Is Veganuary Worth It?
How beneficial can waving goodbye to halloumi really be?
There comes a time at the beginning of every year, after months of Christmas music being played 24/7 and glitter getting stuck in places you didn’t even think possible, when the tinsel comes down and all the festivities are replaced by something new: fad diets. After a month of eating big dinners and selection packs of chocolate, diet companies and gyms take advantage of the concept of ‘new year, new me’ and promote discounted memberships to their classes and programs. In recent years, one diet – or lifestyle choice - that has popped up around the New Year is ‘Veganuary’; that is, attempting to live a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. Many people encourage Veganuary by using the reasoning that a vegan diet is healthier, and a vegan lifestyle is more sustainable than a non-vegan lifestyle. But what, exactly, makes Veganuary different to all the other New Year’s diets?
Vegan options are becoming easier and easier to come by – in the past, if you couldn’t have dairy you would have to order dairy-free options online. Nowadays, most supermarkets that you visit have entire aisles dedicated to free-from options and freezers full of meat-free nuggets. Veganism has become a trend in and of itself, and meat-free options are becoming more widely accessible. Veganism is often promoted to be a more sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle, but if formerly meat-and-dairy-based-brands are now selling vegan alternatives to their own products, does it really make much of a difference buying the vegan products if the money is just going to the same company regardless? Of course, the growing popularity of vegan and vegetarian alternatives indicates to companies that greener and more ethical choices are becoming more valued - when more consumers purchase vegan products, this shows the company that vegan products are something worth researching and investing more in, and also means that less money goes to the side of the company that relies on animal slaughter for its produce.
A lot of brands now put ‘plant-based’ on their packaging, or use words like ‘natural’ or use green packaging to give the impression that buying that particular product is the ‘eco-friendly’ option. For example, McDonalds have recently introduced a plant-based burger. McDonalds is the largest purchaser of beef in the world, and the beef industry is known to be one of the worst pollutants. When you buy McDonalds, most people are aware that it’s not the eco-friendly choice, whether you get something vegan or not. When it comes to fast-food and mega-corporations then, perhaps it doesn’t matter all too much what burger you choose – however, a plant-based lifestyle in general can be a more environmentally-friendly choice. If beef production is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, it makes sense that cutting beef out of our diets (even just for one month) is better for the earth than eating steak every day. Animal farming uses a staggering amount of water – it takes 9000 litres of water to produce one pound of beef, with a meat-free alternative using 99% less water. Making small changes in our diets to be more plant-based has a positive impact on the planet.
Not everybody who participates in Veganuary has the goal of sustainability in mind – although this is a great side-effect, a lot of people choose to participate simply because they don’t like the idea of eating animals, or because of health benefits. So, is veganism really all that healthier? There is a perception in many people’s minds that veganism is for health junkies, with diets revolving around tofu and chia seeds. This may be true of some vegans, but you don’t have to go full-rabbit in order to benefit from veganism. It's hardly anything new to say that consuming excessive amounts of meat can clog your arteries and lead to health issues, so switching out meat for pulse and bean-based meals (even if it’s just once or twice a week) can be incredibly beneficial.
With a bit of meal-prepping, it’s more than possible for veganism to be healthier for you. Meal prep can help provide variation in your diet, without relying too much on heavily-processed meat-alternatives. Cutting out dairy – or at least reducing your dairy intake – can be beneficial for your health. Milk and dairy have been linked to type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, so, replacing milk with non-dairy alternatives like oat milk or coconut milk is good for both us and the cows. Lactose intolerance is incredibly common, and for those who can have dairy it might not be doing them as much good as we think it does. Dairy is often promoted to be a great source of calcium, and good for the health and strength of our bones, but most studies have failed to show any link between dairy intake and bone health.
If you’re thinking of participating in Veganuary yourself but are unsure where to start, don’t panic! There are plenty of simple changes a person can make in their diet to become more plant-based. For coffee drinkers, oat milk and almond milk taste just as great as regular cow’s milk, whereas coconut milk is better for hot chocolates. Switch up your chicken nuggets for some Quorn vegetarian dino nuggets, or even try making your own tofu nuggets. For veggies on a budget, food writers such as Jack Monroe have come up with some fantastic wallet-friendly vegan recipes that are easy to find online. Many vegan alternatives taste identical (or sometimes even better) than their meaty counterparts, so don’t be scared to try new things and bare in mind that quite often, vegan food is much, much tastier than it looks!
Overall, the benefits of Veganuary really depend on the individual and their own reasons for wanting to do it. Whether you go the full hog (or vegan hog alternative…) or make smaller, plant-based choices, there’s no denying that there are certainly environmental benefits to a vegan lifestyle. Research is still limited on whether a vegan lifestyle is definitively the healthiest option, but it can certainly be a healthy option, as long as you keep your diet balanced and varied and do plenty of exercise.