Veganuary: A Meat Eater's Guide to Veganism
Are you curious about Veganuary or ever thought about participating? Maybe you’d like to give it a go but the idea of sacrificing meat for a whole month is a little daunting. I mean, what will you eat?? And what is the whole purpose behind it?
Veganism has been on the rise in recent years, with 2020 seeing huge growth in the vegan food industry. Most supermarkets now stock a plant-based range and Tesco announced their target to increase vegan meat sales by 300% before 2025. According to The Vegan Society and Finder.com, the number of vegans rose by 40% from 1.1 to 1.5 million between the beginning and end of 2020, and this number is set to have increased by another 2 million by the end of 2021. However, many people aren’t ready or intending to ditch meat entirely, instead opting to cut down on the amount they eat with a ‘Flexitarian’ diet. Research has revealed that 31% of Brits intended to increase the number of meat free products they consume in 2021, while another study found that over the last decade Brits have reduced their meat intake by 17%. So what exactly is the fuss all about?
There are three main reasons people may choose to adopt a vegan or flexitarian diet. The first reason is what most people probably associate veganism with and that’s animal welfare. The second is for the health benefits and third for environmental reasons. Let’s unpack each of these in a little more detail to see whether veganism really is something worth considering, even if only part-time.
1. Animal Welfare: Many people who don’t eat meat or use/wear any animal-derived products at all do so for animal welfare reasons. Several documentaries have come out in recent years reporting the inhumane conditions in which some livestock are reared and these have left a lasting impression. Many believe it’s wrong to kill a sentient being for food when there are other options available and many can’t physically bring themselves to eat meat when they hold high levels of affection and empathy for animals. Others find the dairy and egg industries can cause suffering and pain for many animals so choose not to support these practices. This article isn’t going to delve into all the details but if you’re interested to learn more, information is readily available for you to find. Try The Vegan Society website: www.vegansociety.com or vegan charity; www.viva.org.uk, or there are numerous articles from impartial sources such as The Independent or the BBC as good places to start. Interesting documentaries you could also try include ‘The Game Changers’ and ‘Kiss The Ground’, both on Netflix.
2. Health Benefits: It has long been understood that eating high amounts of meat, particularly red meat, has a detrimental effect on our health. The UK Biobank Research Project found a 20% increased risk in bowel cancer for those who ate 76g or red meat a day as opposed to those who ate 21g a day. Meats are also high in fat, in particular saturated fat, which raises cholesterol levels within the blood increasing the risk of heart disease. High consumption of meats have also been linked to obesity and diabetes and you’re at particular risk if these conditions are hereditary. Most doctors agree that while there are benefits to eating some meat, particularly for Vitamin B12 intake, it needs only to be eaten in small amounts so your health and waistline will benefit hugely from limiting your intake.
3. Environmental issues: Livestock agriculture is responsible for 15% of all carbon emissions, although new (yet unverified) estimates put this figure closer to 50%. To put that into perspective, the transport industry is responsible for 14-15% of all carbon emissions too. Agriculture is a complex system with multiple sources where carbon emissions escape. The soil beneath our feet and the trees above our heads are two of the most important carbon storage basins on the planet (along with the ocean). But when huge areas of land are deforested to make room for livestock and the crops to feed them, carbon is not only released from the trees that have been cut down but the quality and function of the soil in which they stood is also reduced, releasing the carbon stored there. Another consequence of the absence of tree roots within the soil is that there is little left to absorb moisture from the ground, meaning flooding, landslides, soil erosion and surface run-off become increasingly common. Plus the animals themselves directly contribute to increased emissions with their waste gas of methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases with 80x more potency than carbon dioxide. A little here and there is not such a problem but when animals have been bred at such a scale, it surely is one. If these practices were done in an organic and sustainable way, they could actually help sequester carbon as opposed to emitting it but this would likely mean reducing the amount produced and so reducing demand is imperative.
So there you have it – three different reasons for cutting down on your meat intake and all pretty good ones. But let's step back in time for a minute and imagine what life was probably like as a caveman, hunting for and gathering your own food. You’re likely envisaging feeding mostly off berries, nuts, grains and tubers. It would have been an occasional, albeit happy, treat to hunt and kill an animal for meat and this was one part of a picture that enabled humans to thrive and grow as a population within the ecosystem they inhabited. As we learned to harness our intelligence more and more to our advantage, we lost sight somewhere along the way that we weren’t the only beings that existed and mattered. We became out of sync with the environment in which we lived and relied upon. If we can take inspiration from our caveman ancestors to do a little less 'hunting' and a little more 'gathering', only eating meat every so often, it would benefit our health, our planet and our pockets all in one hit, with those that follow meat free diets reducing their food bills by up to 40% across the year! Now that’s a change worth making.