If you’re flirting with the idea of veganism, pledging to take part in Veganuary might seem like the obvious first move. But some fully fledged vegans are not convinced it’s the best way to convert people long-term.
In a poll of Reddit’s largest vegan subreddit, r/vegan, which has more than 756,000 members, 41% of the community said they would not recommend Veganuary to people.
Respondents raised concerns that the month-long challenge “depicts veganism as a fad diet, when in reality it is a holistic lifestyle”. Others questioned whether four weeks is enough to create sustainable, plant-based habits.
Bella, a 30-something blogger from London, has reservations about the transient nature of the new year initiative.
“It’s not the worst pledge to get people to try eliminating animal products, but my big but is it’s the same as a January ‘new year new me,’” she tells HuffPost UK.
“It doesn’t stick, it’s restrictive in the sense it’s only a month and the mindset is most people will look to February when they can finally eat cheese or meat, instead of creating a lifestyle change with the view to permanently change eating habits.”
Ella Cheney, who works for a sustainable period start-up, has found it “increasingly frustrating” that so much Veganuary advertising is focused around food, while ignoring other habits and consumer choices.
The 22-year-old, from London, gradually transitioned to veganism four years ago – from no red meat, to pescatarian, vegetarian then vegan – and thinks she may have struggled with the “cold turkey” approach of Veganuary.
“I think rigidness is generally not great as it’s not very sexy and veganism is fun!” she says. “I have discovered so many new foods and amazing brands since I went vegan – plus all the scary things I didn’t know I was putting in my body.
“Going vegan is about discovery – if that’s going cold turkey for you then great, but for most of us I think it’s about dipping your toes in the water to start with.”
There’s also the mass production of vegan products to consider. Professor Ben Selwyn, an expert in international political economy and development sociology at the University of Sussex, says the new releases on supermarket shelves for January are not always made with sustainability in mind.
He argues that products marketed for Veganuary are “still produced by huge corporations using monoculture practices on a vast scale that are environmentally destructive and fatal to wildlife”.
To truly make a difference, Prof Selwyn says it falls on all of us to demand a better way for the UK to produce its own food, by making much better use of the natural resources we have.
“While it is great that so many people are including more plant-based food in their diets, if we are to combat climate change, we need to engage in a longer political campaign,” he tells HuffPost. “We need to make the government change the way we use our land and produce and consume our food.”
Veganuary can of course work for some people and we also heard from those who’ve been inspired to continue beyond their first four weeks.
More than half a million people signed up via the Veganuary website during the 2021 campaign, with participants from over 200 countries and territories.
HuffPost put some the concerns raised in this article to the official Veganuary organisers. Dr Toni Vernelli, head of communications, pointed out that everyone who signs up on the Veganuary website receives healthy recipes and tips to help them on the way.
“In fact, 98% of our 2021 participants – that was over half a million people - said they would recommend Veganuary to a friend and 50% cent of them also reported health benefits after eating vegan for 31 days,” she said.
“The most common improvements were increased energy (reported by 49%), improved mood (46%), better skin (38% and desired change in body weight (38%).
“40% of our 2021 participants said they intended to stay vegan after completing their one-month pledge and 75% of the rest intended to reduce their meat and dairy consumption by at least 50%, so we know Veganuary is helping people to make positive long-term dietary changes.”
So, what’s the trick to transitioning to veganism if Veganuary doesn’t work for you?
Stephanie Marshall signed up to Veganuary last year and she’s been vegan ever since. She says the key to sticking to the lifestyle long-term (whether you start with Veganuary or not) is to stop judging yourself for “slip-ups”.
“There are no vegan police that will lock you up if you get something wrong. Trying is what is important,” says the 32-year-old from Stockport, who owns the vegan business Treehouse Bakery.
“Didn’t realise there was mayo on that sandwich? No biggie. Caved after a rough week and bought a maccies? It happens. Couldn’t bear another conversation about veganism with your mother-in-law so you just ate the damn cheese? I got your back, sister! These slip ups don’t mean you ‘aren’t a real vegan’ or ‘failed Veganuary’. It’s all part of the journey.”
Cheney’s top tip for those wanting to make long-term changes is to “make your life as easy as possible”. She personally loves vegan subscriptions and recommends AllPlants meals, WILD Deodorant, &Sisters periods products and Hanx condoms, so you’ve always got the essentials down.
If sustainability is your key motivator, Prof Selwyn would advocate looking at where your food is really coming from – whether it’s vegan or not. Instead of going entirely plant-based, you may find a “climavore diet” is for you. He opts for a pescatarian approach.
And if your motivation is still waning? Marshall recommends stepping inside the vegan community on instagram. “You’ll find a group of wonderfully supportive, non-judgemental friends who will support you and cheer you on through your wins and losses alike,” she says.
Sounds like a plan to us.