Food is at the heart of every culture, and a lot of our celebrations revolve around sharing food with family and friends. But access to information means we are learning more about the food we eat, where it comes from, and the effect it has upon us and the planet.
I’ve seen a rising interest in plant-based food in the UAE, driven by a number of factors:
We live in a time where, thanks in most part to better education and information access, there is increasing consumer knowledge of food, its effects, its provenance and environmental impact.
I for one, feel happier eating food when I know a little more about where it comes from, and what it might do for my health and overall wellbeing.
And I’m keen to better understand the concept of food as medicine…as this article states, “many people are catching on to the notion that certain eating styles have the potential to influence disease prevention, too, not to mention influence quality of life, health, and longevity.”
A little reading and you’ll discover than processed foods – whether they are meat or plant-based – are simply not good for the health.
The UAE market
We live in a largely affluent, multi-cultural, tolerant society, so many companies view the UAE as a fantastic test bed for new products.
Food innovators can test new products in the UAE, taking full advantage of the start-up culture, funding opportunities, and access to affluent, savvy consumers.
In recent times, we’ve seen the development of vertical farms, and I’m a great admirer of organic farms such as Mawasim which supplies a growing percentage of foods to the UAE community via its own farm and stores.
You might blame streaming services, YouTube or social media, but people are far more aware and concerned about the environment and sustainability today.
We are seeing a rise in interest in eating local produce, reducing food packaging and food miles, reducing food waste and eating to preserve good health.
For context, I learnt that around a third of all food is wasted globally, amounting to 1.3 billion tons each year. Food waste not only results in an economic loss of $1 trillion each year, but also has a significant impact on the environment and food security.
Sustainability is close to my heart, and I am proud to live in a nation that has taken bold steps towards pushing a strong sustainability agenda.
This trickles down into our food, with the UAE pledging to cut down food waste by 50% by 2030 to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has prioritised tackling the problem of food waste, driven in part by a national initiative encouraging kitchens in the UAE’s hospitality sector to reduce their waste.
Cultural, social and health imperatives
Whether you are influenced by friends and family, or worried about your long-term health, a plant-based diet is proven to be better for your health, the planet and, of course, the animals.
The old norms are being shattered as more people choose healthier and cruelty-free diets.
Celebrations that focus on eating meat are now being catered for with meat-free alternatives, and grandma’s legendary dishes are now being adapted with plant-based ingredients.
With the rising consumer knowledge and desire for healthier eating, we are seeing a shift towards plant—based foods. Many of us are eating more mindfully, ignoring societal and cultural pressures in favour of pursuing stronger personal beliefs regarding our health, our environment and the rights of animals.
This cultural shift is further evidenced by the willingness of local supermarkets to provide a wider range of plant-based foods.
One of the world’s most renowned and respected advocates for plant-based eating is Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, himself an avowed vegan and founder and chief executive of KBW Ventures, a company which is investing heavily in global plant-based business initiatives.
His admirable philosophy is that the companies he invests in have to be capable of generating revenue — but must have a positive impact on the world as well.
Here in the UAE, the entrepreneurship which is a significant characteristic among locals and expats alike has led to a start-up culture with a significant number of funding opportunities available.
A locally-based plant-based children’s food start—up, Sprout, recently received US$200,000 in funding from Bahrain-based FA Holding. It plans to use the funding for retail expansion.
We grow vegetables in the desert. We’ve harnessed water from the oceans for drinking, and the power of the sun for energy. I’m reminded of Sheikh Zayed’s insistence that Sir Baniyas island could become an oasis for wildlife, despite experts telling him the opposite. With perseverance, he literally turned his vision into reality.
We are a nation of innovators, and at the moment, key global issues include food poverty, food scarcity and security. Innovating with new forms of protein and food – from crickets to lab-grown meat – will help feed a hungry and ever-growing population.