You might have heard of January challenges, such as dry January. For many, January is the month of giving things up or taking things on. Many give things up or take things on for a month to start the year on a positive note. In 2014, Veganuary was added to the list: Veganuary is a British non-profit organisation that challenges people to live a vegan lifestyle for a month. Since the pledge began in 2014, more than 2 million people officially signed up for Veganuary.
Does a one-month challenge make sense?
You often hear people say that committing to a challenge for a month ‘doesn’t make sense’. Just go vegan and get on with it. But for many, veganism can be a huge decision and Veganuary can give that help and motivation to people to give it a go. It is a fun way to become (more) familiar with the vegan lifestyle.
What exactly is veganism?
What is the definition of veganism? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as follows:
1 the practice of not eating or using any animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or leather: Strict veganism prohibits the use of all animal products, not just food, and is a lifestyle choice rather than a diet.
According to The Vegan Society, veganism is a lifestyle that avoids all animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, and honey; animal derived products like leather; and, as far as possible, products tested on animals.
A vegan lifestyle is therefore broader than following a plant-based diet. Someone who follows a plant-based diet eats no animal products, and someone who is a vegan uses no animal products at all.
Why go vegan?
There are many different reasons people give for becoming vegan and every reason is equally valid. At its core, veganism is about compassion. Compassion for the animals, for the planet, for ourselves and our fellow human beings.
For the animals
This is perhaps the most traditional reason for not eating and using animal products. People love animals, and depriving them of their freedom for our own benefit is too much for some.
Even if you are a vegetarian and do not eat animals directly, this does not mean that animals are not killed and live a good life. Not even in case of organic or free-range conditions. The killing of animals that are not (or no longer) productive, animal abuse and testing on animals are widespread practises. Veganism is one of the answers for a compassionate life with animals who have often been wandering this planet for much longer than we have.
For the environment
The issues surrounding climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and water scarcity are bigger than ever and the time to do something about it is now. As David Attenborough so eloquently said in the Blue Planet documentary:
"We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that.”
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), farmed animals contribute 14.5% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than the fuel from every car, plane, truck and train on the planet. 'Going vegan' is, therefore, the pre-eminent way to combat climate change.
In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the agricultural sector involves a multitude of environmental problems. Large areas of wilderness are disappearing and the animals that live in them are threatened with extinction on a massive scale. Farming also uses an enormous amount of freshwater, causes water and air pollution, and fishing is the greatest ocean polluter.
Scientists at Oxford University have therefore concluded that avoiding meat and dairy products is ‘the single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.
For your health
A plant-based diet usually includes lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes and soy products. Doesn't that sound healthy? A well-planned plant-based diet contains all the nutrients that our bodies need and is suitable for every age and stage of life.
What does eating vegan do for your body? Several studies have linked a vegan diet with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. In addition, vegan food might help people lose weight and many vegans report having more energy since switching to a plant-based diet. Better digestion, healthier skin and better sleep are also health benefits associated with plant-based eating.
And do you feel like a tasty snack every now and then? There are plenty of vegan cakes, cookies, crisps and snacks to satisfy your cravings.
More than enough reasons to switch to a plant-based diet!
Almost 8 billion people are living on planet Earth today and they all need to get enough nutrients. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that one in nine people are chronically undernourished - that is almost one billion people.
The world's population is expected to increase exponentially in the coming decades, and food and water shortages will continue to grow. Farmed animals consume more protein, water and calories than they ‘produce’, and the amount of land needed to feed the entire world's population with a meat-heavy Westernised diet simply doesn’t exist.
A plant-based diet uses much less land and water, so if we want to avoid global hunger, we must change our lifestyle.
I am not perfect
And you don't have to be! It's not about never making mistakes again. Animal ingredients are in so many products that it is inevitable that you will make a mistake every now and again. Learn from it, laugh about it and move on. It's not the end of the world and if everyone does their bit and is imperfectly vegan or even tries their best to eat fewer animal products, the world will soon be a much better place.