Why veganism has become big business
Ammindeep Singh had just got home from the pub, when he clicked onto a YouTube video that would change his life.
"I had been working outside, it was Christmas week, and I had been to the pub and had a mixed grill," he recalls.
"Somebody had put a video up called Scary Dairy, it showed the way that the dairy industry was taking the calves from their mothers," says the 43-year-old builder from Wolverhampton.
"At the time I had lost contact with my three kids, and I knew how those mothers felt."
He then watched another video about the egg industry, and his mind was made up.
"That night, after I had the mixed grill, I said to my missus, 'I'm not going to eat meat or dairy any more'," he says.
Today is World Vegan Day, an event first held by the Vegan Society 25 years ago. In 1994 the average man in the street would struggle to know precisely what veganism was about, but a quarter of a century on it has become big business. According to the Birmingham-based society, the number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled over the past five years and now accounts for more than 600,000 people. Of those, 42 per cent made the change during 2018, showing that it is very much a growing trend.
Mr Singh believes this is to a large degree down to the internet.
"I think there is a lot more interest among the millennial generation, because they are more involved with social media," he says. "That's the driving force, social media."
Mr Singh admits there were one or two raised eyebrows when he first told friends about his new lifestyle.
"People used to say 'what do you eat? Are you just eating grass?', but when they see the food that I do eat, there is so much variety."
In recent years, the profile of the vegan diet has been raised by celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Morrissey, Paul McCartney and Jay-Z who have all embraced the lifestyle.
The Good Life restaurant in Shrewsbury has been catering for the vegan and vegetarian market for more than 40 years. Manager Mandie Williams says she has noticed a growing interest in vegan meals over the past few months.
"We do get more people coming in asking about vegan meals," she says.
"We now do two vegan hot dishes on every menu, and one of the things we're looking at is offering more vegan desserts.
"We only used to do two vegan desserts, but we're now offering four or five, it's one of the things people have been asking about," she says.
Mr Singh admits that his diet wasn't especially balanced during his first few days as a herbivore.
"I just ate lots of crisps and chips and things like that, with a bit of fruit and veg as well," he says.
"Coming from an Indian background probably made it a bit easier, as a a lot of our food is vegetable based, whereas in Britain the meat-and-two-veg is a strong tradition."
But as veganism has entered the mainstream, the food manufacturers have been swift to cash in, as demonstrated by the recent Tesco advertisement about a father who changes his diet to cope with his young daughter's conscience.
Mr Singh says: "Now you can go in almost any pub and restaurant and there will be a vegan option, they do it in J D Wetherspoons.
"That pub where I had the mixed grill four years ago now does a vegan mixed grill."
He says giving up meat has actually been the easiest part of his new lifestyle.
"I don't go to horse racing anymore, I don't go to zoos or fireworks," he says.
"Those have been the hardest things, the food has been the easy part."
In the early days, Mr Singh says that meat substitute products such as vegan burgers and sausages were a big help, but over the years he has weaned himself of those products and has no desire to go back to them.
"I don't want it to taste exactly like meat," he says.
"I'm quite active on the scene, and when you see the animals you don't want it to taste like meat."
World Vegan Day was the brainchild of West Midland-born DJ and singer Louise Wallis, mark the 50th anniversary of the Vegan Society. The event is now marked around the world with food festivals and tree planting.
Wallis, who used the name Luminous in her musical career, says: "We knew the society had been founded in November 1944 but didn’t know the exact date, so I decided to go for November 1, partly because I liked the idea of this date coinciding with Halloween and the Day of the Dead – traditional times for feasting and celebration, both apt and auspicious."
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