By Holly Gilder
As January came to a close, so did the strife of many Veganuary pledgers. ‘Veganuary’, as the name self professes, encourages people to go vegan for January; abstaining from the consumption of all animal products, meat, fish, dairy, eggs and non-vegan cosmetics for a month.
With over 350,000 signed up to this year’s official Veganuary pledge, and an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK already the growing market for meat-free products is undeniable. Unsurprisingly, the phenomenon has been enthusiastically embraced by those who stand for profit; over 500 brands launched plant-based products at the end of 2019, making way for the huge increase in consumer value. With the release of limited edition watermelon ‘tuna’ in Wagamamas, the infamous Greggs vegan ‘steak bake’, and an impressive surge of plant-based products in supermarkets, restaurants and cafes, an unprecedented boom of vegan products has hit the markets.
However, is this rise in vegan products really part of a new ‘conscious consumerism’, or is it simply “purpose-driven for the sake of purpose-driven”, as Chaka Sobhani has put it.
In other words, does the pledge of Veganuary simply appeal to the ‘fad’ of veganism, or does it sustain a longer-term interest more ethical consumption? One has to question whether Veganuary is actually about tapping into the ‘fashion’ of fast food for profit, rather than developing the ethical eating it seems to idealise. Like so many other short-term January fads that are bought into by big companies (like increased gym membership or weight loss ‘pledges’), brands are seemingly divulging the short-termism of veganism.
The unprecedented rise in plant-based products in january has seen many big brands simply ‘jump on the bandwagon’. Burger King’s ‘Rebel Whopper’, for example, meets the criteria of its plant based market, yet cannot actually be labelled vegan as its cooked on the same grill as meat products. Furthermore, some brands have labelled many releases as ‘limited edition’, evidenced by Wagamama’s vegan ‘tuna’ dish, and Bill’s exclusive veganuary menu. It appears that brands themselves have begun to treat veganism as a fad, perpetuating a short-term cycle of veganism and plant-based diets by only acknowledging vegan diets in Veganuary.
This short-termism only highlights a wider issue for Veganuary; it is exactly this short-termism that makes it so questionable. Many long-term vegans often opt to slowly adjust to a vegan diet, through vegetarianism and then a slow withdrawal from dairy products and non-vegan cosmetics. Yet, Veganuary’s monthly pledge marries it to other ‘quick fixes’ and short lived resolutions of many other january fads. Veganuary thus perpetuate these stereotypes of a stringent and restrictive diets based on purity and perfection that many may be relieved to finish come February.
This short-termism, too, brings with it a problematic lack of research into veganism and nutrition. Without effective research the importance of supplements, B12, Iron and beyond, in the vegan diet, there is a serious concern for the health effects of Veganuary. This short-term change to veganism could lead to tiredness, fatigue, and bloating that may, infact, turn people off veganism forever, quite the opposite of what Veganuary aims to do; reducing the idea of Veganism to just being vegan for January.
Thus, brands cleverly tap into the Veganuarys popularity, and, as with other market driven initiatives designed with the knowledge that most will fail, the commercialisation of Veganuary becomes a reminder of its short-termism.
Though Veganuary aims to popularise a vegan diet, it runs the risk of simply turning into another short-term resolution. As Vicky Bullen has argued, “Veganism is not a fad, nor is Veganuary about ‘being vegan’ for January.”