This month marks Veganuary. Most of us know by now that this is a challenge for people to only eat plant-based food products for the first month of the year, a clever combination of the words ‘vegan’ and ‘January’.
More and more people are participating and last year Veganuary had 127,000 official sign ups just in the UK! Veganism is increasingly growing in popularity - between 2014 and 2019 the number of vegans quadrupled in Great Britain, and that figure is thought to have grown by another 40% in 2021.
Veganism isn’t a new concept, there are records of it from as early as 2,000 years ago. It became more formalised in 1944 when the Vegan Society was founded, later stating their aim ‘to avoid exploitation of animal life by man’. So where does the environment come into it? The shift in veganism towards an environmental focus seems to be a more recent one. Last year, over a quarter of signatories for Veganuary put the environment as their top reason for participating, up from 12% in the year prior. The consumer market is also showing a big increase in vegan demand - the market for plant-based alternatives to dairy and meat doubled from £608 million to £1.2 billion between 2017 and 2021. So, it’s no surprise that lots of big corporations have been taking veganism in their stride, with Greggs launching their popular vegan sausage roll and more recently, Burger King introducing their new plant based nuggets. Have you tried them yet?
It’s safe to say that taking part in a trend like this certainly gets people trying new things and thinking about where their food has come from. As seen with ‘Stop-tober’ and Dry January, there’s a clear camaraderie in taking part in something like this - following a vegan diet for a month is a challenge and a (limited) commitment. It’s a trial run, an experiment and taking part in something simultaneously with others allows us to compare our experience and feel a part of a wider moment.
How can we make our diets more planet-friendly?
We think changes to our diet should be sustainable, both for us and for the planet. What does this look like in practice? Well the answer is it's different for everyone and their personal relationship with food. For some this might mean being a ‘weekday veggie’, or practicing ‘meat free mondays’, thereby reducing meat and dairy intake. For others it might mean trying to buy higher quality and traceable products. Sometimes exercising moderation in our choices allows us a healthier relationship with food, less driven by black and white limitations.
There are lots of ways we can make our diets more sustainable and there are many factors to consider. It’s important to go beyond what we eat and also consider how our food is produced. While unsustainable livestock practices are detrimental to the environment, so are many methods for growing crops.
Driving up the demand for these without considering the source will only increase inputs of fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, contribute to deforestation, soil degradation, water use and pollution as well as releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere, to name a few.
Regenerative agricultural systems work with the environment. They aim to improve biodiversity and restore soil health (healthy soil is essential for all life and a key player in tackling climate change). Specialised techniques are used to minimise soil disturbance, including the use of cover crops (this is when living roots are used to cover any bare soil to protect it from erosion and improve the quality amongst other benefits, rather than for the purpose of being harvested). Grazing and browsing animals also play an important part in regenerative farming, and they contribute to soil health and species biodiversity.
Have you heard of Reganuary?
Reganuary (Regenerative agriculture January) is a new movement which encourages people to opt for food produced using regenerative methods for the month of January, with the aim of considering their food consumption and building sustainable eating habits. The idea was coined in 2020 by the eco-friendly meat merchants Ethical Butcher.
What does Reganuary involve?
Here are the basic guidelines to follow when choosing your produce if you want to support Reganuary:
Produce is farmed and produced using regenerative agriculture
Produce is seasonal
Everything is grown locally
Nothing is imported
Meat and animal products are still on the menu and while it cannot be denied that livestock do, and always have, contributed to green house gas (ghg) emissions, a new school of thought, pioneered by Innovation for Agriculture urges people to consider ‘the how not the cow’. Essentially they’re emphasising that livestock rearing doesn’t have to be done unsustainably, the method is extremely important here.
For example, regenerative systems, organic, biodynamic and/or pasture-fed products are much more sustainable than intensively reared livestock. It’s almost important to consider where your food has been produced. British beef has some of the lowest environmental impacts in the world, and grazing livestock in grass-based systems like those in the UK means that British beef has a ghg footprint 2 ½ times lower than the global average.
For us the most important thing to notice is that we’re talking about food in a way we’ve never done before. It’s amazing to see people start to pick apart the global food system, which has a profound and complicated impact on the environment, and ask themselves how they can help to make change happen, starting with the food on their plate.
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living.