Veganuary: why this lifestyle doesn’t always equal ethical

Veganuary: it’s back and bigger than ever, giving us the greatest opportunity to start the year with an ethically-conscious mindset.

However, as veganism has become integrated into society, it is interesting to consider how the ‘vegan’ label has been interpreted and solely associated with ‘healthier’, even though there are plentiful vegan fast-food options that suggest otherwise.

Growing up vegetarian, Linda McCartney products have always been a staple in my diet and they have since become veterans in the mass of meat alternatives in supermarkets.

This year for Veganuary it seems stores have been prepared, with both Lidl and Aldi expanding their vegan ranges to support the arrival of the plant-based month; this has allowed veganism to be more accessible, cheaper and enjoyable which overall makes the lifestyle more appealing.

The ground-breaking arrival of Veganuary in society is not only encouraging the consumption of plant-based products but also promoting the environmental benefits of veganism as a whole.

In 2019, The Grocer highlighted that meat sales had dropped by £184.6m, with over 800,000 people participating in Veganuary. These figures are crucial, as whilst our planet continues to suffer and we witness increasingly frequent natural disasters, the commitment to veganism by supermarkets and restaurants by offering appetising meat-free alternatives is imperative.

Studies have shown that accessible options encourage people to incorporate plant-based items into their long-term diets, even after the sell-by-date of Veganuary. However, as with all lifestyles, it is important to consider both the positive and negatives.

The introduction of vegan options into the fast-food industry is definitely something to be praised, but there are certain red flags, such as coining the vegan option as the ‘healthier alternative.’ A prime example of this is McDonald’s Veggie Dippers, which although are plant-based, contain over 40 ingredients thus contributing to the ultra-processed nature of fast-food. Good for the planet, but maybe not so good for us.

This is just one example that shows how the plant-based label can be deceiving and encouraging of complacency, as society has fused the idea that vegan food will always be healthier than meat alternatives. However, we should remember this is not always the case.

Additionally, although ethically better, veganism is not without its flaws. It is interesting to note the foods that are promoted throughout the veganism trend: avocados, bananas and almond milk. All of these in large numbers contribute to our growing carbon footprint.

Preserving avocado trees requires twice as much water as a dense forest and the growth on a single almond requires at least five litres of water. With this knowledge, there are further factors to be considered surrounding a vegan lifestyle.

It was only a few months back that Oatly were caught participating in a £149 million investment deal with a private equity firm: a company which contributed to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest no less.

It is these scandals that encourage us to consider the politics of societal movements that allow us to realise that as veganism gains popularity, so does the capitalisation of the movement. Whilst the production and consumption of meat has always been more detrimental, it’s interesting to examine the positive and negative impacts of a growing phenomenon that is praised for its positive contribution towards climate change.

Whilst there are incredible benefits to Veganuary, which at its core emphasises the importance of a healthier, more ethical lifestyle, it also prompts us to return to the statement of ‘everything in moderation.’

This outlook allows us to consider a life that does not need to be completely devoid of meat products, but instead endeavour to be socially-conscious and ethically aware of the impact of our lifestyle choices.

Image: Arno Senoner via Unsplash