Veganuary is also also the name of the charity that started this campaign in 2014 in order to encourage people to eat a solely vegan diet for the month of January. Since its launch over 1 million people worldwide have taken part in the 31-day challenge. The charity’s aim is to encourage your local supermarkets to stock more vegan food as well as to bring attention to the benefits that the vegan diet can have globally and ultimately to encourage more people to adopt a vegan diet permanently. But what are the benefits and drawbacks to committing to a vegan diet full time?
Veganism simply put is a plant-based diet.
Vegan’s do not eat any animal-based products including meat, fish or any animal produced products, so for example, no eggs or honey.
A number of studies have been conducted which suggest that a vegan diet has numerous benefits. One study has found that ‘plant-based diets address the bigger picture for patients with diabetes by simultaneously treating cardiovascular disease’ as well as other risk factors such as obesity and inflammation. Veganism has also often been a popular choice of diet for people who wish to lose weight. Though this is potentially less to do with a reduction in animal products but more because people become more considerate about the fresh quality of their food and consume less fast and overly processed foods.
However, what must remain clear is that all of the nutrients that our bodies need are hard to get through a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is especially difficult to get enough of in a vegan based diet and so supplements are definitely recommended. Full proteins are also difficult to get enough of through a purely vegan diet. Careful consideration over the types of foods that are you are eating should be made in order to ensure that you are getting as many of the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
I think one of the most common drawbacks people associate with Veganism is that it takes a lot of time to make good tasting vegan food. Speaking from experience, when trying out veganism for the first time I did find that the food I was cooking tasted bland. However, since then, I have found some amazing vegan food blogs which have quick easy and most importantly great tasting recipes: Chickpea Coconut Curry, Hearty Autumn Stew and Pesto Pasta Bake. I’ve even begun to notice that many popular new cookbooks have larger numbers of vegan recipes in them, including Nigel Slater’s Greenfeast series for vegan food suitable for everyday and occasion and Rukmini Iyer’s The Roasting Tin series which are super easy and quick to make.
It’s true that a lot of vegan cooking requires some serious prep but as of this Veganuary it seems clear that large U.K supermarkets are doing more to cater towards vegan alternatives, including ready-meals and oven goods. I think also once people get into the routine of cooking vegan meals it will become more natural and seem less time consuming as you’ll start to develop a bank of recipes that you can go to.
It can depend on what kind of food you wish to eat as to whether it can get expensive. I personally make a lot of vegetable-based stews and stir-fries substituting the meat for more veggies as well as grains and pulses for protein. This can actually work out cheaper. However, if you are interested in eating meat alternatives and trying out some vegan baking it can get very expensive. Though more readily available you can look to be spending around £3 more for a vegan alternative than what the meat original would cost. Vegan baking is another matter altogether with many recipes that I have seen requiring some obscure flours and dairy free chocolate which are not only more difficult to find but again can be quite pricey.
Is it beneficial for the planet?
Comprehensive scientific studies have shown that ‘moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential.’ The study explains that this is because, meat free diets would reduce food’s land use substantially as there will be no need for huge amounts of land for grazing. Greenhouse gas emissions would also be significantly reduced, and the earth’s freshwater supply would be put under less pressure. The land no longer used for arable farming can have the room to grow back and actually work to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Whilst acknowledging the benefits of a vegan diet, the study also asserts that consideration should be made about the impact other foods can be having on our planet. Palm Oil is a prominent example of a food that would be suitable for a vegan diet but the way that it is grown severely impacts the surrounding wildlife. I think we can all remember the Iceland Christmas Advert from 2018 telling the story of an orangutan impacted by deforestation for the purpose of growing palm oil. Though the advert may seem a little trivial it is actually a very honest example of the impact that intensive farming can have on our environment. Other popular vegan suitable foods such as soy and almonds for milk alternatives have much the same impact as palm oil on the areas that they have been grown due to the intensity of demand and the malpractice done to keep up with it.
This is what would lead me to suggest that if you are looking at going vegan for the environmental benefits shopping locally is the best way to help. Locally grown food will have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than food which has been imported via boat or plane from abroad. In the U.K. farming in general is more sustainable than the intensive farming you see in the Amazon for example.
Still unsure about changing to a vegan diet permanently, then perhaps you could try being a ‘flexitarian’. Flexitarian-‘ism’ is a diet that is mostly vegan/vegetarian but where someone would occasionally eat animal produce. The premise being that you get the health benefits of veganism by increasing the variety of grains and pulses that you are consuming but also including the occasional meat-based meals. Flexitarianism is also about the environment, as has been mentioned the carbon footprint and farming practices surrounding popular vegan foods can still be extremely harmful for the environment. Potentially more harmful buying meat from your local farmer who treats his animals well. If you do opt to eat meat, then lean meats such as chicken and turkey are recommended. Dietitian Emer Delaney notes that you should also avoid excessive consumption of processed meats such as sausages and hams as ‘they are high in both saturated fat and salt’.
So, are you thinking of keeping up Veganuary for the whole year? Or is a flexitarian diet more your style?