Veganuary

BY NOEL YAXLEY

If ever there was a time of the year to conjure up images of the ‘winter blues’ it is January. If Covid restrictions had you reaching for the bottle, how about a spot of Dry January? But for those who truly aspire to reach the heights of ascetic self-denial, how about signing up for Veganuary?

For the uninitiated, Veganuary is an annual global campaign to get people to adopt a plant-based lifestyle throughout the month of January.

Founded in 2014, participation has more than doubled each year. This year a record 580,000 people signed up to the 2022 campaign. Its organisers have claimed that since its formation, millions have signed up to make the ‘one month pledge’. 

The number of vegans in the U.K has quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 — 600,000 now eschew plant and dairy products. Although this figure represents just 1.16 percent of the population, it is now starting to exert some serious economic power.

The market for ‘plant-based’ alternatives to meat and dairy doubled between 2007 and 2021 – from £608 million to £1.2 billion. According to analysts Kantar, we now cook 350 million more vegan meals annually than we did five years ago. One in eight meals prepared at home is vegan. 

Personally I don’t want this to come across as a bash against vegans. Dear Reader, the author of this piece was one for twelve years. If you want to adopt a vegan diet — so be it. It works for some. My goal had little to do with morality, it was vanity — I wanted to lose weight. Over a decade I lost six stone. Wonderful some might say, but more on this later.

Yet people appear to be signing up for reasons other than health. Almost a quarter of signatories last year (21 percent) cited the environment as a determining factor in their decision — up from 12 percent in 2019. One article suggests the adoption of a vegan diet would cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70 percent.

A vegan’s ire is normally directed at farming. While factory farming has its problems, the beef is usually with those big black and white things grazing in fields. 

Ah, the cows! How often have carnivores been charged with the destruction of the planet due to the consumption of these methane-emitting animals? It’s true, cows do produce methane, but how many people are aware that the methane from rice farming is responsible for 3 percent of anthropogenic global warming? The methane from grazing cows enters the soil when broken down into carbon dioxide and absorbed into the grass. Scientific and technological innovation has meant we can potentially reduce emissions from cows by as much as 82 percent if we incorporate seaweed into cattle feed.

While we are on the subject, can we please stop milking shit! Not everything we ‘milk’ is as virtuous as some think. Take almond milk. Almonds are one of the most water intensive crops on the planet — requiring 2,000 litres of water to produce a single kilo of the nut. As for Soya milk, forget it. Nottingham University in conjunction with the Sustainable Food Trust produced a study in 2020 that determined that a kilogram of soya beans produced 13 pints of milk — but upwards of 150 pints of dairy milk if fed to a cow. The trust shocked some when they suggested that those who drink soya milk would “do better to switch to milk from cows, especially cows traditionally grazed on grass, if they want to help make a more sustainable planet.” 

Professor Frank Mitloehner, an expert in air quality from the University of California, calculated that should the entirety of the United States go vegan for a whole year, the overall reduction of greenhouse gasses would be just 2 percent. A similar conclusion was made by Michael Shellenberger in his book Apocalypse Never. While it is certainly a start, it is hardly saving the planet eh?

Eating meat and dairy will not destroy the planet. While I agree a diet heavy in meat is neither healthy nor environmentally advantageous, moderation is the key. Locally sourced, sustainable and ethically produced meat is the way to do it. We are also a wasteful society, we need to be less squeamish about what we consume. One way to do this is to start eating the whole animal – not just the tasty bits like sirloin or t-bone. The Nose to Tail cookbook by Fergus Henderson is a good place to start.

A healthy balanced diet rich in all food groups is the safest and healthiest option. I found this out the hard way. The years without calcium left me with early on-set Osteoporosis, while the lack of Zinc, Iron, B12 and Omega 3 and 6 meant I was anemic. As for the weight loss? I could not gain weight, it kept coming off. A few months after the switch back to being an omnivore, I began to slowly gain weight and was no longer anemic. It might be anecdotal, but the change was almost instantaneous. 

When it comes to diet, freedom of choice is the most important thing. Like so much else in the culture war, veganism has become the latest high-status indicator signifying the adoption of a luxury belief.  What better way of signalling you are au courant with the latest social justice cause than a vegan diet?

By all means, go vegan if you want, but don’t sacrifice your health on the altar of veganism. Don’t virtue signal to us carnivores. We are not as bad as you think.

Noel Yaxley is a writer based in Nelson’s county. After graduating in politics, he turned his attention to writing. Noel is primarily interested in covering issues around free speech and the latest lunacy in the culture wars. He writes regularly for The Critic magazine and contributes to a number of other outlets such as Reaction and Areo magazine.