Now is the Time to Go OhSo Vegan: An Interview with Cristina Santos

Veganism is experiencing a bumper year in 2020. In the last couple of years, veganism has sky-rocketed in popularity. As an example, the global vegan food market was worth $12.7 billion two years ago and is predicted to reach $24.06 billion by 2025. This shows that vegans are benefitting greatly by the plethora of vegan products, lifestyle items, travel and food that’s available. There’s no better time to be vegan and Cristina Santos, founder of OhSo, has experienced the growth first-hand.

OhSo is a global digital platform and marketplace for cruelty-free, environmentally-responsible vendors and the wider community who want to contribute to building a more sustainable, responsible and friendly society. With the meteoric rise of veganism, OhSo has found its place in a time when the demand for vegan information has never been more prolific.

OhSo: The Early Years

However, OhSo’s story started almost 20 years ago when veganism was an underground movement and the internet was only in its infancy. “I believe I started working on the idea that later became OhSo way back in 2001,” Cristina explains. “I chose to become a vegetarian in 1998. By 2000-ish, I was 90% on a vegan lifestyle.  In 2001, I had a health scare, and my doctors immediately accused my vegan lifestyle.  So that’s when I started researching veganism online.”

It seems that veganism has become as mainstream and as part of life as the internet. For many, veganism and the virtual world have grown up together and are now essential; both play an important role in the mainstream conversation. “The internet, back then, was very different,” Cristina confirms. “You may, however, be surprised to learn that there was quite a bit on veganism, but only from one source – medical journals.  The medical jargon was difficult to follow and pretty much labelled veganism as something only weirdos lived by. I remember being laughed at by family members when I mentioned my veganism.”

Cristina realised the need for an extensive resource for vegans to share information, have conversations and explore all facets of veganism. “Since I was already obsessed with all things worldwide web, the idea behind creating my own website started to grow.  I wanted to set up a website where I could bring together everything I could find about veganism and, hopefully, attract fellow vegans to teach me what they knew, so we could all learn together. So, I started learning HTML through websites like Macromedia (today’s Adobe) and website design;  100% in HTML.”

Cristina soon discovered that her idea was cutting edge, or even ahead of its time. “It was so much work.  Plus, at the time, only big corporations were able to monetize a website.  And I had bills to pay.  So, I gave up on the idea for a while.  Though, I continued to work on the idea on weekends.”

Still, Cristina’s earlier years living abroad set the scene for her online ambitions. After finishing her schooling in Hong Kong, Cristina was expected to go to university. Instead, she had other plans. “I was supposed to head to university in the UK but I couldn’t stand the idea of living there.  So, the deal with my parents was, if I was to quit the idea of doing university, I had to get a job. With no particular idea about what I wanted to do, I did all kinds of things.  I worked in the travel business for a number of years in Hong Kong, then in Portugal.  I worked on a separate logistics project with friends in Brazil for 18 months.  From there, I returned to Portugal and worked in a political party for a number of years, too.  Once I realised how dark the political world was, I ran away and decided I’d had enough of working for other people.  So, I decided to risk it and that’s where I decided to give it all to the development of OhSo.”

Cristina soon discovered that pursuing her idea for OhSo meant building her business idea from the ground up. “No money and no investors meant starting from scratch,” Cristina reveals. “I designed and managed websites for other businesses on the side for about five hours a day to pay my bills. The rest of the day was dedicated to OhSo. Basically, I watched the internet to see what people liked and what people didn’t like, how people used the internet, what people were looking for and how they consumed. Then, when I felt I was ready, I gave up everything else and went all in for OhSo. That was in 2017.  It’s been really hard working on a project with no investors but I am so proud of everything OhSo is becoming.  Slowly, but surely, it is growing organically.”

Vegan Content is on the Rise!

Cristina is already witnessing the growth since OhSo’s launch late last month. For example, OhSo has already received 11,000 searches for eco-friendly travel options. Even in the current COVID-19 climate, OhSo community members are maximising their time in quarantine to research their future travel plans. Yet, the pandemic has hit OhSo and its launch unexpectedly. “By March 2020, we were pretty much ready to go live when the pandemic story started taking over the headlines.  So, we sat back for a time to allow that period to settle a little. Nobody was interested in talking about anything else anyway.  So, from March to April, we started working on a plan B.  The idea behind plan B was for us to release OhSo in early May for a short period of time to a small group of people.  We wanted to test the waters and see what people were thinking and where their interests lay.  Were people interested in shopping?  Or were they looking for information?  Do they prefer the written word, or videos?  Are they interested in recipes?  Is there a particular cuisine they prefer?

“Two weeks ago we were struck with the pandemic in our own little group and we were forced to shut shop for a number of days.  We stopped promoting and we allowed OhSo to go quiet for the last two weeks.  This time allowed us to review how people used OhSo.  Just by the way people use OhSo, we can tell that about 20% of our visitors wanted to shop.  Out of those, about 60% were looking for kitchen utensils.  It makes sense, since everyone has been cooking more at home during the quarantine.  Others perused products in the store, they read articles and watched videos. Then, they peruse our directories in their geo-location. In the top 20 in our search boxes was ‘travel’ and ‘hotels’.  I guess people were quarantining, yet their minds were already planning for the end of the quarantine.  I am over the moon that so many people are interested in finding vegan alternatives for their holiday. That says a lot!  The world is transitioning to a more conscious existence, not only in our day-to-day, or the food we serve to our families, but, also in how we holiday.  And that is very exciting.”

As veganism grows currently, so too has the demand for more conscious travel habits. Eco-friendly travel options are important to travellers and travel companies will need to adjust their travel offerings once travellers can start travelling again. Cristina agrees. “No doubt, the consumer is feeling more responsible for their consumption.  World economies were undoubtedly under pressure early on this year, even before the pandemic, because people were no longer consuming like they used to.  Cracks were showing in the markets and business for the largest corporations was slowing.” Cristina has also seen this trend occur at a grassroots level. “By mid-2019, consumers began to change their habits.  People were beginning to choose smaller brands in fashion, beauty, food, home decoration, you name it.  Consumers were more aware that products with palm oil, for example, had a repercussion on the Borneo forest fires in 2017-18. Consumers gave preference to recycled paper products, aware that the 2018 fires in southern Europe spawned from natural forests being destroyed to make way for the Eucalyptus trees. The Amazon fires last year lead many to reconsider their consumption of soy products, too.  The numbers are not yet large by any means, but the transition has begun.”

Getting Back on Track Post COVID-19

While consumer patterns have changed and companies started to adapt, the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world with dire consequences. Cristina explains further that those signs of change have been there for a while. “Central governments are throwing money at economies in the hope things will ‘get back on track’, whatever that means.  But, personally, I believe the world has changed.  It was changing before the pandemic.  The pandemic has just speeded the transition up.  This year, we won’t see tourism like last year.  So, there will be more local tourism.  And that is an opportunity to attract the local traveller from the city who wants an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ experience.  Just today, air travel stocks around the world went flying up because the markets are convinced the pandemic is over.  But I seriously doubt we’ll see traveller numbers go back to where they were ever again.  Business travel, for example, will be frowned upon now that people have adjusted to work with the likes of Zoom and other online services. So, it’s an opportunity for projects like the Norwegian solar plane fleet to grab some investor love.  We could all do with cleaner skies!

As the world grapples with the after-effects of COVID-19, people are now trying to navigate a new normal. Though, will this change non-vegans’ opinions about veganism and will the world experience a bigger boom in people adopting a vegan lifestyle? Cristina is in two minds. “At the moment, I can’t really say if travellers will adhere to a vegan lifestyle because we will experience an out-of-the-ordinary year in tourism that cannot be compared with previous years. I also don’t know if people in general, travellers and others, will adhere to a vegan lifestyle.  All I know is, from the numbers we have been seeing on OhSo, people are keen to find out more about veganism.  They want to try out recipes, they are more than keen to buy an eco-friendly, animal-friendly product over one that is not, no doubt. But I fear that the mobsters of the web will put people off again.  There are far too many people on mainstream social media who feel they have a right to impose their ways and rules on others.  They put people off.  The backlash on everything veganism is real because of these mobs. It’s another reason why I was so keen to launch OhSo. I want to create a space where vegans come along to share their lifestyle with anyone who is interested.  No rules.  No impositions.  I want people to use OhSo as a bridge where they share knowledge – recipes, places to stay, eco-friendly habits at home, cruelty-free shopping ideas, cruelty-free make-up, beauty tips, hair care… People want to learn but they don’t want to be lectured.”

Going forward, digital platforms like OhSo will play a crucial role for vegans and vegan-curious during a time when it’s just as important to protect those who are advocating peace and compassion. “OhSo’s role, in my view, is to provide that spot on the worldwide web where anyone can come along, share what they know and, at the same time, learn something new from others. My role is to clear the platform of mobs and those who think veganism has rules and obligations like a religion.  Veganism is a lifestyle.  It is about being at peace with all. It is about being conscious that every footstep we take will destroy something.  So, we’d better make every footstep worthy. We will welcome all those who want to discover new ways to make more eco-friendly, animal-friendly and people-friendly choices when they shop, travel or in their day-to-day.  I, personally, don’t care if they are not 100% vegan yet.  I celebrate that they are looking to add vegan alternatives to their lifestyle because I know that the vegan community really does offer perfect alternatives for everything these days.”

The Importance of Accurate and Accessible Vegan Information

Now that the internet is so accessible to millions around the world, there’s the risk of fake news and unverified facts to spread like wildfire. Gone are those earlier days Cristina recalled when the only information about veganism she could find was in medical journals. Cristina sees the necessity for accurate information and the effect that ill-informed mainstream information can have on consumers. The problem is there are far too many people on mainstream social media who are providing half-baked ‘facts’ about climate change and veganism.  This confusion puts people off. Media is also adding a lot to the confusion by promoting stuff like electric cars as eco-friendly.  Very little is written about how detrimental mining for the lithium-ion required for the batteries is to the environment.  CNN promotes their Freedom Project about ending slavery, but then runs ads for Bahrain tourism. It’s ignorance mixed in with two-facedness that runs our world these days.  And we need to turn our backs on this for us to move forward to a more people-friendly, animal-friendly and eco-friendly world. People need clarity and, I hope OhSo is there to provide that clarity by providing a platform for vegan bloggers, vendors and service providers away from social media’s internet marketers.  That is my objective.”

To meet the projected demand for vegan content, OhSo is expanding its platform. “We have just acquired four new domains.  Each one will take up a different section.  The idea behind this is to create a network.  We want to attract people who have a genuine desire to share what they know and learn from others.  We also want to provide vegan business owners with the tools they need to succeed in bringing veganism to the forefront.  And we also want to provide the tools necessary for vegan bloggers to monetize their work as they spread the word about the vegan lifestyle. We already have the Eco-Friendly Business Directory, the Vegan Food Network is launching this week, the community is ready to go, as is the marketplace, and new bloggers are joining us to run their own channels, too; a bit like the vegan YouTube. Then, we are constructing a separate platform for freelance journalists.  We are also going to ramp up promotion of our VeganAds.  This will mean that vegan bloggers will be able to monetise their blogs with ads exclusively from vegan brands and services.  No intrusive cookies and 100% GDPR-compliant.  I can’t wait to get this off the ground.”

What a Vegan Future will Look Like

With regard to a vegan travel future, Cristina believes that the world will need to adjust to a post COVID-19 landscape first. Though, there is a sense of hope. Personally, I don’t think air travel will return to the numbers we’ve seen in the last few years.  I think there will be more eco-tourism nearer to home.  I also believe, this year, those who do travel will give preference to small B&B’s, for example, over a large hotel.  Social distancing will be on everyone’s mind. And, so it’s an opportunity for smaller places like B&B’s to attract people who would otherwise stay at a large resort.  Once they’ve had a taste of staying at a small, quaint hotel, they may never want to return to the large places again. As for veganism in travel, we can definitely see a rise in interest.  So, it makes sense they will want to add that lifestyle while on vacation. With new vegan spots popping up all over the place, there is no shortage of selection.  A year ago, people would choose to visit a vegan restaurant simply to be original. These days, they will pick a vegan restaurant because they are adding veganism to their home-life too.  Again, they may not yet be 100% vegan.  Personally, I celebrate this. It’s fantastic to see veganism taking off like this. Also, plant-based food bloggers are such an interesting bunch.  They are coming up with colourful, creative recipes and vegan takes on classic, traditional dishes that are just wonderful.  Recently, someone posted a vegan take on one of Portugal’s most classic of dishes at OhSo’s food network.  It is the most visited page on Ohso.  And it’s not only Portuguese people, its people from all over the world.  It’s wonderful to see so much interest in veganism.”

The world is now at a turning where people have experienced, first-hand, what a global pandemic can do to daily life and how detrimental these effects can be. Those who choose to go vegan as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic can help shape the world to be a more vegan one. While the world may not be entirely vegan by the next generation, there are signs it’s heading in this direction. “My youngest nephews are three years old,” Cristina explains. “When they are old enough to be parents themselves, they will look back at their parents’ generation and see them as savages for having continued to consume meat.  It is already scientifically proven we don’t need to consume flesh to be healthy. The fact that we continue to consume flesh will be seen as absurd, lazy and ignorant.

“Animal welfare is rising on the list in everything [thanks to] videos of animals being fun and loving and caring of their young, and being funny with their humans. These videos get millions and millions of views.  They have changed people’s perspective on things. They have connected humans to other species unlike ever before.  And it is undoubtedly what killed the fur industry.  That’s just one example of how much has changed.  But dairy consumption is also down.  Not just for health reasons, but because people are more conscious of the feelings of other beings.  In the last two to three years especially; there has been an awakening.”

You can learn more about OhSo by visiting the About page of OhSo. You can join for free by registering for an account here. You can also learn more by checking out the OhSo Facebook page or follow OhSo on Instagram. If you’re a vegan business, you can learn more about becoming a vendor here.

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