From diet to fitness, it’s the time of year when you might be rethinking your lifestyle – and as Veganuary gets underway, could this be the perfect time to kickstart your plant-based journey?
Veganuary is a growing movement that encourages people to embrace plant-based diets during January and beyond. Since it was founded in the UK in 2014, more than 1 million people worldwide have taken the 31-day plant-based pledge.
It’s also been embraced by businesses, with restaurants, retailers and big-name brands launching and promoting new vegan products and menu items. McDonald’s McPlant burger, for example, was crowned ‘Best Vegan Burger’ in the PETA Vegan Food Awards 2021.
So, we’ve asked four University of Sunderland experts to discuss the impact of veganism’s growing popularity on business and society.
Professor Lawrence Bellamy, Academic Dean of the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism, said: “The growth of veganism has been driven by a number of factors, but more recently a greater understanding of the impact on the environment of meat and dairy production has occurred.
“There has been an increase in the offering of a range of vegan products by supermarkets, with a growing offering of meat substitutes. A number of consumers are not becoming vegan but are reducing their meat and dairy intake and want the taste alternatives of substitute products.
“For supermarkets this makes sense. They are attracting and retaining customers with their new offering and also contributing to their supply chain carbon footprint reduction.
“For customers, the choice of vegan products has never been better and with Christmas coming a full flavour experience is on offer, with less impact on the planet and less concern on the animal welfare front.
“Neither of these two issues are going away and the vegan market is likely to continue to grow and be further normalised by the generation who have grown up with greater exposure to a developing world environmental crisis.”
Drew Dalton, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Programme Leader MSc Inequality and Society, said: “We are beginning to see a much more critical and ethical consumer these days, who wants a seat at the table, and for that table to have vegan food. Our diets are now increasingly changing, and whilst for some people in parts of the world ‘meat is king’, this doesn’t hold the same strength and social status that it once did.
“With public concerns about the climate emergency starting to become more aware of the consequences of it, veganism offers a potential solution to some of our climate crisis issues. In fact, a study from the journal Science in 2018 found that meat and dairy production is responsible for 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, whilst at the same time, they only produce about 18% of calories and 37% protein levels around the world.
“In the wake of the COP26 summit, there is space to begin conversations about how veganism and vegetarian diets, can help us going forward. This could have a significant effect on how we eat in the future and what type of planet we want to see for new generations of people.”
The Social Norm Conflict
Dr Vanessa Parson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, said: “Eating meat is an entirely gratuitous activity, it’s not necessary for a healthy diet, but it is something that is deeply ingrained in our culture within this country, and it can form part of our identity and cultural celebrations. This means that when we go vegan, we butt up against social norms within family and the wider culture, and that can cause conflict with others.
“One of the reasons for this is projection bias, the mistaken belief that others will think the same as us. We project our views onto others, thinking they will agree; but everyone sees things differently and brings different beliefs with them, so conflict can arise when views do not align. In addition, some meat-eaters feel morally judged when in the presence of vegans (and vegetarians) and so there is a sense of moral outrage that threatens their sense of self and can provoke a hostile reaction from others as they feel excluded. Including family and friends in vegan cooking experiments can help with this, promoting a sense of inclusion and fostering communication.
“Fortunately things are changing, and with the ever-increasing popularity of veganism, attitudes are definitely changing for the better.”
So, why give Veganuary a go?
Senior Lecturer and vegan expert, Dr Alex Lockwood, said: “So many people I know have enjoyed Veganuary, because it’s a great way to try something new, eat more healthily after the Christmas indulgence, and is so well supported by the Veganuary team, its resources, and the book.
“It’s also incredible to see how many people carry on at the end, too, when January is over, and that’s because when people do Veganuary it also helps give them the space to think about why eating less meat and dairy is good not just for them but also for the planet.
“Ultimately, we all know that we need to change what we eat, not just individually but collectively, as a society. Our diets can be much healthier – in the UK, we have the worst diet in Europe for processed foods – but they can also be much fairer and more balanced for the planet. And of course, the animals don’t suffer either when you choose plant-based meals. Veganuary is one of those genuine challenges where, when we take part, we all win.”