As thousands of people ditch animal products for plant-based alternatives, the charity Veganuary has shared some of its top tips for those attempting the environmentally-friendly diet.
After weeks of seeing adverts and social media posts about tucking into buttery mince pies, cracking open boxes of creamy chocolate and indulging in copious amounts of pigs in blankets, it can be hard to think about swapping to plant-based alternatives for 31 days. Hard – but not impossible.
Veganuary encourages people to – for lack of a better phrase – go ‘cold turkey’ on animal products including meat, eggs and dairy in a bid to help protect the environment, prevent animal suffering, and improve personal health.
More than 1.5 million people have signed up to take part in Veganuary since the charity began in 2014, and though it is often most associated with January, people are encouraged to join any time of year in order to receive recipes, meal plans, nutritional information and helpful advice.
Thanks to an ever-increasing range of plant-based alternatives, taking part in Veganuary continues to get easier and allows those involved to try new, tasty food they might have previously overlooked for an animal product.
Speaking to UNILAD, Veganuary spokesperson Toni explained that ‘instead of feeling like they are missing out on a vegan diet, most participants say they discovered loads of new foods, flavours and types of cuisines that they would not have tried when stuck in their old routine’.
Interestingly, missing non-vegan foods is not the biggest challenge reported by participants; instead, it’s having to deal with friends and family responding to the decision to take on a vegan diet.
Toni commented, ‘For many, social pressure is a greater barrier to changing their diet than craving the foods they are choosing to cut out. That’s a real shame as plant-based diets can play a key role in fighting climate change which benefits everyone!’
With the support of Veganuary, however, participants have found that trying the vegan lifestyle was ‘much easier than expected’, and if you’re able to ignore the social pressures, you could find yourself joining one of the 40% of 2021 participants who planned to maintain a vegan diet permanently after trying the Veganuary challenge.
It’s no secret that giving up all animal products will be tough for those who are used to regularly eating meat and dairy, so Veganuary has shared some of the top tips for getting through the month, including learning to ‘veganise your favourite dishes’.
There is no need to reinvent your whole eating habits. If you like a sausage sandwich, have one – just make sure the sausages are vegan. If you want ice cream, go ahead. There are dozens of different delicious flavours out there. You can have almost everything you had before in a vegan version, so just switch like for like.
Though finding vegan versions of your favourite food should help to stem the cravings, Toni has acknowledged that ‘almost everyone who tries vegan misses something, at least to begin with’. After 30 years of experience, though, the spokesperson has come to learn that being vegan is ‘not a destination you arrive at but a journey you undertake every day’.
Approaching Veganuary one day at a time – rather than seeing it as a mammoth, month-long task to overcome – will go a long way in helping you stay on track when the cravings hit, and Toni stressed that whether cheese or chocolate, craving non-vegan foods ‘doesn’t make you a bad person, or a bad vegan’.
If you give in to that temptation, you are not alone. But it should not derail you. If this happens, just chalk it up to experience, and move on.
The impacts of a vegan diet go far beyond the contents of your fridge, with almost half of those who took part in the 2021 challenge reporting noticeable improvements in their health, including an increase in energy (49%), an improvement to mood (46%), better skin (38%) and a desired change in body weight (38%).
In the wider world, going vegan can have a positive affect on climate change as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
The plant-based diet is also beneficial when it comes to biodiversity loss, as animal agriculture is very ‘land-hungry’, Toni explained. Despite only providing 18% of calories and 37% of protein, meat and dairy production occupy 83% of farmland.
Of course, we mustn’t forget the fact that whenever someone chooses a vegan option, they are making a choice that helps spare animals from miserable lives on factory farms, where 95% of meat comes from.
Though the thought of never again eating meat or dairy might seem impossible, especially after the Christmas period, it’s clear that starting with 31 days is enough to make a difference.
Though not everyone who took part in the 2021 challenge decided to give up animal products altogether, 75% said they would permanently cut their animal product consumption by 50% or more – a choice that in itself is ‘great news for animals and the planet’, Toni stressed.
If you’d like to take part in Veganuary, you can sign up here.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]