The pandemic has been devastating as millions of people around the world catch the virus on a daily basis and thousands of people die from complications associated with the illness every day. But if there is one silver lining to the ongoing public health crisis, it is this: People are paying closer attention to their eating habits and re-evaluating their relationship with meat.
Veganism has been on the rise in the past decade as meat alternatives become more accessible and obesity rates skyrocket, especially among young people in the United Kingdom, the U.S., and other countries. However, COVID-19 seems to have accelerated the shift of the public from eating large amounts of meat and meat products to a plant-based diet.
As Pandemic Rages, Public Turns to Plant-Based Diets
People in the UK eat a lot of meat. The full English breakfast, one of the most iconic dishes to come out of England, is not complete without bacon or ham and sausages.
However, the reputation of meat has changed in the past decades. Numerous studies found that eating processed meats increases the risk of colorectal cancers, an illness that used to only affect older adults. Nowadays, the occurrence of colorectal cancers has shot up among younger people.
Meanwhile, there is substantial scientific evidence that links a plant-based diet to a reduced risk of colorectal cancers. A large-scale study that examined the eating habits of 78,000 people found that vegans had a16% lower risk of colorectal cancers compared to non-vegans. But it was the pesco-vegetarian diet (eating mostly fruits and vegetables plus a small amount of fish) that displayed the largest benefit, decreasing an individual’s likelihood of colorectal cancers by 45% compared to those who eat meat.
A decreased risk of colorectal cancers means that people will have to visit anendoscopy clinicless frequently. The non-invasive procedure examines the person’s digestive tract, including the large intestines (the colon). The endoscope, a flexible tube with a light and camera, can be inserted through the rectum to prevent colorectal cancers.
The pandemic has also forced people to eat a balanced diet and to lose excess pounds. More than masks and social distancing, a strong immune system is the first defence against infections. Obesity increases a person’s risk of experiencing serious symptoms of COVID-19.
Shortage in Grocery Shelves Push People to Embrace Plant-Based Diets
In the past year, the demand for plant-based products went up for another reason. While offices and restaurants closed because of the pandemic, factories continued to operate. This resulted in outbreaks in meat-processing facilities across the world.
In the United States, at least 5,000 workers in meat-processing facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite efforts to remain open, there has been a shortage in meats and meat products for most of the year. Instead of waiting for the chicken, pork, or beef to appear on grocery shelves, the public turned to vegan alternatives.
According to reports, the sales of plant-based meat substitutes increased by 35% between April 2020 to May 2020. Beyond Meat, a popular vegan brand had record-high sales during the first quarter of the past year. Meanwhile, Impossible Foods, also a vegan brand, has been hiring new people to increase their capacity and respond to the higher demand for meat substitutes.
These vegan alternatives have, for years, been popular only among those who do not eat meat. However, now, for the first time, the rest of the public has to settle with plant-based meats which, contrary to popular belief, are more affordable than the real thing and can taste exactly like beef or chicken. The availability of meat alternatives, the competitive pricing of vegan products, and the almost identical taste could push more people toward shifting to a plant-based diet.
The Meat Industry and the Next Pandemic
Meat has also been linked to climate change. The beef industry alone is logging greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane, into the atmosphere. In addition, the demand for cattle products is causing deforestation around the world, including in the Amazon region.
Because people are more aware of their impact on the environment, many are making major lifestyle changes to reduce their carbon footprint. To most of them, eating meat and meat products is one of the first to go.
Experts have also been warning about the emergence of virusesfrom farming and eating animals, which can infect and kill humans. In large-scale farms, animals are packed together in one space, providing a breeding ground for pathogens to multiply and evolve. For example, the swine flu epidemic of 2009 has killed over 500,000 people. The illness came from pigs and then jumped to humans.
A switch to veganism could be one of the permanent changes that will happen because of the pandemic and will continue to persist after the virus is gone.