Every new year, the internet is flooded with excitable health enthusiasts desperately trying to decipher what does Veganuary mean. After a month of alcohol and eating, anything that sounds like a detox seems like a good idea.
However, if you're taking it seriously, Veganuary isn't just an opportunity to eat carrots and feel superior. In fact, behind the veggies, there's a very serious message being sent.
What does Veganuary mean?
For most of us, Veganuary is just a colloquialism for avoiding meat for a month. You could be forgiven for assuming that it's just another of the dozens of dieting fads that sprout up every year.
On the surface, this is broadly true. For most people, Veganuary simply means avoiding any animal products for the whole of January, adopting a temporary vegan lifestyle.
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As the practice has become more popular, Veganuary has steadily become a fixture of the calendar. Today, as we all become more aware of the consequences to our diet, more people than ever are keen to take part.
Estimates suggest that around 400,000 people decided to participate in Veganuary 2020. This was up from around 250,000 the year before.
You might assume that this increase in popularity is only natural. The truth, however, is that Veganuary has a much more official history.
Who is behind Veganuary?
In fact, the movement was first started back in 2014 by British couple Jane Land and Matthew Glover. What began as a conversation over the kitchen table has grown into a global phenomenon.
The figures for participation actually come from the official Veganuary website. Anyone signing up to take part will receive a free starter kit as well as encouraging emails to keep them on track.
Anyone participating is also encouraged to share their experiences on social media. Some have suggested that this makes it easier for people to maintain their diet throughout the whole month.
How many vegans are there in the UK?
Although it was once considered a fringe lifestyle choice, there's little doubt that veganism is on the rise.
A January 2020 report by the BBC suggested that there are as many 600,000 vegans currently living in the UK. As the lifestyle gains popularity, it seems likely that this number will increase.
Of these 600,000, approximately 360,000 describe themselves as "lifestyle vegans". This means completely going without any product, including cosmetics and clothing, derived from animals.
Interestingly, it is estimated that there are almost twice as many vegan women as men. In 2019, a whopping 87% of Veganuary participants were female.
Even without the efforts of the Veganuary campaign, it looks like veganism is on the march.
Is Veganism really better?
The debate over just how beneficial veganism can be has been raging for years. While advocates claim that a vegan lifestyle can have a significant impact on both health and the environment, sceptics have questioned whether it's really a plant-based red herring.
A particular area of contention is nutrition. Enthusiasts allege that going meat-free can have a range of benefits, including reducing the risk of a heart attack.
A 2019 study of nearly 50,000 people by the British Medical Journal did find that those following a vegan or vegetarian diet were less likely to suffer a heart attack.
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On the other hand, plant-based participants in the study were also at a greater risk of experiencing a stroke. Experts believe that this may be due to a lack of vitamin B12.
Despite the grey area over health, it does seem that going vegan can have a dramatic effect on the environment. The official Veganuary statistics estimate that 350,000 participants could "save the carbon dioxide equivalent of 450,000 flights and more than one million animals".
The stats certainly seem to make a compelling case.