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Veganuary 2023: what tastier, plant-based Italy can teach America

The benefits of a vegan diet

By Camilla Alcini

January is the chosen month for Veganuary, the movement joined each year by thousands of people around the world who want to try to reduce or eliminate animal products in their diet. What better time to try to be plant-based than the month in which we think about the habits to take with us into the new year, and those to leave behind?

The benefits of the vegan diet for one's health, for the planet and of course for animals are now well known and supported by numerous studies. In fact, intensive farming to produce meat is one of the main causes of deforestation and contributes enormously to the emissions and consumption of our planet's resources. Suffice it to say that it takes around 2,400 litres of water to produce a hamburger  (City, University of London). Data suggests an equally important impact on the health of those who eat animal products on a daily basis: these people would be four times more likely to suffer from cancer or diabetes than those with a plant-based diet (The Guardian).

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Dr.ssa Silvia Goggi (@silviagoggi)

Although the Veganuary initiative is always very successful, thanks to the activism and resources provided by plant-based chefs, plant-based product brands and above all organisations such as Peta and Being Animal, there is still a lot of scepticism about it. Many people cannot imagine a 100% plant-based diet, reducing it to a few tasteless dishes and constant avoidance.

Among the countries where most meat is consumed is definitely the United States. The average American consumes three times as much meat as the global average, mainly beef and pork and especially processed meat (sausages and bacon) (Center for a Livable Future, John Hopkins University). It is no coincidence that the traditional dishes are precisely meat-based: hamburgers and hot dogs, to name the most famous ones, but also fried chicken and crispy bacon. 

“No matter what family habits or traditions you grew up with, you can always choose to eat healthier. You can incorporate foods related to your heritage while reinventing comfort food in the way it has always been understood: as healing for mind, body and soul.”, said Eric Adams, Mayor of New York and ambassador of Veganuary 2023. Adams is just one of many voices trying to go against the tide by promoting plant-based eating, and indeed, it must be acknowledged that there has been some improvement. Consumption has gone from 43kg per person in 1999 to 37kg in 2020, and over 251 American companies have participated in Veganuary 2022, creating ad hoc products and menus (veganuary.com).

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Essere Animali (@essereanimali)

However, 2023 could mark a decline in the positive trend of recent years. This is reported by the New York Times, who in an article last November entitled “Beyond Meat Fatigue and the Vegetable Meat Industry Worries” spoke of the decline of the company that pioneered the commercial vegetable burger. If, in fact, until a few years ago Beyond Meat had presented itself as the best solution to the problem with a totally vegetable patty but still very similar to the traditional meat version, today things seem to have changed. Growth in the stock market has plummeted and even sales in America seem to have reached saturation point, increasing very little compared to projections.

While experts wonder whether the Beyond Meat case is limited to the company and America or whether it is the plant-based industry that has a problem, Italy seems to be on the road to progress. According to Essere Animali, the charity that investigates and reduces the industrial abuse of animals, our country is among those with the highest number of Veganuary campaign subscribers. Factanza (@factanza) reports that in 2022 there was a +47% increase in the purchase of plant-based drinks and 44% of vegan ready meals, with almost 38% of Italian households buying plant-based products.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Factanza (@factanza)

The choice of a vegan diet is particularly widespread among young Italians between the ages of 18 and 24 (4.8%). Social media are behind this, where pages such as @vegolosi.it and Carlotta Prego's @cucinabotanica share recipes and tips to tempt them with the variety and flavours of the plant-based diet. Experts such as Dr Silvia Goggi (@silviagoggi) contribute from the medical-scientific side, demonstrating that there is no deficiency in the vegan diet and that, on the contrary, it is possible to supplement every requirement. Between vegetarian charcoal and homemade plant-based nutella, the mouths of even the most sceptical are watering. The task of these creators and activists was also to demonstrate how the Italian diet is already highly plant-based. Indeed, it is not unusual to find a plate of pasta with tomato sauce, vegetable soups, rich salads and, of course, the ubiquitous pizza in a restaurant.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Dr.ssa Silvia Goggi (@silviagoggi)

Whether it is the richness of the Mediterranean diet or the sensitivity of the new generation of consumers, Italy may have something to teach the United States. After all, who would say no to a 100% vegetable and made in Italy dish of spaghetti with tomato sauce?

Image Dose Juice on Unsplash