This year more than more than 250,000 people in 193 countries have pledged to give up meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey for 31 days.
Since the Veganuary movement started five years ago, participant numbers have more than doubled each year – with the UK accounting for almost half of sign-ups, where the relatively new campaign originated.
Veganism is now of one of the UK’s fastest growing lifestyle choices, seeing more than a 360 per cent growth over the last decade, according to the Vegan Society. Plus, Google trends show the search term for the word “vegan” is at an all-time high in the UK.
Sports stars Venus Williams, Lewis Hamilton, David Haye and singer Robbie Williams have all declared themselves vegans, indicating that veganism is transforming from hippy to hipster.
Globally, it has powerful ambassadors. Beyoncé famously has a stake in the US-based 22-Day vegan diet and popular popstars Miley Cyrus and Arianna Grande are both outspoken vegans.
The Vegan Society report that there are now more than half a million vegans in the UK, typically city dwellers, aged between 15-34 and motivated by ethical and compassionate reasons.
“We think it’s more of a cultural shift than a trend. It’s here to stay,” says co-founder of Veganuary, Jane Land. “We personally feel it’s the biggest social justice movement of our time.”
Land and her husband and co-founder Matthew Glover make no secret of the fact their ambition is to encourage lifelong veganism. But, inspired by the success of Movember, they decided to introduce the idea with a less daunting month-long pledge.
“It makes it seem much more achievable for people and they have the comfort of knowing other people are doing it with you,” says Land.
“You haven’t got a fear of failure that you’re committing to it forever. It also makes it a lot more palatable for loved ones – people you’re sharing cooking with become a lot more supportive when they think you’re just doing a challenge, likewise with colleagues.”
WHY PEOPLE ARE EMBRACING VEGANUARY
There are three main reasons people become (or consider becoming) vegan – animal welfare, the environment, and personal health.
The most popular New Year’s resolutions revolve around health – exercising more regularly, losing weight and eating better – and this has become a major motivation for people signing-up to Veganuary.
“Research has linked this way of eating with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer,” says Heather Russell, dietician at The Vegan Society.
After the excesses of Christmas, the health benefits of a Vegan diet are appealing – it helps to limit saturated fat and, as long as a variety of foods is consumed, provides plenty of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
These points are hammered home in popular Netflix documentaries such as What The Health (from the makers of Cowspiracy) and Land says they see huge surges in traffic following the release of such films.
However, traditionally, the most popular motivation for a vegan diet is concern over animal welfare.
Recent controversies including the 2 Sisters chicken scandal and supermarket’s fictional farms, along with the rise of information shared on social media, are making people realise that the reassuring images we have of pigs wallowing happily in the mud, chickens scratching on the range and cows and sheep grazing in the fields is no longer the reality for the majority of farm animals.
According to Compassion In World Farming a staggering 70 per cent of the 75 billion animals farmed worldwide each year are raised in factory farms – where animals are kept tightly packed indoors, fed high-protein grains and growth hormones to fatten up quickly, and slaughtered inhumanely on huge production lines.
For a nation of animal lovers, these reports are a powerful incentive for veganism, especially when combined with the third motivator, the environment.
The widely touted UN stat that livestock emissions currently account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases – greater than transport’s 13% contribution – is highly surprising and concerning for many.
The WWF report factory farmed animals are fed 75% of the world’s soy and maize harvest when one in nine people are starving in the world – plus rainforests and animal habitats are being razed to make room for the crop.
Then there were the heartbreaking scenes of the devastating effects of overfishing pollution in our oceans in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which still inspire many to sign up to Veganuary.
VEGANUARY VS VEGAN
But does turning vegan for just 31 days have any benefits?
All evidence suggests the short-term health benefits are pretty impressive. About 87% of the 60,000 people who took part in Veganuary 2017 reported they lost weight and had more energy; 97% of those who took part reported they felt their health was better.
It could be argued this is a strict diet directly following the gluttony of Christmas so it’s not a fair test, but six months later and 66% of Veganuary’s 2017 participants were still vegan and reporting similar results.
Updated from an article written in collaboration with Farmdrop in 2018