Veganuary: a month in review

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Veganuary 2023 was the tenth of its kind, and with 9% of the UK having given it a go (according to YouGov), it would be an understatement to say that there has been a dramatic upshot in the consumption of plant-based food in the western world. What can we learn from its success?

According to their website, Veganuary aims to end animal farming, protect the planet, and improve human health by encouraging people to eat a plant-based diet for the whole of January. Veganism has clearly entered the mainstream in the western world, and its benefits are well known. The 2018 Netflix documentary The Game Changers demonstrated that a vegan diet improves athletic performance, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lewis Hamilton, and executive producer Jackie Chan. The discourse around veganism has clearly changed in the past decade – having shed its niche hippie demographic, there is no longer an archetypal vegan.

As someone who has been vegan for around 18 months, I’ve faced my fair share of concerned family members (“not even cheese?!”) and confused friends (“but where do you get your protein from?”). However, I am here to tell you that not only was going vegan one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, but it was also probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve learnt how to cook, developed an understanding of where my food comes from, and developed a love for cooking for others. Even if someone attempting Veganuary does not continue with it come 1st of February, the habits that you develop from committing to it for a month can last a lifetime.

Not only was going vegan one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, but it was also probably one of the best things I’ve ever done

Veganuary has been different for me this time around: I am in a catered college. Upon finding out this was the case last August, I was filled with dread at the thought of eating nothing but bread and salad for the next year. However, catered accommodation has been a further reminder that veganism has never been easier. Perhaps as a result of how recently I made the transition from eating meat, in finding a vegan option in a restaurant or shop has never been an issue, even if it has required some innovation at times.

Aside from the hash browns from weekend brunches in college, there have been a few vegan staples which have saved me time and time again. One of my favourite foods of all time (and by that, I mean roughly 30% of my diet at home) are Itsu’s vegan gyoza: a swap that can be easily made from their meaty counterparts and, in my opinion, miles better anyway. Local to Durham, Chapters sells vegan Biscoff and chocolate cakes, both of which I would highly recommend. Every café I’ve visited here has milk alternatives. I also think that people underestimate just how many products are accidentally vegan; so many flavours of crisps, biscuits, and other student essentials which you would assume contain animal products actually don’t (Tesco’s 55p ginger nuts have saved me many times). Some brands are picking up on the upsurge in veganism and are starting to label their products too. I originally worried about veganism being too restrictive, but fortunately I have instead found the opposite to be true. Finding accidentally vegan foods becomes an Olympic Sport, and it forces you to try new foods that you otherwise would never have heard about.

Finding accidentally vegan foods becomes an Olympic Sport, and it forces you to try new foods that you otherwise would never have heard about

Vegans have had a bad reputation of being very all-or-nothing when it comes to diets and lifestyles. However, Veganuary’s emphasis on making small changes, such as committing for a month, is effective as not only does it make eating plant-based appear less daunting, but also allows for a greater difference to be made by encouraging more people to try veganism but without the pressure to be perfect. Twelve people trying to go vegan for a month has the same impact as one person being vegan for a year, and it is much easier to convince 12 people to try Veganuary than to convince one person to give up animal products for life. The Veganuary campaign is clearly working, and there really is no better time to start.

Image credit: Isobel Warwick

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