Veganism is in vogue. Fashion house Hermès now offers luxury handbags made from a type of fungus rather than leather, while a long list of automakers including Porsche offers vegan automobile interiors.
Not eating animal products is of course the original major tenant of the ‘ism,’ but veganism has expanded into a lifestyle choice that can be embraced by both one’s hippie relative as well as the New York City socialite. Firms are lining up to offer the finer things of life – in vegan form. Lab-grown caviar is being created in the UK by Exmoor Caviar, the same company that pioneered sturgeon caviar farming in the English countryside back in 2012.
Exmoor’s CEO Kenneth Benning says he believes it will become increasingly socially unacceptable to eat caviar that comes from actual fish, and while that might have sounded silly a decade ago, today his assessment seems highly likely to prove correct. Ethical living is what the cool kids are into. A far cry from the hedonism their parents and grandparents revealed back in the day.
Health, wellness, social responsibility, and environmental awareness are what a fast-increasing sector of consumers are demanding, and companies and corporations are stepping up to the plate – in the case of food; quite literally. Perhaps the biggest factor that’s helped drive an increasing number away from consuming or using animal products is the invention or development of substitutes that are not inferior.
Instead of a boring bean-paddy veggie burger, high-tech startups are now creating plant-based 3D printed meat so close to the real deal that even celebrity chefs and barbecue experts are giving it the thumbs up. In short, you no longer have to sacrifice comfort, style, taste… or much anything anymore, should you choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
You don’t need to compromise as both startups and established brands bend over backward to offer what hasn’t previously been possible: a luxury vegan life.
Of course, it might be fair to argue that some of this trend can be attributed to corporate “greenwashing,” but it’s hard to deny the reality of the desire from so many consumers to reduce harm to the environment, reduce the suffering of animals, and in general, live a lifestyle that leaves a lighter footprint on mother earth.
According to researchers at Oxford University, the single thing an individual can do to reduce their carbon footprint by as much as 70% or more adopts a vegan diet. But as we noted, you don’t have to settle for yams and carrots… 3D printed vegan steak is now just one of many upscale meal choices.
The substitute meat industry has transformed so much in the last decade that non-ironic vegan butcher shops are cropping up in major cities in Western countries – as well as in Hong Kong. For those who’ve been championing the cause since before it was fashionable it must all feel a bit odd.
Not that there hasn’t been a backlash. And the ‘veganites’ are still far from a majority. In a BBC report on the phenomenon some term ‘veganophobia,’ they note that veganism stirs up some rather irrational emotions in some, with research showing only drug addicts face the same degree of stigma.
But when psychologists such as Hank Rothgerber of Kentucky’s Bellarmine University examine the cause of vegan hatred, they argue that it boils down to answering one fundamental question which is “how do we continue to eat meat?” Or “how can we justify continuing to eat meat?”.
As Rothgerber told the BBC, “So basically we live in an era today, at least in the Western world, where there’s more and more evidence, more and more arguments, and more and more books about how eating meat is bad. But still, our behavior hasn’t changed significantly.”
He’s right. The demand for meat continues to increase globally, while in the United States, recent years have seen the highest per capita meat consumption in the history of the nation. Rothgerber explains that for many, it takes “mental gymnastics” to excuse a practice they feel in their gut to be wrong or for which the evidence of its harm is solid.
Faced with vegan this and vegan that, cognitive dissonance is required for some, which can be a source of serious frustration. Research also shows that vegans are in fact guilty of some of their detractor’s accusations – namely, they do think they are better than everyone else.
So, it looks like – at least in some places and societies – we are in for a period of strife, if that’s not too strong a term, between folks who do love animals but find the idea of not eating them hard to swallow, and the growing legions of ethical consumers who ofttimes employ guilt trips that are generally counterproductive.
The good news is that when both the carnivore and the vegan bite into the 3D printed steak that’s about to hit the market, both can be right: “Admit it! You like the taste of meat! It’s just good.” – “Yeah, ok, fine. But see? It doesn’t have to come from an animal.”