But – and even with the apparently unstoppable Veganuary movement there is a but – for every newly fledged vegan who pledges to stick with it, 53 per cent give up after a few weeks (or possibly days). As a lapsed vegan myself (I had to stop for dull and complicated medical reasons), I have every sympathy with those who try to swap their cow’s milk for oat milk and their bacon for facon, only to find it’s making them miserable – and in some cases, ill.
Getting veganism nutritionally correct requires time and effort, remembering to take Vitamin B3 and Omega 3 and 6 daily, and making sure you get enough calcium and iron can be like playing food chess daily, laboriously shuffling round the board to get your protein and vitamins lined up properly. Yes, vegans can be glowingly healthy – but not the ones who rely heavily on salty ready-meals and sugar-packed supermarket snacks. Just cutting out animal products isn’t enough to improve health. In fact, it can worsen it if you don’t do your vegan homework.
There’s also a concerted effort required to change the habits of a lifetime, despite the availability of alternatives. Acquiring a taste for rice milk when you’ve always sloshed red-top in your tea is not easy, while switching the delicate texture of fish for ‘tofish’ made from compressed soy may be an unpleasant shock to the system. As for vegan cheese? Let’s just say it’s a work in progress.
Meanwhile, the ongoing stress of the pandemic (and its attendant tributaries, like job losses and bereavement) makes embarking on a challenging new year regime even harder than usual.
But with climate change a brutal reality and animal welfare thankfully back on the agenda, a more thoughtful diet makes perfect sense. Thoughtful, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be rigid. And while those embracing Veganuary in full are admirable, it doesn’t mean that only going part of the way is invalid.
Cutting down on meat, having a vegan dinner once a week, giving up bacon, making small swaps – vegan cream for real cream, or mushroom sausages instead of pork – all add up to make a significant difference over time. More importantly, they are far easier to sustain when you’re busy, stressed, or trying to feed a family who already have different likes and dislikes, or feed yourself when you’ve got ten minutes to scrabble dinner together.
Feeling there’s little point if you can’t go the whole way is understandable, given the guilt-tripping tub-thumping on social media, but it’s also wrong. Doing a little bit and making a couple of changes is far better than doing nothing at all, for your health, for the planet and for the animals. Although let’s be honest, few would blame anybody for sticking with real cheese.