It’s that time of year again, the point where we all take a long hard look in the mirror (both literally and metaphorically) and decide what we want from the year ahead.
Perhaps we have defined new fitness objectives or devised a healthy eating plan. We might have thought about our emotional or spiritual wellbeing, our relationships with family and friends or something we’d really like to achieve at work.
For many people this January, the new year will mean a new approach to their relationship with animal-based products such as meat and dairy.
Over the last few years, the idea of Veganuary – a fully vegan month to kick off the year – has become increasingly popular.
The idea is to forego all animal products for 31 days, in order to achieve a clearer conscience and potentially better health. The hope is also that it might affect the number of animal products we consume in the other months, too.
Here, we look at a few of the key questions surrounding Veganuary.
Why go vegan in the first place?
The most obvious answer to this one is to do with the animals and their welfare.
For us to eat meat or have leather shoes, animals are slaughtered, and in big numbers. According to the Humane Slaughter Association, approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption each year in the UK.
Unfortunately, some of those animals are kept in poor conditions, raised in pens or cages with little space to move. And that goes for animals kept to supply dairy products such as eggs, not just those intended for consumption as meat.
The second reason is to do with the environment. Cattle farming and milk production are the real culprits when it comes to the production of the gases that cause climate change. According to a Guardian article from 2020, in the EU, farm animals produce more greenhouse gases than all cars and vans combined.
Finally, there are some potential health benefits of being vegan. Consumption of red and processed meats has been shown to increase our chances of developing some forms of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, so cutting them out completely could reduce risk, if done correctly and combined with other healthly lifestyle choices.
Veganism has also been linked to improved cardiovascular health, reduced arthritis pain and, for some people, it is seen as a way to lose weight gained after all that Christmas indulgence.
But how do I go about it?
The first thing to say is that it’s not just a question of eating what you normally do but cutting the meat, eggs, milk and butter. If you are going to go vegan, you probably need to come up with a meal plan.
There might be some products for which you can find a replacement – for example swapping cow’s milk for a plant-based milk drink, or minced beef for a vegan meat substitute – but you will also have to introduce more vegetables to your meals.
There are some great tips and recipes to be found on websites like BBC Good Food.
Is there anything I should be worried about?
Some people are concerned that removing meat and dairy from their diet could lead to certain deficiencies, but these can easily be avoided. Eating a wide array of different coloured vegetables and pulses will make sure you get plenty of calcium, iron and protein to keep energy levels high.
For those intending to become vegan long-term, it may also be worth thinking about taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Again, there is lots of useful information out there to help you with any concerns. We recommend casting your eye over this guide from the NHS.
If you have reached the end, then you are likely seriously considering changing your diet. If so, all we can now say is good on you and good luck!