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The no-meat millenials

Braais and Banting have become part of the normal culinary landscape in SA, but it seems there’s a new vegetarian trend afoot, especially among millennials with an appetite for tackling global warming. Frances Housdon and Glynis O’Hara look at the shift and at some of the options available if you give up meat.

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While Banting has gone mainstream, with some supermarkets selling low carb/high fat products, a quiet revolution has been happening among the millenials, who have adopted a different regime altogether.

They’ve noted what’s happening with global warming and opted to simply ban meat from their menus. For them, it’s about saving the planet.

They’ve seen that research into the impact of eating meat has come up with worrying figures (see “Carbon feet” overleaf). The methane gas produced by cattle is no joke and it’s also clear, for example, that it takes much more water to produce 1kg of beef than 1kg of plant protein. And the large amount of grain feed needed to produce 1kg of beef seems to be a real waste of food resources.

Given this sort of information, it’s not that surprising that millenials are concerned about their world and turning to a vegetarian option. The figures in studies vary somewhat, but it takes 10 to 50 times more water to produce meat than to produce plant food. (See the table on the opposite page.)

It takes up to 8kg of feed to produce 1kg of beef in South Africa, says Klaas Jan Leeuw, an expert in ruminant nutrition at the Agricultural Research Council.

So there are major ecological issues around the amount of meat we consume. And although ethical considerations about the lives of animals come into it, the effect on the environment seems to be driving most change, both in countries and in individuals. South Africans are beginning to think much more seriously about it, despite the love of Banting, braais and biltong.

“A plant-based diet is a fast-growing trend among young people as they are exposed to more information through Google and social media,” says Tumelo Mojapelo, head of content for Fluxtrends, Dion Chang’s trend-watching company.

“They are also more aware of the impact that their diet or lifestyle choices have on the environment because they are inheriting the results from the way we have been living in the past.”

Interviews with millenials (loosely, people born between 1980 and 1996) seem to bear this out (see overleaf) and one 19-year-old Rhodes University student said she thought 40% of her friends were vegetarian. It’s not a scientific poll, by any means, but it does seem to indicate a shift in thinking.

One country taking a national look at the problem is China, one of the worst polluters in the world. It’s hoping to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the nation’s meat consumption by 50%. It has issued dietary guidelines, recommending no more than 40g to 75g of meat per person per day. If the new habits take hold, carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from China’s livestock industry would be reduced by 1bn tonnes by 2030.

And the Chinese have found an unlikely ally in actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, no less, who has put out a series of public service ads for them about “less meat, less heat, more life”, along with director James Cameron. It’s personal for Arnie too – his doctors began telling him, “Arnold you have to get off meat,” he said in an interview, so he’d been “slowly getting off meat, and I tell you that I feel fantastic.” He also said that the notion that meat is needed for muscle strength is incorrect. In the video, Cameron asks: “How can I call myself an environmentalist when I’m contributing to environmental degradation by what I eat?”

“Through this kind of lifestyle change, it is expected that the livestock industry will transform and carbon emissions will be reduced,” commented Li Junfeng, director general of China’s National Centre on Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation.

One has to wonder why Arnie’s TV campaign isn’t also a feature of American life, but that may still come. The US’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last year advised Americans to consider eating less meat for environmental reasons, but went no further.

However, the world’s first vegan supermarket chain store (Veganz) opened a branch in Portland, Oregon, in February. It’s owned by former Mercedes-Benz manager Jan Bredack, who kicked off the store in his home town, Berlin, in 2011, and now has nine such stores in European cities. There are also Whole Foods Markets across the US, organic if not vegetarian. The closest thing in South Africa would be the chain of Food Lover’s Market stores.

In 2013, vegan dishes were offered at the sausage-laden Oktoberfest in Germany for the first time. In 2015, Israel began provision for vegan soldiers, including things like non-leather boots and faux wool berets. Change is in the air.

Back in South Africa, Mojapelo explained that she chose to cut out meat because she was “convinced that a plant-based diet was what was best for me and my future children. It was not only a health decision, but religious conviction [she’s a Seventh Day Adventist]. I wanted to give my body the best to attain spiritual, mental and physical health.”

She’s a vegetarian who does not eat cheese, and adds: “It is not something that should be approached lightly – individuals need to talk to their physician and a nutritionist beforehand to ensure that they are not cutting out any essential nutrients – especially in the case of veganism.”

She recommends Plant Café in Cape Town’s city, but has yet to find a suitable place to go to in Johannesburg.

“The restaurants I eat at are really accommodating – they do not mind replacing ingredients. I also sometimes grab something at Kauai. Chinese, Thai, Indian and Ethiopian restaurants have better vegetarian/vegan options.”

Even though it’s often easier to find Banting options on a menu than vegetarian or vegan ones, there are signs of change in the air.
Veggie restaurants such as Nooka, Raw and Roxy, and Scheckter’s Raw are now a feature in Cape Town.

Scheckter’s Raw, a raw food vegan outlet, offers gluten-free options with every meal and the only non-vegan product is the occasional spoon of honey. Owner Toby Scheckter says he started the restaurant after returning from travel abroad and finding the health food options here too limited. “I wanted to make good quality health food that I would eat myself,” he says.

• Food24.com has a link to find some of the best vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants in Cape Town.

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