I think it was about five years ago, soon after moving back to Cardiff from London, that I first tried doing Veganuary.
At the time, there was only myself and one other colleague in an office of 65 people, giving it a go. And I struggled with it.
Most people thought we were mad. Many, many people genuinely worried we’d starve. At one catered lunch meeting, all I could eat was a bowl of crisps. I ate a lot of Oreos* (they’re vegan don’t cha know). A friend of mine was supportive, but admitted she found “the whole vegan thing, a bit extreme”.
That friend is now a fully fledged, full-time vegan, and has been for over a year. And this year, I would warrant a bet that there will be at least 10 people from that very same office giving Veganuary a go.
It’s safe to say that in the five years since my first Veganuary attempt (and almost seven years since I wrote this blog post about veganism reaching the mainstream media), attitudes to vegan diets have changed dramatically.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Vegan for the Environment
In 2018, the UN issued a warning that we have 12 years to halt the current rate of climate change to avoid catastrophic side effects; and that to do so, we will need to act swiftly and make dramatic, unprecedented changes to the way we live our lives. Meanwhile, scientists warned that current levels of meat production will “greatly affect the Earth’s environment” and emit 5.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide if not curbed.
The WWF have openly stated that “excessive animal product consumption is responsible for 60 per cent of all biodiversity loss” and the worst effected areas are the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas, where water and land resources are already under significant pressure.
Mind bogglingly, the UK food industry alone is directly linked to the extinction of an estimated 33 species. In fact, that news was enough to push long-time nature geek Chris Packham to sign up as a Veganuary ambassador for 2019.
I find it unspeakably sad to think that our children’s children are now more likely than ever to inherit a planet where the only biodiversity they see will be in books. But if that wasn’t reason enough to cut down on meat, there’s always the animal welfare argument.
Vegan for the Animals
Almost every week an expose shows us the horrifically cruel ways in which the majority of animals bred for food are forced to live (just a couple of examples from the last year or so are here, here and here). And I’m not just talking about the instances where the animals are mistreated (read: beaten and tortured) by a rogue worker or two.
There is a level of suffering accepted by the general public as simply part and parcel of the meat and dairy industry; the shooting of surplus male calves, the Co2 gassing of pigs, the crushing of useless male chicks. And being the one to administer that suffering is something that no-one wants to do; slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder and perpetration-induced traumatic stress.
According to an article in the Guardian, a pig slaughterer said the worst thing about the work is its “emotional toll”. He explained: “Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them.” A worker at a chicken plant said one of his colleagues was “hauled off to the mental hospital” after he “kept having nightmares that chickens were after him”.
Most people (save for the ones still happily shoving foie gras in their faces who clearly DGAF) justify the unpalateable truth about the cruelty that comes with meat-eating by only buying “higher welfare” or organic meat, and sourcing from small, local farmers markets – places where you can eyeball the man who has kept the animal alive until a few days ago. As someone who still eats meat occasionally, I do this myself.
But in reality, none of that changes the inevitable, inescapable fact that all meat and dairy consumption requires us to accept that an animal has suffered in some way, on some level, and died, for the sake of a meal. Where you stand on that, morally, comes down to personal choice.
But why cause all of that suffering when you can simply choose not to? That’s the hypothesis which has turned many of my friends toward veganism. And whilst I don’t believe that a vegan diet is the catch-all, sustainable wonder-pill that it’s sometimes made out to be (take a look at the footnotes at the bottom of this post to read about the damage that vegan palm oil is doing to the Amazon rainforest – and google ‘sustainable avocados‘ for more uncomfortable truths) – I’ll admit that remaining as even an occasional meat-eater is something I am finding harder and harder to justify to myself in 2019.
Veganuary in 2019
According to sign-up figures from the official Veganuary team, more people than ever have made the decision to start 2019 on a vegan diet; 14,000 signed up on Sunday 30th December alone, at a rate of one every six seconds. With vegan options becoming cheaper, more widespread and more convenient, organisers of the Veganuary initiative are understandably, very excited.
M&S reports that 60% of customers of their customers are now eating less red meat than they used to, adopting what’s commonly called a ‘flexitarian’ approach (where you eat plant based for a significant portion of the time). In response, on the 28th December they introduced a new plant-based range; Plant Kitchen. It’s a new collection of over 60 meat and dairy-free plant-based meals, salads, snacks and ingredients. Unlike the vegan options which were available this time five years ago, the M&S range includes everything from ‘dirty vegan’ comfort (read: junk) food such as Cauliflower Popcorn with Buffalo dip and Cashew Mac, to healthier meals like Mushroom Stroganoff. It’s also breaking boundaries with high street firsts such as vegan Coleslaw and Potato Salad, as well as the first vegan-friendly Sourdough Pizza, using a ‘vegan house sauce’.
Even the experts of cheap meat-&-pastry-products, Greggs, have launched a new vegan sausage roll. It’s definitely not healthy – but then neither is the meaty version. Despite the fact that the Lad Bible article about it has a comment section filled with ‘lads’ with too much time on their hands ‘bantering’ about bacon, it’s clear to see that Veganism is no passing fad, no trendy-phase, no extremist minority. It’s a movement which gathers pace year on year, and it’s here to stay.
Veganuary in Cardiff
If you’re thinking of giving Veganuary a try this year, there are plenty of ways to stay well-fed in the ‘diff.
There are now more permanent vegan eateries than ever in the city; from sit-in cafes like Anna Loka, Blanche Bakery and Greazy Vegan, to street food huts like the Lazy Leek. And Grangetown now has its first 100% vegan cafe, Wild Thing, on Clare Road. Check out my full list of the city’s veggie and vegan eateries by clicking here.
If you’re keen to try cooking more vegan food at home rather than eating out all the time, the UK’s first fully vegan cookery show, ‘Dirty Vegan‘ has just started on BBC One Wales. Chef, skateboarder, TV daredevil, ultra-athlete and vegan Matt Pritchard (aka, Pritch from Dirty Sanchez) wants to prove that plant-based food can taste and look great. He plans to take on the anti-vegans, one challenge at a time to show that his food – like him – is never boring or bland.
But he’s not even the only Welsh vegan to launch his own cookbook. Blogger Sarah Philpott’s The Occasional Vegan, and YouTuber Gaz Oakley’s Avante Garde Vegan both came out this time last year and are still available to buy now.
Will you be taking part in Veganuary 2019? If so, I’d love to know why, and how you get on – let me know in the comments below, or message me on Twitter at @hungrycityhippy.
Not giving Veganuary a go, but care about where your meat & dairy comes from and the welfare of the animals involved? Check out Compassion in World Farming‘s excellent guide to the supermarket labels to look out for.
*Please don’t do as I did in 2015 and eat loads of Oreos whilst doing Veganuary. Oreos are made by Mondelez, one of the world’s biggest buyers of unsustainable palm oil, which it uses in many of its best-known products, including Cadbury chocolate bars, Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers. Scientists have warned that deforestation for palm oil poses a serious threat to orangutans and other endangered species. Read more from Greenpeace.