Since Greggs announced a new vegan alternative to its meaty sausage roll at the start of the year, the Quorn pastries have “flown off the shelves”, the bakery chain says, selling hundreds of thousands in the first week alone.
Its success is a testament to both a remarkable PR stunt and the seemingly unstoppable rise of veganism, which, according to a new study, has been led by Bristol.
The online food blog Chef’s Pencil used Google Trends data to look at the most popular cities for vegan-related searches, which were at record levels last year, rising 11% from 2017 and 35% from 2016.
According to Google Trends, the interest level around the world for all things vegan – restaurants, recipes, dog food – was highest in Bristol, followed by Portland, Edinburgh, Vancouver and Seattle. Six of the top 20 cities were in the US, with European and Australian cities also showing a strong interest in going meat-free.
Google searches won’t give you an accurate idea of how many people commit to vegan diets or buy vegan products, but Chef’s Pencil says the analysis does tell you there “is an intent in taking action about your diet” in these cities.
“In Bristol there is a vibrant local community,” says a spokesperson from Chef’s Pencil, “and having a core community of vegans plays a huge role because they’re so active and loud. If you have a vegan friend you will know it.”Bristol has long been seen as place for all things green and liberal. It’s home to the Viva! animal rights campaigning group. Three out of four Bristol MPs say they are vegan or veggie. And the online community Vegan Bristol has a long, thorough list of places that are meat-free.
Portland’s vegan voice is equally loud. Paul McCartney and the animal rights campaign group Peta named it the most vegan-friendly city in 2016, even handing the mayor a bouquet of vegetables. Portland has a vegan summer camp, a venue for punk music that also promotes veganism, a vegan shopping mall and even a vegan strip club.
The rise of veganism has undoubtedly been led by city dwellers. A 2016 UK survey by the Vegan enviroSociety found veganism was significantly more popular in urban areas rather than rural places. Two-thirds of those surveyed who said they didn’t eat meat and avoided dairy products lived in urban and suburban Britain.
This is partly due to a greater ease of access to vegan options, according to Sam Calvert from the Vegan Society. A vegan for 24 years, she remembers a lot of friends in previous years saying it would be “too hard” to eat out and find suitable alternatives. With more choices available now, people are more likely to make that leap.
“The typical vegan would be young and female, and you’re more likely to find young people in cities,” she says. “As with all communities it’s easier to find more people of the same in cities. There are lots of vegan meet-up groups, which tend to be in cities.”
Other cities have seen the veggie lifestyle promoted from a political level, mainly for environmental reasons and as a push towards sustainability. In 2016 Barcelona declared itself vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, encouraging residents to embrace a meat-free diet by promoting meat-free Mondays and creating a vegetarian guide to the city.
That same year Turin’s new mayor declared the Italian city to be the world’s first “vegan city”.
“The promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets is a fundamental act in safeguarding our environment, the health of our citizens and the welfare of our animals,” the city said in a statement. It was intended as programme to raise awareness of sustainability and alternatives to meat, but was unsurprisingly divisive.
If being a true “vegan city” involved banning the sale of meat or dairy products, then the Gujarat town of Palitana would be on the list. A hunger strike by Jain monks in 2014 led to the local government declaring the city and its holy sites to be meat-free zones.
Interestingly, while India is viewed by the rest of the world as a predominantly vegetarian country, research last year from the US-basedanthropologist Balmurli Natrajan and the India-based economist Suraj Jacob suggested only about 20% of India’s population are vegetarian – lower than official statistics suggest. The Indian cities with the highest proportion of people with vegetarian diets are Indore with 49%, Meerut with 36% and Delhi with 30%.
Most lists of vegetarian- or vegan-friendly cities are based on the number of veggie restaurants or cafes in a place rather than the amount of people interested in practising veganism.
According to Happy Cow, a crowdsourced list of veggie and vegan restaurants, London is the most vegan-friendly city in the world. It was the first on the site to surpass 100 completely vegan restaurants, in 2017, and currently has 110 vegan eateries in a five-mile radius within the city. It is closely followed by Berlin, with 65 vegan restaurants within a five-mile radius.