Vegan-ish is the Latest Trend, as Consumers Embrace Plant-Based Eating

|Updated Apr 22, 2020
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When I went plant-based, my husband jumped on board, cooking plant-based burgers and enjoying vegan food with me, and only eating fish or eggs outside of the house. He was mostly vegan, or as he told people: "I'm  Vegan-ish." He was ahead of the curve.

Vegan-ish is now a growing trend as the world copes with the coronavirus, climate change, and leading doctors are connecting the dots between human health, sustainable food systems, and climate change. Late last year, leading doctors released The Planetary Health Diet, or what could be called the "vegan-ish" approach to eating.

Plant-Based Product Sales Are Skyrocketing

Just this month, plant-based food company THIS (as in "This is not Chicken") based in the UK reported month-over-month sales increases of 35 percent. It's not that people are choosing to go full-on vegan, but they are eating more plant-based foods for the sake of their health and the planet. When we last checked in with THIS, they had set up a food truck with an Ed Sheeran doppelganger to hand out faux chicken nuggets to unsuspecting bystanders. So one reason they may be gaining in popularity is that they are having fun with the trend toward vegan-ish eating. Adding a faux singer to a fax nugget is certainly a way of mainstreaming the message: Faux is in, faux is fun.

Meanwhile, Impossible Foods announced they were accelerating their plans for broadened distribution, and other companies are reporting record sales despite the uneven supply chain.

Veganish means: Eating mostly plant-based, but leaving flexibility

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area, says that her clients are asking her about how to eat "plant-based" now, and whether they will see health benefits.

"You can most definitely see health benefits from eating plant-based or vegan-ish," Gorin says. When my clients ask me about this, I tell them that eating plant-based literally means adding plants to your eating. It doesn’t necessarily mean removing anything from your diet.

"So if you’re a vegetarian and eat eggs, you can still be mostly plant-based.  Or if you’re a pescatarian and eat salmon occasionally, you can still eat that" she says, and see the benefits of a mostly plant-based diet. Eliminating and reducing animal product is the gist of it. Not perfection. Studies show that eating a  mostly vegan or vegetarian diet can help lower both your risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, according to numerous recent studies.

A big part of the benefit comes from a focus on plant-based eating—so the more you eat fruits, vegetables, pulses, and other plant-based foods the more benefit you'll get.

Vegan-ish also is a way to describe the philosophy first outlined by The China Study back in 2006, whose author T. Colin Campbell told The Beet that a diet of mostly plant-based foods is the goal, and shooting for 95 percent is the gold standard. But the important thing is making the effort, not necessarily hitting the mark every time.

Perfection is not the goal, consistency is, so don't try for "95 percent" or nothing

"I wouldn’t stress yourself out with aiming for a hard and fast number," says Gorin. "I would simply try your best to add a fruit or vegetable to every snack or meal—and also aim to incorporate other good-for-you plant-based foods, such as whole grains, healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds, and pulses. I find that newer plant-based eaters really love my vanilla smoothie because you can’t taste the edamame that’s blended into it!

When I ask people (such as freelance writers who pitch me stories for The Beet), are you plant-based? They often answer somewhat sheepishly... "Mostly plant-based." I tell them, "You're vegan-ish! That's good. It's a start. You're leaning into plants and that is better than focusing on the few ways you are not adhering to the strict vegan lifestyle." Now more than ever, I want to encourage plant-forward thinking, not check someone's vegan credentials at the door. Bringing them into the tent, by celebrating "vegan-ish-ism" is step one. Understanding that this is a new, healthier way to eat is validating. Maybe it's not the healthiest diet, but a healthier diet is a good step.

Ditching Meat and Dairy for Your Health and the Health of the Planet

The Planetary Diet, developed by the EAT-Lancet Commission as the world’s first scientific target for healthy and sustainable food systems, is characterized by eating a "variety of high-quality plant-based foods and low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, added sugars, and unhealthy fats" according to the Harvard School of Public Health's publication, The Nutrition Source. The Planetary diet is "designed to be flexible to accommodate local and individual situations, traditions, and dietary preferences." In other words, vegan-ish

Veganish, or Ditching Meat, Is Also Trendy Among A-Listers

It's not just Joaquin Phoenix who is going public against meat. We hear from stars like Jack Black and Mark Wahlberg, both ditching meat within a month of each other, Black as his climate "resolution" and Wahlberg for his energy levels, performance, and general wellbeing. More Millennial moms are checking the box that they want to put more plant-based foods on the table for their children, as a way of reducing the chemical load on their family's health; Younger Gen Z planet-conscious environmentalists are going vegan-ish to lower their carbon footprint and the impact of the food they eat on greenhouses gases.

Whatever your motivation, the vegan-ish approach essentially nets out as "choosing plant-based foods whenever possible" but not ruling out the occasional fish, cheese or egg. If you're trying to eat healthier, and incorporate more plant-based foods, for your personal health and the health of the planet, you are part of the new "Vegan-ish" movement.

The Coronavirus Pandemic is a Wakeup Call, According to the Pope and Others

The Coronavirus pandemic has everyone, even Pope Francis, questioning whether this moment is the wake-up call that connecting the dots between the food we eat to dangerous new diseases, to changes in our climate. Super-bugs and diseases are a sure sign that our world is changing rapidly.

What may have started in a "wet market" (where live animals and birds are killed to be sold as food) and tore through populations around the world in a matter of weeks, COVID-19 is taking the lives of tens of thousands of people, and the most vulnerable to the virus are those who have health conditions, or are "immune-compromised."

It's tragic. And the message is clear: Take care of yourself, stay as fit and as "immune-strong" as you can, to fight this clear and present danger. The best way to do that is by sleeping, de-stressing, and eating more plant-based foods. If we weren't doing it prior to now, we may never get the memo. Our health and the health of the planet is at stake.

The Planetary Diet is the Approach Leading Doctors Recommend Now

The only way forward that is sustainable, healthy, ethical, and humanitarian is to fill our plates with mostly fruits and vegetables, according to recent statements by Dr. Walter Willet, Chairman of Harvard's School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition, and recently called "the world’s most influential nutritionist” by TheBoston Globe. WIllet has campaigned for dramatic changes in the food system to benefit human health and that of the planet. In a talk in February, he espoused The Planetary Health Diet which leans heavily on fruits and vegetables.

“Red meat is a real outlier in terms of greenhouse-gas production,” Willet said. For the sake of “major implications for health and the environment,” the Planetary Health plan recommends one serving of dairy a day, a modest amount of poultry and eggs, and, at most, one serving of red meat a week, with legumes, nuts, and whole grains making up the rest. In other words, vegan-ish!

“There’s some flexibility around this,”  Willet added. “Different cultures will want different mixes.” The impact of food is shown in the chart below:

Source: World Resources Institute. Details on data to produce this figure available here

 Eating Veganish is the New Vegetarian Approach. it Raises the Bar

While the concept of being vegetarian has been around for decades, the idea of dabbling in a plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle is becoming more widespread than ever as consumers follow in the footsteps of their favorite high-profile celebrities who vocally dopt plant-based eating and vegan habits on their Instagram stories and in articles (and of course Joaquin Phoenix during his Oscar acceptance speech. But most people stopping short of full-time commitment to veganism.

Just last week Kelly Ripa's nutritionist said the TV star's diet is 99 percent plant-based while stars like Harrison Ford announces that he's made the decision to "ditch meat" for the sake of the planet. Most of these don't use the label "vegan" since it carries with it a strict or ethical overlay that they would rather sidestep, lest they get "caught" eating meat, or honey, or some other animal product that strict vegans avoid.

Demand for plant-based alternatives is growing. The plant-based dairy category is expected to nearly double from 2017 when it was a $21 billion market to $37.5 billion by the year 2024. Meanwhile, the meat alternative category is expected to grow 20 fold, from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion by the year 2030, according to UBS Investments. Much of that is due to the environmental cost of our food choices.

Meatless Mondays Started with Paul McCartney and his family

The concept of ditching meat and dairy dates back to the mid-1990s, when Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary launched Meat-Free Mondays, in honor of Linda McCartney, a long-time vegetarian who did it "out of compassion" when he lived on a farm and saw the lambs they raised, and they decided that they didn't want to eat lamb any longer.

Then McCartney says he connected eating animal product to greenhouse gas production and the effect that growing livestock has on the climate and the impact on GHG. "You don't think about it, but when you start to think about it, and fast foods... and the amount of cattle needed to feed that worldwide craving, the impact is huge." While Sir Paul connects to compassion, most vegan-ish eaters do it for the sake of their personal health.

The Mediterranean Diet is Good but Plant-Based, or Veganish is Better

 The Beet has published story after story of the latest studies that show plant-based is the healthiest way to eat as long as it is a "whole food, plant-based" diet and not full of junk. The Mediterranean Diet is "good for you" but according to Dr. Joel Kahn a WFPB diet is the best for you. So why do most doctors espouse the Mediterranean? Because it's the one more people will agree to try; being fully plant-based or vegan is too hard. Still, it has science and studies to back it up as the winning way to eat now.

For instance, in a study of 100 participants with cardiovascular artery disease, eating a more plant-based diet was shown to be better for heart health and led to a lower risk of dying from a heart attackstroke or other cardiovascular diseases, and the results were better than other "heart-healthy" diets that include lean meat, fish and dairy, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

People who ate the most plant-based foods overall showed a range of benefits:

  • 16% lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, and other conditions;
  • 32% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and
  • 25% lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.

Veganish is a Step in the Right Direction. The Beet Believes in "Just Add Plants"

The other reason that being "veganish" is gaining in popularity now is the fact that there are so many new products hitting the market weekly that mimick meat, from the Beyond Burger to the Impossible Burger, plant-based cheeses from Miyoko's Creamery, vegan snack foods, like chips, cookies, and plant-based cheeses and dips. Plus companies like Oatly and So Delicious, NadaMoo and Ben & Jerries are bringing out new richer-than-ever plant-based ice creams that taste as good as the real thing. The Beet reviews products and welcomes your reviews of your favorite products as well, on the Beet Meter.

So the next time someone asks if you're plant-based, or vegan... instead of saying "Mostly" just say, "I'm veganish!"