Updated: Mar 25
Over half a million people, myself included, signed up for Veganuary in 2021. A whole month of not eating any animal products - so no meat or dairy.
But what was the challenge like? How was the experience? What did I learn?
My initial reasons for switching to a vegan diet was threefold. I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, eat more healthily and test whether I could really give up meat and dairy. I had given up red meat before and been a pescatarian, so still eating seafood because I felt I wanted to push myself to eat more vegetables. It worked, I was eating more veggies, but the smell of bacon and the difficulty in being vegetarian whilst travelling meant I switched back to being an omnivore.
Veganaury has many good points. I was eating a lot more vegetables - no big surprise there! By not eating meat or dairy products I significantly reduced my carbon footprint, which felt great - over one tonne of CO2 annually.
I felt healthier - I didn’t feel so heavy after meals and I wasn’t concerned about the amount of saturated fat I was consuming. It was also surprisingly easy to find lots of tasty vegan products, making vegan meals a lot easier than I had expected. In particular, vegan chocolate spread, custard, ice cream, mayonnaise, yoghurts and vegan alternative meat replacement products were amazing. There are even vegan doughnuts and pasties! As a result, I have made a permanent switch to these vegan foods.
However, it wasn’t a complete success. I sometimes found it quite difficult to create completely vegan meals from scratch every day. There seemed to be milk or cheese in so many foodstuffs, which was quite frustrating. Despite making vegan versions of Mexican, Lebanese, Italian and Indian dishes, they did seem a little boring. Non-dairy milk doesn’t work very well in hot drinks, and black coffee didn’t cut the mustard. I really missed cheese - vegan varieties are no substitute and this was the toughest part of the whole challenge. I was also concerned about long-term health problems. I knew that there could be some vitamin deficiencies with a vegan diet and that I was probably eating more sugary foods than I would do normally.
Additionally, although the vegan diet was carbon-friendly when it is compared to a red meat diet there were some issues with that simple calculation. When you look closer at the figures, you also need to consider that the vegetables are locally produced. Some meat substitutes have a higher carbon footprint compared to local chicken, prawns or mackerel. There also seemed to be more plastic packaging, compared to the brown paper packaging used by my local butcher.
Despite completing Veganuary, (as well as DryJanuary!) I came to the conclusion that adopting a vegan diet was not sustainable 100% of the time. Instead making five out of seven main meals per week vegan was much more achievable. That being said, I have decided to limit my beef consumption to twice a year or less and to actively choose vegan options were possible. I have asked the fake meat manufacturers to produce better packaging, to which they responded “This is being worked on”, which is OK but not good enough.
Overall I learned a lot about my diet and the impact it has on the planet. It was an interesting experiment that made me aware that you have to make decisions based on the individual foods carbon footprint, the amount of plastic waste and contribution to a healthy diet.