This month record numbers of people are giving up meat and dairy for Veganuary. Come February will it be last month’s detox diet or 2018’s biggest food trend?
Following the season of indulgence, the start of the new year is all about abstinence – first came the eschewing of alcohol with Dry January, and now comes Veganuary (Vegan January).
So far this year more than 120,000 people have pledged to give up meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey for 31 days.
It represents a staggering 3,600% rise from the 3,300 people who signed up in Veganuary’s inaugural year in 2014 and almost half of sign-ups are from the UK, where the relatively new campaign originated.
Google trends show the search term for the word “vegan” is at an all-time high in the UK.
Veganism is now of one of the UK’s fastest growing lifestyle choices, seeing more than a 360% growth over the last decade, according to the Vegan Society. Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton and singer Robbie Williams both declared themselves vegans last year, further indicating that veganism is transforming from hippy to hipster.
The Vegan Society report that there are now more than half a million vegans in the UK, typically city dwellers, aged between 15-34 and motivated by ethical and compassionate reasons.
Globally, it has powerful ambassadors. Beyoncé famously has a stake in the US-based 22-Day vegan diet and popular popstars Miley Cyrus and Arianna Grande are both outspoken vegans.
“We think it’s more of a cultural shift than a trend. It’s here to stay,” says co-founder of Veganuary, Jane Land. “We personally feel it’s the biggest social justice movement of our time.”
Land and her husband and co-founder Matthew Glover make no secret of the fact their ambition is to encourage lifelong veganism. But, inspired by the success of Movember, they decided to introduce the idea with a less daunting month-long pledge.
“It makes it seem much more achievable for people and they have the comfort of knowing other people are doing it with you,” says Land.
“You haven’t got a fear of failure that you’re committing to it forever. It also makes it a lot more palatable for loved ones – people you’re sharing cooking with become a lot more supportive when they think you’re just doing a challenge, likewise with colleagues.”
Why people are embracing Veganuary
There are three main reasons people become (or consider becoming) vegan – animal welfare, the environment, and personal health.
The most popular New Year’s resolutions revolve around health – exercising more regularly, losing weight and eating better – and this has become a major motivation for people signing-up to Veganuary.
“Research has linked this way of eating with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer,” says Heather Russell, dietitian at The Vegan Society.
After the excesses of Christmas, the health benefits of a vegan diet are appealing – it helps to limit saturated fat and, as long as a variety of foods is consumed, provides plenty of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
These points are hammered home in popular Netflix documentaries such as What The Health (from the makers of Cowspiracy) and Land says they see huge surges in traffic following the release of such films.
However, traditionally, the most popular motivation for a vegan diet is concern over animal welfare.
Recent controversies including the 2 Sisters chicken scandal and supermarket’s fictional farms, along with the rise of information shared on social media, are making people realise that the reassuring images we have of pigs wallowing happily in the mud, chickens scratching on the range and cows and sheep grazing in the fields is no longer the reality for the majority of farm animals.
According to Compassion In World Farming a staggering 70% – of the 75 billion animals farmed worldwide each year are raised in factory farms – where animals are kept tightly packed indoors, fed high-protein grains and growth hormones to fatten up quickly, and slaughtered inhumanely on huge production lines.
For a nation of animal lovers, these reports are a powerful incentive for veganism, especially when combined with the third motivator, the environment.
The widely touted UN stat that livestock emissions currently account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases – greater than transport’s 13% contribution – is highly surprising and concerning for many.
The WWF report factory farmed animals are fed 75% of the world’s soy and maize harvest when one in nine people are starving in the world – and rainforests that are animal habitats are being razed to make room for the crop.
Then there were the heartbreaking scenes of the devastating effects of overfishing pollution in our oceans in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which inspired many to sign up to Veganuary this year.
Veganuary vs Vegan
But does turning vegan for just 31 days have any benefits?
All evidence suggests the short-term health benefits are pretty impressive. About 87% of the 60,000 people who took part in Veganuary 2017 reported they lost weight and had more energy; 97% of those who took part reported they felt their health was better.
It could be argued this is a strict diet directly following the gluttony of Christmas so it’s not a fair test, but six months later and 66% of Veganuary’s 2017 participants were still vegan and reporting similar results.
Although there isn’t much evidence on short-term vegan diets, it is likely that if people have managed to follow it for a short time period, some of their healthy habits such as increased fruit and vegetables and less meat may be continued,” says Chloe Hall, Community Dietitian at Dorset Healthcare University NHS foundation trust.
Roughly one in 10 new year resolutions is successful. The Vegan Society have run a similar campaign, The Vegan Pledge, since 2008 helping people to become vegan in 30 days all year round. 82% of the people who took the pledge in 2014 are still vegan today.
All indications point to veganism being perceived as less of a drag and more of a force to reckoned with as a mainstream lifestyle diet.
How to be a healthy vegan
“If you are cutting out dairy it is really important to ensure that you are getting enough calcium and iodine in your diet,” says dietician Hall.
Calcium can be found in calcium-enriched milk alternatives, such as almond milk, or dairy free yoghurts, such as soya, plus fortified cereals and enriched orange juice.
On iodine Hall says: “It is difficult to get enough in your diet without consuming dairy products and, therefore, a supplement may need to be considered.”
The only other supplement it is recommended vegans take is B12, especially when new to the regime. It’s an important vitamin for making red blood cells and is only found in meat or specially fortified foods.
While meat is a good source of iron,, an iron-rich vegan diet needs to consist of legumes (such as peas and beans), dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa and tofu.
Nuts, seeds and a daily dose of flax or chia oil are good for Omega 3, which helps to maintain a healthy heart.
And what about vegan protein?
Beans, pulses, soya, and nuts are not only great sources of protein but also valuable sources of iron, zinc, soluble fibre omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.
And we actually require a lot less protein than the media and fitness industry lead us to believe – world tennis No 1 Novak Djokovic and British former world heavyweight boxer David Haye are both vegans, while former Wimbledon champion Venus Williams calls herself a ‘cheagan’ (a cheating vegan).