The Impossible Whopper chain opened an all-vegetarian outlet in October in Puerto Rico. Courtesy of Burger King Puerto Rico Instagram

Plant-based foods pushed deeper into conventional spaces in 2023, riding the momentum of changing tastes and the worsening climate crisis. As of November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported that the U.S. had already experienced 25 climate-related disasters this year where losses exceeded $1 billion. This report came a month after a study published in the journal Nature Food found that the climate footprint of a hamburger is 20 times bigger than the footprint of a veggie burger. Meanwhile, people who eat vegan meals are responsible for 75 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, also significantly less harm to land, water and biodiversity compared to people who eat animal-based meals, according to research published in July in the same journal.

In March, the investor group FAIRR predicted that climate change could cause 40 of the world’s largest animal-based meat and milk processors to see profits fall by $23 billion by 2030, forcing them into the red. In November, AI predicted that at the current rate of culinary change, most of the world could be vegan by 2075.

Here’s a look at the top vegan news stories shaping the U.S. and the world in 2023.

New foods

This year’s plant-based food news was topped by major brands releasing vegan versions of grocery staples, vegan brands launching vegetarian remakes of traditionally animal-based foods, and the opening of vegan markets.

Hershey’s sold plant-based peanut butter cups for the first time in 2023. Courtesy of The Hershey Company

In 2023, Kraft Heinz rolled out vegan Philadelphia Cream Cheese, vegan Not Cheese slices and vegan Mac & Cheese, while Hershey released vegan Reese’s peanut butter cups and an oat milk Hershey’s bar. Newcomer Meati debuted its mushroom-based chicken and beef steaks this year, while WunderEggs gave shoppers a plant-based hard boiled egg. Parents packing lunches could reach for a new convenience product after Mighty Yum launched plant-based meat and cheese Munchables, a vegan take on Lunchables.


In August, Orlando restaurant Charley’s Steak House attracted headlines for charging $69 for the new plant-based F U Filet Mignon made by Chunk Foods. Two months earlier, the U.S. approved the first lab-grown meats, both made from chicken cells cultivated in a lab, and sold by Upside Foods and Good Meat. While cruelty-free, these meats are animal-based and therefore not vegetarian.

Fast food continued to advance into plant-based eats, with Burger King leading the pack. The Impossible Whopper chain has been temporarily turning its European restaurants vegetarian for years, and in 2023 continued to push the vegetarian envelope with a plant-based pop-up during the month of May in Barcelona. In October, the trend arrived in the U.S. when Burger King opened an all-vegetarian outlet it dubbed La Casa Veggie in Puerto Rico.

Chick-fil-A tested a vegetarian cauliflower sandwich at select restaurants in 2023, a move that got praise as well as accusations the company was being “woke.” Courtesy of Chick-fil-A/Chick-fil-A

Over at Taco Bell, longtime home of the vegetarian bean burrito, the restaurant chain tested out a vegan Crunchwrap in select locations in June, and in the fall added vegan nacho fries to its menu nationwide. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A tested a vegetarian breaded cauliflower sandwich in select markets, earning praise but also prompting some fans to complain the company had gone “woke.”

Trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News reported in October that the once obscure Buffalo cauliflower experienced a 219 percent growth rate in the past four years and now appears on almost 2 percent of all menus nationwide.

All year long, the parent company of IKEA has been busy readying its Nordic-style food halls, to be called Saluhall, which will feature vendors selling 80 percent plant-based dishes. The first three Saluhall markets are planned for China, India and San Francisco. The corporate goal is to get to a 100 percent plant-based menu.

And every Tuesday from June through October, the Vegan Night Market set up in New York’s Central Park with dozens of vendors. The market attracted big crowds and is slated to return next May. In the fall, the XMarket Vegan Food Hall opened in Chicago with six food stalls, a bar, a coffee shop, a market, and a temporary outpost of The Vegan Museum.



The march toward a more plant-based world started this year with Veganuary. The annual event challenges participants to eat a vegan food diet during the month of January. More than 700,000 people participated this year.

In April, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced plans to serve more vegan and vegetarian meals in city-run institutions in order to cut food-related greenhouse emissions at least 33 percent by 2030. The city purchases roughly $300 million in food each year. New York City public schools already serve only vegetarian meals on Mondays and Fridays, and a year ago, its 11 city-run hospitals made plant-based meals the default option. After one year, the hospitals’ food-related climate emissions dropped by 36 percent, according to the mayor’s office, and its vegan meals (such as pasta Bolognese, plant-based Sancocho beef stew, and black-eyed peas casserole with cornbread) had a patient satisfaction score above 90 percent.

Over the summer, two Brooklyn landlords attracted ink for banning tenants from cooking animal-based meat or fish in the building they own. Another notable story from the city was the $88-a-plate private vegan dinner party hosted by artist and model Charlie Ann Max in her Lower East Side apartment. The noteworthy part? The guests ate their vegan meals in the nude.

A new national PSA campaign called Eat Differently launched in June with 29 billboards in San Diego. The campaign features images of iconic vegetarian figures – from Mahatma Gandhi to Jane Goodall – paired with quotes about our food choices. During the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York City in September, Eat Differently lit up the sky with a show of 1,000 drones forming plant-based symbols and messages, urging the climate summit to include plant-based food in its solutions.

Entrepreneur Pinky Cole seemed to be everywhere in 2023. Busy expanding her restaurant chain Slutty Vegan to Dallas, Harlem and the Spellman University campus this year, Cole also showed up on Time magazine’s 100 Next list. When she married cheesesteak restaurant chain owner Derrick Hayes, their wedding was profiled in the New York Times Vows column, which reported that the newlyweds and their guests celebrated with vegan coconut cake.


Bon Appetit wrote in October about cattle ranchers-turned-vegans Renee King-Sonnen and Tommy Sonnen, who transformed their Texas ranch into a farm animal sanctuary and veganic market garden called Rowdy Girl, home to about 225 farm animals.

The rapidly evolving nature of the vegan business landscape was on view in 2023 when Miyoko’s Creamery dismissed its founder, Miyoko Schinner, and sued her, alleging she stole proprietary recipes. Schinner countersued, alleging sexism by the male executives.

The parties eventually resolved their dispute out of court. Schinner started the business in 2014. In recent years, the company expanded, thanks to more than $50 million in venture capital, which brought in the male executives and board, and put Miyoko’s products in grocery stores across the country. Previously, Schinner starred in the TV cooking show Vegan Mashup, which was produced in Maine. and wrote the cookbook “Artisan Vegan Cheese.”

Schinner wasn’t the only high-profile vegan woman facing headwinds from her success this year. Joanne Lee Molinaro, who wrote the 2021 bestseller “The Korean Vegan,” quickly saw copycat cookbooks rush into the market. One was from a mysterious author named “Rachael Issy,” who this year published a book by the same name with a look-alike cover and very similar contents. Molinaro, an attorney, says her book was plagiarized and suspects it could have been written by AI. The knockoff book is no longer for sale on Amazon.

Leading indicators

As the plant-based food market matures and climate change accelerates, we’re continuing to see people and institutions push back against the status quo in order to create more profound change.


Government food subsidies were questioned in an analysis released by the Environmental Working Group in November, which found the U.S. is lagging behind other countries, particularly China and Canada, in its support for farmers who grow plant-based foods and producers who make them. At present, 50,000 U.S. workers are employed in the plant-based food sector, a number that could be a lot larger, according to the report. Since 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has “spent almost $60 billion to bolster the livestock sector but just just $125 million on plant-based foods,” according to the report.

Meanwhile, in September, the U.S. Labor Department began investigating whether Tyson and Perdue illegally employ underage migrants to clean slaughterhouses.

It was the environmental and climate costs of animal-based foods that were highlighted by the German supermarket Penny in the first week of August with its “real costs” promotion. The supermarket hiked the prices of certain products to reflect the environmental and climate costs not included in the standard price. The price of sausage, mozzarella and yogurt all rose significantly during the promotion, with the price of cheese rising 94 percent. The market donated the extra revenue from the promotion to a nonprofit that assists family-run farms.

In October, data released by the British government showed that animal meat consumption in the UK had fallen to its lowest level since record keeping began in the 1970s. Meat consumption seems to be holding steady in the U.S.; however, research released in August from Tulane University found that just 12 percent of Americans consume half of all the beef eaten each day.

Interestingly, Americans’ appetite for vegetarian and vegetarian-adjacent media is also holding steady. The Southern Environmental Law Center awarded its 2023 Reed Environmental Writing Award to novelist Corban Addison for his critically acclaimed legal thriller “Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial.” The book explores how the impoverished residents of rural North Carolina took corporate hog farm behemoth Smithfield to court. Smithfield, now owned by a Chinese firm, operates huge industrial farms in the eastern part of the state, where up to 60,000 pigs are raised in windowless sheds and are allowed to discharge untreated feces and urine into the environment.

In August, Netflix released the documentary “Poisoned: The Dirty Truth about Your Food,” by filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig, based on a book by Jeff Benedict. The film explores how systemic failures cause U.S. food to be contaminated with deadly pathogens infecting both meat and vegetables. Most of the pathogens are traceable to animal confinement factories, and as people sicken and die, politicians turn a blind eye, the film alleges, and continue to assert that American food is the “safest in the world.”


At the end of the year, the filmmakers behind the Netflix films Seaspiracy, What the Health, and Cowspiracy, announced they had pulled out of another film deal with the streaming service and bought back the rights to their latest film, Christspiracy, after Netflix demanded major changes. A Kickstarter campaign then raised more than $400,000 to fund an independent release of the controversial film, which explores the reactions of religious leaders to animal exploitation around the globe.

In November, the Los Angeles school district settled a free speech lawsuit brought by a student barred from criticizing cow’s milk in her school. As a result of the lawsuit, the schools will now allow such criticism and will also make soymilk more readily available to students.

It’s a smart move, since in May, researchers at the University of Massachusetts analyzed the nutrition of vegan and non-vegan yogurts, and the published results put almond and oat yogurts in the Nos. 1 and 2 spots. Which makes me wonder: Why is anyone still eating the animal-based versions? Maybe we’ll find out in 2024.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

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