Plant-Based Belgian Classic ‘Vol-Au-Vent’ Goes On Tour

Volunteers from GAIA distributes flyers on their plan-based vol-au-vent together with tasty food ... [+] samples.

Daniela De Lorenzo

The vegan version of the Belgian classic chicken stew dish called "vol-au-vent" is going on tour on a food truck across the country. Belgian animal rights organization GAIA is celebrating its first 30 years of existence trying to encourage locals to discover plant-based alternative of this hearty meat based dish. Earlier in 2008, the NGO introduced "Faux Gras(R)", a plant-based alternative to the meaty spread, to push consumers to abandon the occasional habit of consuming the delicacy, for which Belgium is one of the few European producers.

"It's not the case any longer that if you want to eat an alternative to meat, you're gonna eat less good. Now you can eat as good or even better," said a spokesperson for GAIA during one of the food truck stops in Leuven, Belgium. A shift to a more plant-based diet is said to be a crucial step in achieving climate goals: but reducing meat consumption it's a hard reality to swallow for meat producing countries.

Despite its relatively small size for a European country, Belgium is one of the leading producers and exporters of meat, with its northern region, Flanders, producing 94% of total pork production and 78% of total beef production. According to a study commissioned by the Belgian consumers organisation EVA in 2022, meat consumption by Belgians continues to decrease year after year, while more interest is shown towards meat and dairy substitutes. The plant-based food sector is taking leaps in market share every year: data released by the non-profit organization Good Food Institute (GFI) reveals that sustainable protein companies across Europe raised more than £2.5 billion throughout 2021.

This trend is also visible in the country, where many companies such as Greeenway, De Hobbit, and La Vie Est Belle are creating new plant-based products for local consumption or to export to nearby countries. But products named vegetarian chicken stripes, vegan burgers, veggie bolognese sauce and even the vol-au-vent risk disappearing from retailers shelves. Since January, the Belgian Federal Government has been stuck on making a decision on how to designate vegetarian and plant based alternatives.

The proposal of a "burger ban", heavily supported by the national meat sector, justifies as a possible consumer protection measure as to avoid citizens to buy vegetarian mincemeat by mistake. "The plant based market is growing and consumers are not confused by the names of the products," said Fien Louwagie, spokesperson at EVA.

Earlier in 2020, the decision to keep the nomenclature of "veggie burger" passed at the European level and is now valid within the whole European territory, hence a change of rules at a national level, would constitute a breach to the one already agreed. "The government should stimulate the shift to more plant based proteins instead of creating confusing guidelines," said Louwagie. "Different guidelines per country can cause fragmentation of the plant based market."

GAIA's food truck bringing soy-based vol-au-vent provided by the Belgian food company Greenway will be touring around the country for the next five weeks.