The non-profit Veganuary event began in 2014, encouraging people to go vegan in January as a way to promote and educate about the vegan lifestyle. The reasons for doing so are diverse, including health, ethical and environmental reasons. Veganism is becoming increasingly popular and easier to adopt with restaurants and cafes growing their list of vegan options and popular chains selling vegan burgers, croissants, ice creams, cheeses and more.
For the planet
The food system, as we know it, is damaging the planet. Excessive water consumption, fertilisers and pesticides used in animal-based food production are having devastating environmental impacts such that consuming a beef burger once or twice a week equates to the same greenhouse emissions as driving a petrol car 1,542 miles over a year. On the other hand, having tofu once or twice a week for a year has the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as driving a petrol car merely 32 miles. If everyone were to go vegan, no doubt greenhouse gas emissions, land use, freshwater use and water pollution would be reduced.
Some plant milk alternatives, especially almond milk, requires a high amount of water to produce. There is criticism that vegans are not asking where their food is coming from as trendy foods with high air miles are imported from all over the world such as goji berries, lentils and mangoes. But a vegan diet harms the environment significantly less, 70% of global soy production is fed to livestock for meat production. We could cut out the middle-man.
For your body
There are health benefits associated with eating less meat such as avoiding the increased risk of various cancers, heart disease and diabetes. However, the misconception that a vegan diet is automatically healthier needs to be addressed. Vegans must still think carefully about what they are putting into their bodies. Perhaps even more so than meat-eaters given that they must ensure they are consuming sufficient protein, calcium, iodine, B12, iron, vitamin D and omega 3; these vitamins and minerals are less abundantly available in plants. This isn’t to say a vegan diet is difficult, but thought and planning are required.
Further, adopting a vegan diet is not a foolproof weight-loss method, contrary to popular media. A vegan lifestyle can nonetheless be unhealthy; a vegan cake is still a cake, and a Vegan Burger King burger still has as much saturated fat as its meat alternative. Many vegan treats are marketed as healthy alternatives but should still be enjoyed in moderation.
The situation is not as simple as animal-based products are bad and plant-based foods are good. You can eat well, for your body and the environment, by taking care to purchase well-sourced meat less often and not supporting the animal factory farming industry that produces devastating environmental impacts. There are a wealth of benefits associated with a plant-based diet. But, do not fall into the trap of thinking that eating a plant-based diet is automatically healthy; you must still take care to eat a balanced diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals. A sensible balance between eating meat sometimes and eating mostly plant-based foods is beneficial. Focus on eating well-sourced, local products, and what is in season. The rise of this flexitarianism (primarily vegetarian but occasionally enjoying meat or fish) is likely to be a long-term, more sustainable, realistic and achievable option for most people that will last longer than just Veganuary.
Check out Rhiannon Lambert (@Rhitrition on Instagram) for nutrition advice and tips on how to eat a more plant-based diet.