Veganuary aims to reduce the suffering of animals by inspiring and supporting people across the globe to go vegan for the month of January.
A lot of vegans I’ve come across can be a little judgemental about someone going vegan for the month, seeming to think that everyone should just go vegan permanently straight away. That is simply not reality.
Veganuary is a fantastic way for people to go vegan while learning about health, the environment and, most importantly, what animals go through to end up on our plates. If someone decides against a meal with meat or dairy or eggs – even just one meal – that is a start. This person, with the support and encouragement of the vegan community, could progress to going days or weeks at a time without eating animal products, and may eventually become vegans themselves. Attacking people and saying they’re not good enough or not doing enough fast enough is absolutely counter-productive. Most people do not respond to that. We must be compassionate towards our fellow humans as well as animals if we are to grow the vegan community further.
Now that I’ve clarified my position on why I think Veganuary can only be good for the vegan community and for the animals, I’d like to discuss how you as a vegan can support your loved ones through Veganuary. Naturally, they may get a bit of a shock when they realise just how many products contain non-vegan ingredients or were produced in non-vegan ways, whether that’s milk protein in crisps or isinglass-filtered alcohol. Gently point out the things that aren’t vegan, but make sure to introduce them to the huge number of vegan alternatives out there. Let them know that they can still eat their favourite foods (the cruelty free versions) and that they can even make healthier versions themselves.
Make sure that your vegan loved one knows that they shouldn’t believe media hysteria about veganism being bad for them. The plant based diet is one of the healthiest – and a lot of evidence suggests the most healthiest – diet in the world. It naturally lowers cholesterol, risk of heart disease, risk of certain cancers and likelihood of obesity as well as lessening the symptoms associated with PCOS and other weight-related conditions.
If your loved one is interested in reading more about the health benefits of veganism, point them to How Not To Die by Dr Michael Gregor, which is one of my personal favourite books as it contains a wealth of facts about plant based eating and its benefits.
Send your loved one links to plant-based recipes so that they can try them out in their free time. There is a notion outside the vegan community that you have to have lots of cash to be vegan. This is not true. When you spend your money on expensive meat alternatives and vegan junk food, then yes your shopping bill will rise, but you do not have to buy these things. You can have completely healthy, delicious meals by purchasing basic ingredients like rice, potatoes, beans, veg and fruit. Invest in some good herbs and spices, and you will never miss the processed stuff.
Personally, I had to learn to cook in a totally different way, and your loved one will likely have to do that as well. Instead of viewing dinner as ‘potatoes plus veg plus meat’ at every meal, I had to train myself to look at a bowl of beans and veg as dinner, not just a side dish. I had to see that chickpea curry with broccoli on the side was a healthy meal if made with the right ingredients. There were lots of things that I had never questioned before that I took the time to think about. I’m so glad I did this, because if I had presumed I could only eat steamed veg every day with a lettuce sandwich, I may have given up before I even began properly. I love cooking now and I’ve never eaten foods with as much variety in my life. Learn to cook anew; it is worth it.
Most of all, if your loved one falters, don’t get mad at them. Take them aside and talk to them about how things are going and why they’re feeling discouraged. Chances are something happened to make them lose confidence in the challenge; this could be as simple as feeling hungry throughout the day because they forgot to bring a lunch and snacks suitable for vegans. Or perhaps another person was giving them a hard time about veganism and they didn’t know how to retaliate because they hadn’t researched veganism enough just yet. Remember that not everybody has a will of steel and that some people are simply curious at first. You can nurture this curiosity into a full-blown passion for animals, but it must be done carefully and with compassion.
I first became interested in veganism because my friend’s son had allergic reactions to milk and she had gone off dairy as a result because she was breastfeeding him. I decided to look into it and stumbled across critique of the dairy industry. This then lead to me watching Cowspiracy, which lead to me trying out no dairy and meat for a month, and halfway through that month I decided I was going vegan and would never go back. A friend of mine who recently went vegan was a vegetarian for 6 years. Another friend of mine is currently trying to go fully vegan while pregnant but still hasn’t entirely cut dairy from her diet. Vegans start in many different places, and one is no less good or bad than the other. It is the end goal that is important, and we shouldn’t chastise people for the pace that they have set for themselves.
I’d just like to add at the end of this post that my dad is currently doing Veganuary and I’m very proud of him for it. My mammy has completely cut red meat and eggs out of her diet but is still working on cutting out chicken/fish and dairy. These are Irish people born and bred and for the past 52 years they’ve eaten a dinner of potatoes plus veg plus meat. Now they are looking at their plates with new eyes and making changes; they are trying and that is nothing to sniff at. It would be very easy to stick their heads in the sand and go on as they always have, but they aren’t. And this is something we should praise people for; taking a look at their habits and changing what they’ve always thought was normal.
If you take anything away from this article, take this: It is not a race. In an ideal world, we’d all be vegans tomorrow. That is not reality. To reach the kind of reality we want, which is a world free from the exploitation of animals, we must be patient with people. We must educate. We must be kind. Almost all of us were non-vegans at some point. Compassion is key.