Is Europe really going veggie?

Photo by Thomas Marthinsen on Unsplash

When going to the supermarket or looking at the menu in a restaurant, you may have noticed that there are now more green options than in the past. But are vegetarianism and veganism on the rise across Europe, or does this trend concern countries in different ways?

The largest vegan population in Europe is in Germany

According to a study conducted last year by Veganz, a German vegan supermarket, the number of vegans living in Germany has doubled since 2016: 2.6 million people have decided to stop eating animals and their derivatives, making it the largest vegan population in the Old Continent.

2020 also saw a 4% decline in the total value of meat products compared to the previous year, while the production of meat substitutes grew by 39% in the same period. This phenomenon is thought to be linked to the Coronavirus pandemic, which led to the closure of some production plants, but it’s also caused by a long-term trend of reducing meat consumption. In 1987, a household would consume an average of 6.7 kg of meat per month (sausages, cured and processed meats excluded), and in 2020 the average consumption amounted to 2.3 kg. Despite this, typical German meat specialties such as sausages and schnitzels were still more present than green alternatives on supermarket shelves.

Italy: tradition vs change

Another Country that boasts many meat-based or cheese-based traditional dishes is Italy. Many of them have also become famous abroad, such as carbonara, pasta al ragù, caprese, and of course pizza margherita. But just like Germany, Italy has seen a rise in vegetarian and vegan people.

According to Eurispes, an Italian private institute which focuses on political, economic and social studies, almost 1 in 10 people in Italy are now vegetarian or vegan, which corresponds to 8.2% of the population. This percentage is slightly lower than the previous year’s level (8.9% - the highest value ever achieved), but it is in line with the growing trend that started in 2014, when the number amounted to just 7.5%.

What pushes people to make such an important choice? According to the same study, in Italy the main reason is respect for animals and the planet. It is widely acknowledged that farm animals produce a big part of the total of greenhouse gases which, of course, have massive consequences on both the environment and the climate. That’s why a vegan diet is considered  the most impactful action one could take to reduce our carbon footprint.

More and more people are talking about this important topic on social media. One big revelation of 2020 In Italy was the YouTube channel “Cucina Botanica” (meaning Botanic Kitchen). Behind it is a young woman, Carlotta Perego, who shares easy and tasty vegan recipes as well as on her Instagram profile. She also published a book, which achieved incredible success - in January 2021, it was the second most sold cookbook in Italy, an amazing achievement considering the characteristics of traditional Italian cuisine. Forbes Italy even included her among the 100 under 30 “leaders of the future”.

The situation in France and in Spain

Things are quite different in other Mediterranean Countries such as France and Spain. According to Le Monde, a study conducted by the IFOP Institute (French Institute of Public Opinion) at the end of 2020 revealed that a quarter of French people claim to limit their meat consumption, but few have actually stopped eating it. 79% of French people still think that meat is necessary to stay healthy, although 68% believe that people in the country eat too much meat, considering health and/or environment. The percentage of people who don’t eat meat anymore reaches only 2.2%

Spaniards, too, are still very attached to meat. Back in July of this year, Spain’s consumer affairs minister Alberto Garzón started a campaign to invite people to reduce their meat consumption. The minister claimed that Spain eats more meat than any other EU country, highlighting the incredible amount of resources like water needed to produce such a quantity of meat. Despite his good intentions, he was heavily criticized, even by the minister for agriculture, fishing and food Luis Planas, who was also supported by the Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and he also faced criticism from six meat-producing associations. In 2019, a report from consultancy firm Lantern showed that just 0.5% of the Spanish population was vegan and 1.5% was vegetarian, that being a total increase of 27% compared to the previous year.

As we have seen, each of these European Countries is going at a different pace. The Vegetarian Cities Index 2021, commissioned by the online platform for housing Nestpick, which analyzed more than 200 cities in the whole world to find out which are the most sustainable for vegetarian people demonstrates these differences. Among the best 75, four are in Italy, three are in Germany, three in France and another three are in Spain, while five are in the UK, with London in first place.

The hope is that change will come faster and faster, making it possible to fight more efficiently against the climate crisis and, by doing so, to save our planet.