2021 starts with a record 500,000 people from 192 different countries around the world committing to Veganuary - twice as many as in January 2019. What’s stopping you from joining them?

The new year is the best time to try something different. For some, going vegan for the month of January would be a challenge and would mean giving up their favourite meals and snacks. However, if you want to try Veganuary, you should know about the deeper importance and message behind it.  

Veganism is a broad term for people who avoid the consumption and use of animal products as much as possible. For most people, a vegan diet is entirely plant-based and excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. Some people also avoid eating honey, depending on personal opinion and choice. For some, being vegan is a dietary choice, while for others, it is a lifestyle choice. Because it is a choice, there are no so-called ‘strict rules’ and you won’t ‘fail veganuary’ if you eat meat. It is your own personal choice, therefore, your own motivation is the only factor of your success.

Everyone has their own reason for being vegan or wanting to reduce the amount of animal products they use. For a lot of people, it might be a mix of things, the most common being cruelty to animals, the benefits it has for your physical health and the negative affects the meat production industry has on the natural environment. Scientists say cutting out meat is the single best way individuals can tackle the climate and wildlife crises.

An ethical vegan, also known as a "moral vegetarian", is someone who not only follows a vegan diet but extends the philosophy into other areas of their lives, and opposes the use of animals for any purpose. Another term is "environmental veganism", which refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable. 

Veganuary is a UK non-profit organisation which has grown in impact and numbers, year on year since it was initiated in 2014. The online organisation brings together individuals, restaurants, brands and supermarkets to promote the campaign and message of veganism worldwide. But it’s ambitions extended beyond the January pledge - throughout the year, Veganuary encourages and supports people and businesses alike to move to a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering, and improving the health of millions of people. They do this by collecting donations, spreading awareness and branching out to other countries like the USA.

“It really feels to me that plant-based eating is no longer controversial,” said Toni Vernelli from Veganuary. “Pretty much everyone has accepted we need to be reducing animal products in our diets for environmental reasons. The way British supermarkets have embraced Veganuary this year is truly game-changing,” she said. “They are not simply using it as a marketing opportunity, but are promoting the many benefits of plant-based eating. As bastions of our food supply, they know that the only sustainable way forward is plant-focused.”

Vernelli highlighted a message about animal welfare on Aldi’s website: “Eating less meat or avoiding animal products altogether is often a really transparent way to show you want to make a difference.” Vernelli also noted that Marks & Spencer had produced a 31-day Veganuary meal plan.

Climate change is destroying our planet and as we’ve been hearing for the last few years; we need to act now, otherwise our planet with become irreparable. What are the real consequences of the meat industry on our environment? 

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, forestry and other land use accounts for 24% of greenhouse gases. A study published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification). It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing meat and dairy, and eating plant-based diets instead, would free up land to be returned to natural forest. With the example of different milks, all non-dairy milks produce less emissions, use less land and use less water to process than dairy milk. 

There are many health benefits of a vegan diet but it is vital that you are still getting all the right vitamins and enough protein to sustain a healthy diet. This means that you have to look more carefully at what you eat and try different meat substitutes but it is definitely possible to make balanced and delicious vegan meals. 

Some people might ask; is going vegan for the month of January even worth it? There is always a spike in interest from people in the UK at the start of the year in vegan food products which doesn’t really sustain itself. However, more and more people are buying vegan products as we see the selection grow in supermarkets and restaurants. 

New research from the investment bank UBS on plant-based alternatives to meat, such as veggie burgers and sausages, shows a rising number of people are trying the new products. The proportion of people who have tried the alternatives rose from 48% to 53% between March and November 2020, according to UBS’s survey of 3,000 consumers in the UK, US and Germany. It also found that half of those who try plant-based alternatives to meat continue to eat them at least weekly.

Any effort we make to improve either the sustainablity of our planet or our own health and happiness is worth trying for a month.