Our current food system is facing an unprecedented challenge – sustainability. As the global population continues to grow, our planet’s resources are being pushed to their limits and the way we currently feed ourselves has a heavy reliance on animal agriculture – this is not only environmentally damaging but also unsustainable in the long run. In this op-ed, I’ll shine a light on how plant-based foods can be part of the sustainability solution, and why we believe vegetables will be a major driver in the evolution of the plant-based food category.
The Rising Popularity of Plant-Based Foods
My journey towards starting Wholly Veggie and working towards a more plant-based lifestyle was not without its challenges. I worked in the organic animal agriculture industry, where I witnessed firsthand the realities of intensive farming practices and the overconsumption of animal byproducts. Despite the organic label, I observed the strain on resources, the environmental degradation, and the ethical concerns associated with animal agriculture. This experience opened my eyes to the urgent need for a more sustainable and compassionate approach to food production. It became clear to me that relying on animal agriculture alone was not a viable long-term solution, but neither were synthetic meat substitutes that lacked flavour, nutrition, and substance.
“Despite the organic label, I observed the strain on resources, the environmental degradation, and the ethical concerns associated with animal agriculture.”
Working with my now business partner, David Gaucher, we became determined to find alternative ways of feeding ourselves and our families that aligned with our values, and that could support a thriving planet. Our answer was vegetables – specifically, frozen vegetables – so we started a company designed to celebrate the vegetable in all its glory: Wholly Veggie.
In recent years, the world has witnessed a remarkable shift in dietary preferences, with an increasing number of individuals embracing plant-based foods and a flexitarian diet. While many interesting plant-based options have cropped up, I am a firm believer that vegetables are the future of this rapidly expanding market. Not only do they offer exceptional health benefits, but they also have the potential to address global environmental, health, and sustainability challenges. In many ways, vegetables invite us to go back to our “roots” and focus on the fundamentals of nature.
“In recent years, the world has witnessed a remarkable shift in dietary preferences, with an increasing number of individuals embracing plant-based foods and a flexitarian diet.”
Today, health-conscious consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of plant-based foods, but we still have ways to go with vegetables. According to a 2022 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in 10 adults eat enough fruits and vegetables. Vegetable consumption is also lower among men, young adults, and adults with lower incomes. Research from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that potatoes and tomatoes are the top consumed vegetables in North America, primarily from french fries and pasta sauce. Are you surprised?
While we may know that vegetables are rich in nutrients, fibre, and antioxidants; access, knowledge, and inspiration are among the barriers to vegetable consumption. Fresh vegetables have a short shelf life, they require time and preparation, and an understanding and interest in how to consume them. This category is ripe for disruption, whether with new products, inspiring recipes on TikTok, and education and inspiration in school cafeterias. By prioritizing vegetables, we can improve public health and pave the way for a brighter and healthier future.
Opportunities in Embracing Plant-Based Foods
However, the significance of vegetables extends far beyond personal health benefits. As our planet faces the challenges of climate change and resource scarcity, we need sustainable food solutions that can mitigate these issues. The production of animal-based foods contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water pollution. In contrast, vegetables have a considerably lower environmental footprint. They require fewer natural resources, produce fewer emissions, and have the potential to mitigate climate change. By embracing a vegetable-centered approach, we can reduce our ecological impact and work towards a more sustainable future.
The versatility of vegetables also creates an array of product options and recipes with plant-based foods. From traditional recipes to innovative culinary creations, vegetables offer endless possibilities for creating delicious, satisfying meals. A cauliflower could become a “wing” and plants could make a “cheese stick” so stringy and delicious that you’d never know it’s dairy-free. These products not only provide a tasty and nostalgic experience for consumers but also offer a cruelty-free alternative that eliminates the need for animal exploitation. With their culinary versatility, vegetables can cater to diverse tastes and cultural preferences, making them accessible and appealing to a wide range of consumers.
“By investing in research and development, we can continue to improve the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of plant-based foods, making them even more appealing and accessible.”
The rising demand for plant-based options, coupled with the remarkable qualities of vegetables, also presents an immense business opportunity. Entrepreneurs, innovators, and food companies have a chance to contribute to the growth of the plant-based food industry by embracing vegetables as the core ingredient in their products. By investing in research and development, we can continue to improve the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of plant-based foods, making them even more appealing and accessible. Companies like Row 7 Seeds even partner with culinary chefs to create unique and inspired vegetable strains, which open a whole new world with vegetable innovation.
“Policymakers should implement measures that incentivize sustainable farming practices and promote plant-based options in schools, hospitals, and other public institutions.”
However, for vegetables to truly become the future of plant-based foods, we need a collective effort. Governments, educational institutions, and public health organizations need to collaborate to raise awareness, create access, and provide support for the North American production and distribution of vegetable-centric products. Additionally, policymakers should implement measures that incentivize sustainable farming practices and promote plant-based options in schools, hospitals, and other public institutions.
Vegetables hold immense promise as the future of plant-based foods. Their nutritional value, sustainability benefits, versatility, and economic potential make them a compelling choice for consumers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers alike. By embracing vegetables and incorporating them into our food systems, we can create a healthier, more sustainable, and compassionate world.