Menu Menu

Is Veganuary really a sustainable option to save the planet?

Hundreds of thousands of us chose to take part in Veganuary last year. But is this seemingly eco-friendly trend as healthy for the planet as it is for us?

As the days get shorter and Christmas approaches, most of us inevitably turn to feasting, lounging, and Netflixing binging.

The indulgence of winter usually triggers a surge in healthy eating at the start of a new year. But is Veganuary, the latest post-Christmas health trend, really all that good for the planet?

While plant-based eating has triggered backlash over the years – particularly from the dairy and farming industries – the environmental benefits are hard to ignore. And as global pressure mounts for sustainable consumption, vegan diets show no sign of waning.

Greenpeace has estimated that the number of vegan and vegetarian Brits has quadrupled since 2014, with around 1% of the country now eating plant-based. Sainsbury’s has even suggested that by 2025, a quarter of the UK will be swapping meat for soy.

It’s no surprise, then, that this marriage of plant-based eating and post-Christmas remorse has resulted in a wildly popular new year trend. Slotted in amongst the ‘Stoptobers’ and ‘Movembers’, ‘Veganuary’ is the latest in a long list of self-help months.

The pros of a Vegan new year certainly seem to outweigh the cons. But according to English farmer Robyn Hogg, it might be worth considering alternatives before we sprint to the Linda McCartney aisle.

Hogg has lived on a farm her whole life, and while she agrees with the concept of Veganuary, the 23-year-old has suggested it take place in July instead.

On paper, her reasoning makes sense. Fruit and vegetables, along with meat alternatives like Jackfruit and soy, are not seasonal nor local to the UK during cold winter months.

While we could enjoy fresh summer berries and popular vegetables during the summer, in January, these items must be shipped in from as far as Australia – and air miles quickly rack up.

As a vegan of 8 years plus, perhaps I’m biased. But Hogg fails to unpick the alternatives to a meat free January. She compares real pulled pork to jackfruit, rightly pointing out that the former, if sourced locally, requires no importation.

Sadly, though, many meat eaters don’t eat locally sourced produce. And even when they do, the grain needed to feed that livestock has a staggering air mile count of its own.

Hogg seems to have fallen victim to the same vegan myths as other farmers. While a veggie diet certainly isn’t perfect, the notion that alternative-meat and dairy consumption is driving deforestation is false and outdated.

Since the 1950s, soybean production has increased 15 times over, with large areas of the South American forest being destroyed to accommodate soya plantations. But while plant-based consumers often opt for a soy-rich meat alternative, only 6% of all soya grown globally is eaten by humans. In fact, 90% goes toward feeding livestock.

It’s all well and good to suggest swapping Veganuary out for a summer month. And the idea of fresher, more local produce is always appealing. But the movement’s growth is positive sign of real change.

It can’t be a bad thing that – at least four weeks a year ­­– over 400,000 of us choose to switch steaks for seitan. And unlike buying an electric car or investing in hand-made, designer garb, veganism is something we can all do relatively easily.

Not only does this reduction in meat save thousands of animal lives, it also cuts carbon emissions from cattle, and saves on deforestation in the name of feeding them. If you’re on the fence about taking part this winter, opt for foods you know to be more local, and cut back on the fake meats.

Supermarket giants like Tesco and Sainsbury’s are making it easier than ever to select not only meat free, but dairy and soya free options.

And as we all know, there’s no shortage of veggies after the great Christmas roasting marathon. If my household is anything to go by, you can sustain yourself on leftover parsnips for a surprisingly long time.

Hogg’s suggestion of a Vegan July (Veg-uly?, Veganly?, Hot Vegan Summer?) is a great one. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of a meat-free new year. Who says we can’t try cutting back on meat all year round?

For more tips on taking the big meat-free leap of faith, check out Thred’s extensive list of Vegan-based articles here. You can also brush up on your Veganuary knowledge via their website.

Who knows? Come July, you might still be rummaging the supermarket fridge for a Linda McCartney sausage. (Though I personally recommend a Cumberland Shroomdog to really satisfy your cravings. They’re soy free, too).