Veganuary: is it worth it?
Selfless environmentalism or self-indulgent attention seeking?
Veganuary, a month long exercise in self-deprivation billed as one of the ‘biggest food trends of 2018’, offers the perfect opportunity for the self-absorbed student (a rare breed at Cambridge *wink wink*) to complain. Able to reinvigorate their usual repertoire of essay crises and deciding how edgy to go for ArcSoc, they’ll make sure you know just how selfless they are by giving up a month of their life to a diet of rice and potatoes.
There’s no denying that Cambridge doesn’t make it easy: at the majority of colleges vegan options are few and far between, so you find yourself forced to compile meals from the various side options (think 50 shades of beige).
Nights out are full of stumbling blocks, where a slightly inebriated you throws caution to the wind and ‘forgets’ the cheesy aspect of Van of Life cheesy chips (poor excuse in my opinion). According to the reputable source that is LadBible, 37% vegetarians eat meat when they’re drunk (and 69% don’t tell anyone). It’s definitely not easy to transition from an omnivorous diet to one significantly more restricted, leading to slip ups such as the bacconaise incident below (though the clue is in the name).
If it’s so hard, why bother? The attention seeking is certainly a key consideration, as you stand out as just that bit different and get some edgy environmentalist cred. Still, it's debatable whether it's really worthwhile forsaking the more delicious options on Cambridge’s food scene when you could get the same amount of attention for something lower commitment but scandalous (guide coming soon).
Undeniably, the health benefits are a factor. Though we hate to admit it, meat in excessive quantities isn’t doing you much good. However, when forced to subside on a thrilling diet of starchy carbs, you have to find pleasure elsewhere. Unfortunately, just because crisps, chips and Oreos are vegan doesn’t make you a Gwyneth Paltrow-esque goddess of health for eating them.
For the longevity of your vegan diet, you’re more likely to stick with it if your motivations are slightly more significant and you genuinely want to make a difference to the environment or animal welfare. However, the good thing about veganuary is that its limited timeframe encourages people who wouldn’t otherwise try veganism for fear of judgement if they ‘fail’ with an opportunity to test the water with a predetermined end date. This allows those who aren't ready to fully commit to veganism to give it a try, and in the process potentially develop more lasting beliefs.
There’s no use belittling those who genuinely decide to challenge themselves for a good cause or for die hard evangelical environmentalism. But believe me, there are often other motivations.
Whatever the motivation, the more people doing Veganuary the greater the positive impact on the environment and animal welfare. Supply and demand encourages restaurants and supermarkets to offer more and more vegan options, so it will become easier to get your vegan cake and ice-cream fix even at S’local.
Reassuringly for those of us who just can’t imagine a life without eggs and dairy, small changes actually make a surprisingly big difference, so that you can, quite literally, have your cake and eat it. Studies by the UC Davis show that a vegetarian diet is not that different from a vegan one in terms of emissions, and even just choosing chicken instead of beef creates a fivefold drop in emissions. So, doing what is realistic and achievable for you can have a positive impact, and beyond January it won’t make you any less interesting or edgy. (Watch this video if you want to feel extremely smug every time you pick the veggie option at hall)
Whether it’s for the animals, for attention or just because you have masochistic tendencies and enjoy making hall an exercise in how many white carbs you can fit on your plate, Veganuary is a good chance to try out a diet with many undeniable benefits. However, if it doesn’t suit you and you’re counting down the days till your February 1st cheesy chips, you do you. Incidentally there are plenty of other ways to be interesting AND a good person.