegan food products have soared over the past five years in Australia - as cost of meat and international meat exports continue to rise.
IBISWorld senior industry analyst, James Caldwell, said this vegan boom is being driven by environmental awareness - particularly given the recent droughts - vegan product innovation and rising health consciousness.
It also comes as the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogenic, placing it alongside asbestos and tobacco.
As a result, IBISWorld research shows domestic meat consumption has stagnated and is expected to fall over the next five years, reflecting increasing health consciousness among consumers.
"Australia is currently experiencing a rising fitness culture, which is encouraging consumers to reduce their meat intake, and to move to low calorie diets," Mr Caldwell said. "Plant-based food manufacturers have been acutely aware of this trend, and have increasingly produced foods with few calories and low levels of saturated fat."
Ms Fox says all of these points resonate with everyday Australians, but that's not always reflected by politicians.
"So, regular Australians are definitely interested in plant-based eating and a vegan lifestyle, but there's a bit of a disconnect in that government and industry are being rather slow on the uptake here," she told news.com.au.
"If you look at the UK, you're seeing a lot of innovation. The supermarkets are jumping on board and Tesco (the UK's largest supermarket chain) hired a plant-based innovation director."
She said Australia is starting to get there, as Coles and Woolworths expand their vegan ranges, but yesterday's protests should mark a line in the sand.
"This is a chance to end the 'us' versus 'them' between animal activists and the animal agriculture industry," she said.
"Let's get everybody to sit around a table, the National Farmers' Federation, our Prime Minister and animal rights groups, because there's a really good opportunity here.
"Australia could become a strong manufacturing base for plant-based products and export them to the Asian market - where they're looking at this because animal agriculture is so bad for the environment."
She said one of the biggest misconceptions about vegans is that they want farmers to be out of jobs.
"Yes, we want the slaughterhouses to close down, but we don't want the farmers to be left homeless," she said. "What we're saying is, there's opportunity for new industries once they close down."
She pointed to Tyson Foods, the world's second-largest processor and seller of beef, chicken, and pork, which has launched its own plant-based products line, manufacturing meat alternatives made out of plants.
IBISWorld analyst, Mr Caldwell said the quality of vegan products is also increasing at a rapid pace, with plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy foods continuously being launched. "Unilever recently launched a plant-based alternative to its Magnum ice cream products, and popular food chains Hungry Jacks, Schnitz and Grill'd have all recently added plant-based options to their menus, in an attempt to take advantage of rising demand."
Taking all this into consideration, Ms Fox said there's never been a better time to go vegan.
"I've been vegan for 22, and when I started I never would have dreamt that these big meat companies and companies like Unilever and Nestle would be jumping on the bandwagon," she said.
"People are realising you don't just have to eat lettuce and lentils. The vegan versions of things are more realistic and delicious than they've ever been."