Image description: a plate of colourful fruits and vegetables on a table
The more politically inclined among the population may remember the words of British Home Secretary Suella Braverman late last year, as she blamed the ‘tofu-eating wokerati’ for the civil disruption caused by various protest movements in November and December. This type of content would have once gone down well with a certain demographic, and likely still does. However, by the time of the next general election, scheduled to be held in January 2025, a quarter of the British population could be vegan or vegetarian, according to a 2019 report by Sainsbury’s. The question for the government, then, is how the two – presumably mutually exclusive – demographics will match up. The question for us, meanwhile, is when, and how, did this particular line of attack become so obviously tone-deaf? A large part of our answer may lie in that yearly challenge that many people around the UK and beyond are embracing right now: Veganuary.
Veganuary is a UK-based non-profit organisation launched in 2014 which encourages people across the world to go vegan during the month of January. In the nine years since its launch, the campaign has become a household name, extended its reach around the globe, and incentivised, directly or indirectly, the production of thousands of vegan products and many more vegans. There is a lot to be said for attempting such a change in lifestyle during this event, which has now become as much a part of the national calendar as dry January (although it’s a brave man or woman who attempts both at once).
The campaign has become a household name
Aside from the publicity, encouragement, and camaraderie which comes with joining in with a global initiative rather than going it alone, a significant advantage of becoming vegan during January is that this is also the month that restaurants and grocery brands tend to release their new vegan products for the year. ‘Veganuary’s’ of the past have seen the introduction of such big names as the McPlant (2021), Starbucks’ Beyond Meat Breakfast Sandwich (2020), and even the ethereal Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll (2019). This year, look out for Burger King’s new Vegan Bacon King, and, in supermarkets, Impossible’s game-changing frozen vegan nuggets (trust me).
According to the organisation itself, Veganuary in 2022 saved the lives of 2.16 million animals, having had 629,351 participants. Of course, the exact impact is near-impossible to quantify without knowing the individual habits of each of the 630,000 participants, but the staggering statistics make the basic fact clear: that this movement has become a big deal. Not everyone loves animals – that’s your business. Generally, though, people enjoy having an ozone layer and oxygen to breathe. Which brings us to arguably Veganuary’s most compelling angle – the environmental factor.
According to Veganuary’s published statistics, replacing one single litre of plant milk with soya milk saves 752 litres of water, whilst one direct meat-for-soya swap for a single burger saves 2192 litres. Land use presents a similar story: 83% of global agricultural land is used in aid of meat production. Most interesting is the case of soya. Often there is discussion of the negative environmental impact of soya production for plant-based milk, tofu, and more. However, in fact 80% of soya production globally is used in the production of meat and dairy products, largely to feed cows. Given that cutting cow products out of the food pyramid would remove this necessity alongside the land used for the actual cows to live on, methane emissions, and more, the two can hardly be compared.
One of the most contentious conversations around this topic has always been the question of the affordability of a plant-based diet. Even the most well-intentioned must consider whether they have the financial backing to support their lofty ideals, and the student is certainly no exception. So, is veganism feasible on a student budget?
Is veganism feasible on a student budget?
A 2019 article published by Plant Based News announced that ‘a meat-free diet is cheaper by more than £600 a year’. It turns out, incidentally, that this isn’t strictly true, given that this headline is based simply on quantifying the amount an average meat-eater might spend on meat in a year. However, it certainly makes the idea that a vegan diet would not necessarily need to be more expensive than the alternative seem reasonable.
‘a meat-free diet is cheaper by more than £600 a year’
According to The Grocer, the sale of vegan products at Aldi supermarkets increased 500% in just one year between January 2021 and 2022, which beyond anything else demonstrates that Aldi, budget supermarket extraordinaire, had sufficient vegan products available to support such a rise. In 2023, there’s no reason that a vegan would need to adjust their shopping habits in any major way. Since there is now an alternative to foods and restaurants at almost any price point, a direct swap is possible as often as not. Sure, if you’re looking to go cutting edge, Juicy Marbles’ vegan steaks at £40 a pack plus the cost of import from Slovenia might be a bit more of a stretch. Furthermore, let’s be honest, McDonald’s are really dragging their feet on the vegan cheeseburger, but boy is it going to be exciting when they get there.
Everybody loves to hate a fad, and particularly those predicated on the moral reprehensibility of the way you live your life. For years, veganism has been the object of just this type of suspicion-come-hatred from the general populous. However, as the tide of history turns, the day will come soon when we all must decide which side we’re going to be on – and I know where I’d be standing in relation to those quoted earlier in this article. It’s also a nice way to tick off a new years’ resolution 31 days in (before you’ve forgotten what they were).
Image credit: Anna Pelzer