Why do people opt to follow a vegan diet? The environment, animal welfare and health are among the main reasons (image: Mark Hall/Shutterstock)
Whether it’s for health and wellbeing reasons or merely just a personal new year challenge, January is often a time when people give new diets a go.
One of the diets that gets the biggest uptake at this time of year is veganism, thanks to the growth of the Veganuary movement.
In 2022, more than half a million people have signed up to the official challenge - although many more will be taking part unofficially.
According to 2021 research by the Veganuary charity, which runs the annual event, 82% of participants had continued to drastically reduce their meat consumption six months after the event.
Around a third of this number had fully stuck with their vegan diet.
So what are the reasons why people become vegan?
To find out, NationalWorld spoke to several vegans about their reasons for ditching all meat, fish and dairy.
Here’s what they had to say.
Liz Nicolay, 69, from Cambridge
In 1987, I went to live in France with my husband and children - we were omnivores at the time.
I used to listen to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on longwave radio, but because of the one hour time difference, I used to catch the end of Farming Today.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The details of everyday, accepted and legal farming practices were horrifying.
Returning to the UK in 1991, I happened upon an animal rights stall at a market in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
I then contacted various charities and was put on their mailing lists, and so my knowledge - and horror - grew.
It took until 2000 for me to become fully vegan.
First I stopped eating meat, then fish, then dairy and eggs.
It was very different then - I felt very isolated; the only vegan in the country almost.
The first time I did the weekly shop as a vegan I had to read every label.
Things were never labelled ‘vegan’ and whenever I went to a cafe, I would ask for soya milk but it was rare to find any.
When leaving the house, I made sure I had vegan refreshments with me. When I travelled abroad, I had to pack soya milk, yoghurts and flapjacks in my case.
Very slowly, things changed, but this change has been very rapid in the last few years, no doubt due to the internet.
When you become aware of what goes on, it can become difficult to live in this world.
Joshua Kian, 30, from Skipton, North Yorkshire
I was brought up as a vegetarian, then became increasingly passionate about the environment and the great outdoors in my teens.
About 10 years ago, as the impact of the dairy industry started becoming a lot more apparent, it made me question my vegetarian lifestyle.
It all came to a head whilst I was working in South East Asia.
It was the first time I’d really seen environmental devastation first-hand and I wanted to do all I could to stop contributing to it.
I think this was the defining moment that led me to veganism.
As I’d never eaten meat before, I found the move relatively easy because I was already used to label-checking and eating differently from others.
But, when I first made the switch, there was a lot of learning, trial and error involved!
Nowadays, we’re so lucky to have brilliant vegan alternatives and all the information you could need at the click of a button.
I’m definitely much healthier as I pay more attention to my diet.
I also feel more connected to landscapes, knowing I’m actively trying to protect them.
Interestingly, it’s made me much more passionate about cooking and experimenting with foods too.
Joshua runs a website - Veggie Vagabonds - which encourages people to explore the outdoors using an ethical lifestyle
Christina Mather, 39, from Southport
I was already a life-long vegetarian when I went vegan - I was brought up that way by my family.
We rescued pretty much any type of animal - we had everything from horses to chickens and rabbits - and viewed them with love rather than as food.
I didn’t hear of veganism until about five years ago.
I became a vegan overnight after watching the documentary Earthlings (a 2005 documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix), which is about how we use animals - not just for meat and dairy, but also in zoos, circuses and testing.
I was an easy convert - my mind was made up.
Since then, the rest of my family has also gone vegan or largely vegan.
Ericka Durgahee, 33, from Birmingham
I’ve been vegetarian since my twelfth birthday.
I always had the belief that the dairy and eggs I was consuming were an animals’ waste product created miraculously for me to sort of borrow or use as I wanted.
Just before Veganuary 2018, I stumbled across a dairy industry exposé on YouTube, and that was it - I decided to do Veganuary.
The original switch felt overwhelming food-wise.
I was surrounded by people questioning everything I was doing - despite me not making a big deal of the change to my lifestyle - and I was constantly asked to justify why I’d made such a ‘dramatic’ move.
My last barriers were cheese and chocolate.
I’d already switched to vegan beauty, toiletries, household and laundry products many years prior.
But even today, I’m still learning and finding things I didn’t think could have animal derivatives but somehow do.
Four years on from trying Veganuary for the first time, I have a diploma in vegan nutrition and work as a marketing manager at The Vegan Society.
The diet has changed my life for the better in every way I can think of.
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