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The Not-So-Sweet Life: What Vegans Miss the Most

“You need to be a cleaner human being”. My doctor looked at me directly. “Your body is too hot and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way. You need to eat more vegetables. You should consider going vegan”. I gulped, decided not to have an affogato post lunch, and turned to Google, firing up our AI cluster engines at the same time to learn more about Veganism trends.

Veganism has grown exponentially in recent years; the number of people who identified as vegan in the U.S. alone increased by 600% between 2014–2017. Beyond its health messaging, veganism is now being touted as “the single biggest way” to reduce one’s impact on an ailing environment. With this newly appointed halo of moral superiority, no wonder then that “clean eating” remains such a prevailing global interest despite increasing backlash.

Have vegans really found the holy grail of diets — saving both our health and the planet at the same time? What’s it like being a vegan today? Is eating vegan really no longer seen as fringe but in?

We looked at global search data over the past year for 290 search terms on food products across a range of clean labels (e.g. vegan, clean, organic, natural, sustainable) to answer these questions.

With six out of the top ten most searched food products being vegan, it’s clear that veganism is trending. All but one of those searches was for sweet and savory treats, like ice cream, cakes, and snacks. Indicating that vegan treats are high in demand, but not easy to find offline yet, it seems that being vegan might indeed be good at trimming the waistline (well for now, at least).

Cheese Please

Vegan cheese, usually made from nuts like pecans and cashews, is the most searched for clean-labelled food product in the world, with 73,964 average monthly searches. Searches for vegan cheese globally have been steadily on the rise over the last five years, and the top search destinations are recipes and listings for the best vegan cheeses. Considering the notoriously bad reputation plant based cheese has had, it appears that the perfect cheese substitute is still elusive, and cheese is most missed by vegans.

(Vegan) Cookies will be Cookies

More striking are the searches for vegan cookies, the third most searched term at 40,358 average monthly searches. Searches have consistently peaked in the week before Christmas and plummeted immediately after. As this follows the same search pattern for “cookies” in general, it appears that going vegan doesn’t stop the desire to participate in the holiday cookie season. Healthier or not, the behavioral language around cookies remains the same.

Judging from these results, treats (otherwise known as “junk food”), or the lack thereof, are vegans’ biggest weakness and a major barrier to sticking with being green. Clearly so in my case. Reinforcing the notion that a healthy diet isn’t just about what we eat but also about our underlying attitudes toward food, it seems that to get veganism truly easier to live by, we must target our ingrained cravings first. I’ve been told to try breathing exercises.

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