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December 27, 2018

Regular readers with long memories will know that we have not always covered ourselves with glory when it comes to our food forecasts.

However, last year's food forecast blog was bang on.

Admittedly, we didn't need superhuman powers of prediction to guess that 2018 would be the year in which a move towards plant-based diets would become mainstream.

And we were cautious in the way we phrased it saying that we were not all about to become vegan or vegetarian but that more of us would choose to eat less meat.

Put another way, more of us would fit the flexitarian definition. Steak feasts, such as the one pictured above, would be making fewer appearances on the nation's dinner tables.

Certainly veganism has been in the headlines a lot over the last twelve months. A few stories claimed that the UK was now home to 3.5 million vegans although this figure has been widely disputed.

Somewhere between half a million and a million UK vegans seems rather more likely.

More choice

What is indisputable is that sales of vegan foods have increased sharply and woe betide the restaurant, café or bar that doesn't have vegan options on its menu.

Of course, what you choose to eat has implications that go far beyond what you will be having for dinner tonight.

You are what you eat. Especially if you are vegan.

The cultural fall outs surrounding the issue have been colourful. The last year has seen a hardening of battle lines by some people. Rather than being an individual choice, what you eat, or don't eat, has, in some quarters, been politicised.

Battle lines drawn

In October, William Sitwell stood down from his position as editor of Waitrose Food magazine after sending an ill-considered email to a freelancer.

The journalist suggested a series of articles on plant-based recipes. Sitwell wrote back suggesting a series of articles on how to trap, interrogate and force feed vegans meat.

Once made public, his remarks, however jocular the intent, were received as well as you might expect.

More recently, in Brighton, the protest group Direct Action Everywhere have picketed a steakhouse and held a protest in the meat aisle of a supermarket.

Beyond the shouting, Twitter storms and more extreme views, there is a sensible conversation to be had.

For some people, a meat-free future is desirable for moral, environmental and health reasons.

There is a campaign underway to spread this view.

Earlier this year, Oxford academics looked at the feasibility of introducing a meat tax in order to reduce consumption.

A quick look at the history of government taxation on tobacco, alcohol and sugar shows where such an idea is likely to lead.

On the other hand

On the other side of the divide, there is a growing number of voices questioning the health benefits of a vegan diet and disputing the potential dangers of saturated fat and red meat.

There are also plenty of people arguing that sustainable livestock farming, as opposed to intensive, industrial methods, can help improve soil fertility and lower carbon emissions.

As always, the issue is never black and white.

Over the next couple of days, we'll take a look at some serious and some not so serious predictions about the food we will be eating in 2019.

How accurate they will be is anyone's guess. What we can say with absolute certainty is that the debate over veganism will only get louder over the next twelve months.

Buckle up.