Our online debate this week was about Veganuary; an initiative which encouraged people to try eating a vegan diet through the month of January. This is a topic which stirs passions and emotions but the debate was a fantastic example of kindness and encouragement.
In fact, I think most of this post will be taken up with the great tips and suggestions that people have made to help those wanting to eat more vegan food but were finding it difficult.
Why go vegan?
There are three key reasons for choosing a vegan diet. The order of importance varies between individuals, so in no particular order, we have: health benefits, concerns about animal welfare and concerns about the environmental impact of meat and dairy produce. As @_lauraroshni said, we might think more carefully “if slaughterhouses had glass walls”.
For some, the answer to the questions about animal welfare is to make choices about meat carefully, looking at how animals are treated and sourcing the best possible options for meat. @louisemcnicol raised the issue of supporting the farmers who are caring for their livestock; particularly with Brexit on the horizon and the markets being saturated with cheap meat with low welfare standards. It is really important that if we are choosing to eat meat, that we are trying to invest in the best products we can.
So apart from the rather inelegant name, what was great about Veganuary? Loads of people who were already eating a lot of vegan food commented on how, as a result of Veganuary, there were a lot more tasty options in restaurants and whole aisles dedicated to Veganuary in some supermarkets. As well as making it easier to shop and find the right dish when eating out, that also reflects a big increase in awareness. As a shopper myself, I'd be tempted to browse these interesting new aisles even if I didn't know about Veganuary.
This shows what a big shift has occurred over the last several decades as alternative diets become something more people are willing to talk about and minds begin to open to different possibilities. For many already eating a vegan diet, Veganuary provided an opportunity for family members to understand a little more and even try eating more vegan food themselves. A time to bring people together. Always a good thing!
Something that really stood out for me in the comments from the debate was how, for a lot of people who were already vegetarian, Veganuary was a moment that helped them take the next step. Perhaps one they had been considering for a while. People in this position found the change easy and exciting. A great opportunity for trying new recipes and experimenting with new foods.
For others who are not vegetarian, becoming a vegan seems like a huge leap into the unknown and that's kind of scary. Veganuary was an opportunity to experiment on a smaller scale and we can sometimes find that one step follows another. Small, sustainable changes can be maintained and can provide a springboard to go further if we want to. I really like the idea of “meat free Monday” for a first step towards a diet that includes less meat and dairy.
Not for you?
It's also true that if you have other health issues that restrict diet, it becomes very complicated to eat out and to do so a flexible approach might be the best option. On the other hand, many of those who eat a vegan diet report that their physical and mental health is improved as a result.
January is a bit of a funny time to choose to try a vegan diet. I'm not sure why the coldest, darkest, gloomiest month was the one they went for. It's much easier to get locally produced, fresh, seasonal fruit and veg in the summer and autumn, and then it's really fun visiting Farmer's Markets and soaking up the beautiful colours and smells of the freshly grown good stuff. Not so much of that around just now, in the UK at least.
I guess if you can do it now, eating a vegan diet only gets easier as the summer comes around, and given it can make you feel better, perhaps January isn't such a bad time to give it a go. Maybe; I'm not sure on that one! Of course, being a vegan isn't just about diet. Diet is a good place to start but it's also worth thinking about clothing and make up choices as well as taking a broader look at other areas of life and the choices we are making.