The likes of Veganuary and Dry January only lead to a miserable new year

Are you going plant-based for Veganuary? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Are you going plant-based for Veganuary? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the extended Christmas break rumbles on, many of us will still be devising creative ways of finishing off the turkey, not to mention starting to think that sherry for breakfast and wine at lunchtime are not really habits we should be allowing to become ingrained.
No wonder so many of us start the year by insisting we will be more healthy. The marketeers know this: it’s why campaigns such as Dry January and the lexicographically incorrect ‘Veganuary’ have become so ubiquitous.
Certainly they attract plenty of people who set out to follow those particular paths of self-denial. But are they really effective? How many people have forgotten their good intentions almost as soon as they get back to work and into the everyday stresses of normal life?
A poll published over Christmas showed that 36 per cent of Britons believe eating a vegan or plant-based diet is an ‘admirable thing to do’. This I can well believe. Most of us believe regular exercise and giving up alcohol is admirable. Who would disagree that donating a tenth of your monthly income to those who are less fortunate than ourselves is anything other than commendable?
How many of us follow those positive thoughts with positive action is another matter entirely. A third of the population might think a plant-based diet is admirable, but the Vegan Society’s own figures show that only around one per cent of the population actually follows such a nutritional regime.
Market research group Kantar said last year that 1.9 per cent of households included at least one vegan (which, as anyone with teenage children will know, is very different from saying that 1.9 per cent of all households are exclusively vegan).
And yet it is undeniable that more of us are cutting down on the amount of meat we consume, and are bringing plant-based dishes into what we eat. That doesn’t make us vegan, but it does reflect a growing awareness of both the health and environmental impacts of a solely carnivorous diet.
According to market research organisation Kantar, one in eight meals prepared in the home is fully vegan. However, two-thirds of what we cook at home involves meat or fish, and lockdown saw something of a boom in meat consumption as well. The truth is that most of us are ignoring the extreme voices on both sides of this argument and adopting a flexible approach by ourselves.
Britain is not becoming a nation of vegans, but a nation of flexitarians. We are quite capable of making judgements for ourselves without being browbeaten by militant voices who want to demonise us and the choices we make.
Human beings are naturally contrary – we don’t like being told what to do. But by and large, we do understand that the choices we make impact on both ourselves and society more widely.
This is an encouraging sign that possibly the most dangerous political utterance ever – Margaret Thatcher’s assertion that there is ‘no such thing as society’ (and yes, she did say it, in an interview with Woman’s Own magazine in September 1987) – is finally being 
debunked. If you decided to ignore the politicians and exercise Covid caution over the festive period, you are part of this welcome trend.
Contrary to what some of the anonymous keyboard warriors who like to comment below the online editions of my columns like to think, I have no problem at all with vegetarianism, veganism, or those who choose to live this lives this way. My gripe has always been with those who seek to force their views on others, substituting abuse and vitriol for reasoned argument.
It would seem that most of the population agrees. The quiet move towards a more balanced diet, incorporating plant-based meals alongside less frequent meat and fish-based dishes, is happening despite all the browbeating, not because of it. The evidence suggests that most of us are persuaded not by shrill extremist voices, but by calm, reassuring experts basing what they say on evidence. It’s why almost all of us will follow Professor Chris Whitty’s advice over whatever some idiot politician suggests we do.
Although I am knowledgeable about food and drink, I am not an nutritional expert, so I am not going to offer any advice as to how you might approach your culinary new year’s resolutions. For me, it will always be a battle between knowing that moderation in all things is sensible, and my all-consuming passion for the joys of the table. I may drink a bit less in January, and I may incorporate more plants into my diet, but I will be ignoring Dry January and Veganuary and all of the other misery-based campaigns.
Happy New Year! 

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