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It wasn’t that long ago, vegans had little choice when dining out and shopping at supermarkets for mass-produced foods. The stereotypical caricatures of tree-hugging hippies and anarchist punks often associated with veganism are now a thing of the past, as the devout way of living has sky rocketed into mainstream culture.

In fact, the number of consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1% to 6% between 2014 and 2017 – a 600% increase, according to GlobalData. There has also been a 987% increase in the demand for meat-free foods and a 17% increase in the production of plant-based alternatives to cheese, milk, meat and eggs – statistics that giant food corporation simply cannot ignore.

From Greggs’ vegan sausage roll and Häagen-Dazs’ diary-free ice cream, to vegan-friendly steaks and burgers that actually bleed – all of the main food retailers and restaurants seem to be jumping on the veganism bandwagon – and it’s the UK that is leading the way.

Last year, the UK market launched more vegan products than any other nation in the world, making it the country’s fastest culinary trend of 2018 and bringing the market value to over £310m. The demand for vegan options is now being driven by a larger consumer base than ever, with an estimated 3% of the UK population now identifying as vegan.

Whether a person’s reason for turning to veganism is part of their quest for a healthier diet, helping to save the environment, or a moral standpoint on cruelty to animals, more and more people are converting their diets – including influential celebrities.

A-listers such as Natalie Portman, Jared Leto, Moby, and Woody Harrelson are among those who have publicly proclaimed their strict abstinence in staying away from all animal products – which, in combination with social media, has significantly contributed to its rise in popularity.

Even non-vegans are getting in on it – as Kantar reported that 92% of plant-based meals consumed in the UK in 2018 were eaten by non-vegans and, according to the Vegan Society, more than half of UK adults are now adopting ‘vegan buying behaviour’, with approximately 22 million people now identifying as ‘flexitarian’.

Supermarkets have been particularly quick at stocking up on vegan cuisine, with Tesco being the first to launch ‘Wicked Kitchen’ – its own-label vegan range that reportedly sold over four million meals in the first 8 months. Sainsbury’s has also created a ‘next generation plant-based range’ and Asda has come out with a new ‘lower price vegan range’, with Morrisons, Iceland, and Waitrose also launching ranges to tap into the ‘flexitarian’ market.

However, whilst retailers seem to be making a sizeable sum from the rise in veganism, there is more to this new fad than pleather shoes, jackfruit burgers and ridiculous profit margins. Researchers at the University of Oxford have suggested that vegans and flexitarians are actually the key to a sustainable future for mankind.

The study suggests that by lowering our meat and dairy consumption and switching to diets that are rich in fruit and vegetables, we can help to cut down on climate change. Halving food wastage and adopting better farming practices are the other vital targets we need to aim for.

Dr Marco Springman, the lead author of the study, said: “No single solution is enough to avoid crossing planetary boundaries. But when the solutions are implemented together, our research indicates that it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably.”

So, not only will you be saving an innocent animal’s life or two when you decide to bypass the next burger, you’ll actually be helping to save the planet! Pass me that tofu, will you?