More and more people are reducing their carbon footprint by consuming less animal products. This guide will walk you through what veganism is, some key concerns around being plant-based, and some top tips for reducing or stopping your consumption of animal products.
What does ‘veganism’ mean?
The term ‘veganism’ was first coined in 1944. The basic idea is that you refrain from eating any animal products, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and (for some people) honey. Veganism can also be applied to the use of products that aren’t food, like leather, or household products made with animal byproducts, like many soaps and shampoos.
In case you haven’t heard of it, ‘Veganuary’ is a campaign supporting people in going vegan for the month of January. Since it started in 2014, Veganuary has seen a huge growth in the number of participants across the world - with more than half a million in 2021!
Why should you reduce your consumption of animal products?
There are three main reasons you might choose to do this:
- To help save the environment: 75% of the world’s agricultural land is used to raise animals for food. Quite simply, if we eat less animal products, the world won’t need to produce as much and its resources will be conserved. In fact, research from the University of Oxford (2018) suggests that a vegan diet is possibly the single best way to reduce your impact on the planet!
- To protect animals: it’s no secret that animal exploitation and abuse are commonplace on factory farms - we’ve all seen the gruesome videos. Animals are kept in uninhabitable conditions to maximise profits, and overfed in order to become ‘meatier.'
- To improve your health and wellbeing: eating a plant-based diet lowers levels of cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s also usually richer in nutrients, and lower in saturated fats and processed sugar than a diet containing animal products.
Tacking common concerns about going vegan
I won’t be able to stick to it
The first thing to remember is that veganism isn’t a ‘diet’ that you might ‘break’ or ‘fail’. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change, where you become more aware of the issues that come with using animal products. Lifestyle changes aren’t easy – be patient with yourself.
Remember also that simply reducing your animal product consumption is already good for the planet, so every bit you do helps. For example, if you are buying meat, go to an independent butcher who works with sustainable farms, rather than the supermarket. If you plan to eat fish, research which types of fish are overfarmed, and which ones aren’t.
And here are some tips to help you stick to your plan:
- Create short-term goals: for instance, you might choose to only have meat twice a week and use a non-dairy milk for your morning coffee.
- Don’t buy animal products when you are food shopping. If you don’t have them at home when you’re getting ready to cook, you’re more likely to stick to making a vegan meal than to run out to the shop last-minute.
- Consider the vegan options first. If you’re at a restaurant, for example, only look at the vegan or veggie options. Does one of them sound delicious? Go for it!
I won’t get enough protein, vitamins, or nutrients
One of the most common concerns about vegan diets is not getting enough protein. In fact, there are plenty of protein-rich vegan foods out there, including:
- Seitan, tofu, and tempeh
- Lentils, beans, green peas, and edamame
- Nutritional yeast, spirulina, quinoa, and oats
- Nuts, nut butters, seeds (like chia seeds)
- Broccoli, spinach, potatoes, and other vegetables
While a good vegan diet is healthier and more nutritious than a meat-based one, you do need to make sure you’re getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients – just eating potatoes for every meal won’t make you healthy! By eating foods or taking supplements on a regular basis, you can avoid any deficiencies that are common in a vegan diet.
- Vitamin B12: soya products, breakfast cereals, and yeast extracts
- Calcium: soy foods, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds
- Iron: lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts
- Zinc: whole grains, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds
Veganism is too expensive
There’s a myth that veganism means shopping at pricey health food stores. Actually, going vegan can end up saving lots of money, as you won’t be buying costly foods like meat, fish, or cheese. Here are more cost saving tips:
- Instead of often buying fancy vegan versions of meat products (like an ‘Impossible Burger’), stick to the basics. You’ll be surprised how much of your non-vegan diet is actually vegan friendly! Think oats, potatoes, pasta, or rice
- Buying frozen fruit and vegetables, or freezing them while they’re fresh, is a great way to save money and avoid food waste
- Speciality vegan restaurants are often expensive, but more and more restaurants of every kind now offer vegan or vegetarian options – often cheaper than meat-based dishes
It won’t make a difference
Climate anxiety is real – and it’s not uncommon to feel pessimistic about the impact we can have as individuals. Approaching veganism with an all-or-nothing attitude might set you up for failure.
Remember, individuals do have an impact. If you stop buying meat from your local shop and the tofu always sells out, the shop will order less meat and more tofu for its next restock. If you’re at a restaurant with your friend and you order the veggie option, they’re more likely to order it too. It all adds up!
Keep your eye on the long-term vision: if the world went vegan, it could save 8 million human lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by two thirds.
Veganuary reflections from the Unifrog team
Michelle: ‘I chose to do Veganuary for environmental reasons. I’ve massively reduced my meat and dairy intake, and can confirm I will now be choosing seitan over steak.'
Kim: ‘I initially took part in Veganuary for the environment and my health, but I’ve since learned more about the harms of meat and dairy production. I started going vegan in 2020 and haven’t stopped! Never underestimate the versatility of mushrooms…'
Dave: ‘Some advice for cheese lovers: if you go from dairy cheese to vegan cheese straight away, you’re likely to taste the difference more. But if you don’t have any cheese for a while, then try the vegan options, it tastes a lot better!’
Jen: ‘I was already 90% vegetarian when I started Veganuary this year. I’ve enjoyed eating more mushrooms like Kim, and trying the range of vegan sausages out there. I haven't missed cheese as much as I’d thought, and I'll be continuing my vegan diet as much as I can.'
Top tips from the team
- Make a list of meals and food you already eat that are unintentionally vegan. You’ll be surprised how many you can think of!
- Still struggling with what to cook? Start with adapting your favourite meals to be vegan and go from there. It’s easier than you think.
- Add more things to your diet before you begin to remove others. For example, eat more whole foods and grains. This will help you get familiar with them and you can explore new recipes.
- Start by making small changes, like swapping out your milk, or opting for plant-based chicken nuggets instead of the real thing.
- Check out vegan websites and influencers for great advice and yummy recipes.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Statistics about the impact of veganism
For some interesting facts and figures about the impact of veganism, check out Viva!
TedTalk: A 10-year old's vision for healing the planet
Listen this this great TedTalk by Genesis Butler.