We know that mass veganism would seriously help our climate. Might it need a "vegan industrial revolution" to get us there?
The above are not mocked-up photoshop pictures, but an actual pop-up shop - Sainsburys’ Meat-Free Butchers, opened for three days in Bethnal Green last month. “The traditional style butchers offers customers an array of cuts and joints derived from 100% plant-based alternatives”, says the company’s blurb. “Meaty’ cuts, joints and strings of sausages found in the shop will in fact be made from the likes of mushroom, jackfruit and even pea protein.”
This is a sign, as Rob McFarlane says, that the plant-free option known as veganism is becoming a major consumer demand - and business is responding. But rather than dismiss this as a middle-class fad, Rob urges us - in this Open Democracy piece - to think of it as a kind of collective “mission” for industry in the UK. As he explains:
A paradigm for economic policymaking theorised and championed by Mariana Mazzucato and UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, industrial missions are enjoying a moment in the sun. The EU has drawn on this thinking for its R&D framework from 2020, Horizon Europe…
The concept crystallises many emerging features of the post-recession turn in economics. It recognises that “growth has not only a rate but also a direction”. It claims an active role for the state in shaping markets and “tilting the playing field”. And it understands that tackling huge societal tasks like climate change calls for an interconnected, systemic response.
Missions themselves, once set, channel policymaking down the best path we can envisage.
Developing a mission for plant-based food would kick a burgeoning sector into overdrive. In what Waitrose calls ‘the era of the mindful consumer’, survey results frequently show more and more people claiming to live a meat-free lifestyle. While that includes vegetarians, the Vegan Society estimates just over one per cent of people in Great Britain abstain strictly from consuming meat or animal products.
The number quadrupled over four years since 2014. Other surveys are more generous, depicting up to 7 per cent of Brits as active vegans. The gap, implying a wedge of respondents who stop short of practising veganism in full yet feel positively towards the term, only points to more room for growth. Industry research confirms the rate of growth and potential value as yet unrealised.
In particular, the consultancy AT Kearney see cultured meat – made of animal cells cultivated in a lab – as the innovation with the greatest commercial potential.
Mazzucato’s work stresses that missions are supposed to be ambitious and spur a creative approach to radical change that cuts across sectors and types of organisation. The Apollo moon landing is cited as a prototypical mission, requiring a flurry of technological and scientific development – all coordinated across different types of organisation.
The wide variety of businesses and associations with a stake in the vegan industry should not be underestimated. A willing UK government could easily adopt a mission, say, to raise the proportion of British food accounted for by cultured and plant-based meat alternatives.
The most costly innovations are clustered at the lab-grown end, making the most attractive target for investment in research and development. For plant-based meat replacements – already relatively well-established – public bodies could play a coordinating role to scale the existing range, by overcoming barriers from transportation to industry standards. Incentives for retailers to switch away from animal products would complete the value chain.
More here. It looks like the UK - perhaps even particularly post-Brexit, given that we import 90% of meat products - is very soft ground for this: the country recently overtook Germany as the world’s leading launcher of vegan food products.
[And at the hearth of A/UK, we can heartily recommend Meera Sodha’s recipes as a way to get into this future, very tastily indeed…]