Veganuary has finished – what now?

There’s no getting away from it, changing to a plant-based diet can be difficult (although it is getting easier). Eating meat and dairy products remains the social norm in most Western economies. Consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet continues to be seen as ‘alternative’, inconvenient and, in some cases, subversive. However, with a rise in evidence about the negative impact of eating animal-based food – on individual health, the environment, the horrors of large scale animal agriculture and cost – public opinion is starting to shift towards a more plant predominant diet.

Campaigns like Veganuary have been a key part of this shift. Combining the New Year mindset and the benefits of participating in a social experience, Veganuary is now recognised by 75% of the UK population and promoted in high street stores, restaurants and workplaces around the country. Starting in 2015 with just over 1000 participants, it has grown to over 700,000 sign ups in 2023. And that’s just those officially signed up on the website. More are thought to participate independently, supported by the rise in availability of vegan foods. Many of these may not go plant-based for the full month but dip in and out, testing the water to see what eating more plants is like. Which is great. Change has to start somewhere.

Veganuary is good for business, especially for restaurants who often struggle in the post-Christmas lull. Promoting a vegan menu for the month of January brings in the diners. In 2020, Veganuary reported 600 brands, restaurants and supermarkets promoted the campaign. And that over 1200 new vegan products and menus were launched in the UK alone.

But does this change last? Well, 25% of people who complete Veganuary stay vegan with 78% intending to cut their meat eating by half, which is a good start. And the number of people identifying as vegan has risen by an incredible 370% in the last 5 years. That’s huge. If that trajectory continues, it shouldn’t be long before eating a plant-predominant diet becomes the norm – or that’s the hope.

You can tell just how effective the campaign is in effecting change by the number of negative media stories that appear. Galvanising the same tactics as the tobacco industry, the meat and dairy industry sponsor big campaigns to promote the belief that animal products are essential to human health by scaremongering and sowing seeds of doubts. This is particularly prevalent on social media. It’s a scary place if you look too closely.

But enough of all that. What about you? If you’ve just finished Veganuary, or you’ve been dabbling, what will you do now?

Hopefully, you will continue! But maybe you’re not sure. It may depend on why you signed up for the challenge in the first place – what was your motivation? Or did you face too many challenges? Maybe you started but didn’t complete it and feel a bit of a failure? Or that it was ok for a month but feel it’s just a bit too hard to continue. If it caused friction in your household, you may feel pressured not to carry on. Or it could be you just don’t know what to cook.

These are all plausible issues. Because making change is challenging. But when it comes to eating amazing food that’s great for individual and planetary health, I think it’s worth it. So if you’re wavering, or not sure where to go from here, then carry on reading for my top tips to help you carry on with your plant-based journey.

1) Know why you’re doing it

I’ve said this before, but it’s so important to have a reason for making change – any change. The key is that it has a deep meaning for you. Because when things get a bit tough you can feel grounded and confident that you know why you’re doing it.

It can be anything you like. For me, and many others, it can start with a health issue. My why is grounded in my desire not to let my multiple sclerosis progress in case it prevents me from being a hands-on grandma (when the time comes). I use a whole-food plant-based diet (and other lifestyle modifications) as my medicine. This is a strong why for me. When other people feel uncomfortable with my food choices and bring out the bullying tactics, I answer ‘No – I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair’. It works very well!

The more I understand about the negative impact of animal agriculture, my why has evolved. Now it’s also because I don’t want to cause pain to other sentient beings. And to reduce my impact on the beautiful planet with live on. There’s no going back for me!

2) Be kind to yourself.

 If you struggle, don’t give yourself a hard time. And don’t compare yourself to others. Remember that social media posts are not always a true reflection of life! Then there’s the warriors. I’ve seen some horrid posts on social media about who is a ‘good vegan’ and who is not. The judgements can be off the wall. I don’t understand it. To me, anyone who is making positive change, no matter how small, is to be congratulated. We all have to start somewhere. The key is to keep going, not be put off by idiots😉

3) Find your tribe.

Making change on your own is hard, particularly if you’re in a very animal product-based household. It can be a lonely, and often challenging, road to take. If you’re using food as medicine, there are lots of communities out there that can support you. For example, Overcoming MS has loads of free resources on their website and a members hub where you can connect with other people following the programme. Facebook groups can be helpful too – as long as they are well managed. I have a little group Plant Powered Change in which I share recipe ideas and information to help inspire and support. It’s a safe space. There are also local vegan groups that meet online and in person. Or groups like Vegan Runners or Running on Plants if you like to be active too. Like-minded people really do make a difference.

4) be inquisitive

cooking class

There’s a whole new culinary world out there to explore. It’s exciting. Cooking plant-based recipes is easy and much less likely to give you food poisoning than meat-based meals. Browse the food section of any book shop now and you will find a plethora of vegan cookery books from around the world. Magazines like Vegan Food and Living provide a multitude of recipes to inspire every month. And then there’s blogs and websites – thousands of them! Just google a recipe, or search on Pinterest and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

If you’re new to cooking, then look for cooking classes either local to you or online. I ran online classes during Covid times, and they were great fun (I may be starting them again soon – watch this space). If you’re lucky, there will be affordable classes in your area run by a plant-based CIC – check out Made in Hackney or Love Food CIC in Exeter to see what’s on offer. The key thing is don’t get stuck in a rut or make it a chore. If you do, it’s a slippery slope to going back to your old ways….

5) eat well

This is so important. I encourage people to eat a whole-food plant-based diet because it’s optimal for health. But if you come from a place of heavy meat eating with lots of junk food, that change to whole foods might just be too much in one go. It can take time to transition – your gut needs to get used to it just as much as you do! If you are a junk food addict, then there’s plenty of vegan options to change to – in the short term. Use these as a stepping stone only to help you head towards a whole plant food way of life.

You also need to ensure you are eating a wide variety of foods to gain full nutrition. And eating enough too. For serial dieters, this can be a challenge, especially if you have the dieter’s mindset i.e.: you eat less. A whole-food plant-based diet is nutritionally dense, not calorie dense. This means you need to eat more than you think! Media stories about how ‘veganism ruined my health’ often boils down to the fact the person was uninformed and eating a very restrictive diet.  Eat plenty. And go at your own pace. Make changes gradually and make use of the vegan options – in the short term. As you keep learning and changing, your tastes will change and those meat-free products that taste like meat will not seem so appealing as real food. Trust me.

There’s so much more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. Even though I’ve been eating a whole-food plant-based diet for some time, I remember the challenges well. It took me a couple of years to change completely. But I would never go back, even if my health conditions disappeared overnight. I discovered it’s a super tasty way to be kind – hopefully if you haven’t already, you will too.

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2 thoughts on “Veganuary has finished – what now?

  1. Beautifully written article, Karen. I have recently decided to go fully vegan and feel deeply satisfied with the decision. We have never eaten so well!

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