By Sophie Harris
January sees over 200,000 people switching to a plant-based diet for 31 days in attempt to reduce their carbon footprint.
Veganism has rocketed in the UK over the past couple of years with now over 600,000 vegans in the UK.
For many one of the driving forces behind deciding to cut out meat and dairy products is to reduce the impact on the environment.
Benjamin Zephaniah, Professor in Creative Writing at Brunel, has been following the animal-free diet for 49 years, saying that “being vegan is healthy and gives you strength and power.”
Continuing, he said that “recently, so many people have gone vegan, and the industry has grown so much. Veganuary is wonderful, you have to find things that you like to eat, the rest will all come naturally. Nature can be so good; it gives us a lot of beautiful things to eat just growing naturally from the Earth.”
Cattle grazing generates massive amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, both of which are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. A 2019 study at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy from your diet can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73%.
Sam Calvert, a spokesperson for The Vegan Society commented: “Veganism is a great lifestyle choice for those concerned about the environment and the health conscious.
“It’s much more efficient to consume crops directly rather than feed them to farmed animals and then eat the animals. Vegans also tend to eat more fruit and vegetables which are among the healthiest of foods out there.”
However, little is taught about the possible risks of following a plant-based diet with a possibility that you could become deficient in important nutrients like Vitamin D which helps with bone strength. The NHS advises vegans to consume enough calcium in their diet to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy and that deficiency can cause neurological effects.
Professor Zephaniah, who might be known for his role in Peaky Blinders added that “your body needs protein and you can get that from lots of places other than meat. The best thing we can do to our bodies is to deliver the protein in the healthiest way.
“However, you can still be an unhealthy vegan; there’s lots of junk food that are naturally vegan and eating out was a huge problem back in the day.”
Turning to a plant-based diet can come with an expensive price-tag and the availability of vegan options can be limited.
Fast food chains have embraced the month of Veganuary with McDonald’s launching its first vegan dipper meal and KFC launching their first meat-free burger. Last Veganuary, Greggs bought out its vegan sausage roll and their sales topped £1bn as the sausage roll helped boost customer numbers. This year they launched a vegan steak bake which consists of a mushroom-based protein instead of beef.
Veganism isn’t always about the health benefits associated with it. Sam Calvert added that “most people go vegan because they want to live their lives free from exploitation and suffering, and we reject the notion of animals being seen as commodities. Being vegan simply means living in line with the ethics so many of us already hold in our hearts.”
Whilst there are still a lot more meat-eaters in the UK than vegans, more people are becoming educated on the issue and Mr Zephaniah added that veganism is about “trying to do the least harm and the most good we can.”