Vegetarianism, diets in the world, and their impact on food pricing

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Many people initially scoff when they find out someone they know is a vegetarian. Their common response being something along the lines of: “What about protein?” or “Animals are still going to die.” But vegetarianism is a lot more than that, besides the fact that there are still countless vegetarian sources of protein. Dairy to Lentils and other Pulses just being the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, a counter-argument is now being proposed. Research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that long-term vegetarians have a longer life expectancy than short-term vegetarians (and of course higher than meat-eating counterparts). The graph below shows how long-term vegetarians (those who have been vegetarian for 17+ years) live almost 4 years longer than short-term vegetarians.

Source: American Journal of Nutrition
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Another surprising revelation is the growing popularity of vegetarianism in the world, in the most unexpected of locations. Probably one of the world’s most meat-loving nations, Mongolia, has adopted a taste for the veggie burger, noted the Economist a few years ago. This trend is due to a more urbanised, international society. As society became more intellectual, more and more local evidence suggested that the leading cause of heart disease in Mongolia could be remedied with a vegetarian diet. The researchers from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology showed conclusive evidence to suggest that vegetarianism was much needed in Mongolia – a country once known as “The least vegan place in the world.”

What we are beginning to notice at a larger level, for the last 10+ years, is that the demand for quality food is growing. As the populations of many developing nations become more wealthy, there has been a shift in food demand. People who were once content with eating rice and cheap meats to fulfil their calorie needs now want to eat larger varieties of food. With more money in hand, choice in diet can undoubtedly be greater. Thus vegetarianism can be more popular. Thus veganism can also spread. Furthermore, varied meats, vegetables, herbs and spices are also being consumed at an alarmingly fast rate. It’s no wonder that we see large price hikes across the board of food ingredients. 

This is more noticeable than ever in larger cities. For example, in 2005, when the Michelin guide first came to America, specifically New York, it awarded 39 restaurants the coveted Michelin star distinction. In 2013, 65 restaurants in New York held Michelin stars, an increase of 66%. The case is similar across all major cities – more and more high end restaurants are constantly being opened and run. This trend also leaks down to smaller towns and cities, where once only local cuisine used to be served, now we see the rise of foreign restaurants and specialised diets being catered to as well.

But how can all this extra food be produced? What is the real cost of production? We are already aware of the costs of industrial farming of meats. An in-depth research work by Rolling Stone Magazine uncovered that 500 million tons of factory-farm animal waste is generated each year, and already 26%+ of the Earth’s total land mass is being used for animal grazing. Not wanting to get into the specifics of animal cruelty, and disdainful farming conditions, where will the extra production come from? More land is nigh impossible, looking at the cost. Yet creating more yield from the same land is also a big ask. The simple, and most likely outcome is an increase in prices. Food activists are already constantly pouncing on the heads of large corporations, resulting in more and more companies being forced to use Free-range, organic, and other forms of natural production. 

As this trend continues, we expect a pull back in cheap meats and ingredients, and a rise in ethically produced food. However, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. As we have countless times before, the first response to an increase in prices, is to find a way around them. Usually this involves adulteration. With food ingredients, adulteration is almost too easy for major corporations. Use a mix of varieties to get a close-enough appearance, at the cost of flavour. For consumers, it’s usually been a losing battle. The other response to rising prices is increasing sales of processed foods. Comparing supermarket shelves of today and 10 years prior, it’s easy to see a huge rise in processed food compared to raw ingredients. Where once we had aisle after aisle of vegetables, now we see more and more pre-packed salad mixes, soups, instant meals, spice mixes, and other “value added” services. With a lot of misinformation and heavy marketing spend to promote cheaper food, consumers are often not aware of what is actually worth eating. What is actually healthy, and finally, which will taste better. What’s worse, is that the majority of processed foods also end up more expensive.

 Photo: Matthew Rutledge

Photo: Matthew Rutledge

Vegetarianism and other specialist diets are a natural bi-product of developing countries. Food prices will have to trend upwards, this is inevitable. The most important thing is to keep quality standards high during this time. Our stance is the same as many others, we highly encourage scrutiny over ingredients. Fresh, and pure ingredients are always going to taste better – and not adulterating our food is a cost we are prepared to risk!



American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
Economist: Vegetarians in Mongolia – Putting og in the yurt
Rolling Stone Magazine

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