To commemorate the close of 2021, Google released its “Year in Search” report, detailing the patterns and trends based on Google searches from the past calendar year. The search engine records all of the search queries from users over the last 12 months to analyze behavioral patterns. This year, Google revealed that the terms “vegan food near me” experienced more than a 5,000 percent increase in 2021, revealing a significant spike in search, categorized as a 'breakout search' by the tech giant.

The “Year in Search” report revealed how Google users have pivoted towards other plant-based, vegan, and sustainable searches over the year. The report showed that search terms including “is climate change caused by humans” and “how does eating less meat help climate change” ranked as breakout searches in October. For November, searches for “vino vegano” or vegan wine grew more than 3,800 percent.

The Google report also published a magazine full of interviews and stories to accompany the data found by the Google Trends team. The widespread interest in healthier and sustainable food options can be attributed to one of the biggest searches of the year: “how to heal.” The entire report and magazine fell under this theme, stating that “This year’s Google Search trends reveal the various ways—big and small, tender, awkward, inspiring, and hopeful—that the world searched, more than ever before, for healing.”

Google’s report signifies that people worldwide have shifted their attention to foods that will help the planet and personal health. By boosting the demand for nutritional food, people have started researching the benefits of plant-based foods themselves. Within the report, Google interviewed Chef Jocelyn Ramirez to talk about the benefits of plant-based cooking and the rise of vegan food everywhere. The chef published her first cookbook, La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Cooking with Authentic Mexican Flavor, aiming to promote plant-based cooking by reinventing her traditional cuisine.

“If I go to an event and people are coming to our area because of the aroma or it looks great, and then we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s mushroom mole or jackfruit tinga or heart of palm ceviche,’ people are like, ‘Oh, OK, interesting,’” Ramirez told Google Trends. “But I had one time where a staff member was like, ‘This is all vegan food.’ And everybody’s like, ‘Oh no, oh no, I don’t even wanna look at it. It’s vegan; I’m not vegan.’ And from that day forward, I was like, ‘We really can’t approach it in this way.’ It just doesn’t have a positive connotation in our communities, and also it feels very binary.

“I want it to feel like you could live in these in-between worlds. This is also why I use the term ‘plant-based’ more than ‘vegan’; it’s a little bit more flexible for some people, and I think a little bit more of a stepping stone of the direction that we all need to be headed in.”

While “plant-based” searches remained relatively stable over the last year, consumers became more interested in vegan cooking. When the world faces an environmental crisis, the general search trends began leaning towards solutions across all categories. The Google report highlights how people worldwide became aware of the dangers surrounding the meat and dairy industries. “Sustainability” and “how to conserve” reached all-time high search levels in 2021.

In 2021, the UN released a “Code Red” report on climate change amid severe weather patterns ranging from blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The evidence of a climate crisis became more tangible than ever, and among solution discourse, plant-based food production and consumption is at the forefront. Recently, a study from the University of Leeds found that a meatless diet could cut personal emission costs by 59 percent when compared to non-vegetarian diets.

The online ordering platform Grubhub released a similar report near the end of 2021 entitled the “Year in Food” that showed its most popular items. The company announced that the Impossible Cheeseburger increased in popularity by 442 percent over the last year, highlighting the same growth in plant-based consumer interest as the Google report. Both reports signify a consistent trend towards plant-based foods. Even in 2020, the food media outlet Chef’s Pencil analyzed Google Trends data to conclude that veganism hit an all-time high, claiming it was “twice as popular as it was just five years ago, and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.” With health and sustainability at the forefront of people’s minds, vegan and plant-based eating will likely continue growing at this accelerated rate.

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