Veganuary seems to be a thing every year now and every year I think about it and decide that I still don’t want to do it, for more reasons than just liking a roast chicken dinner on a Sunday.
I still enjoy eating meat, but I’m becoming aware that, beyond the ethical implications (a tale for another day), the environmental impact is staggeringly bad. In order to get our personal carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, the rough number to estimate the impact of our greenhouse gases) emissions to a sustainable level, we need to reduce our current 5.3 tonnes of CO2e produced per person annually down to 2.1 tonnes.
This is no mean feat and the biggest impacts will still come from improving our choice of transportation and energy provider, but the evidence is clear that diets involving a “normal” amount of meat contribute significantly to our CO2e emissions. Not only are the literal emissions from the animals a significant factor, but the amount of land needed to tend the animals and the lack of vegetation on this land is detrimental to our planet.
The reason I’m not on board with Veganuary is because it’s hard to go from consuming animal products regularly to none at all. Going cold turkey is more often than not, unsustainable. If something is hard to do, people do it less. The moment the cold turkey period ends, we have a freedom binge and we go back to our old ways. That’s if you get as far as the end of the month or even getting round to trying it, like any diet, the thought of going cold turkey is scary and it puts most people off even attempting it.
The easier something is to do, the more people do it. The best way to make a sustainable difference in our own lives, is to make small changes to incrementally improve our own behaviour, in this case, gradually reducing our personal impact on the environment.
For me, this has meant swapping cows milk for coconut milk on my breakfast cereal every morning. A small, easy to implement change that has added flavour to my bowl and two pints of cows milk less consumed every week.
Then I started enjoying oat milk in my tea and coffee. It has to be the barista version for hot drinks, it doesn’t taste the same as milk, it’s better.
We also started to diversify our dinner menu and try different meals without meat, from our own vegan version of a moussaka, to a hoi sin tofu stir fry. I also make a mean vegan peppercorn sauce with oat cream.
It’s becoming easier with every day that goes by to buy, cook and consume beautiful food, in a plant-based diet. The watershed moment for me was when I stopped trying to pretend what I was eating was a juicy beef burger, and enjoyed the taste-bud tickling flavours that the plant based alternatives offer. I don’t know how it works, but there’s something about the way that spices infuse with vegetables that doesn’t happen with meat that open up a whole new world of flavour.
I still enjoy having a steak every now and then and I don’t see that changing any time soon, but I love the variety that my diet now has.
Bit by bit I’m finding there’s less and less animal products on the menu and not only does this mean I feel healthier than I ever have before, my carbon foot print has significantly reduced, by at least a quarter of a tonne of CO2e per year if this Information Is Beautiful graph is to be believed.
We don’t have to go cold turkey to make a difference, one little change at a time is all it takes and the we can enjoy the exploration into a new world of flavours along the way.