Success of Veganuary: Is Climate Change a Factor?

By Leigh Taylor

An increased number of people going meat-free for the month of January could mark a seismic breakthrough in the public switching to a less dairy and meat-filled lifestyle. Could growing talks of climate change and its link to diet be a factor?

The global Veganuary organisation revealed that its campaign had 400,000 people sign up this year compared to 250,000 in 2019. With people having many inspirations to go plant-based, from animal welfare to trending health fads, there has been increasing commentary on the relationship between meat consumption and its effect on carbon emissions and agriculture. 

Nourish Scotland, a Non-Government Organisation, has campaigned tirelessly for issues on food justice in Scotland, advocating for transforming the entire food system for effective and sustainable solutions. Pete Ritchie, Executive Director of Nourish, said:

“It’s good to see more people making the connection between diet and climate change. It’s still having quite a small impact on actual purchases of meat/dairy: the long-term downward trend in beef and lamb consumption has been balanced by an increase in the consumption of industrial chicken”.

Alongside Veganuary, a number of fast-food chains rolled out new vegan products throughout the month. KFC’s Original Recipe Vegan Burger, Greggs’ Vegan Steak Bake (a follow-up from last year’s popular Vegan Sausage Roll), and McDonalds’ Veggie Dippers have proved a hit amongst customers, widening choices for those minimising meat from their diet. Despite the general positivity around this movement, Pete feels there is still work to be done:

“[It is] likely to have a limited impact on overall meat consumption, though it’s good that vegetarians and vegans can go out to the same places as their friends. The bigger impact on meat consumption is the large number of people in the UK who are deciding to reduce their meat consumption”. 

Whilst minding our own individual carbon footprint has been strongly encouraged within the media and public sphere, the government and greater authorities must also work in unison to ensure effective change. Pete said:

“This also needs clear leadership from governments. Again, while it’s good to see school food guidance advocating reduced meat consumption and having ‘meat-free’ days, the focus on ‘beef and lamb bad, chicken good’ is misplaced”.

In September last year, the Scottish Government devised a programme Protecting Scotland’s Future whereby one of the commitments was to ‘work with business, the public and the third sector to develop guidance so more people are encouraged to eat more locally produced, sustainable and healthy food that supports our aims on climate change’. On Scotland’s role in climate change and farming, Pete said:

“Grass-fed beef and lamb from Scotland has its place, converting grass we can’t eat to meat we can and maintaining or even enhancing soil carbon stocks, while providing lives worth living. Combining this with trees in agroforestry systems is good for animals and good for nature and this is something Scotland should be investing in”.

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