Plant-based meats are eating more menu space and it’s not just because of ‘Veganuary’

January 9, 2020, 1:07 PM UTC

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Good morning and, if it’s not too late, happy New Year.

I’ve spent the first week of the year back in my native London, which I’ve been largely absent from for the past five years. Coming home, I’ve been surprised by some changes.

First, the U.K. is going cashless at a clip, to the point that coin slots at self-service machines have been taped up in my local Tesco (which could be the winds of change, or could be shoddy maintenance). But the change that has struck me the most is written on the menus, where plant-based alternatives are being awarded more and more space in a complete reversal from the pro-meat trend when I was last living here.

I left the U.K. in 2015, when the country was at peak meat, with trendy BBQ joints decked out in neon lights and packing every corner. Coming back: McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King have all launched plant-based options (with varying success). High street bakery Greggs, famed for sausage rolls and steak bakes, has launched vegan alternatives; the former was so successful the company is sharing out £7 million in staff bonuses to celebrate.

It’s not just because its “Veganuary,” which this year reportedly has 300,000 participants signed-up. Retail sales for meat alternatives are up, too, surging 18% last year to around £470 million and is predicted to hit £658 million by 2021.

Evidently there’s growing clout behind the Green Pound, which will actually make the shift more sustainable as businesses are incentivized to cater towards the movement. But beyond the economics, a societal shift is at work.

Last week a U.K. judge ruled that ethical veganism—which advocates the avoidance of all products that harm animals—should be protected under law as a philosophical belief. For context, the ruling came during an employment tribunal brought by a worker who alleges he was fired due to his commitment to ethical veganism.

The worker was let go after disclosing that his employer invests pension funds in firms that carry out animal testing. The man’s former employer, however, says he was dismissed for gross misconduct (for more on the constraints of employee activism, see below.)

The ruling, coming from a lowly tribunal, does not equate a change to U.K. law but it does set an interesting precedent for how the country should respond to vegan concerns. Remember four years ago, when the Bank of England released a non-vegan bank note? It’s a good thing the U.K.’s going cashless, anyway.

I’ll be back in Hong Kong next week, where I’ll get back to regular reporting. Until then, more below.

Eamon Barrett


Still burning

Australia’s tourism board pulled a $15 million advertising campaign promoting holidays Down Under after complaints that the campaign ignores the current bushfire crisis ravaging the country. At least 26 people have died in the fires which have burned since September. Thousands have lost homes as over 12 million acres of land—an area larger than Scotland—is in embers. The government has been criticised for its slow response, only last weekend announcing a new agency to help people who have lost homes in the blaze. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who absconded for a holiday as the fires raged in December, has warned the crisis could continue for months. New York Times 

No fishing

China implemented a ten-year ban on fishing along the Yangtze river—Asia’s longest river, connecting Tibet to Shanghai—on January 1. The decade-long ban is expected to affect 280,000 fishermen, who the government says will be provided with social securities and alternative jobs. But the move, aimed at reviving inland fisheries, comes too late for the giant Chinese paddlefish, which was declared extinct late last year, seen off by overfishing, river damming and heavy pollution. Xinhua

No bags

Thailand began the year with a prohibition on plastic bags across all major stores as the government continues a push that began last year for the complete ban on single-use plastic bags by 2021. Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment says that a voluntary scheme to ditch plastic bags resulted in 2 billion fewer disposable bags used last year, and Thai shoppers are getting pretty creative with their alternative carrier choices, toting everything from wheelbarrows to buckets. Reuters


At least two Amazon employees have alleged the e-commerce giant threatened to fire them for giving media interviews that were critical of the company’s contribution to climate change. Amazon operates a policy that prohibits employees from giving media interviews without obtaining prior permission. The staff group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) says Amazon updated its communications policy to prevent staff from speaking publicly last September, the day after AECJ announced a strike to protest Amazon’s carbon emissions. The Guardian


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0.6-degrees Celsius

Last year was the second hottest year on record, according to the EU’s primary climate monitoring outfit, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, with temperatures averaging around 0.6-degrees Celsius above the mean temperature for the period between 1981 and 2010. For Europe specifically, 2019 was the hottest year ever but globally the hottest year on record remains 2016, although only by a 0.04-degree lead. No surprise, the previous decade as a whole was the hottest on record, too, with the final five years warmer than the first. Copernicus director Jean-Noel Thepaut said, “These are unquestionably alarming signs.”

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