Last year, the fact that Spain slaughtered more pigs within twelve months than it counts inhabitants made headlines across the world.
The country was also second in Europe in meat consumption per capita (after Luxemburg).
But that doesn't tell the whole story as within this traditionally jamón-loving nation, more and more people are becoming vegetarians and vegans – a trend especially noticeable among young women.
Spain just recently made it to the top of the list of the world's healthiest countries. According to the WHO, Spaniards owe their longevity mostly to the traditional Mediterranean diet which is based on lots of vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, fruits.
Anyone who has been to Spain will attest to the part about meat and fish in particular – most of Spain's traditional dishes include animal products of some kind, and if not meat, then most likely eggs or cheese.
So, who honesltly would attempt a vegetarian diet in the country of Jamón Ibérico – let alone a vegan one. Imagine going out for tapas, eating… what? Patatas bravas. Without alioli?
Collection of Spanish Tapas – sorry, we forgot to mention the olives. Photo: Depositphotos
Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise
Despite all of this, or maybe in protest against the excessive meat consumption, there is an increasing number of vegans and vegetarians in Spain.
To get the terms straight: a vegetarian diet avoids meat, but can include animal products of other kinds, such as eggs and dairy.
Being a “strict vegetarian”, however, is similar to being vegan in terms of eating, that means the diet excludes any kind of animal products (also eggs, dairies, honey etc.).
The difference between strict vegetarians and vegans is that veganism is more of an overall lifestyle.
Any product that includes animals in its production process must be avoided. Say adios to leather shoes!
And then there are the flexies: people who try to avoid meat but might give in to their chorizo cravings once in a while.
There are numerous statistics showing that veganism and vegetarianism are growing phenomenons worldwide.
Here is the graph that shows the rise in google searches for 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' in Spain since 2004.
The veganism movement has grown rapidly over the last years.
In Spain there are now 0,1 per cent of the population who declare themselves vegan – this might not seem like a lot, but it made Spain the country with the tenth highest percentage of vegans in the world in 2017.
The website “HappyCow”, a map of vegan, vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants listed only 353 of these in all of Spain in 2011. In 2017, the number had increased to 1418. The majority of the restaurants can be found in Barcelona and Madrid.
Who is “veggie” in Spain?
The Lantern report, a study carried out by the Lantern agency in 2017 among Spanish people and their attitudes towards the consumption of animal products found that 7,8 per cent of the adult population were “veggie” (vegetarian, vegan or flexi). Most of these people were female, between 20 and 35 years old and living in big cities.
Understanding the “Green Revolution”. Photo: www.lantern.es
Why are people avoiding animal products?
“I think the growing number of vegans in Spain is connected to a growing awareness of environmental values among the whole society”, Amaranta Herrero, environmental sociologist at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, told The Local.
“Veganism, vegetarianism and the movimiento animalista in general promote compassion with non-human living beings. One factor that motivates people to follow is probably also the increasing amount of scientific research done on the perception and emotions of animals.”
The results of the Lantern report points in the same direction: 57 per cent of the people who stated they were veggie said it was because they felt sympathy with the animals.
Another 21 per cent claimed to avoid meat due to environmental issues, for example, livestock farming is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.
Last, but not least, 17 percent were mainly concerned about their health – according to the WHO, meat consumption is linked to heart disease.
A growing concern for non-human life?
This picture shows members of an animal rights group in Barcelona 2010 while protesting in order to establish a national vegan day in Spain. (They weren't successful.)Photo: AFP
It's easy to see that more and more Spaniards are concerned about cruelty to animals and begin to implement these concerns into their daily life – for example, by following a meat-free or even vegan diet.
The Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal (Pacma), which was originally founded with the aim to ban bull-fighting in Spain, has seen its popularity rise in the last decade.
While in 2008 there were only 44,795 people who voted for Pacma, the elections in 2016 brought them 286, 702 votes which is 1,14 per cent of the whole population.
What's more, 94 per cent of the people in Spain said animal welfare was important or very important to them in a 2016 report – a huge leap from ten years earlier when only 71 per cent of people had stated the same.
Fast, delicious and vegan: Pa amb tomàquet, a Catalan classic. Photo: Depositphotos
Maybe you have also stumbled upon the growing number of meat-substitutes in your favourite supermarket in Spain, products than even a decade ago was rare to see outside specialist stores. Some supermarkets even sell vegan Pizza now!
As meat-free diets become more visible and affordable, it is likely that meat consumption will decrease more and more. And maybe, within a few years, Spain's human population might overtake that of its pigs!
By Leslie Fried / The Local