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  • Writer's pictureMatias

Best plant based brands and documentaries

Plant based brands and food related documentaries

Many food enthusiasts, frustrated chefs, and aspiring tastemakers like myself have embarked on an inner revolution, shifting our approach toward conscious food decisions. In my case, having come from a land of carnivores, Chile, and having relocated to the UK, another farming country where animal-based products predominate, changing such ingrained consumer behaviour is challenging.

However, today individuals, communities, and restaurants are echoing and advocating for a shift in consumers' eating habits. We are more educated and conscious about the benefits of embracing and including plant-based alternatives to our diets both for environmental and health reasons.


The motives for humans changing their behaviour towards food are varied, primarily driven by the impact of today’s carnivorous diet on the environment, particularly the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to global warming. And from a health’s angle, there's the old saying "you are what you eat," highlighting the importance of a balanced diet for overall well-being.


It sounds reasonable to consider such a change when contemplating the impact our diets have on the world, but change isn’t something we naturally turn toward. Yet, a gradual shift to consuming less meat is becoming non-negotiable in today’s world, as evidence shows that approximately a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and land use activities. While other studies have shown that adopting vegan diets can significantly reduce emissions and environmental stress compared to meat-heavy diets.


Millennials like myself didn’t grow up with the notion of alternatives to animal-based diets, and we didn’t question much about what we were eating or consider the impact of our eating habits on the world. For example, I consumed milk until my teenage years, as it was strongly recommended by nutritionists for health. Similarly, meat was often highlighted as a key component of our diets. However, numerous studies are debunking these old theories and showing evidence that humans can find equally nutritious benefits from plant-based ingredients. This shift in approach is notable in newer generations like the ultra-aware Gen Z, who are questioning their eating habits and advocating for a change in how we view the food industry as a whole.


When I arrived in London 14 years ago, the topic of including plant-based products in our diets was in its early stages, often considered a niche conversation. This was reflected in the limited to non-existent options for plant-based food available to shoppers. Fast forward to today, and the availability of plant-based options in supermarkets, restaurants, and markets is simply astonishing, growing larger by the minute. This shift towards plant-based and conscious eating is not surprising and is supported by research from health scientists, who are providing clear evidence of the benefits of reducing meat consumption for both human health and the environment.

These studies are challenging long-held beliefs about the nutritional superiority of meat and dairy products, similar to how misinformation about tobacco was eventually debunked.

Additionally, there is growing awareness of the health risks associated with processed foods and the lack of intake of fruits and vegetables. It’s no surprise a significant part of the UK population is overweight or obese. In 2021 to 2022, 63.8% of adults aged 18 years and over in England were estimated to be overweight or living with obesity. This was an increase from 2020 to 2021 (63.3%).


But I’m not going to dive more into that issue because I’m no diet expert or health guru, not by a long shot. And this post isn’t about convincing or teaching anyone about veganism or plant-based diets; it’s just to share some awesome meat alternative products I’ve been trying out at home, along with some interesting documentaries on the topic.


My journey towards a more balanced and conscious diet

My partner and I started changing our consumer habits and purchasing style a few years ago, slowly moving away from animal products to a more plant based diet, but keeping our craving for tasty meat and fish every now and then. For us omnivores, it's all about moderation and conscious purchase behaviours.

How we prioritise shopping consciously is by supporting local producers, and looking for quality in what we get. For instance, we avoid processed foods and prefer making almost every meal from scratch. This means we have to go to the grocery store more often, but it ensures that we get the freshest and best-quality ingredients.


Our first change in habit was to ditch milk, around 2016, when milk substitutes were not widely available. Soy was almost one of the unique alternatives but still didn’t taste that good, until oat milk made its debut on the shelves, around 2017 - I remember the exact moment this happened. During a trip to New York, while strolling around the city, we stopped for a coffee and ordered a soy flat white. The barista responded in a confident manner, typical of many New Yorkers, saying, 'we only serve our coffees with oat milk. You can only get this in New York.' From that moment on, I couldn't help but laugh and always remember the phrase 'only in New York.' Anyway, that's when we became aware of oat milk, and slowly, London supermarkets started stocking this much-needed milk substitute.


Speaking of New York, Eleven Madison Park has played a significant role in promoting plant-based diets while still offering exceptional culinary experiences. In 2021, this three Michelin-starred restaurant made a bold move by transitioning to a fully plant-based menu while keeping their regular prices. Daniel Humm, the renowned chef, author, and owner, was determined to make it work, despite the challenges.

This decision reflects a broader trend among both new and established restaurants, as they shift their approach to food and experiment with plant-based ingredients. London, too, has embraced this trend, with over 30 vegan-friendly or fully vegan restaurants delighting guests with fantastic culinary experiences.


Personally, I've found myself increasingly drawn to vegan options in restaurants, even on Sundays. Despite my devotion to Sunday Roasts, I've become intrigued by the vegetarian and vegan roasts. Some exceed expectations, while others are barely edible, serving as a turning point. But these unique experiences, whether positive or negative, continue to shape the preferences of those venturing into the world of plant-based alternatives.


The second shift in our consumer behaviour happened gradually, without much deliberate intention; we simply found ourselves less interested in meat, specifically. Our initial goal was to become more mindful of our purchasing habits and their impact, so the first step we took was to stop buying animal-based products from supermarkets for sustainability and quality reasons. Fortunately, we live in a neighbourhood with two excellent grocery stores, a local butcher, and what we consider the best fishmonger in London, all just two blocks away from our home. While this shift does come with a higher price tag, often double or even triple the cost, we believe it's a necessary commitment for us omnivores to follow if we want to continue eating in a way that reflects our values. Our secondary goal was to include plant-based substitutes on our shopping list, which today are indispensable in our freezer.


 

My favourite and best plant based brands

When it comes to meat and dairy alternatives, the market is now packed with options that mimic the flavours of the real deal and have even passed the taste test with friends. But there's still a way to go for this growing industry because getting the flavours and textures just right is hit or miss, which is crucial for winning over more consumers. One common misconception though is that plant-based substitutes are always healthier. However, you should pay attention to the labels, as you might find high levels of sodium, sugar, and preservatives, which could raise concerns about their long-term health effects. Plus, there's the issue of how these substitutes make us feel after eating them. Some have left me bloated and getting a long-lasting after taste, which isn't ideal, but it's all part of the journey for both producers and consumers. We continue to try, taste, select, and adapt, recognising that this ever-evolving segment of the food industry is here to stay.


Founded in 2020, this company’s story has followed a path of undeniable success. 

This was the first plant based product (only chicken at that time) that I truly enjoyed and thus became my favourite brand. I am now proudly one of their early investors (small contribution but still) and enjoy seeing such a great company making great progress in offering delicious plants based options to the UK market.

Favourite product: bacon rashers.


One of the food pioneers in the sector that promotes great cooking using plant based products. This company goes beyond the product itself and continues to influence the modern vegetarian movement. 

Favourite product: Vegemince


Founded in Barcelona, this plant-based company goes beyond traditional business goals. It serves as a platform for food activism, aiming to empower individuals to transform the current food system into one that is more sustainable, healthy, and nutritious.

Favourite product: Chicke’n pieces.


Their aim is to develop appetising, healthful, and environmentally sustainable protein options, ensuring that everyone can enjoy their favourite foods without compromising.

Favourite product: Burger.


Moving Mountains was founded in 2016 with a singular goal like many other plant based companies, to revolutionise people's daily diets by offering a plant-based substitute that rivals animal meat in taste, texture, and satisfaction. Moving mountains though has a slightly different approach using engaging storytelling to captivate new consumers; they're on a mission to Move Mountains one bite at a time!

Favourite product: Fish fingers


Faux cheese is UK’s first dairy free and plant based cheese monger. This local dairy free cheese company with a shop in trendy Shoreditch is so far the only fake cheese that offers delicious cheese. Visit their shop and get the entire package to go with your fake cheese, including wine, chutneys, and crackers. 

Favourite product: Blue spirulina cheese.


I have never been a friend of tofu, I find it to be a boring piece of nothing. However, Tofoo proved me wrong and it’s the only brand I buy every now and then which I use as a salad or soup topping. 

Favourite product: Smoked tofu



 

Documentaries on the topic of food and healthy lifestyle

When you visit one of the largest online video platforms like Netflix, you'll notice a growing number of documentaries focusing on food, health and sustainability. These documentaries range from hopeful narratives to more unsettling exposes about the food industry, spanning from titles like "The Game Changers," to "Cowspiracy." These offer increasingly accessible information on various topics, including those discussed in this blog post, but use fantastic storytelling to capture people's attention.


Here are some food-related documentaries I've enjoyed over the past decade. They're not only 'educational' but also thought-provoking, sparking conversations and sometimes even changing how we approach food. For me, they've been like a mental snack, helping me be more mindful when making food choices.


Supersize me (2004): One of the first of its kind

This documentary explores the pervasive influence of the fast food industry in today’s society, particularly in the United States. The director personally investigates the health implications of consuming a diet primarily composed of McDonald's food for an entire month, yikes!

Where to watch: Amazon Prime and Apple TV


Food Matters(2008): The one that planted a seed in my brain

Food Matters explores the impact of our dietary choices on our health, with input from nutrition experts, naturopaths, physicians, and journalists covering various subjects like organic produce, food safety, raw food diets, and nutritional treatments.

Where to watch: YouTube


Cowspiracy (2014): Inspiring an environmental movement

This documentary offers a captivating narrative, following an aspiring environmentalist as he courageously explores authentic solutions to urgent environmental challenges and seeks a genuine path to sustainability.

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube


The Game Changers (2018): A different approach on the effects of plant based diets.

The documentary offers a unique perspective from a UFC fighter's point of view, showing his dramatic shift in beliefs as he encounters a group of top athletes and scientists who challenge traditional notions about protein consumption.

Where to watch: Netflix and YouTube


Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones (2023): Secrets to longevity across the globe

Author Dan Buettner travels to various parts of the world to explore five communities known for their exceptional longevity. Through his documentary series, he brings together decades of research to uncover common factors contributing to their long and healthy lives, with a focus on dietary habits among other aspects.

Where to watch: Netflix


You are what you eat (2024): A twin's experiment but with a clear agenda

The documentary starts as a scientific experiment, with identical twins adopting different diets and lifestyles for 8 weeks to examine the impact of food on the body. However, as the first episode unfolds, it becomes evident that there's a clear agenda against the food industry, highlighting its significant role in contributing to global warming.

Where to watch: Netflix


Waterbear: Not a documentary but a platform

This platform offers captivating films and thought-provoking series designed to empower you to lead a more meaningful life. Explore award-winning documentaries, enlightening short films, and impactful series that inspire and provoke thought.



 

In summary, I'll continue enjoying the full range of available foods, but I'll consume animal-based products in moderation and keep on choosing the highest quality options. I'll maintain my commitment to sourcing from local providers, ensuring that what I consume aligns with my ethical values and minimises environmental impact. I recognise that transitioning to plant-based alternatives entirely is the most effective way to reduce the environmental footprint of our diets and habits. While this journey may be long, increasing our consciousness as consumers and making informed decisions brings us closer to reducing our overall impact on both the environment and our bodies.


I'm interested in exploring more plant-based brands, documentaries, and restaurants. Any suggestions? I'm still learning about this topic, every recommendation helps!

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