Veganuary, the time of year when people ditch the meat and dairy and opt for a month of clean, green plant-based living.
With record numbers of people signing up to this challenge every year, the popularity of the vegan diet is on the rise. So, what’s all the fuss about? With many environmentalists claiming that switching to a plant-based diet is one of the single-biggest ways to reduce your impact on the planet, the vegan diet has been hailed as a game-changer for the planet, and for our health.
The hope is that by making these changes in January, it will encourage people to make the switch permanently, or at least cut down the amount of animal products they consume. Let’s break it down.
A constant sticking point within the veganism debate is how sustainable actually is it? Protecting the environment is where it gets tricky. We know that with sustainability nothing is ever black and white, there’s no right or wrong and you have to dig a little deeper, look at multiple sources and make your own conclusion on the best course of action.
Something that comes up time and time again is the seasonality of the food we buy. Is the food item you are buying in season at the time and is it produced locally? Because if not, as much as it may well be a great vegan option and provide a great alternative to meat, it may have been flown in from across the world, which then doesn’t seem like the most sustainable, planet-friendly option.
Take everyone’s favourite brunch item for example, smashed avo on toast. It’s estimated that these green gems that kickstart our weekend are estimated to take from 140 litres to 272 litres of water to grow a single one. That’s a lot of water, right? Add to that the fact that the primary producers of avocados are in Central and South America, so the fruit has to be flown into Europe. It’s estimated that the carbon footprint of a packet of two small avos is 846.36 grams because of the long journey they have to make to reach our shops. Given that the average daily carbon footprint for a UK person was 8.34 tonnes in 2017 and doing some quick maths those avos would make up just under 4% of your daily footprint!
That’s why it’s such a tough one, taking a really considered approach to what you buy is key. As we said, it’s not black and white but the best thing we can do is read up and learn so when it comes to making those tough decisions on food we feel able to do it. If you want to read up more on the carbon footprint of food items and lots more grab a copy of ‘How Bad Are Bananas’ by Mike Berners-Lee. We’ve also enlisted our in-house foodie, Josh, to give us a run down of his top seasonal eating tips:
- Do your research, understand what is in season in the UK and when. Avoid anything which has to be grown on the other side of the world to satisfy your cravings!
- Eat with the colours of the seasons, as a rule of thumb what’s in season matches the colour you’d expect; squashes and darker greens in winter, vibrant greens and pink radishes in spring, and colourful fruits in summer.
- Eat locally! Buy from markets, and ask questions. Go for produce grown in the UK, or at least Europe. Everything will taste way better, be much better for you (and the planet) and will be less likely to be caught up in problematic work practises.
- Buy a cookbook, Anna Jones’ A Modern Cook’s Year is a seasonally-focused bible of accessible yet delicious recipes that you wouldn’t usually cook. It’s all plant-based but can be easily tweaked for carnivores.
- Grow your own, even with next to no space you can harvest some essentials. A grow bag on a windowsill can give you tomatoes, herbs and aubergines if you’re clever. This helps you tune in and appreciate the seasons.
- Take advantage of summer, pickle, ferment, preserve the glut of good, good stuff, then enjoy it for the rest of the year.
- If it’s travelled further than you have this year leave it on the shelf.
As marketeers too, Veganuary is an interesting one, more so because of the marketing hype you now see around it. Like with lots of things, set up with the best of intentions but perhaps victim of some brands jumping onto the trend and using it for their own gain. Similar to greenwashing, where brands and businesses paint themselves in a greener and more sustainable light than is fair, we’re questioning the fact that some may be using a similar ploy with Veganuary. Jumping on the bandwagon and promoting something, which on the surface looks well intentioned and vegan, but that is also something that may be taking your attention away from other actions they are taking that don’t shape up so well for people and the planet.
Go to pretty much any fast food chain now and you’ll find a vegan option, yes this may well be a positive step but it doesn’t take away from the remaining vast menu of meat products or the fact that these places continue to open more units around the world. Communicating a vegan option when the business may not be looking internally at what else it can offer or other ways it can change to help safeguard the planet but purely as a marketing ploy in order to increase profits and widen the pool of people it may appeal to can be misleading and deceiving.
Take McDonalds for instance, some estimates suggest they use over 1 billion pounds of beef a year in the US alone – does introducing a vegan option on your menu compensate for all those emissions… we don’t think so. Brands need to be considering their impact and initiating substantial positive change, not jumping on trends to sell more products.
Consumers have a tough enough time of it as it is, trying to tell which brands are and aren’t being transparent without it being laid on thick when it comes to food as well.
What we know is that while some brands and businesses may continue to do this, some will always strive to be better. Some are committed to being honest and open and essentially making it easier for us, the consumer, to make guided decisions about what we want to buy.
A business leading the way in running their organisation like this is Oatly, they couldn’t be more transparent if they tried. Openly stating how they run their organisation and why, what they are doing to improve, explaining the actions they take (you remember the controversy around the Blackstone investment, we wrote about it here) and even displaying the carbon footprint of their products on the packaging and calling for this to become standard for all. We think this is pretty epic and we think it will be brands like this that rise up in the future.
Don’t fall victim to brands that use Veganuary as just another marketing ploy to communicate the false message that they are doing good when actually they are causing more harm. Our advice? Do your research, dig deep into any claims being made by companies or any facts that you think don’t quite add up.