Vegan diets on the rise

Aoibhin Meghen

Ten years ago, veganism was almost unheard of in Irish society and was often associated with hippies who protested animal rights and didn’t shave their armpits. However, over time Ireland has changed and now veganism is not only accepted, but embraced.

The Veganuary trend has driven this move towards plant-based and has encouraged almost one million people to try a vegan diet since it began in 2014. According to their website Veganuary “is a non-profit organisation that encourages people worldwide to try vegan for January and beyond.”

The organisation asks people to pledge to move to a plant-based diet for the month of January and in 2019 they had over 250,000 people sign the Veganuary pledge.

Shona O’Dwyer took part in Veganuary for the first time in 2018 after she heard of and followed it on social media for a few years. She also took the Veganuary pledge again in 2019. O’Dwyer, who was already a vegetarian, took the pledge with her friend so that they could give each other support.

“A few things made me take part in Veganuary. I was curious to see if I noticed any health benefits which people claim the vegan diet has, like better digestion and clearer skin” said O’Dwyer.

Taking part in Veganuary is now easier to do in Ireland than it ever was. According to Trivago, Dublin is now the most vegan friendly city in the world with 20 per cent of restaurants having a vegan option.

According to the food delivery company Just Eat, they experienced a 94 per cent increase in demand for healthy or vegan food options on their website in 2017. As a result, the company predicted that veganism would be the trend of 2018.

This was demonstrated by a 183 per cent increase in Veganuary participants from 2017 to 2018.

Speaking to the Irish times Just Eat Marketing Director, Edel Kinane said“we know that they are increasingly looking for more diverse, healthy, gluten free and plant based Vegan options”.

For O’Dwyer eating out during Veganuary was a lot easier than she expected. She explains that “many restaurants have at least one or two vegan options and the month encouraged [her] to go to fully vegan restaurants.”

This growing popularity in veganism could be largely due to many people becoming aware of animal rights issues within the meat and dairy industry as videos of slaughterhouses and factory farming have circulated the internet.

Evelyn Suttle, one of the faces of the popular Irish Instagram account, Veghuns explains “When I found out that drinking milk does kill cows, whether directly or indirectly I decided to stick with [Veganism] for ethical reasons.”

Groups like Veghuns believe that the Irish public are becoming more conscious of the pressure the massive scale of animal farming in Ireland is putting on the environment.

However, this embrace of veganism is still very new in Ireland as Suttle recalls how getting soya milk in a cafe was rare when she first went vegan in 2013.

Veganuary has helped to grow the plant-based movement in Ireland and across the world. In 2020 400,000 people participated in Veganaury, breaking their original aim of 350,000.

The Veghuns Instagram account really shows how veganism has expanded across Ireland. In 2018 the account was sometimes gaining 200 followers in a day.

A key part of Veganuary’s growth in 2019 and 2020 was the launch of vegan products by large food companies. The Greggs vegan sausage roll was released in 2019 with huge success as shares in the bakery chain reached an all time high of £17.13. This year they also released a Vegan steak bake and other businesses such as McDonalds and KFC followed suit creating their own vegan products.

Cutting out animal products altogether can be extremely difficult when it is all you have ever known. These faux-meat products can be really helpful when trying to transition towards a vegan diet or to satisfy the occasional craving.

Dr John Allman worries that people may ignore the importance of a healthy, balanced plant-based diet, “People can be vegan and eat chips, coke and Oreos.”

Dr Allman is part of a group of doctors that set up plantbaseddoctorsireland.ie. These healthcare professionals are aiming to share the benefits that a plant based diet can have on people’s health.

Even though Dr Allman insists that it is possible to get all the right nutrients on a plant-based diet, for some finding this balance is too hard.

Many of these products from Greggs and others should be eaten in moderation, as you would the versions made from animal products.

After taking part in Veganuary O’Dwyer decided not to keep up the vegan diet.

“There wasn’t one main thing but more a few little things I felt I was missing out on,” O’Dwyer explained.

“Veganuary did make me realise the social aspect of food. It made it harder to enjoy meals with certain family and friends.”

Aoibhin Meghen

Image Credit: Flickr