Veganuary Is Over. But Should We Carry On?

Francesca Montefusco

Since starting in 2014, Veganuary’s popularity has grown massively with a record breaking 706,965 people across the globe signing up this year (plus all of those who participated without registering) to go vegan for the month of January. But why are people doing this? Should we all be going vegan this year? Is veganism really a solution to our current health and environmental crisis?

Why has Veganuary become so popular?
Attitudes towards veganism are finally changing. No longer do we just think of living off salads, but we now have so many more options. As we are becoming more aware of our current climate crisis and the benefits of veganism for the planet and for our health, judgement towards vegans is beginning to reduce. Veganuary offers us a perfect excuse to explore a plant-based lifestyle.

The media has certainly been involved in the uptake of Veganuary. Netflix documentaries such as The Game Changers, Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy have most definitely been a strong influence. Seeing test tubes of fat from the blood of meat-eaters, the awful treatment of animals, the destruction of marine ecosystems and Arnold Schwarzenegger loving life as a vegan is enough to push many of us to at least consider going vegan.

As we are becoming more aware of our current climate crisis and the benefits of veganism for the planet and for our health, judgement towards vegans is beginning to reduce

Furthermore, vegans don’t really need to miss out anymore. Pretty much everything can be veganised. Craving a Big Mac? The McPlant offers an alternative. Want a Wagamamma Chicken Katsu Curry? They’ve got a veganised version so no need to miss out. Fancy some chocolate? Go grab a vegan bar of Cadbury, Galaxy or even a vegan Kitkat. Some exciting new products for this Veganuary may have drew in those fearful of food FOMO. Some cool ones being the Vegan American Hot Pizza from Dominoes, Heinz creamy vegan tomato soup (because no tomato soup can be beaten by Heinz in my opinion) and everything from Aldi’s MASSIVE new Plant Menu range.

Heinz’s new Vegan soups

But is it worth it for a month?
Maybe just having a vegan month seems a little pointless. Some argue that they would just make up for the lack of meat afterwards. But personally, I think a month is a great idea; you can just try it out and see how you’re feeling. Going in for a month is a lot less daunting and you’re much more likely to pick up the vegan options that you liked afterwards. A month of consumers wanting vegan options also forces companies to produce them. Once companies
start dipping into the vegan market, then they are more likely to carry on dipping and keep improving vegan ranges so that meat and non-meat eaters alike have better vegan choices that they would happily pick up.

So, should we all strive to be vegan all the time?
Well, there is certainly some truth behind the media and marketing strategies. The NHS associated vegetarian and vegan diets with lower risks of certain health problems caused by high-blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity with studies showing less cases of cancer and type-2 diabetes amongst vegans. Being vegan can encourage eating more fruit and vegetables; proven to aid health. 

Environmental benefits have been investigated too. Removing meat from our diet would remove the 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions that livestock produce. Leading meat alternative brand Quorn has its products certified by the Carbon Trust. Quorn’s beef alternative has a carbon footprint 13 times lower than beef so we know it’s a better swap.  And whilst soy (often a vegan staple) has been linked to deforestation, more than 77% of global soy is fed to livestock for meat and dairy production. And so, if we just eat the soy directly then that would naturally free up a lot less land that is used for feed and animals.

The NHS associated vegetarian and vegan diets with lower risks of certain health problems caused by high-blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity

But being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the healthiest and most environmentally friendly diet. To make vegan ‘meat’ so real, it takes a lot of processing and sometimes contains chemicals that aren’t so good for us or for our planet. With that being said, having these processed vegan products to replace processed meat products like burgers and nuggets doesn’t make too much difference. The point is that being vegan and then opting for a diet based on mock-meat isn’t really going to do the environmental and health work that you might want it to. Vitamin deficiency could also be a concern in certain vegan diets without a bit of planning and nutritional knowledge. It might mean that veganism isn’t best for you if you really struggle to get all the nutrients in.

And marketing that pushes the idea that all vegan products are better for the planet than all meat products isn’t necessarily true. A lot of vegan food has to travel a long way to get to us and the carbon footprint can pretty quickly add up. It’s up for debate if products like almond milk coming from Californian farms using lots of insecticides is better than organic British cow’s milk. And a lot of vegan food still contains palm oil which continues to be a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests. 

It goes to show that veganism isn’t problem free and maybe we also need to try and think about local and seasonal foods when striving for the most sustainable diet.

And so, taking part in Veganuary, or going vegan, can have a lot of benefits, but it’s important to remember that eating sustainably isn’t just simply replacing all animal products with all plant products. There is no harm in giving it a go and there is definitely a good reason to do so. A vegan diet can be really good for the environment and your body. But we might also want to start thinking about ingredients, packaging, processing and distance travelled. I don’t think we can label any diet as just good or bad, but we can continue to try our best to keep ourselves and the Earth healthy… and enjoy some yummy food!

Francesca Montefusco

Featured image by edgarraw from Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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