This year I decided to jump on board the growing trend of ‘Veganuary’ to see what it was all about.
On the whole, I’ve been surprised at my ability to stick with my new vegan diet. Although I can’t say it’s been completely without mishaps. On New Year’s Day, I was happily tucking into some hash browns for breakfast (having meticulously checked and confirmed they were certified vegan) and some mayonnaise- only to stop in my tracks about 5 hours later while mid-conversation with my husband declaring, “Oh no! Mayonnaise has eggs in!!!”
Having been a vegetarian for 3 and a half years, Veganism hasn’t been as big a step for me as it may be for some. But it has certainly been an interesting and enlightening challenge to kick off 2019 with. Veganuary has given me the opportunity to step back and take a real hard look at my consumer habits. Now I want to share some of my journey with you.
Appreciating where my food comes from
Cutting out staple foods that I’ve always taken for granted (e.g. milk and cheese) connected me more with how food is produced. I have never really given issues of animal welfare much thought. But Veganuary unexpectedly shifted my views on the treatment of animals in our food production. I’ve developed a growing awareness of the journey food undertakes before ending up on my plate.
You realise what you CAN live without
In the past I have always dismissed the idea of veganism, saying that I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT live without cheese. But I’ve done it. One whole month without eating cheese. And amazingly, apart from one brief craving resulting in my purchase of some questionable vegan cheese, I’ve barely given it a second thought.
I have found lots of companies that produce certified vegan food are the more ‘conscious’ manufacturers in the food industry. Vegan food is often organic, palm oil free (or certified sustainable palm oil), recyclable and has responsibly sourced packaging… the list goes on.
The cost of ethical living
With higher standards of production comes an increase in price. Many processed or pre-prepared vegan foods (e.g. pies, vegan cheese, tofu) are often pricier than other basic products you’ll find on the shelves. This means that these lifestyle choices are not attainable for everyone.
It is possible to do veganism cheaper by cooking everything from scratch, but this is time heavy and fresh produce is still not all that affordable for some.
Vegan doesn’t always mean ethical
There are many ethical bonuses of a plant-based diet, but not all vegan food would win the sustainability competition. Take for instance almond milk, which requires 5 litres of water just to grow one Almond. And that’s not even taking into account the air miles required to get almonds to our supermarkets. Interestingly, this is still less water than is required to produce a pint of cow’s milk, and fortunately, there are more environmentally friendly options like oat milk. Certain fashionable ‘super foods’ have also had a huge impact on the countries where these foods grow. Locals are often unable to afford to eat their staple foods due to the exponential price increase caused by Western demand. I am sure the debate around the environmental benefits vs. the negative impact of a vegan diet will continue, so watch this space…
What I’ve learnt
What I’ve valued most about Veganuary has been the opportunity to stop and reflect about my day to day habits. It helped me decide how to be intentional in caring for the planet through my food choices. I’ve surprised myself by saying that as February arrives, I may carry on with my dairy free diet, but swap in some more sustainable treats that have a lower carbon footprint (e.g. high welfare chicken).
I’m sure that my journey of being a conscious eater will continue to change as I learn more about ethical living and grow as a person. If this journey is new to you, be encouraged that our journeys always begin somewhere and it is never too late to start.