3 Things I Learned from Veganuary

Once a Vegan, Always a Vegan. But Is This Really True?
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Vegane Pancakes mit Bananen ©foodspring

On the morning of January 1st, I sat at the kitchen table tucking into a plate of vegan oatmeal, while my husband gleefully devoured the leftovers from the Olivye salad of previous night. I have Russian roots and every New Year’s Eve I prepare this traditional potato salad with mayonnaise, eggs, gherkins, sausage, onions, and carrots. New Year’s Eve simply isn’t New Year’s Eve without Olivye. There’s usually some left over and it’s almost part of the tradition to eat the rest for breakfast the next morning. But not this year. This year I’d promised myself I’d do Veganuary and eat only plant-based foods for the whole month. Nothing would distract me from my goal. Not even my favourite salad!

Related: 15 Tips to Stay Vegan after Veganuary 

After a month of eating tofu, vegetables, and seitan, I’ll admit I’m feeling torn. I’m proud that I kept my plan, and I’m doubting whether I should stick with it. But I’m also looking forward to eating some non-vegan dishes again, like blinis from my mom or my favorite pizza from the pizzeria round the corner. The question is: is there any point in going vegan for a month if you just start eating animal products again right after?

Yes, there is! According to data collected by Harvard University Animal Law, following a vegan diet for just one month a year still has a positive impact on the environment. Many people take part in Veganuary (more than 629,000 in 2022), so it’s all about the collective impact. Between 2014 and 2020, Veganuary reduced emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent and saved over six million liters of water, as well as the lives of 3.4 million animals. A survey of Veganuary participants also found that six months after the challenge, 80% of respondents had reduced their consumption of animal products by at least half.

Whether I remain vegan forever or not, this experience has taught me a lot and it’s certainly changed the way I think about my food.

#1 We Eat More Animal Products Than We Realize

In the first week of Veganuary, I faced my first real test— my mother-in-law’s birthday party. She cooked food for everyone, but we forgot to tell her about me switching to a vegan diet. That evening, the only thing I could eat were the potatoes. It was either that or meat, salad with feta cheese, or various other dishes that weren’t vegan-friendly. I didn’t even let myself have a little taste of her birthday cake (although I was very tempted!). Thank goodness, I’d remembered to bring some vegan chocolate with me!

Experiences like this have made me realize just how many animal products we eat every day without even thinking about it. Birthday cake alone contains milk, butter, and eggs. And milk chocolate is clearly out of the question—the clue’s in the name, after all. I’ve therefore decided to take a much closer look at the list of ingredients when shopping in future: plant-based alternatives do exist!

#2 I Didn’t Miss Meat or Fish

… what I actually missed were eggs and low-fat quark. And that really surprised me. I used to eat prawns and fish regularly and thought I could never give up on them. But in hindsight, I think it’s all just a matter of habit. I didn’t crave fish and I even started to like tofu, although it did take a bit of getting used to. I did miss my plate of scrambled eggs in the morning though. I found some swaps that I really liked, such as these vegan pancakes, but didn’t have so much success with savory vegan alternatives. But overall, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything fundamental from my diet.

PS: Eating out was no problem at all, but I do live in Berlin where you can find everything and anything the vegan heart desires.

Roasted Winter Vegetable Quinoa Salad (Vegan) 137

#3 You Don’t Have To Be Perfect

Some days were more challenging than others: for example when a nice colleague at work brought in a delicious-looking homemade (non-vegan) cake for everyone to enjoy, when I was visiting my parents and there was chocolate that I could only admire from a distance, or when my colleagues were enjoying our Extra Chocolate Protein Bars and I had to miss out. When it comes to finding the right diet for yourself, it’s ultimately got to be feasible in the long term. I don’t want to have to miss out in these situations, so for me personally somewhere in the middle is best. That means I choose to eat vegan 50% of the time, but I also treat myself to the occasional cake, chocolate bar, or meal that isn’t plant-based.

So Is It True—Once a Vegan, Always a Vegan?

I’m happy I tried a vegan diet because it gave me a different perspective and I discovered some new nutritious recipes that I’ll continue to use in future. After one month, I’m not 100% sure whether a vegan diet is the best fit for me personally. I feel fit and have enough energy for my workouts. But I was careful to eat a healthy balanced diet even before Veganuary, so I didn’t expect any big changes in that sense.

I definitely think I’ll continue to have vegan days on a regular basis, but I don’t feel ready to switch completely just yet. And that’s OK too, because going vegan is a process—it doesn’t happen overnight. I would certainly recommend taking part in Veganuary, but there’s no need to wait until next year. Why not try a vegan week? You’ll be richer for the experience and it’s a great opportunity to take a conscious look at your diet and habits.

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