Rebecca Smithers

Third of Britons have stopped or reduced eating meat-report

Figures from Waitrose suggest animal welfare, environmental and health concerns driving sea change in UK diet

By Rebecca Smithers

One in eight Britons is now vegetarian or vegan, according to a new report on food shopping that underlines a revolution in the UK’s eating habits.

A further 21% claim to be flexitarian, where a largely vegetable-based diet is supplemented occasionally with meat, which means a third of UK consumers have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat or removed it from their diet entirely.

The findings in the annual food and drink report from the supermarket chain Waitrose come as food choices assume an increasingly important role in the debate over countering climate change. A series of influential reports have said that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way consumers can reduce their environmental impact on the planet, because farming animals is such a CO2-intensive process.

“It’s extremely encouraging to learn how many Britons are choosing to reduce their consumption of animal products” said Nick Palmer, the head of Compassion in World Farming UK. “Science proves that the healthiest diet is one that is plant-heavy. By eating less meat, fish, eggs and dairy and choosing higher welfare when we do, we can all help animals, people and the planet.”

The Waitrose report is based on research among shoppers across all British supermarket chains. The retailer’s executive chef, Jonathan Moore, said: “Vegetarianism has grown and evolved. More people dip in and out of it. There was a time when choosing a plant-based diet was about taking an ethical stand based on unwavering principles. For many, this distinction between vegetarians and meat-eaters still exists but for others the lines have blurred.”
Publication of the findings represents awkward timing for Waitrose. It comes a day after the editor of its food magazine, William Sitwell, said he was stepping down after an email exchange with a freelance journalist emerged in which he mocked vegans and suggested they should be force-fed meat.

The number of vegans in the UK, who shun all animal products including dairy and eggs, has grown fourfold in the past four years from 150,000 to 600,000, according to the Vegan Society.

Waitrose was the first UK supermarket to install dedicated vegan sections in 134 of its stores in May. It has also launched a range of more than 40 vegan and vegetarian ready meals. Vegan dining out is also booming, the report notes, with the Good Food Guide highlighting restaurants with dedicated vegan menus for the first time this year after many high street chains and pubs increased their non-meat-and-dairy options.

“This year, we’ve seen vegan food go mainstream,” said Natalie Mitchell, Waitrose’s head of brand development. “Whether cooking at home, buying prepared food or trying the newly vegan-friendly restaurants, people are discovering that it tastes amazing.”

Rebecca Smithers is consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian.


Pamela Anderson has worked with Peta to promote vegan food. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images


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