Not so long ago, most people – myself included - would have balked at the idea of turning vegan . Even if you could overcome the negative connotations of being a pasty-faced, fully-fledged member part of the sandal-wearing brigade, there was the sheer burden of all that dietary commitment to face. Just thinking about the inflexible rules, the complications of shopping for it and a life without eggs, milk, butter, and cheese, could be overwhelming enough to make you feel the need to smuggle home a steak under the bunches of kale and bags of quinoa in your trolley.
But that was before an image transformation that has seen veganism establish itself as the glamorous dietary path of choice for models and celebrities. With everyone from Beyonce and Jay-Z to Venus Williams and Mike Tyson committed, in varying degrees, to veganism, it has become a statement of healthy intent for A-listers. Some, like Joaquin Cruz who was raised on a vegan diet by his eco-conscious parents, are long-term avoiders of animal products; indeed, Cruz is an ambassador for animal cruelty prevention charity, PETA. Others, like Jessica Simpson who tried it for two weeks prior to her wedding, have dabbled in the diet for its purported health benefits. “Everything is just plant based and just from the ground,” says Jennifer Lopez about the benefits of converting to veganism. “I love that I'm eating more greens. It makes you feel so much better."
Such celebrity backing has buoyed a trend that suddenly sees more and more of us sucked in to the animal product-eschewing world. This year’s Veganuary campaign – a month long toe-dip into the vegan waters held in the first month of the year - attracted an estimated 50,000 people including Vivienne Westwood. Then there was PETA’s ‘Go Vegan in the New Year’ web page where anyone wanting to try eating plant-based food for 30 days could sign up and receive daily recipes, tips on eating out and more.
For me, kicking off 2016 meant sampling the vegan way with deliveries from Mindful Chef , one of many companies capitalising on the booming movement with plant-based recipe boxes containing ingredients for sumptuous meals such as warm wild rice salad with squash, pomegranate and avocado or black bean and mushroom chilli, delivered to your door, removing the mental angst of label-checking and recipe-selection.
And with January long gone? It seems that many have stuck with their new regimen. Newly released statistics from PETA in the UK show that, of the 6,000 people who took their pledge to go Vegan in January, 88 per cent say that they will continue with the approach. The Vegan Society estimates that the number of vegans in the UK has doubled in the last nine years from 150,000 to around 300,000 and millions of Britons – including 20 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds, according to the research group Mintel – have chosen to ditch animal-derived foods. According to Google Trends, UK residents are googling "vegan" at higher rates than ever before. And the UK orders for PETA's vegan starter kits have surged every year – from 14,000 in 2013 to 28,300 in 2014 to a whopping 35,000 in 2015.
How far veganism has come in the last 12 months is no more evident than on the high street where vegan beauty products as well as foods are more popular than ever. Gwyneth Paltrow launched an edible Vegan makeup range this year, and leading health food retailer Holland & Barrett has seen a growing trend in people searching for vegan beauty products. “We’ve noticed a definite increase in the emergence of newer vegan beauty brands such as Skincere, A’Kin and most recently introducing our Zoya Vegan Nail Range into stores,” says Louise Ingham, marketing manager for ethical beauty at Holland & Barrett. “For anyone suffering with skin sensitivity or developing a growing interest in the ingredients within their beauty products, vegan ranges are definitely worth looking out for.”
What surprised me - and presumably others who have given it a stab - was the ease with which you can now try it for yourself. Even for those with no great leaning towards culinary experimentation, the variety of foods and products available is enormous. And growing.
It seems certain that its reputation as a mainstream diet was cemented at the recent British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony where head chef Anton Manganaro created an animal-free menu for vegan A-listers on the guest-list such as Jessica Chastain, Alan Cumming, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Natalie Portman. The plant-based menu featured peppers roasted over English Beachwood, leek and wild mushrooms, pickled heritage carrots with poppy seed dressing and beetroot gel, and black and white quinoa with radish, lemon and avocado. Even confirmed carnivores must have struggled against having their taste buds swayed on the night.
Are you open to a vegan diet, or vegan recipes? Download our Ultimate Vegan Recipe Guide now for over 30 gluten-free, healthy vegan recipes devised by expert Jenna Zoe
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