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Veganuary: One Month Wonder?

Roar writer Olivia Pinfold on the Veganuary campaign, and whether it is sustainable in the long run.

Veganuary is undoubtedly a hugely positive campaign that promotes veganism and its many ethical, environmental and health benefits. It is largely accepted that a collective shift towards a plant-based diet is a key move in the fight against climate change. The campaign does an excellent job of creating buzz every January, to a point where restaurants create exciting Veganuary specials, and there is a steadily increasing number of vegan product releases in January engineered to capitalise on the temporary entry of veganism into the mainstream. The campaign makes veganism more accessible, offering free resources such as nutrition guides, cookbooks, meal plans and daily emails filled with encouragement and tips. However, Veganuary may not be for everyone.

The yearly non-profit campaign aims to encourage participants to go fully vegan for the month of January. According to the @WeAreVeganuary Instagram account, as of 18 January 2022, 600,000 people have signed up for the 2022 campaign so far, making it the biggest year since the campaign’s launch in 2014. Since its conception, over two million people have participated, and these figures comprise only those who have signed up to receive the free resources offered by the campaign, excluding any casual participants.

The timing of Veganuary ties in with New Year dieting trends, with the billion dollar dieting industry cashing in on post-Christmas food and weight anxieties. Consequently, it has the potential to be conflated with restriction and dieting, a concern many vegans have. Ethical vegans in particular express the worry that Veganuary reduces veganism to a fad diet or month-long challenge, rather than a sustainable lifestyle and an ethical stance: the evolution of an individual’s actions aligning with their morals and beliefs. This concern is amplified by the knowledge that companies capitalise on Veganuary by introducing month-long vegan specials in restaurants and limited edition products, making huge profits often without a long-term commitment to catering for a vegan clientele.

Veganuary also promotes a cold turkey approach to veganism, which is arguably less sustainable than a gradual transition. The restriction of so many items potentially results in a January marked by cravings and a February binge of all that you’ve been missing. For many, cold turkey is a big step, and perhaps too difficult. When I first attempted my transition to veganism – notably only making the step from vegetarianism – I hadn’t read up on it enough, and convinced myself I had several vitamin deficiencies (which are generally no more likely on a vegan diet than on any other), and put far too much pressure on myself. Laughably, I cried after buying free-from cake that contained egg and accidentally eating a packet of Sensations in the same day (beware of sneaky milk powder!). Essentially, I allowed myself to buy into a notion of veganism as an über-strict and unforgiving set of rules, when I really should have taken my time and let myself make mistakes.

Overall, Veganuary is an undoubtedly positive campaign with impressive influence in society. It does an excellent job of educating participants on the many ethical benefits of veganism, and while companies capitalise somewhat non-commitally on its success, this is a failing of a capitalist society, not the campaign itself. Veganuary is the perfect introduction to veganism for those who are motivated by challenge, and want to try something exciting and new, while increasing their repertoire of plant-based dishes. However, I would also advocate for a less strict version of Veganuary: a January of cutting down and reducing animal product consumption in a way that is more sustainable and less unforgiving. Many agree that a society in which everyone cuts down on their meat and dairy consumption is more beneficial than a society with only a small percentage of strict vegans, so there is great importance in the promotion of a culture of casual veganism that allows for slip ups, treats, or days off – because, for many, this suits them far better, and allows far more people to contribute to the preservation of the planet, their health, and the wellbeing of animals.

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