Updated: Mar 26
You tried Veganuary, now it's time to learn how to sustain a plant-based diet all year round.
January 2021 saw the biggest Veganuary yet. It is difficult to say exactly why: perhaps eating well has improved some people’s wellbeing in a difficult time, maybe we are starting to realise that we need to do more to help the environment, or it could just be that lockdown has severely limited our other interests (life is now a cycle of Bridgerton and banana bread). Whatever the reason, this year’s Veganuary saw over half a million sign-ups, with plant-based ranges in supermarkets expanding at an unprecedented rate and an exponential number of social media users documenting their vegan journeys.
It's pretty tough to argue against not trying veganism for a month. This year, it wouldn’t involve limited options when dining out or feeling a nuisance at dinner parties. Cheaper meat alternatives are constantly becoming more readily available (hello, Richmond vegan sausages), and for those wanting to put in a little extra effort. it's not exactly like time to spend cooking and trying new things is lacking at the moment.
It's also difficult to deny the potential benefits of a plant-based diet. The meat industry is detrimental to the environment: according to PETA, the same amount of carbon dioxide is generated from producing just two pounds of beef as from driving a car for three hours – that’s without mentioning other effects, such as water pollution and land usage. Similarly, a well-executed plant-based diet has numerous health benefits; a Harvard study went as far as to suggest that it lowered the likelihood of heart disease. Even if the results from studies such as these are not wholly conclusive, eating a plant-based diet is more than likely going to encourage eating more plants (that is to say, fruit and veg).
Even considering this, committing to such an extreme diet in the long-term is a completely different story. Whilst at present, dedicating time to our meal preparation couldn’t be easier, in the future we (hopefully) won't have quite so much time to spare. That's why, whilst Veganuary is an effective means of introducing a wider public to a more plant-based diet, for many it is not sustainable in the long term.
1. Try Flexuary next year
Making swaps that are likely to last whilst maintaining a flexible eating regime is a more realistic alternative to Veganuary.
The way that we eat can quickly become all-consuming; after all, we are required to do so multiple times a day. Having to consciously make an effort to avoid things that you enjoy in the name of veganism can quickly become detrimental, either through causing restriction or due to the eventual guilt of eating something non-vegan. Taking an extreme all-or-nothing approach is the principle reason behind failures to uphold new years resolutions, as one tiny slip-up can lead to giving up entirely.
Maeve Hanan, registered dietitian and director of DieteticallySpeaking.com agrees, saying that it "can be best to avoid putting any labels on your diet, as you can still eat in a sustainable way without following a fully vegan diet". She asserts that factors such as food preference could limit someone from committing to veganism in a way which isn’t restrictive. For example, cutting out chocolate even if you love it would be unsustainable, and is more than likely to provoke cravings which could turn into guilt when given into.
2. Don't feel like you have to commit
Being a flexitarian allows you to still help the environment and your health. Charlotte, 24, has been eating this way for years, as “eating vegetarian meals half of the time still decreases my personal impact by 50%, and anything is better than nothing. Whilst it’s amazing people go all out, what is more achievable is encouraging people to eat less meat… it’s just not sustainable otherwise”.
3. Swap out a few meals a week
Jake, better known as @veganboi95, has many suggestions with which his 14,000+ Instagram followers seem to enjoy. He points out that a lot of meals can quite easily be made vegan: “meals like curry, chilli, and stir fry don’t even need fake meats”. He suggests easy switches such as plant-based milks, vegan mince and bean burgers, which require little change other than the products themselves. He says, “It was just as affordable really, as a lot of the meals used veg, beans and lentils! I’ve never seen it as more expensive especially when you don’t change too much”.
Eating a fully plant-based diet is commendable, but a huge commitment. For the many who cannot (or simply do not want to) entirely rule out a lot of food groups: you don’t have to. Try a flexitarian diet see how you get on. Helping the animals, your health, or the environment doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.