In Britain, there were four times as many vegans in 2019 than there were in 2014, and last year over 400,000 Britons signed up for Veganuary, but what is all the fuss about, and should we sign up too?
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that encourages people to go vegan for the month of January, hence the name ‘Veganuary’. They aim to raise awareness of the benefits veganism has on our health and our planet. For the entire 31 days of January, those who sign up commit to excluding all animal products from their diet. That means no animal milk or cheese, no meat, fish, eggs, or even anything with gelatine or whey since they are both derived from animals – and yes, that means no chocolate.
Don’t worry, though; veganism has become so popular, most restaurants now have vegan options and some are even entirely vegan, like The Vurger Co. (serving 100% vegan friendly fast-food). Most supermarkets have their own branded vegan products such as milk and cheese alternatives, meat-free ‘meat’ and chocolate! Even cosmetics can be vegan-friendly, with the majority of manufacturers producing cruelty-free, vegan beauty products. Tattooist and reality TV star Kat Von D launched her own makeup brand, and although she has since cut ties with the company, KVD Vegan Cosmetics continues to be a cult favourite amongst consumers – partly because as the name suggests, it’s entirely vegan and cruelty free which is increasingly becoming something buyers specifically look for.
Where does Veganism come from?
The concept of veganism has been around for centuries, but it was commonly known under the broader umbrella of vegetarianism. Pythagoras of Samos, the mathematician behind Pythagoras’ Theorem, mentioned vegetarianism in around 500 BCE (almost 4,000 years ago). He believed in being kind to all species and treating humans and animals alike. Vegetarianism was a belief that was passed on through influential and respected individuals like the 18th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. It is also common amongst many religions like Buddhism and Jainism, or The Ephrata Cloister, a strict religious sect founded in 18th century Pennsylvania.
The first vegetarian society was founded in England in 1847 and America soon followed suit. A lot of vegetarians commonly ate eggs and drank milk, but not all did. In an effort to outline the differences between those who did and those who didn’t, a Briton named Donald Watson decided to create a new term, and in 1944 he came up with the phrase ‘vegan’ which was used to describe those who did not consume animal products in any capacity.
Soon after, tuberculosis was found in almost half the cow population in the UK, and Watson used this as a reason to convince people to switch to veganism. If not for the sake of animals, it might just save their lives, and this saw a huge surge in veganism in the following years.
What are the benefits of going vegan?
Much in the way Watson described, being vegan did and still does offer protection from diseases that are transmitted by animals, but there are plenty of other health benefits to look at. According to a study by scientists, a vegan diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 23%. Another study has shown that those who have a predominantly plant-based diet are less likely to die from heart disease.
Veganism is even good for your bank balance, too! Meat eaters spend around £645 more on food every year compared to those who don’t eat meat, making it a more affordable lifestyle choice for many.
Whilst the health and monetary benefits are worth it, the biggest impact of veganism can be seen in the environment. The Netflix documentary, ‘Cowspiracy’ sheds light on the agricultural industry and the impact it’s having on our planet, such as deforestation, global warming and the loss of wildlife.
Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
As the world’s population has increased, so too has the demand for food – particularly meat. To keep up with the demands of the human race, animals are farmed on a massive scale. Every year, approximately 2.6 million cattle and 950 million birds (including chickens, ducks and turkeys) are killed for human consumption.
So, going vegan doesn’t just help your health and your bank account, it also helps the environment by protecting animals and restoring nature’s balance. The Vegan Society is a great place to go for more information about the benefits of going vegan.
So, should you do it?
Well, why not? According to the Veganuary, more than a million people have taken part in since its launch in 2014. What may seem like the perfect post-Christmas and New Year’s ‘detox’ diet might actually be the answer to bettering your health and protecting our planet.
Please note: any diet you are considering should be talked about with your doctor or a dietician beforehand.