SINGAPORE — If anyone is in any doubts about the viability of plant-based meats in food-obsessed Singapore, point them to the nearest NTUC supermarket where they can now find an affordable plant-based alternative to pork in the form of OmniMeats. Having launched the first in their range of healthier plant-based meats back in January this year to critical acclaim, OmniFoods has added to their repertoire the OmniMeat Luncheon and OmniMeat strips—both Halal-certified, non-GMO, and contains no added hormones.
This quick proliferation into the mass market is a sure sign that Singaporeans are finally ready to take that first step towards adopting a diet that is more sustainable for the planet, and more importantly, for the body.
It is in line with the various other ‘your-body-is-your-temple’ movements that seem to be taking Singapore by storm—vegetable-forward menus, non-alcoholic spirits, mindfulness workshops. I had the great fortune to pick the mind of David Yeung, Founder and CEO of Green Monday, the parent company of OmniFoods, on the burgeoning plant-based diet movement in Singapore and what this means for the dining scene in the world today.
How do you describe what you do to someone you’re meeting for the first time?
David: I am a plant-based, environmental advocate and a social entrepreneur! I’m also the Founder of Green Monday, a multi-facet social venture that is trying to bring positive change to our food system and the world.
How has the world’s reception towards plant-based diets changed since Green Monday’s inception in 2012, and what do you reckon lead to this change?
The reception towards plant-based is night and day when you compare 2012 to where we are right now - particularly in Asia, where the awareness was severely lagging at that time. There was no awareness of the correlation between food and sustainability, and that meat consumption does so much damage to the environment, especially with the growing global population.
Today, we are very happy to say that 34% of the people in Hong Kong have reduced their meat consumption regularly, and we are growing this movement and our social venture from Hong Kong to all across Asia and the World.
What do people misunderstand the most about plant-based meats, and what are some of the steps you’ve taken to correct this misconception?
There are a lot of misconceptions. People often wonder if plant-based products taste good or if they are nutritious enough or how much healthier they are compared to real meat. The quality of plant-based ‘meat’ has evolved tremendously over the last few years. Most meat-eaters are amazed by the variety and quality of plant-based choices we have today versus 10 or 20 years ago, and they are pleasantly surprised by just how good these products are!
People used to be concerned that vegetarians and vegans do not get enough protein and nutrition, but this is entirely not the case nowadays. Most of the plant-based products are loaded with protein and are highly nutritious. And, if you ask how much healthier plant-based options are to real meat, I would always use this opportunity to remind people that animal products nowadays are loaded with hormones, antibiotics and are high in fat, calories and cholesterol, which are directly related to many health issues, including cancer and heart disease.
No doubt, the majority of plant-based products are going to be quite an upgrade in terms of healthier choices to meat. Through our innovation and education, Green Monday is trying to change such misconceptions.
Singapore is now seeing a rising demand for vegetable-forward menus and plant-based meats— more so than in previous years. Coincidentally, there’s also been a new interest in non-alcoholic spirits, with mainstream bars readily adopting such spirit-free drinks into the menu. Do you think these two phenomena happening concurrently is merely coincidental or is there something more to this situation that we should be more aware?
In general, consumers' choice towards healthier options is holistic. Whether they become a frequent member of the gym, do yoga, eat less meat, or even consume less alcohol, it’s a holistic lifestyle shift, and the new generation of consumers is looking for healthier options in general.
Is OmniMeat’s venture into Singapore an indication that the country is already as vegetarian- friendly as LA, London, and Melbourne, or are we still a work in progress owing to our reputation of being a haven for heritage food?
LA, London and Melbourne are fast becoming vegetarian friendly, but the majority of Asian countries and cities are still lagging behind. However, as we make plant-based products more widely available, it means we unlock the potential for adapting our beloved heritage recipes to a more sustainable lifestyle.
I am a huge believer that food must be localised, and having access to these meat-free substitutes – such as the new OmniMeat Luncheon and Strip in Singapore – allows us to make dishes that we have been eating all our life but in a version that is kinder for our health and for the environment. Hence, having these ingredients will be instrumental in leading Asia towards being more vegetarian-friendly.
While technology has greatly helped in creating products such as OmniMeat, has this advancement in innovation and technology created unrealistic expectations of the direction that plant-based meat should take?
People now expect tasty, nutritious plant-based options that can satisfy their meat cravings. The similarity in taste and texture to traditional meat really depends on the brand and product, but we are still in the early phase of this movement, so the quality of plant-based meats will only improve. It would be unrealistic to expect the mass population to turn plant-based suddenly; that’s why we advocate ‘flexitarianism’ at Green Monday—it’s about practical transitions to sustainable living.
When you look at the state of dining in the world today, apart from the rising acceptance of plant-based diets, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
How the younger generations are becoming exceptionally environmentally conscious and are demanding new ideas, and are supporting those new ideas. This is a holistic global change among our new generation that gives me a lot of hope that change will happen because they are our future, and they know the way we live now is simply not sustainable.
Balancing the New Normal: