Walk down any supermarket aisle or past any high street restaurant over the coming weeks, and you are likely to see at least some mention of Veganuary. The annual January challenge involves people giving plant based food a go for a period of a month.
Full or partially plant based diets are often heralded as being more environmentally friendly and healthier than meaty diets. And with celebrity proponents including Lewis Hamilton, Billie Eilish and Lizzo, the vegandiet has been gaining more and more attention in recent years.
This change has been most visible in restaurant menus and on food retailer shelves, where meat-free and non-dairy options have become increasingly popular since the mid-2010s. According to YouGov polling on behalf of Veganuary, almost 10% of people in the UK have given the diet a go over the last decade.
The same survey of more than 2,100 adults found that 85% of those who have not turned fully vegan after completing the challenge have reduced their consumption of animal-derived products.
So what exactly is Veganuary, how can you take part - and what exactly does a vegan diet contain? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is one that does not include any animal products. So, not only do vegans avoid eating meat and fish but they also won’t eat eggs, dairy and even the gelatine used to create some types of gummy sweets, like Haribo.
There are several different motivations for people to become vegan. According to Veganuary research undertaken by YouGov, animal welfare is the biggest reason, with environmental considerations and personal health also major factors.
The diet differs from vegetarianism as veggies still consume eggs and dairy. Another diet that’s come to prominence in recent years - flexitarianism - might see some people follow a vegan diet on some days of the week or at certain mealtimes, but it is not considered to be vegan.
Many, but not all, vegan products carry the Vegan Society’s trademark. If a product does not have the charity’s trademark on its packaging, it can still be vegan - to find out, you have to look for any animal products in the item’s ingredients list, such as milk powder or eggs.
Or, if it’s a fruit or a vegetable, the chances are that the product will be 100% vegan. It all depends on the farming methods used to produce that particular bit of produce - for example, organic farms are likely to use cow manure to fertilise their produce, which means some vegans may feel that the item contains animal products.
The vegan diet is just one aspect of veganism. The lifestyle also sees followers avoid things like animal-derived clothing, like leather, or household products that may have been tested on animals.
A vegan may also avoid going to the zoo if they perceive the zoological organisation’s work to be exploitative.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is an annual vegan diet challenge which takes place throughout the month of January.
Set up in the UK in 2014 by British entrepreneur Matthew Glover and animal rights campaigner Jane Land, the challenge (and not-for-profit organisation of the same name) seeks to promote veganism throughout the year. But its initial goal for those who sign up is to get them through 31 days of being fully vegan.
A survey conducted by the organisation at the end of the 2022 challenge found more than 629,000 people from almost every country in the world took part. According to Veganuary’s analysis of Kantar data, more than six million people may have unofficially taken part that year.
Previous follow up surveys with the official challenge’s participants have found 82% of the participants who were not vegan when they signed up had drastically reduced their consumption of meat in the event’s immediate aftermath. Of this number, 30% said they were still eating a fully vegan diet, while another 38% stated they were eating at least 75% less meat than they did pre-Veganuary.
Participants who continued to be vegan after the challenge also told Veganuary they had experienced benefits including: increased energy (60%), improved mood (59%), better skin (52%) and a desired change in body weight (48%).
How can I get involved?
While the challenge started on 1 January, you can still join in officially via the Veganuary website.
Should you do so, the organisation offers free meal plans, tips and nutrition guides, as well as a cookbook containing recipes by celebrities like John Bishop, Dame Joanna Lumley and Benjamin Zephaniah.
However, you can also give the challenge an unofficial go - in fact, it’s become easier than ever to join in. The UK’s major supermarkets already have a large selection of vegan foods to try, while most chain restaurants offer plant based options as standard.
According to statistics from Veganuary, over 800 new vegan products and 740 menu items were released into retailers and chain restaurants from around the world during 2022’s edition.