What do Paul McCartney, Joaquin Phoenix and Chris Packham have in common?
No, they are not doing a musical wildlife documentary remake of “Gladiator”, but they are all ambassadors for this month’s Veganuary campaign which aims to help people make the switch into veganism by starting off with a vegan month – January.
After the excesses that many of us indulge in at Christmas, (and let’s face it, 2020 was a difficult year and we deserved a few treats), January is often a time when people take stock of their lives and make New Year resolutions, often beginning with a drive to get fitter and healthier. Veganuary fits well into this personal drive for change, and increasingly, it is being understood that changes to people’s personal diets, can have a wider impact on the health of our planet too.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a not-for-profit organisation which encourages people to be vegan for January, and hopefully, longer. They promote a move to “a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering, and improving the health of millions of people.” In 2020, there were over 400,000 pledges from people keen to try a vegan diet, and since 2014, more than one million people, in 192 countries have supported the cause.
The organisation also organises awareness-raising events throughout the year and is instrumental in increasing the amount of vegan options on the supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.
Who is it for?
Veganuary is for anyone and everyone! It’s for individuals, workplaces, businesses and restaurants alike. Many vegan brands are launched during the month, and last year, more than 1200 new vegan products were launched by over 600 brands, supermarkets and restaurants alone.
There are four main aims:
- Increase participation
- Corporate outreach
- Raising awareness of animal suffering in farming and slaughter chains
- Growing the global movement
The benefits of a vegan diet
There are many anecdotal reports in the press, on health blogs and in bookshops of the improvements in health that can be achieved through a plant-based diet and people often say they feel better and healthier if they switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. There is also a lot of research too. Healthline.com summarises 16 randomised, controlled trials which looked at the impact and benefits of a vegan diet on a variety of factors, and whilst each trial should be viewed in detail for the participants and their starting characteristics before extrapolating any information, these studies reported a whole host of benefits including:
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Weight reduction including for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels
- Increased antioxidant activity
- Improved symptoms in people with osteoarthritis
- Decreased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
The benefits to the planet
Some years ago, the mainstream media might have been accused of side-lining or not taking seriously, some of the arguments that people made about the benefits of plant-based diets for the planet. But as climate change hits the headlines more and more frequently, we are now seeing an increase in campaigns and adverts which link climate change and global warming directly to intensive farming practices, deforestation and meat production.
Veganuary is making a difference though, and Dr Helen Harwatt from Harvard University’s Animal Law and Policy program has conducted research into the impact that Veganuary has had since 2014. The figures are impressive, including:
- 103,840 tonnes of CO2eq saved, equivalent to driving around the world almost 15,000 times
- 405 tonnes of PO43-eq (eutrophication) saved, the same as 1,645 tonnes of sewage. Eutrophication is the process where a body of water such as a lake or coastal waters become overly enriched with minerals and nutrients, usually from the overuse of land fertilisers that pollute the water system. It causes algae blooms and affects fish and wildlife
- 6.2 million litres of water saved, the same as flushing the toilet almost half a million times
- Additionally, more than 3.4 million animals were saved according to the Vegan Society’s Veganalyser calculations
Whether you want to go vegan for yourself, your family, your setting or the planet, the Veganuary website is full of useful information and advice. You can sign up to their 31-day pledge as an individual or a workplace, and they are aiming to beat last year’s record and get half a million people to sign up in 2021. There are vegan recipes from all over the world and interestingly, there’s an emphasis on what you can eat as a vegan, rather than what you can’t. For example, the site points out that many of our most basic go-to foods are all naturally vegan anyway: such as most bread, pulses, fruits and vegetables, jams and marmalades, baked beans, dried pasta, rice, oven chips, breakfast cereals, porridge, pickles, jacket potatoes, tea, coffee and fruit juices to name but a few. When you look at it like this, there are a myriad of foods to choose from. And if you look at the recipes on the website, things such as smoky mac ‘n’ cheese, (yes, made without cheese), coronation chickpea sandwich, plantain flatbread and tarka dal, it won’t be long before your mouth starts to water.
Below are some tips to go vegan this Veganuary but check out the website for more
- Plan well – make sure you give plenty of thought to your shopping list and meal plans
- Veganise your favourite dishes
- Have some fall-back favourites to rely on – jacket potatoes and beans, pasta and vegetables, for example
- Ease yourself in gently by using vegan alternatives to foods you like – there are vegan nuggets, sausages, pies, pasties, spreads and bacon! So you can still enjoy a vegan fry-up knowing you’re helping yourself and the planet
- Keep some vegan snacks to hand to satisfy those ‘wobble-moments’
- Download the HappyCow app which shows the nearest restaurant café or shop selling vegan food
We’d love to know how you get on, so send us your pictures and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.