So Veganuary was a big success for the team at ITF. The five staff and volunteers who took on the challenge all completed the full month with only the odd mishap here and there. Our founder was a leading advocate for a plant-based diet as well as organic and sylvan (tree-based) agriculture.
Most of us were already vegetarians and will continue to be, although we are all looking at reducing dairy consumption. Even staff who did not join in are trying out plant based milks and there is a general consensus that cereals taste better with the likes of almond, cashew or oat milk.
As for me personally, for now, I am sticking to a vegan diet. I have been vegetarian for the past 35 years and always thought of going vegan as a step too far. That I was already doing my bit for sustainable food consumption. And while I have grown resilient to the negative comments from people who seem threatened or inconvenienced by anyone choosing not to eat meat, I thought going vegan could turn up the heat again. I was also very fond of (mainly organic) yogurt, cheese and eggs and thought it would be hard to give these up. In fact I am surprised that I do not miss cheese and eggs as much as I thought I would, and have also found that you can get some nice dairy free yogurts now.
My overall experience of Veganuary was firstly how supportive people were on social media, even when people decided it was not for them for one reason or another. And most people found it a really positive experience in terms of their diet, health and sense of well-being.
Normalisation of a plant-based diet
I was also struck by how ‘normal’ a vegan diet is becoming; there were even positive articles in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. Many supermarkets have increased their range of vegan foods (and with better labelling) and quite a few restaurants have introduced vegan menus. There is a big growth in new companies that are producing plant-based vegan pies (Clive’s), bakes (Gosh!), pesto (Organico Realfoods), soups (Tideford Organics), snack foods (Ten Acre), energy (Pulsin’, Nakd) and protein bars(Trek), to name but a few.
But by far the biggest learning point for me was about the suffering and environmental destruction of the dairy industry. Why was I oblivious to this before? For starters, dairy cows contribute just as much to global warming as cows bred for beef. Together they are responsible for contributing more CO2 emissions globally than all transport emissions. Dairy cows are also part of the reason that livestock is the biggest cause of deforestation.
And then there is the suffering.
A growing disconnection from the food and drink we consume
I always saw compassion for animals as a very welcome bonus of being vegetarian rather than my main motivations: environmental and social justice. But the sheer scale of exploitation that is an integral part of the industrial dairy sector is shocking. Of course as many as 75% of humans are lactose intolerant. And why is it that so many us who aren’t don’t really question why we are the only species to drink the milk of another species? It is pretty weird and not what you would call ‘normal’ or ‘natural’.
I think part of the explanation is that we are so disconnected from how the food and drink we consume is actually produced; it’s just a packet in the shop. It is also evident that environmental NGOs have tended to overlook the role of animal agriculture, as highlighted in the film Cowspiracy which is on Netflix.
So I am very grateful to Veganuary for shaking me out of my vegetarian complacency. And given that my surname is Egan it seems fitting to stick a V in front!