Last month, many of our social media feeds went crazy with the hash tag #Veganuary. Vegan items suddenly appeared on every menu, coconut lattes became a standard morning brew; even The Daily Mail wrote about the 50,000 people that would ‘dabble’ in Veganism in January. So what is ‘veganism’? Technically it describes a diet that is solely plant-based – that means no meat, no fish, and no animal by-products such as milk, eggs or honey. As I’m sure you can imagine, the reasons for being Vegan range from a silent protest against animal cruelty, to being misinformed that all meat is high in saturated fat. Veganism has become the latest foodie movement.
The New Scientist recently published an article appropriately named Living on the Veg where it looks into the claims that veganism is in fact better for the environment. And its answer is ‘yes’. Not eating meat will radically reduce your carbon footprint:
‘Studies show that if we all went vegan, two of the biggest environmental problems – greenhouse gas emissions and clearing land for agriculture – would be slashed.’
I do worry, however, about the huge impact the veganism movement must be having on farmers and producers; and I often wonder if there was a way that we could just achieve more of a balance.
Although I’m not Vegan myself, I do try and only eat sustainably sourced fish and organic meat. Neither dairy nor wheat is included in my diet for digestive reasons, but although I adore fruits and vegetables, I’m worried that converting to full-on veganism might somewhat further limit my food options. But then I would read that the three largest meat producers globally produce annual carbon emissions equivalent to those produced by all of France (!) and watch Cowspiracy and not be able to sleep at night.
So when I found myself mid-January house-sitting for some friends in Golder’s Green, as they are Jewish and keep a Kosher kitchen, I thought I’d challenge myself to a being Vegan for two weeks. As I don’t eat meat or dairy anyway, I wouldn’t need to worry about the Kosher practice of separating meat and milk products.
So in sum, although I was initially happy eating hummus everyday, by Monday of week two it was starting to feel slightly repetitive! But I pressed on, using this as an opportunity to experiment with plant-based baking – something I always found quite tough in terms of replacing eggs and butter and achieving a moist texture. But I was rather thrilled at how well my Vegan treats such as Cacao nib & orange Biscotti, Peanut Butter Biscuits, Sweet Potato Brownies, and Marmalade Cake turned out… But it’s not enough to make me give up eating eggs from our local farm, or honey from the community hives.
So does Veganism have my vote? Absolutely; if that’s a diet that works for you. But I also believe that the way to engage people and 'convert' people to veganism is to promote all the amazing foods they can take up, not give up. Plant-powered meals are wholesome, nourishing, beautiful and delicious. It just needs to be more appealing and exciting - not a kind of terrorist movement dragooing people into drinking soy or almond milk (which in turn has serious environmental imapct.)
My aim is to encourage people to reflect on their daily food choices in terms of the origins of what they are consuming. If we can buy from supermarkets and eat at restaurants that prioritise the quality of their ingredients, minimising their carbon footprint and supporting their suppliers, then surely we’ll be on the right track.