China is the largest consumer market in the world, which means that there is also potential for China to become the largest population of vegans.

China’s diet is traditionally not meat centred in the same way as the American, Australian, South African and some European countries’ diets are. Meat and dairy haven’t always been readily available and is still quite expensive. Chinese cuisine is mostly made up of vegetables and starches such as noodle, dumplings in many forms, and rice. That said, it is widely believed in China that meat is part of a balanced diet, therefore small amounts of meat and seafood often find their way into most dishes. Furthermore, with the growing economy in China more people have been consuming meat, especially beef. This is not just because of the taste and/or perceived nutritional value but being able to afford and eat imported meat is a symbol of status and wealth.

That being said, China is not a lost cause. About 50 million people living there are believed to be vegetarians or vegans. With a population of 1.4 billion, 50 million isn’t as big percentage wise. However, according to a report by Euromonitor, China was projected to be the fastest growing market for vegan products between 2015 and 2020, at 17.2%. China is the largest consumer market in the world, so it is no surprise that most corporations are targeting them. This means that there is also potential for China to become the largest population of vegans.

In the big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, where the majority of the well educated in China live and work, veganism is definitely on the rise. There is no shortage of vegan restaurants and restaurants with vegan options. Most coffee shops have non-dairy milk options. If you cook for
yourself, vegan alternatives are readily available; and vegetables, beans, starches etc. are very affordable. Shanghai has a big expat community, of which a large part is vegan/vegetarian. Online supermarkets that cater for expats have numerous vegan and vegetarian options.

The younger generation in China are more educated and aware; they often have access to western media (despite it being blocked in China). They are therefore catching onto the vegan lifestyle. There are many vegan communities throughout China, made up of Chinese and expats.

In 2016 a grassroots outreach platform ‘Vegans of Shanghai’ (VoS) started on WeChat (which is an app like Whatsapp, Twitter, and Facebook combined and is used by everyone in China). The founder of VoS has found that spreading veganism to a Chinese audience is difficult because their diet is a large part of their culture and traditions. Chinese people strongly believe that meat, fish, and dairy are vital for a balanced diet. There are also very little, if any, animal welfare laws in China, therefore an approach to veganism from an animal cruelty angle often proves ineffective.

Beijing based ‘Veg Planet’ has about 300 000 followers across China and the founder believes that the best approach to spreading veganism in China is a soft one. Chinese people are extremely health conscience, therefore VegPlanet tries to spread veganism by advocating the health benefits of the
lifestyle. They also find that approaching veganism from an animal rights perspective is ineffective because the culture is often insensitive towards animal cruelty. This is however changing, especially with the younger generation. The founder of another Beijing group, Farm to Neighbours Market, believes that an absolute black and white approach to veganism is ineffective, and advocates less meat rather than no meat.

Vegetarianism is not a completely new concept in China. Buddhism in fact advocates for it. When you visit Buddhist temples and restaurants you can enjoy variety of vegetarian and vegan meals. Furthermore, tofu is used widely across China in a multitude of ways to replace meat. Imitation meat in China is also nothing new and China even has its own plant-based meat producer. It is just not as well-known as Beyond Meat and other western producers because they don’t have the endorsements of celebrities and billionaires. Whole Perfect Food has been around since 1993 and plans to become a global player in the imitation meat industry.

Clea Strydom | July 2019