Start your New Year food resolution in Veganuary

NEW YORK • January has traditionally been a month of promise. With New Year resolutions still fresh, many people can imagine this really is the year they are going to take up meditation or lose 5kg.

Recent years have seen the rise of 30-day challenges, many of them food-related.

Drynuary, a month of abstaining from drinking, is popular.

The Whole30 programme (no booze, dairy, grains, legumes or sugar for a month) is another regimen that gets pushed in the first month of the year, when many are looking for a detox from the rich food eaten during the holidays.

Now, there is a new entrant vying to be the thing that makes you obsess over what you eat for a month.

Called Veganuary, it is a campaign to promote vegan eating. Organisers ask participants to sign an online pledge promising that for the month of January, they will not eat meat or animal products.

"We think people will choose to stay with it beyond January," said Ms Wendy Matthews, the project's United States director.

She noted that last year, nearly half the participants said they would continue to go vegan throughout the year.

Like streaming service Hulu or your neighbourhood gym offering 30-day trials in the hope you will like what you are getting, the Veganuary team thinks people might discover within a few weeks that a vegan diet is sustainable for them.

 
 

The initial pledge is followed by regular e-mail messages offering participants recipes and tips for their vegan lifestyle, as well as information about vegan options at the supermarket and chain restaurants.

But month-long dietary challenges are not exactly like promotional offerings (that is, they are not as easy as just paying the streaming service long after you binged The Handmaid's Tale), so are they even effective?

Dr Traci Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, who studies the psychology of food, is anti-diet and suspicious of most food-related month-long challenges.

Many are based on denial or restriction, which she said ultimately dooms them.

"In general, denying yourself something makes you want to eat it more - and then eat it more," she added.

She once tried a no-sugar February, which "was followed by lots-of-sugar March".

New Year resolutions are usually a bust by February, she noted. That is particularly true for ones aimed at weight loss, she said, but she has a less pessimistic view of an experiment that does not cut calories.

"You can keep up a vegan lifestyle if you allow for a normal amount of calories," she noted. "As long as you are non-restricting, it could be a great idea."

Ms Matthews said the programme is hoping to increase participation - and getting people to stick with it past January and over the long haul - by pushing not only the health benefits of a vegan diet, but its environmental impact too.

"Research shows that the single biggest thing we can do for the environment is to go vegan, so that's a lot of the framing we're doing."

 
 

And the creators of Veganuary think that even if people just stick to the month they pledged, that is a start. Last year, almost half a million people signed up. This year, they are aiming for 350,000.

So far, they have around 65,000 participants, a number they hope will spike in the week leading up to the new year.

"We're aware that we won't save the planet in 31 days," Ms Matthews said.

"But with hundreds of thousands of people (participating), we will have some impact."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2019, with the headline 'Start your New Year food resolution in Veganuary'. Print Edition | Subscribe