What is it and why do people get involved?
The official Veganuary started in 2014 with an aim to create a vegan world without animal farms and slaughterhouses. If you are not familiar with the term ‘vegan’, it means that you consume a diet free from animal products like meat, eggs and honey to name a few.
People get involved for a number of reasons including health, animal welfare and the environment. All of these factors resonate with us also as our lessons touch on these topics so children and families can make more informed decisions about food.
Is it better to eat a vegan diet?
We know that animal foods are just as nutritious as their plant alternatives, so people choosing to eat a vegan diet because it’s healthier is not completely true. A person that eats a vegan diet can still consume unhealthier foods, for example, they can eat sugary cereal in the morning, chips for lunch and a white pasta dish for dinner. All of these foods over a day do not give us a large variety in nutrients. The term ‘healthy food’ to us, means that the food is packed full of nutrients, and to maximise this we need to eat a variety of colours and food groups.
Our diets need to contain lots of essential nutrients including carbohydrates, fats and proteins, as well as vitamins and minerals. The majority of the food on the Eatwell Guide comes from plants, meaning that the majority of our diet should be plant based. Just over ⅔ of the recommended diet should consist of fruits and vegetables and starchy carbohydrates, all of which are from plants. This leaves about ⅓ of the diet dedicated to eating proteins, fats and dairy, which can all come from plants or animals. Some animal based foods are healthier than their vegan alternative and vice versa.
A vegan diet is much more beneficial for the environment and obviously for the welfare of the animals. Welfare can be defined as a person or animal’s health, comfort, and happiness. Knowing that animals are farmed for us to eat will be a major reason why someone would decide to eat a vegan diet, as these animals are eventually killed, with most, not even reaching adulthood. There are actions we can take if we decide to eat animal products, like choosing foods that contain higher welfare logos, e.g Red Tractor, RSPCA Assured and Soil Association. These mean that the animal has been cared for in the right way throughout their life.
Also, it is much more sustainable to eat a vegan diet. If we consume meat and animal products most days, we create a demand for those foods, meaning the shops produce more of them. Plants are generally grown in less space, use less water and cost less money to produce, which makes them a more sustainable solution to helping the environment. There are some caveats here though, some vegan foods like plant based meats, cheeses and factory produced foods may be less sustainable to produce than the comparable animal food. This could be due to the demand in using ingredients like palm oil or coconut oil that are not grown in the UK, or by the number of processes involved in creating the product, both of which will increase its carbon footprint.
What foods can we swap to eat a more vegan diet?
By making simple changes we can introduce more plants into our diets. Below are some examples for how we can do this:
- use olive oil or rapeseed oil to fry onions rather than using butter
- making a hot chocolate with oat milk instead of cow’s milk
- buy vegetarian sausages that are made from soya mince, vegetables or beans
- choose a plant based cheese to go on top of a burger
Our lasting thoughts…
We think that animal products are beneficial for our health and provide essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals that, if not planned correctly, you might struggle to get in a vegan diet, like calcium, iron, iodine and vitamin B12. When we teach children about nutrition and food we always talk about the word ‘moderation’ and we apply this to most foods apart from fruits and vegetables, which we should be eating lots of.
When eating meat and animal products, we think we should eat these in moderation, and more importantly, choosing higher quality foods. Lots of foods are imported from around the world which will contribute towards more greenhouse gases being emitted and make our carbon footprint a lot bigger. If you do choose to eat meat and animal products, we would say to buy high quality/welfare and local food. Using local greengrocers, fishmongers, butchers and higher quality supermarket animal foods will generally be more expensive, but this cost is offset by the amount of these foods you are eating, less!
We would encourage everyone to try a vegan diet as it will open a whole new world of culinary delights for you, and enable you to know more about food, where it comes from and its uses. It will prevent waste, get more nutrients into your body as you’ll be basing meals around fruits, vegetables, pulses and beans, and allow you to experience other cuisines.