By Krissie Ferris, Research Analyst, Centre for Health Solutions
Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is encouraging the nation to take the ‘Veg Pledge’ this November and go vegetarian or vegan for one month.1 Those taking part can obtain plenty of tips, recipes and fundraising ideas from CRUK to help them through their challenge. Being vegan myself, and having just completed my first week at Deloitte, it was great to see so many plant-based offerings on the menu at our snazzy 1 New Street Square canteen. Providing more plant-based options is the main way employers are responding to the cultural shift that is turning more and more people towards plant-based diets (see Deloitte’s 2019 article ‘Plant-based alternatives, Driving industry M&A’).2 However, there are many other approaches that leading companies like Deloitte can take to encourage and inspire plant-based eating in the workplace. This blog explores those opportunities and the benefits of plant-based eating.
Health benefits of a plant-based diet and the Veg Pledge Challenge
I changed my diet radically when I was 16, when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. Although I had always been interested in healthy eating, I started to pay much more attention to my diet and to nutritional research. I now eat a plant-based diet (which for me, means no animal products – meat, dairy or eggs). I’m not perfect, and I struggle at Christmas without Cadbury’s, but the benefits of this lifestyle are neatly summarised on CRUK’s Veg Pledge site. These benefits include reduced risk of bowel cancer associated with increased fibre intake, and reduced impact that your diet has on the environment.3 Awareness of the links between diet and cancer are growing; obesity is widely acknowledged as a leading cause of cancer, second only to smoking.4 Moreover, a high intake of processed meats is associated with bowel cancer.5 However, plant-based diets are associated with a 15 per cent reduced risk of overall cancer and and are effective in the management of type 2 diabetes.6,7
Currently, research on the health benefits of a plant-based diet are relatively scarce, since it’s hard to recruit participants. This is largely because plant-based eating is a relatively new trend and people who follow plant-based diets are not a homogenous group (eating anything from fewer to no animal products, including or excluding processed foods). Today, however, there are other drivers that are turning people towards plant-based diets, including increased environmental consciousness.
Animal agriculture is responsible for around 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (and this is said to be underestimated).8 Eating a plant-based diet is the single biggest way a person can reduce their carbon footprint and is one of the main reasons that 14 per cent of the population identify as flexitarian (people who consciously eat less meat).9 The image below shows that producing dairy milk creates 3x more greenhouse gas emissions, uses 13x more water and 11x more land use compared to producing oat milk. Furthermore, in 2018, a record 50,000 people signed up to the Veganuary campaign to live without animal products for a month. But the growing popularity of veganism extends beyond January with searches for veganism doubling in the past year.10 For employers, providing plant-based milks is a great place to start to demonstrate their support for plant-based diets.
Corporate initiatives supporting veganism
Corporate initiatives supporting veganism in the workplace include vegan employee societies, providing more plant-based menu items and catering for specific dietary needs at off-site events. Raising awareness of challenges like CRUK’s Veg Pledge is also a good opportunity to show support to plant-based eating. One of my favorite corporate initiatives is from the Green Monday social venture in Asia, which works with businesses to promote vegetarian-only meals one day a week in workplace canteens.11 Although I have been pleased to see so many vegan options served at Deloitte, I was a little surprised that there is only dairy milk provided for free in staff kitchens. With encouragement from some of my new teammates, I have started reaching out to other colleagues to help get plant-based milks in all the staff kitchens across the campus. I believe that providing plant-based milk alternatives is a great way to get people interested in plant-based styles of eating and drinking, as well as helping to reduce Deloitte’s impact on the environment. More importantly, it shows commitment to the high value Deloitte places on inclusivity.
Diversity & Inclusivity
Deloitte’s diverse workforce comprises people with different dietary requirements and needs. Therefore, it makes sense for companies to provide more than the single option of dairy milk for staff who want to make a quick tea or coffee. Genetics cause more than 90 per cent of people from East Asian descent to become lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek and Italian descent. Only five per cent of Northern Europeans are born with genes that will cause them to be lactose intolerant as adults. However, many people (65 per cent of the population) will become lactose intolerant, as they get older (since with age, the body produces less lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk). Thinking more widely than catering for those with intolerances, doing more to support vegan living could help to attract talent, given that millennials are driving the cultural shift towards veganism. I found out this week that my new-joiner colleague is also vegan (and a millennial).
Today, more and more people are turning towards plant-based diets for reasons of sustainability, health or animal welfare. In response, the workplace needs to become increasingly more plant-based to reduce its environmental impact, support staff health and inclusivity, and even attract talent. Taking part in CRUK’s Veg Pledge is a great way to challenge yourself whilst raising money for an important cause, and improving your health by reducing your meat and/or dairy intake. If this blog inspires just one person to take on the challenge for themselves and for CRUK then it was worth writing it, but I hope anyone taking the challenge can rope in friends, family and colleagues for support!