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Is the Veganuary pledge all it promises to be?

This January, nearly a decade after the annual pledge began, one person every 2.4 seconds signed up for Veganuary. But how effective is it? And is it catching on beyond the UK?

People take on Veganuary for a number of reasons – from wanting to be more climate-conscious to eating more vegetables, to realising their unknowing love for animals.

The annual pledge, which was founded in 2014, also ends on 1 February, making it the ideal new year resolution. Because let’s be honest, most people have given up on their resolutions by 1 February anyway.

London-based Francesca McClimont, who took on her first Veganuary this year, says she signed up for the challenge as an easy way to make a contribution to helping the planet.

‘Not eating meat and reducing my intake of dairy is an easy way of reducing my carbon footprint – given that meat production is one of the most pollutive industries in the world,’ she says.

‘I’m also generally not a fan of animals getting slaughtered either.’

McClimont, 25, first came across the pledge when Lucy Watson, a former British ‘Made in Chelsea’ star, challenged her Instagram followers to take it on.

Some of the biggest challenges she thought she would face included giving up chocolate and finding simple options for lunch during the work week. But, in London, locating vegan-friendly chocolate and quick but fun lunches turned out to be quite easy.

Ultimately, the hardest part about Veganuary was going out for meals with other people, McClimont admits.

‘I get food envy looking at what other people have,’ she says, recounting a trip she took to Prague earlier in the month in which she had to reluctantly accept an offering of meat and cheese in fear of being rude to her host.

McClimont adds that she’s noticed that the place and its ingrained culture would definitely impact the effectiveness of campaigns like Veganuary.

Her Italian mum and sister were shocked when they found out about her decision to go vegan for a month.

‘My sister thinks it’s really weird,’ she says. ‘Although my mum never formed an opinion on it.’

So while the annual challenge may be taking off in the UK – even Wetherspoons has its own plant-based menu – how is it doing elsewhere?

What makes Veganuary effective?

In February 2022, Veganuary welcomed participants from nearly every country in the world. It claimed only Tajikistan and North Korea were missing from the official list of sign-ups.

Estonia-based Liis Hainla tells me she turned vegan in January 2015. But she quickly notes that her switch to a plant-based lifestyle during the first month of the year was purely a coincidence.

Hainla co-founded a vegan shoe company, KIRA, and manages an online publication, Vegan Avenue. Her hometown Tartu, in eastern Estonia, is home to an array of vegan-friendly restaurants, stores and events. The city is very focused on sustainability, environmentalism, and animal welfare, which makes it a lot easier for people to even consider trying a vegan lifestyle, she claims.

In recent years, she has become increasingly familiar with the international campaign of Veganuary, with several of her friends now trying it for the second or third time in a row.

She believes there are a number of ways to encourage individuals to sign up for Veganuary – organising fun events, festivals, and other celebrations that promote a vegan culture while maintaining a sense of community are amongst the most fruitful.

But the effectiveness of campaigns like Veganuary doesn’t just come from the community, she notes. It comes down to a person and their circumstances too.

Eight years after she transitioned, the answer to why she went vegan is still complicated, evolving and very personal, Hainla explains.

That same concept might apply to whether we choose to transition or not.

Some may be open to change, while others may not. Similarly, some may have the right funds and access to plant-based resources, while others may not. And some may have the courage to stand up against social norms, while others may not.

Factoring in the more personal aspects of a campaign like Veganuary is important to measure how effective it is, she says.

Nonetheless, some numbers are starting to prove that popularity – or demand – could help make veganism more affordable. In 2019, the New York Post reported that milk alternatives in the US, such as almond or oat milk, cost almost double the price of cow’s milk.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg revealed in October that the cost-of-living crisis in the UK had pushed the price of cow’s milk above several dairy-free alternatives, meaning a two-pint bottle of own-brand milk cost £1.25 on average across four of the country’s main supermarkets, a 36% increase from January 2022.

At the same time, a one-litre bottle of own-brand soya milk cost £1.05 and the same for almond milk cost £1.07.

Keeping veganism ‘exciting’

Over in Mauritius, Sunrise Attitude’s resident vegan sous chef, Ravi Kumarsingh Gujadhur, says his hotel welcomes more and more vegan guests every year.

‘Veganuary has helped many individuals – and myself – learn more about what it means to [follow this lifestyle],’ he notes. It’s helped people experiment with ingredients and recipes too.

Gujadhur says he believes hospitality businesses adopting vegan options is the way forward for the planet, as well as people’s overall health and well-being.

Sunrise Attitude is eco-committed and sources all its food and beverages from local farmers across the island whenever possible. So adapting to the growing demand for veganism from its guests seemed to be an ‘obvious choice’, he says.

But ‘veganising’ certain dishes can be difficult, especially when it comes to recreating the flavour and texture of the ingredients we are so used to consuming, as well as finding them for an affordable price.

In Mauritius, meat and fish are also very much a part of festive dishes, making it even trickier to feed customers during the holidays, the sous chef says.

Gujadhur is responsible for the vegan options found throughout the hotel but notes that even his executive chef has started to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, urging the rest of his staff to follow in his footsteps.

‘I’ve been fascinated by vegan cuisine for the last two years and am truly passionate about making sure there are interesting and incredibly tasty options – rather than just ticking a box,’ he says.

After training with a renowned vegan chef, Gujadhur came to Sunrise Attitude to ensure that Mauritius’s melting pot of flavours and food was maintained when the hotel presented vegan-friendly alternatives on its menus.

To truly make Veganuary effective, restauranteurs and their chefs need to make plant-based options exciting and delicious, Gujadhur notes.

He adds that this doesn’t mean ‘poor, make-do alternatives’; it should mean vegan dishes that make non-vegans turn their head.


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