New year, new diet, new thing to obsess over. This year, it’s all about “Veganuary”, a charity, website and movement of the same name, which aims to promote going vegan for the month of January and beyond. Just like Movember and Dry January before it, it might not be "sold" as a diet and more as a “way of life”, but Veganuary is fast becoming the new acceptable fashionable euphemism for weight loss (“It’s not a diet – it’s a health kick”). 2018 is the year that everyone seems to be going vegan and if they’re not doing it, they’re talking about it. Apparently, the number of people who signed up has risen from 1,500 in 2014 to 52,000 in 2018.
Suddenly, vegan food is big news. This week, supermarkets all across the country are preparing for a rush on it, upping their ranges to cash in on the craze. And I stress the word “craze”. Because, while I have no problem with vegan food or aspiring to a healthier lifestyle, I will put my hand up now and say I have a problem with Veganuary. To me, the campaign – which involves signing a pledge – feels too much like a hard sell. It glosses over the fact that it’s not something that’s easy or practical for everyone to follow. It sells you into the long term and has more than a whiff of “our way or the highway” about it – an ethos that sticks in my throat. Why should it be all or nothing? Why can’t it simply be a nudge to help you get into the habit of eating less meat and dairy in future?
One of my biggest bugbears is their implication that veganism will cure all ills. Veganuary’s latest Tube posters show athletes such as international triathlete Daniel Geisler, who appears alongside the words: "More than 90% of this year’s Veganuary participants told us they felt better after just one month ... One participant told us: I didn't realise how ‘sick’ my body felt until I realised what ‘healthy’ feels like.”
Sounds familiar? If we learnt anything from the clean-eating backlash in 2017, it’s that language which stretches the truth (even if it’s caveated with quotation marks) is potentially harmful especially if it falls into the wrong hands (i.e. people vulnerable to eating disorders). Anyone who advocates any restrictive way of eating should be responsible in their approach – which means toning down the evangelising and stopping the spin.
I have no problem with people going meat-free for a month. Essentially, I just want vegans to stop the hard sell
Don’t get me wrong, I am more than aware of the case for veganism. I understand the health implications of eating less meat and dairy. I know and care about the environmental impact of meat production, that the biggest threat to water pollution is agricultural contamination, that eating vegan can save water, halve greenhouse gas emissions and save wild animals from extinction.
However, I also know that if my family and I simply gave up meat and cheese one day a week (a far less drastic solution), it could be the equivalent of taking our car off the road for five weeks. And I know that the simple act of putting vegetables at the centre of our plates a little more often is much more achievable compared to going full-on vegan.
Veganism always gets emotive when the issue of animal rights comes in. It may be core to many vegans beliefs (and a choice that I am neither questioning nor condemning), but there is a temptation by some to ram this message home. By all means, inform people with facts and figures, but don’t shame people, like in the case of PETA, who before Christmas ran graphic adverts on the side of buses with a picture of a dog's head served up on a platter, with the words "If you wouldn't eat your dog, why eat a turkey?" Is this polite, informed persuasion? No. It’s just bullying.
I have no problem with people going meat-free for a month. Essentially, I just want vegans to stop the hard sell. Stop trying to guilt me into becoming a vegan full-time. Let me eat less meat and dairy, let me eat more vegan food, but enough of the truth-spinning. Why can’t vegans just accept that veganism is a restrictive lifestyle that takes discipline and sacrifice, isn’t achievable or realistic for many people and, basically, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea?