From omnivores to meat lovers: The countertrends to plant-based food
“Vegourmets”, “real omnivores” and “carneficionados”: What’s behind these food trends and how are they being picked up by the restaurant trade?
In Germany, around 12 percent of people follow a vegetarian (9 percent) or vegan diet (3 percent). This was one of the insights from a representative Forsa survey commissioned by the BVLH (Association of German Food Retailers) on the topic of plant-based nutrition1. Another 41 percent of respondents described themselves in the survey as flexitarians, i.e. they consciously restrict their meat consumption.
However, the resulting increase in the popularity of plant-based meat alternatives is also triggering counter-movements2. In the Forsa survey, 65 percent of respondents cited a high content of fat, salt, sugar or additives as a reason for not buying vegan meat alternatives. This scepticism is also shared by proponents of the food trends “vegourmets”, “carneficionados” and “real omnivores”, who avoid meat from standardized industrial production chains as well as plant-based substitutes.
Vegourmets follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and forego meat substitutes because they are highly sceptical in principle about industrially processed food products. The dishes served by plant-based gourmet restaurants also have nothing to do with meat-substitute products. In these establishments, the point is not to imitate the taste of meat, but instead to focus on creating original dishes from vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes and herbs that taste so good that nobody misses the meat. As is the case in the Seven Swans in Frankfurt am Main. In 2020, it was the first vegan restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star. Award-winning head chef Ricky Saward explains how they implement the vegan gourmet concept in the restaurant: “It’s important to us to demonstrate how versatile a vegetable can be, and we want to show the amazing range of possibilities that allows us to produce a wholesome and complex dish from just a single vegetable.”
Ricky Saward is not alone: Increasingly, vegan chefs are being awarded Michelin stars. The introduction of the Green Star3 by the Michelin Guide, which recognises restaurants for their sustainable practices, is evidence of the shift in thinking in the fine dining segment.
3 questions for….
Michelin-starred chef at the vegan gourmet restaurant Seven Swans
“In a few years, the meat-heavy consumer will no longer exist.”
1. Why and when did you decide to cook vegan?
Fifteen years spent processing animal products were the trigger for my change of heart in 2018. If you reflect on how many animals you have actually processed during your career it is very alarming. Especially when you are young, you don’t even think about what you actually have in your hands and are in the process of skinning, fileting, stuffing, pickling, frying or dressing. The thought was always the same: it had to be rare, luxurious/expensive, ostentatious and grotesque. I was fed up with it and visually oversaturated. From a current perspective, it was just product placement without focusing on the skilled craft as such. And yet the craft was the main reason I wanted to become a chef, to use skills and techniques to create something fantastic out of unremarkable raw materials.
2. What’s special about the cuisine at the Seven Swans?
We are breaking almost all the rules of award-winning fine dining. Our patrons sit relatively uncomfortably at small wooden tables and eat from hand-crafted plates. We serve and explain the courses. It is loud and the diners have fun. We joke around and occasionally have a drink with a customer. In the kitchen, we always focus on seasonal, regional vegetables. Nature tells us what to offer. The priority is always sustainability. We take the vegetables apart in every conceivable way, processing the individual parts of the vegetables using a variety of techniques to achieve a level of flavour and texture that our guests do not expect. Sometimes, we add another couple of nuances to the vegetables with some herbs or other vegetables. We achieve the flavour that we generate without using spices because we do not want to change the natural flavour.
3. What do you think of plant-based substitutes? How do you explain their current popularity on the supermarket shelves?
I don’t think much of substitute products. I don’t understand the idea behind using these products when I can consciously opt for a healthy, unprocessed vegetable version. Why does there need to be a vegan schnitzel? It might be understandable as a stopgap for a short time, but not as a permanent solution. At the beginning of the year, I worked with TV channel Arte on the documentary “Free from... – are substitute food products the better alternative?” The subject was substitute products and their ingredients like carrageenan.
We are currently experiencing a development where the reduction, or in some cases renunciation of the consumption of various animal products is unavoidable. At present, we are in a period of generational change. Meat-heavy consumers will no longer exist in a few years. We need to gradually engage with the generation aged in their early 20s to mid-30s and adapt the market accordingly. Otherwise, the retail sector will also be having problems very soon. I believe that substitute products will lose their appeal and their reputation, and it will once again become more interesting to get into your kitchen and cook creatively.
 Forsa (2023): “Plant-based nutrition. Results of a representative population survey.” (in German) www.bvlh.net/fileadmin/redaktion/downloads/pdf/2023/forsa-Umfrage_Pflanzenbetonte_Ern%C3%A4hrung.pdf
 Rützler, H. (2023). Food Report 2024.
 Le Guide MICHELIN (2023, 2 April). What is the Green MICHELIN Star? https://guide.michelin.com/de/de/article/sustainable-gastronomy/was-ist-der-grune-michelin-stern