Lucy Ferris, Cuisine Editor
Sat in a traffic jam on the M6, I heard Wagamama’s advert for their new Veganuary menu countless times. Yet despite the repetition, I was hooked on their description of ‘f-ish and chips’. This ‘f-ish’ is in fact a mix of soy, rice and pea protein, which Wagamama’s hope will ‘inspire anyone’s tastebuds to give plants a go’. The encouragement of this sustainable swap is interesting, replicating the flaky texture, appearance and even name of the meat, yet in fact offering a much more planet-friendly alternative.
This design of labelling meat-alternatives with variations of the original meat name, such as Chik’n, could be seen as confusing. However, this allows for people to begin to transition into veganism more easily, finding replacement items of food that they know how to cook. The multitude of options - from vegan burgers which ‘bleed’ to vegan steaks which can be cooked to a perfect medium-rare - is perhaps not as innocuous as it seems. The EU suggesting that it might ban names such as ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ for vegan and vegetarian products raised mass controversy, with accusations that they are attempting to restrict the market for vegan products. I would argue that the desire to name their products after the food which they are trying to distance themselves from is interesting, whether on ethical grounds or other; for me, however, the claim something is ‘meat-free’ is usually obvious enough.
I personally believe that Veganuary has created the space for marketing genius at many companies, trialling different vegan products for a month to assess popularity, demand, and enjoyment. Due to the steadily increasing rise in interest in veganism, the demand for vegan menus is also rising. This is not just cynicism; I do believe that some companies are driven by ethics and a desire to save the planet. However, it would be short-sighted to not entertain the idea that they are also motivated by profit. Veganuary therefore allows fast-food chains such as McDonalds, KFC and Burger King, as well as restaurants like Wagamama, to learn what the demand is actually in, such as a plant-based burgers or vegan nuggets.
Yet where did ‘Veganuary’ come from? Commencing in the UK by the company of the same name in 2014, this non-profit organisation aimed to promote and educate people about veganism. The subsequent challenge which followed – no animal products for a whole month – quickly became popular. This challenge, comparable to dry January, in which people attempt to go through the whole month without drinking any alcohol, further aims to encourage healthy eating and protect the environment. Despite some backlash, Veganuary may be doing more for the planet that first suspected. The journal ‘Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences’ suggest that if everyone went vegan, the world’s food-related emissions would drop by 70% by 2050; predicting a savings of £440 billion which can certainly be viewed as a positive for veganism. Personally, I enjoy that Veganuary is labelled as a challenge, as giving up completely on animal products is no mean feat to immediately introduce into your life. Seeing it in this way encourages people to persevere, thus reducing the perception that veganism is impossible to maintain.
So, will Veganuary be for you? Whether it’s to lose weight, challenge yourself, or just to try something new, being open minded towards the concept of Veganism is certainly worth considering. Afterall, if over 500,000 people attempted it last year, why not give it a go?