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This January, I’ve been taking part in Veganuary and reading more about veganism’s environmental benefits. I decided to write this blog to share my (very positive) experiences, and some top tips for people thinking about moving towards a plant-based diet.

What is Veganuary?

Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that every year runs a campaign encouraging people to go vegan for January and for large businesses such as restaurants and supermarkets to offer deals and discounts for customers buying vegan food. The first Veganuary was in 2014, and participation has more than doubled in each year since.

It’s a great way to eat more healthily after the excesses of the festive period, and also for driving the conversation about the need to change our behaviours in order to be more sustainable.

My diet is usually mainly vegetarian, but I decided to take the Veganuary pledge this year and learn more about how we can increase the popularity of plant-based foods and promote more sustainable lifestyles as we battle against climate change.

In 2019, more than a quarter of a million people took the Veganuary pledge and more than 500 businesses took part – introducing over 200 new vegan products into the UK market. If this success can be built on further in 2020 then it could have a seismic impact on our attitudes to eating animal products and cause a green culinary revolution.

Working Throughout the Year to Consolidate Successes

The work done by the organisation doesn’t stop at the end of the month: Veganuary operates year-round in order to make sure that the positive impact of the initiatives put in place at the start of the year continue to be built upon well into the future.

I’ve seen first hand the damage that has already been done to our planet by climate change, both through my work with Bywaters and when travelling to the forests of South Africa and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. I truly believe we can only start fixing these problems if we alter our behaviours to live more sustainably.

The Environmental Case for Veganism

Probably the most efficient way you can reduce your individual carbon footprint is to switch to a vegan diet, with research from the University of Oxford showing that by cutting meat and dairy out of your diet you can reduce the carbon emissions associated with the food you eat by up to 73%.

In addition to this, a global switch to plant-based foods would mean that 75% less land would be required to feed the world. With wild land being lost to agriculture being one of the leading causes of mass wildlife extinction, such a change in behaviour could help us help start reversing our current loss of biodiversity, which the UN has described as “unprecedented”.

It is increasingly clear that we need to act now to save our planet, which is why initiatives like Veganuary are so important. It is estimated that just in the month of January 2020, people taking the Veganuary pledge will save 41,200 tonnes of CO2 emissions, 2.5 million litres of water, and more than 1 million animals’ lives.

Any Movement Away from Animal Products is Positive

One thing that it is important to say is that any reduction in your intake of meat and dairy has a positive effect on the environment. While I would encourage you to go fully vegan (it’s easier than you think, I promise – wait for the list of great vegan deals below), simply making an effort to eat plant based foods more regularly is something you should definitely do.

Here are a few facts (worked out using the BBC climate change food calculator) to show you how even simple things like switching from cow’s milk to plant-based milks can have a huge environmental impact:

  • If you have a glass of regular milk every day, over the year this generates 229kg of greenhouse gas emissions. For soy milk this figure is 71kg (69% less), and for oat milk it is 65kg (72% less)
  • Producing a glass of dairy milk every day for a year requires 650 square metres (7,000 square feet) of land – the equivalent of two tennis courts. To produce the same amount of oat milk requires less than a tenth of this
  • To produce a glass of dairy milk every day requires 45,733 litres of water across the year, whereas for oat milk the figure is 3,512 (92% less), and for soy it is even less

On top of this, eating vegan foods is also healthier, with research showing that eating a vegan diet is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. There’s also a whole host of information online about how to eat plant-based foods and ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, including this helpful guide from the NHS.

Even if you cannot go fully vegan, any measure you take to reduce your meat and dairy intake will have far-reaching positive effects. Veganuary has published a great list of vegan recipes you can make at home, so let’s move on to what you can eat this January if you’re looking for great vegan options in town.

What Are Companies Doing for Veganuary?

While individual pledges to go vegan for January are great steps in the right direction, the most important thing is that large companies with the power to change behaviour get behind the idea and provide people with vegan alternatives to the food that they normally eat. If people don’t have the option to eat vegan, then there’s no chance of bringing about the change we need to see.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see a host of high-profile food companies taking part in this year’s Veganuary, with Pizza Hut offering 41% off vegan food throughout the month, All Bar One releasing a new vegan menu, and Café Rouge introducing a vegan afternoon tea for two deal. These are just a selection of the companies working with Veganuary this month, and many other companies have recently launched their own vegan initiatives.

For environmentally-conscious eaters, there’s now the option of the Subway Meatless Meatball Marinara, KFC Vegan Burger, and Burger King’s Rebel Whopper. The latter of these was recently the centre of controversy as, while being plant based, it’s not technically suitable for vegans because it is cooked on the same grills as the chain’s other burgers. However, it is undeniably a step in the right direction and a more sustainable choice than their meat options.

Seeing these household names offering vegan options would have been unthinkable in 2014 when Veganuary started, and it just goes to show that attitudes are changing for the better and we can keep improving and encouraging more and more people to switch to plant-based diets.

Try Going Vegan Today

I would really encourage everyone reading this to go vegan not just for what remains of January, but also to make every effort to reduce their meat and dairy intake throughout the whole of 2020. What I learned from researching the initiative, combined with the positive steps being taken by countries across the UK makes it more urgent and also easier than ever to switch to a plant-based diet.

If you’re interested in researching veganism further, then I would definitely recommend the documentaries The Game Changers and What the Health, and there’s loads of information on the Veganuary website with tips on how to change the way you eat. Good luck!

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