'Veganism Is Dead': Say media outlets. Does the data agree?
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May 15, 2024

'Veganism Is Dead': Say media outlets. Does the data agree?

Widespread media reports suggest that "Veganism is dead' but what is the full picture.

'Veganism Is Dead': Say media outlets. Does the data agree?

Can we trust the sensationalized headlines about Veganism's decline, or is there more to the story?

When only 20% of people ever read beyond the headline, they are a powerful way for clickbait articles to spread misinformation. Take, for example, the news from February 1st, 2024, where most media outlets quickly shared how a vegan restaurant turned to serving meat to save its business. While some articles reported the facts, others used sensational headlines to imply that this was the end of veganism as we know it. The Daily Mail warned of "the death of v egan fast foods," and The Telegraph used a tombstone with a vegan logo on it. However, a closer look at the situation shows much more nuance to the conversation. This incident highlights the need for media literacy today, where misinformation can spread quickly. By examining the facts and avoiding sensationalism, we can stay informed and form opinions based on contextualized facts, not just headlines.

Headlines focusing on negative coverage appear quickly, leading on from a single negative news story.

The Need for Change in Our Food System

The Daily Mail article, written by Megan Howe and Freya Barnes, raises some valid points regarding the need for change in our current food system and in promoting plant-based foods. Following a detailed account of the decline of many vegan fast-food chains and restaurants, the article quotes Chef Charbel Hayek at Eeetwell:

“The food world is changing. We've seen vegan restaurants closing and fast food chains dropping vegan items, but at Eeetwell, we see this shift as a chance to really think about what eating well means. 'What's happening in the vegan world isn't about vegan food losing its spark. It's about people wanting more than just a meat substitute. They want real food that's good for them and respects our planet. It's about ensuring every bite tells a story of care, quality, and respect for our Earth.”

According to Shokofeh Hejazi, a food trend expert from The Food People, "what we need then is to promote dishes which are recognisable as whole plants: “As well as being tasty, they offer all the natural goodness of veggies as a bonus – like fibre, vitamins and nutrients.”

This is a refreshing change from the heavily covered issue of plant-based fast foods and their nutritional value (or lack of), which have come to be tightly associated with vegan foods in the media. While it is essential to acknowledge the potential drawbacks of certain vegan food products, it is equally important not to overshadow the broader message of transitioning towards a more sustainable and ethical future. But the above discussion features a long way from its catchy headline. As a result, the assumption that the closure of vegan restaurants is due to the movement is reinforced. We can see that clearly by looking at the comments section. This is one example: “Nothing but a fad that the so-called trendies jumped on then found it they wanted meat.”

Misleading Claims: Veganism as a Passing Fad

By presenting veganism as a fad, the implication is that the failure of these establishments is solely due to the decline in veganism's popularity. This doesn’t show us the full picture, as it fails to recognize the multifaceted reasons behind individuals embracing veganism and the lifestyle’s growing popularity. Veganism is steadily gaining momentum worldwide, with more people adopting plant-based diets for various reasons, including health, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare. A recent report by the Good Food Institute Europe found that the European plant-based foods market saw a 21% increase in sales from 2020:

“…sales of plant-based meat grew by 21 per cent from 2020 to 2022, while conventional meat sales decreased by eight per cent in the same period. Furthermore, unit sales of plant-based milk grew by 20 per cent in the same period, while conventional milk unit sales decreased by nine per cent.”

“Plant-based milk sales grew by 19 percent between 2020 and 2022, reaching €2.21 billion in 2022 — almost twice as much as conventional milk.”

Despite The Daily Mail article claiming “the declining popularity of veganism”, data suggests the opposite, with research by finder.com showing the number of vegans grew by 1.1 million between 2023 and 2024.

Other reports found that 25 million people sampled vegan food this Veganuary.

So, while The Daily Mail continues to propagate negative headlines, the wider plant-based food industry is seeing steady growth and “investors and entrepreneurs are still massively putting their energy and money into the future of [plant-based] food” (Green Queen, 2023).

Shedding Light on Media Misinformation

The media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion, and it is crucial to question the motives and accuracy of the information presented. In a paper published in 2022, Bourbon and Murimi from the University of Dallas suggested that we should reconceptualize the issue of online information diffusion and think of it as gossip to understand its mechanics better. They explain that “gossip is more expressive of the community of gossipers than it is about the target of the gossip." So what does the massive covering of a vegan restaurant adding meat to its menu and facing closure tell us about the media industry? Besides its informative intent, the media aims to elicit specific responses. The strongest ones will most likely be the media with the most shares in an attempt to go viral. This is how the media platforms play, but is there a downside to this?

One significant issue is that many people get their news by scrolling. Headlines make an impact, but not everybody will read the whole article. In the case of the Daily Mail article referenced above, many readers will skim over the section that explores ways to improve health and planetary impact and make plant-based foods an appealing and affordable alternative, in line with many recent environmental recommendations.

But that is different from what makes the headlines.

Less than two weeks ago, my news feed highlighted that an agricultural college had to issue an apology following an announcement that some of its restaurants would implement Meat Free Mondays. Regardless of one’s opinion on either issue, if we put them aside, we can see the current picture of the debate around our society’s eating habits. A highly divisive picture, where hope for a nuanced, constructive conversation might seem far removed. Yet this is precisely what we need if we are hoping to embrace a smooth transition towards a more sustainable future.

Headlines featuring critical headlines

Our Final Analysis

It is essential to approach media coverage critically, especially regarding topics as sensitive and impactful as our food choices. Recent headlines consistently portray veganism as a fading trend. While many of these articles raised valid concerns about our food system and the considerations of opting for a plant-based diet, dismissing the movement as a failing trend ultimately discourages the exploration of plant-based alternatives as legitimate and impactful. This type of narrative can also significantly undermine recommendations for an evolution of our food system.

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Commentary & Research By:

Dr. Elise Hutchinson

Elise specialized in Cognitive Linguistics and has a keen interest in understanding and tackling misinformation and disinformation online and its impact on the polarization of our society.

Isabelle Sadler

Izzy studied Human Biology and has since developed her interests specifically in Nutrition, Public Health, and Science Communication to ensure that information received by the public is factually correct and represents what the science shows.

The Freedom Food Alliance is a watchdog and advocacy organization working to cut through the noise in the global food industry. We focus on equipping consumers with the most accurate, science-backed information. Our multi-pronged approach includes disinformation reports, a fact-checking website, and international campaigns aimed at shedding light on industry malpractices. Join us in our quest for transparency, accountability, and a more informed consumer base.

The Freedom Food Alliance