Veganism is Poised for Growth in China

Vegan travel is never easy

Before leaving for China I looked up how to say “vegetarian” in mandarin, but that turned out to be a waste of effort. My time spent saying “su” and pointing at myself may have amused some people but didn’t help me communicate with anyone. The two times I got my message across, I was informed there were no vegetarian options available.

A low point

On the day we visited our client company they brought us KFC for lunch. When I told them I’m vegetarian they asked me if I could eat a hamburger. I said no, and they were kind enough to give me several bananas to eat while they put on their plastic gloves and ate their fried chicken.

The overall experience

Despite the KFC luncheon, China was significantly easier than Italy or Argentina to navigate as a vegan. East and central Asians have significantly higher rates of lactose intolerance which is why they don’t cook with dairy the way Europeans do. Because they don’t use much dairy in the Asian diet, Chinese vegetarian dishes are not covered in cream sauces or cheese; however, they use a tremendous amount of egg. Chinese Buddhist vegetarians follow a vegan diet they call pure vegetarianism (chun su), and many restaurants have that option clearly marked on the menu. If you’re willing to search, you can usually find a true vegan option.


According to South China Morning Post, the vegan market in China is expected to rise by more than 17 percent between 2015 and 2020. The rise of veganism is not surprising in a country with a background of Buddhist vegetarians and the highest instances of lactose intolerance in the world. From what I observed on my travels, China is well positioned to lead the vegan food movement.


Written by Nicole Reardon, M.B.A. Candidate, 2018