We are well past the days when veganism was a fringe movement, mostly identified with hippies, nature-lovers, and not mainstream. Even those of us that keep eating meat are well aware of the vegan options present in supermarkets, of what is vegan and what is not (mostly), and that the phenomenon is not something marginal but an increasingly large minority of Americans identifies as vegan. Studies and statistics have shown how veganism is getting accepted and spread as fast as ever (58% of Americans want to eat more plant-based food and overall the vegans in the USA grew 1% to 7% between 2014 and 2017).
Enter vegan tourism. It is no wonder of anybody that food tourism, food tours, and tasting experiences when traveling are popular. One of the main reasons to travel to far-away countries is after all being able to soak in the local culture, of which cuisine plays a huge role. Vegans so far have been kept at the margins of this, with scarcely any options for them to enjoy the local food without having to scour the menus for half an hour in search of a fully vegan dish. Whereas some cuisines are naturally more vegan than others (a large number of Asian ones have plenty of vegan options), others constitute a problem for the traveling vegan.
That is changing, fast. Contiki last year announced plans for its own vegan food tour of Europe, already starting from this August. Responsible Travel, which you would guess from the name already has an emphasis on ethical traveling, claims that booking for vegan holidays have more than doubled in recent years, with an increase of 120% between 2016 and 2019. They have scheduled vegan tours already from the beginning of this 2021. Intrepid Travel runs “Vegan Real Food Adventures”, a set of various vegan travel tours in India and, previously, in Thailand and Italy. And these two latter countries have seen their tours only temporarily cancelled due to the pandemic, with the company keen on restarting them once the health crisis is more under control.
If you are wondering if it’s only food tours that are lending a hand to vegans worldwide, think otherwise. Vegan Welcome is a project launched in 2015 from the same people behind Veggie Hotels. It lists more than 130 hotels in 20 countries on the website, all that specifically offer vegan dishes and are very vegan-friendly in general.
Why being vegan while traveling?
The obvious answer is, if you’re vegan at home, you should be also when traveling. That’s a no-brainer. But that may be important, at least occasionally, also for the meat-eaters. A study shows how the choices we make regarding food when traveling have a big impact on the quantity of emissions that we push into the Earth’s atmosphere. It specifically showed how what we eat when abroad is potentially more important for the environment than how we travel: the emissions-related to food can be greater than those caused by our choice of transportation.
It is also obvious to add that when traveling among a culture that is vegan-friendly, it is important to support the local businesses by choosing vegan options as well. They will definitely source more locally, supporting local farmers and suppliers, and will offer you a more genuine food experience than the larger, international, food chains. Plus, local business may be cheaper (the stress here is on “may”). Regardless of whether you are interested in the local cuisine, ordering a few more vegan dishes when traveling can both reduce your emissions and support the local economy.
Some above-mentioned tours and companies specifically focus on letting the tourist experience the local culture through vegan food. Whether this mean a shared-meal with a family, or to stop at a women-run restaurant, or to visit a local farm to taste their products, the focus is to teach the tourist how the food, and vegan at it, is influenced by the geography, history, culture and can in turn influence them as well. It is a learning experience, not just culinary.
What this vegan tourism boom means?
Given the rise of the vegan population worldwide, with stats showing how they could be around 1 percent of the world population, plus the number of vegetarians, it is only normal that hospitality businesses will increasingly cater to their needs. Most vegans in industrialized countries are members of the upper class, willing to travel and spend more than the average, and you will have a good idea on why vegan tourism is going to be an important share of the global tourism industry.
One of the more recent pushes to switching to veganism for some of the most recent vegans was covid-19. A good share of respondents to a survey conducted by the charity Veganuary in July and August 2020 admitted that the link between animal farming and the pandemic was one of the reasons that made them become, or trying to, vegan. At least, to consume more vegan food. Around one fourth of British between 21 and 30 years old has stated that the pandemic has made veganism more appealing to them. Among North Americans, 30% of seniors are consuming more vegan food because of the pandemic.
It is not only the youngest, then. Generally vegan food is seen as healthier, lighter, in some areas of the world cheaper, and better for dieting than meat-based options. Even if not all the respondents to these surveys will be fully vegan, or will manage to keep being so for years, surely they will welcome more plant-based ingredients in their diets, opening up more and more families to the idea of being meat-free, at the very least occasionally.
Vegan-friendly businesses like restaurants, hotels and tour operators would do better to be ready to welcome them without letting those new vegans feel like they have to sacrifice part of their lifestyle when traveling. After all, traveling isn’t exactly cheap, and it is supposed to be stress free. Compromising on what one eats every day isn’t exactly what we would all like to experience when on a vacation.