Veganuary is now a global movement with participants from almost every single country and of these, Canada has the 18th largest number of participants.
He grew up in Sault Ste. Marie with a father working as a butcher, Toni Vernelli loved eating meat. But it wasn’t long before she noticed that the food she was eating came from the farm animals she loved. When Vernelli was 18, she went vegan.
More than 30 years of animal activism later, Vernelli is now the head of communications for Veganuary, a 31-day commitment that challenges participants to go vegan in January.
The challenge gives people a chance to “immerse themselves” in the lifestyle, Vernelli said.
Vegans refrain from consuming any animal products. This means not eating meat, dairy or eggs, and for some it means not wearing leather or fur or using products tested on animals.
People love a challenge, she said, pointing to Dry January, a month dedicated to quitting alcohol, or Stoptober, when people quit smoking in October.
In the past, promoting a plant-based diet was based on awareness, promoting vegetarianism or veganism cold turkey.
“That’s not how people work,” Vernelli said.
The challenge began in 2014 in the UK when Veganuary co-founders Jane Land and Matthew Glover decided to make the commitment to go vegan.
Veganuary is now a global movement with participants all over the world. Canada is in the top 20 countries by number of participants and is ranked 18th.
A 2018 Statista survey estimated that 0.85 percent of Canadians were vegan and another 2.3 percent were vegetarian.
In general, there are three main motivations for signing up for Veganuary, Vernelli said: animal protection, health benefits and environmental concerns.
Even Canadian companies have become aware of the monthly challenge.
On a business trip to the UK four years ago, Rob Felix noticed the Veganuary campaign in a number of UK stores such as Tesco.
“From that trip and being seen in retail, we brought it back and about three years ago we had our first Veganuary event,” said the senior vice president of merchandising at London Drugs.
While initially focused on food, Felix said London Drugs tripled the number of vegan products it sells in January and throughout the year, from cleaning products to toothpaste and baby food.
“Vegan alternatives are becoming more important throughout the year,” he said.
Plant-based meat substitutes were projected to reach approximately $148.9 million in Canada this year, up $40 million from 2019.
Earlier this year, the federal government invested $1.4 million in Big Mountain Foods Ltd.
“Plant-based foods are growing in popularity as Canadians increasingly look for ways to include more variety in their diets,” said Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau in a news release at the time.
When Vercelli first became vegan 32 years ago, she said it would be hard to find vegan alternatives. For example, non-dairy milk was once only available in Asian grocery stores or specialty coffee shops. But now, she said, it’s hard to find a coffee shop that doesn’t offer a range of plant-based milk alternatives.
“Thirty years ago they thought you were crazy, like ‘What are you eating? How can you survive?’
She said veganism is much more of an aspirational goal now, with people often talking about the ways they’ve cut back on meat and dairy.
“Most people don’t like the idea of eating animals … but it’s hard to change a lifestyle habit,” Vernelli said.
Once signed up, Veganuary pledges will also gain access to a private Facebook group for support from other participants and receive daily email recipes and nutrition tips.
If you’re participating, Alyssa Fontaine, founder of Plant Based Dieticians, recommends making sure you’re not missing out on protein and getting it from sources like soy milk, tofu, beans, and chickpeas.
While many vegans have to supplement with vitamin B12, a vitamin found mostly in red meat, Fontaine said no supplements other than multivitamins and omega-3s are necessary for the transition month.
To beat the cold winter weather, Fontaine said stews and stir-fries are easy meals that can be packed with protein.
While there seem to be more vegan substitutes than ever, she said not all plant-based meat and dairy substitutes are created equal, and it’s better to stick to natural, whole foods to get the most health benefits from the lifestyle.
For Vernelli, transitioning to a more plant-centered lifestyle starts with creating manageable substitutions.
“Then you can start experimenting with crazy things like quinoa and things you might never have before.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 1, 2022.
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