Since the Veganuary campaign launched in 2014, more than 250,000 people worldwide have taken the pledge to try veganism for the month of January. 2019 has already broken records, with 14,000 people signing up on 30 December alone.
But what is the point of going vegan just for one month? Does the campaign work, do people actually stick to it and commit to a plant-based life?
As an omnivore, I gave it a shot last year, and genuinely enjoyed the challenge of being forced to try new ingredients and adjust to a new way of cooking. I was happy eating copious amounts of chickpeas, coconut milk and oats, but missed a creamy cuppa and milk chocolate. What surprised me most was that I didn’t miss meat at all.
I successfully finished the month feeling healthy, energised, weighing a little less (probably all that chocolate I wasn’t eating!), and with a new perspective on veganism and eating meat.
To help inspire me along the way, I followed many new pages on Instagram, including several vegan influencers. I soon noticed that along with the inspiring, picture-perfect plant-based food and useful tips, came aggressive and often misleading content about the meat and dairy industry, including horrifying videos of animal abuse in the US. Then there are those who become extremely self-righteous after watching Netflix’s What the Health and Cowspiracy documentaries, both of which are extremely biased, misrepresent science and exaggerate weak data selected specifically to enhance their argument.
Instead of feeling inspired, I felt frustrated by the influence that people with a huge following, but no authority, have on social media. Working at Riverford, which only buys from farmers with the highest standards of animal welfare, and growing up on a smallholding with up to 100 sheep and laying hens, I know it’s possible for animals to be reared with respect by people who care. It’s all well and good if you are exposing the intensive farming industry, but it is not okay to suggest that it’s a representation of all farming.
Come the end of the month, I decided I wasn’t going to commit to veganism full-time, largely due to social situations. With a family and group of friends who are all meat-eaters, the eye rolls and grunts when you explain you’ll bring your own food or ask to make sure we pick a restaurant with vegan options gets a tad wearing.
What I did gain from Veganuary is a reduction in my meat consumption. When cooking for myself I now go for a vegetarian or vegan option and will often adapt a meal for myself omitting the meat that others are having. I also learnt that anything you can eat as a meat-eater or vegetarian, you can eat as a vegan. There is quite literally a vegan alternative of everything (though stay away from the cheese – they’ve not nailed this market yet!).
So am I an anomaly or do most people go back to their old ways come February 1st? In 2018, the Veganuary campaign sent out a survey six months later to find out. The results revealed that 62 per cent of all respondents remained vegan, however 33 per cent were already vegetarian and 11 per cent already vegan. Still a great result no doubt, and a huge 82 per cent said that being vegan was easier than they expected (which I found too).
There is no doubt that we drastically need to reduce our meat consumption in the interest of the environment and global warming. It is also impossible to sustain our current consumption without compromising on welfare and increasing intensive farming. The Veganuary campaign might not turn everyone into plant-based beings, but if even half of the 250,000 pledgers so far reduce their intake of meat and dairy, we’re on the right track.