Updated Jan 8, 2022 - Economy

Veganuary is a tough sell

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Veganuary, a campaign that started in the U.K. to get people to give up meat and dairy for the month, is in its third year in the U.S., where it's catching on slowly.

  • About 500,000 people have enrolled globally so far, and a trickle of restaurant chains and food brands in the U.S. are signing on. (More people sign up over time, as the campaign progresses, which brought the number to 582,000 last year.)

Why it matters: While food and drink companies are racing to introduce plant-based products, most people want to pare back their consumption of animal-based foods rather than eliminate them altogether.

  • People like the idea of eschewing animal products, but tend to find the diet inconvenient, expensive and hard to stick to.
  • Veganism is particularly hard to swallow for men, with survey after survey showing that about 80% of people who adopt the diet are female.

Where it stands: Veganuary — pronounced with a hard "g," as in "golf" — started in the U.K. in 2014, and last year people from more than 200 countries participated.

  • The campaign is run by a U.K. nonprofit that asks people worldwide to take a 31-day vegan pledge, forgoing meat, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, etc. — and perhaps continuing to eat that way.
  • "When someone signs up, they get a daily email from Veganuary with recipes, meal plans, our best advice for trying vegan," Wendy Matthews, the U.S. director of the Veganuary campaign, tells Axios.
  • They also get downloads like a celebrity cookbook and "access to a private Facebook group where they can go for advice and support, and just to celebrate triumphs and share struggles with other members of the Veganuary class of 2022."

Proponents of Veganuary — who include Alec Baldwin, Paul McCartney and New York City's new mayor, Eric Adams — say that plant-based foods are better for the environment and our health, and reduce animal cruelty.

  • In the U.K., where the campaign is more prevalent, more than 1,200 plant-based products and menus were introduced last year, including Pizza Hut’s Pepperphoni Pizza, KFC’s Zero Chicken Burger and Subway’s Meatless Meatball Marinara.
  • According to a 2021 YouGov survey, 31% of Americans are interested in trying the diet but had reservations about it — including nervousness that they could stick with it.

Between the lines: In 2019, Food & Wine declared that "Veganuary is the new Dry January," but also noted that sign-ups had been lagging expectations in a big way.

What they're saying: "I'm often asked about eating plant-based 85% of the time instead of going full vegan and what is the difference there?" Matthews said. "Any step towards more plant-based eating is a step in the right direction and a net positive."

  • People who do follow the diet for a full month see health improvements, she said.
  • "Some of the trends that they report are things like improved skin, more energy, a better mood — and this is just after 31 days."

The bottom line: Maintaining a vegan or vegetarian diet keeps getting easier as mass-market chains roll out new foods to meet consumer demand.

  • "It's everywhere you look," Matthews said. "We just want to help people look at the grocery store shelves and restaurant menus differently, and realize that there's already a lot of great plant-based food right in front of them."

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Jan. 5.

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