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 premise is that you refrain from eating any animal products - this includes meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and (for some people) even honey. Veganism can also be applied to products that aren’t food, like leather, or household products made with animal byproducts (including many soaps and shampoos). It also includes being against animal testing.
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: What you eat is a huge part of your impact on the world. The amount of land, energy, crops and water needed to produce meat, dairy, and other animal products uses up a massive amount of the planet’s resources. There are so many statistics we could use here, but to pick just one, consider that 75% of the world’s agricultural land is used to raise animals for food. Fish farming, which is often done on an industrial scale, leads to pollution and the destruction of sea habitats. Quite simply, if we eat less meat and 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 the 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 & wellbeing: eating plant-based 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. In addition, many people don’t have a lot of lactase in their bodies (the enzyme needed to properly digest dairy), so not consuming dairy can improve gut health for these people.
Common concerns about going vegan
Some common concerns you might have heard about going vegan - or said yourself! - include:
- “I won’t be able to stick to it”
- “I won’t get enough protein, vitamins, and nutrients”
- “Veganism is too expensive”
- “It won’t make a difference”
1. Sticking 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 animal products, and you consider more actively what you consume. Lifestyle changes aren’t easy, and being patient with yourself really helps.
Remember also that simply reducing your animal product consumption is already good for the planet, so every bit you do helps. You can also try to make choices that are better for the planet, if you do consume animal products. For example, if you are buying meat, you can 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 some 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 (oat milk is great for coffee!). It might not seem like much now, but over time you will have massively reduced your carbon footprint - and reducing more will feel easier, if you choose to.
- Don’t get 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? Then go for it! If none of them hit the spot, you can look at the rest of the menu.
2. Protein, vitamins and nutrients
One of the most common concerns about vegan diets is not getting enough protein. But with the right meal planning and research you will find that this is not the case at all. In fact, a lot of plant-based foods do contain protein. Here are a few sources of protein you can explore:
- 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
Creating a big lifestyle change can make you worry about expenses. But if you plan a bit and think about what you buy, going vegan can end up saving lots of money as you won’t be buying any more meat or fish, which is often a lot more expensive! To help you maximise your savings, here are some cost saving tips:
Here are some good ways to keep the cost down.
- Instead of often buying fancy vegan versions of meat products (eg 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
- Specialty vegan restaurants are often expensive, but more and more restaurants of every kind now offer vegan or vegetarian options, and these are usually cheaper than the meat-based one.
- If you’re at a restaurant, you can also ask to swap out ingredients, usually for free. For instance, if you go for a full english breakfast, you can swap your normal sausage for a vegetarian one. If that’s not possible or the restaurant charges for substitutions, you can also opt to not have the sausage at all.
4. Making a difference
With the state of our planet it can be easy to become pessimistic about the impact we can have as individuals. Approaching veganism with an all or nothing attitude might set you up for failure.
First of all, remember that 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 re-stock. If you’re at a restaurant with your friend and you order the veggie option, they’re more likely to order it too. Making small choices can make a big difference. It all adds up!
Secondly, a group of people is just lots of individuals. Veganism is on the rise, and so the impact is getting bigger and bigger - and everyone who participates is contributing to the change. So 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 chose to do Veganuary for environmental reasons. She can confirm that she will now be choosing seitan over steak. On the whole, Michelle hopes to stick to veganism and has massively reduced her meat and dairy consumption.
Kim initially took part in Veganuary for the environment and her health, but has since come to learn more about the harms of meat and dairy production. She started in 2020 and hasn’t stopped! Kim notes that the versatility of mushrooms should not be underestimated.
Dave had some great advice for our cheese lovers out there. 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 was already 90% vegetarian when she started Veganuary this year. She’s had a great time eating more mushrooms like Kim, but has also loved exploring the variation of vegan sausages out there. She also said she hasn’t actually missed cheese as much as she thought. Moving forward, Jen will be continuing her vegan diet as much as she can.
Top tips from the team
- Stay positive and remind yourself of your motivation.
- 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/cream, or opting for plant-based chicken nuggets instead of the real thing (the Quorn ones are surprisingly very chicken-y). If you start with small changes, you’re more likely to stick to it.
- There are lots of vegetarian/vegan websites and influencers online that share great advice and yummy recipes. They can help you learn more about reducing your consumption of animal products.
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.