What do you think about the Veganuary and Dry January challenge? A quick look at social media shows how popular both challenges are. While the #veganuary hashtag has over 1,2 million posts on Instagram, #dryjanuary has about 276,000 posts.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is a combination of “vegan” and “January.” The idea is to follow a plant-based diet for one month. Vegans avoid animal-based products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk products) and animal-derived substances. They also stay clear from honey and don’t use beauty or body-care products tested on animals.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a one-month alcohol-free challenge. The idea is that if you stop drinking alcohol for one month, it will trigger long-term positive changes in your lifestyle and behavior, such as loss of weight, better sleep, and you save money. It was launched in the UK in 2013 by the Alcohol Challenge. In 2020, about four million people signed up in the UK.
I heard about Dry January for the first time on Swiss TV last December. During the debate, a representative of Swiss wine producers accused Dry January advocates of trying to destroy the Swiss wine industry. It is not surprising since the campaign was welcomed with a similar reaction in France. Several famous French figures rejected the campaign in an open letter to Le Figaro “Arrêtez de culpabiliser les amateurs de vin!”. And a famous chef, Alain Ducasse, even declared war on Dry January.
But isn’t this reaction just a bit too dramatic? Dry January is about realizing what role alcohol plays in your life. It is not about destroying the wine economy.
I rarely drink alcohol, but I have girlfriends who drink regularly and by themselves. A few of them mentioned that they drink more than they should. If you are in the same situation, Dry January can be an eye-opening experience. It can surprise you to find out that giving up that glass of wine once kids are in bed is a bigger challenge than you thought.
If you want to sign up for Dry January in Switzerland, visit dryjanuary.ch.
Why don’t I follow Veganuary?
I don’t follow Veganuary because I think that eating healthy and being sustainable is more complex. A vegan diet indeed has a positive effect on the environment. Cattle farming increases greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Thus, it seems logical to switch to a plant-based diet if you want to live more sustainably. A vegan diet is also healthier than living on steaks, fast food, and sodas. But it is not the answer to everything. To make a long-term, planet-wide change, we have to improve food production on existing farmland and adopt better farming practices that reduce carbon emissions emitted from croplands and pastures.
In fact, I followed a plant-based diet ten years ago for a year. I was constantly tired and cold. I think it is different if you’re living in sunny California or Bali. Here, in Switzerland, I need to eat food that will warm me up from the inside. Especially in the winter. And warm stew or bone broth do a much better job than a vegetable soup.
Not to mention that a lot of vegan food is packaged in plastic or Tetrapack (milk, yogurts, tofu, seitan, desserts, fake meat, sausages, etc.). To be 100% sustainable, you’d have to be a zero-waste vegan. The same applies to beauty. It is nice not to use beauty products tested on animals but have you thought about the packaging’s lifecycle?
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
If you are not ready to become vegan or vegetarian, focus on reducing the amount of meat you consume. And instead of buying industrially produced meat and poultry at supermarkets, find a butcher that partners with small, local farms. Favor quality over quantity.
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
Besides shifting to lower levels of the food pyramid, reduce food waste. Learn how to make dishes from leftovers, plan meals for the coming week, serve smaller portions, and don’t throw away fruits or veggies just because they don’t look perfect.
AVOID PLASTIC PACKAGING
When it comes to packaging – avoid plastic as much as possible. Favor food packaged in a carton or glass. Bring your own food produce bags made of cloth for loose fruits and vegetables. When we go to a bakery, we ask the shop assistant to put bread in one of these bags. Before COVID-19, we would bring our own food container for desserts. It may seem weird at first but you get used to it quickly.
I have to admit that it has been challenging over the past year to use reusable containers when you buy food. Even at the coffee shops. Some barista refuse to put coffee in the mug because of the sanitary situation, others don’t care.
VISIT A BULK STORE
Have you ever been to a bulk store? We make reserves of rice, oats, grains, dry fruits, nuts, cornflour, dark sugar, pulses, cornflakes, and dark sugar in our favorite zero-waste store every three weeks. If you don’t know how to find one, google “bulk store+ your area.” For a list of my favorite zero-waste stores in Switzerland (specifically in canton Geneva and Vaud), click HERE.
But no one is perfect. I am lactose intolerant, and lactose-free butter, cheese, and milk are not ecologically packaged. And when the bulk store was closed for the holiday, we had to buy food in a supermarket. And it was not always packaged in a carton or glass.
I think you have to be realistic, respect your budget, and look for healthy, local food. If you buy a pineapple or a mango for your morning smoothie just because it is recommended by your favorite vegan blogger who loves Bali, you’re not sustainable at all. Rather, make a smoothie from fruits and vegetables that are endemic to your place.
What is your opinion on Veganuary and Dry January? Let me know in the comments below.