The first month of the year is not just January – it’s also Veganuary. The idea is simple: don’t eat any foods derived from animals for 31 days.
What began as an idea from a British husband and wife in 2014 has grown into an annual international phenomenon. During 2022, an estimated 620,000 people participated, and the United Kingdom-based Veganuary charity hopes to grow its participation each year.
Why am I telling you this? I’m a vegan dad raising vegan children. And Veganuary is the perfect time to explain why it’s a lifestyle worth considering.
Eleven and half years ago, I was on a first date with a sexy redhead. I was enjoying a bacon cheeseburger. When she only ordered a salad, I flirted by saying she didn’t need to stick to salad as she was so slim. Well, it turned out she was vegan. I was embarrassed, to say the least, though the date wasn’t blown … in fact, I ended up marrying her a year and a half later.
My wife, Rachel, never pressured me to change my diet. She did, however, explain why she was vegan herself. It broke down into three main topics.
Veganism can mean better health
Veganism, when properly planned to incorporate a diverse variety of plant and fortified foods, is healthier. There are many misconceptions about it, though. One of the most common is that vegans suffer from protein deficiency. High protein can be found in many plant sources including beans, soy, whole wheat and nuts. It’s all a matter of regularly incorporating them into your diet.
Another misconception centers around “fake meats” which have grown more common every year. I’ll be blunt. That stuff is delicious, but no one says it’s healthy. It’s essentially vegan junk food. While a Beyond burger may possibly be better for the environment, I’m still only eating those ultra-processed foods on rare occasions. In general, I stick to what’s called a “whole foods plant-based diet,” which is more diverse in food choices, far healthier and more sustainable long-term.
No animals are harmed
This is the original impetus for many people who go vegan. Obviously, if you care about animals, it is better to not eat them, wear them or otherwise profit from their deaths. Dairy and eggs might seem less harmful at first glance, but the animals are often kept in factory-like conditions, force-fed and artificially inseminated repeatedly to keep those products flowing. The more you start to wrap your head around where the animal products you consume come from, the more uncomfortable it feels.
Better for the environment
This is an important part of veganism for many. One study, from Oxford University, claims that going vegan is the “single biggest way” to reduce a person’s carbon footprint. The study argues that carbon use decreases by nearly three-quarters when living a vegan lifestyle since every step of the omnivore process emits greenhouse gasses: Forests are cleared for animals, food is transported to feed them, refrigeration is used to store meat, and so on. The Washington Post recently investigated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and cites American demand for beef as the chief catalyst of the deforestation there.
Why try Veganuary?
Now you understand some of the reasons for trying veganism. But why now? How can you start? And what should you watch out for?
Veganuary is the perfect opportunity to try veganism. And switching to a plant-based diet has never been easier. You can order vegan options beyond just salads at many restaurants, including fast-food chains. Many supermarkets have plant-based sections with alternatives to meat, cheese and milk. And frankly, those vegan versions have never been tastier. I’ve been vegan for eight years, and am astounded at how fast the industry has changed, both in terms of quality and quantity available.
Yet, pitfalls also exist. The simplest way to go vegan is to switch all your current meals for vegan versions, but that’s not always the best choice. If you eat a lot of meat and chicken, for example, switching to plant-based processed alternatives won’t necessarily be your healthiest move. These versions sometimes have as many, if not more, calories, saturated fat and sodium as their animal counterparts. Plus, you’ll probably get tired of them after a month. Now, don’t deny yourself a few good “fake” burgers or nuggets, but move past them. Mix up your meals and your proteins. Look up some recipes. Try a chili with only beans, corn, tomatoes and spices. Cook up a curry with tofu. Barbeque some tempeh.
Rising vegan children
Parenting a vegan child has its own challenges, and we are raising two of them. I fully admit my own kids eat way more vegan nuggets and protein bars than I’d prefer, but we do what works. They’re healthy and happy kids.
The hardest part is birthday parties, traveling, and other parents. My best advice: Bring your food with you. Also, use the app HappyCow to search out vegan options on the road and at restaurants. Make sure your children get a selection of fruits, carbs, veggies and protein sources every day.
We still get odd looks and occasional jokes from neighbors, but I’m proud to be a vegan dad. And I encourage others to try it.
Up for a Veganuary 10-day challenge?
Still overwhelmed? My wife and I also run an online store that sells vegan goods including clothing, décor, cleaning and beauty products. For a limited time, to coincide with Veganuary, we’re offering a free downloadable 10-day challenge. Try it. Even if you don’t want to go vegan for a month, see how you feel trying it for 10 days.