Veganuary, the 1-Month Veganism Challenge, Exceeds a Half-Million Participants

The surge of interest in this annual event is attributed partly to the pandemic.

vegan pizzas
Vegan pizzas in London, England.

Getty Images/Leon Neal

Veganuary is an annual challenge to eat vegan food exclusively for the month of January. It first launched in the UK in 2014, with 3,300 people pledging to give up all animal food products for 31 days. In the years since, Veganuary has grown rapidly, and 2021 is the biggest one to date. 

A record-breaking 537,000 participants have signed up so far, surpassing the organizers' goal of reaching a half-million this year. For comparison, the Guardian reports that "a record 400,000 people signed up to the campaign last year, compared with 250,000 participants in 2019 and 170,000 in 2018."

Major retail brands got on board for the 2021 campaign, which spread word even further. For the first time British supermarket Tesco has run TV and radio ads promoting Veganuary, and grocers Aldi, Asda, and Iceland have dedicated pages of information and resources to people who have signed up for the challenge. Marks & Spencer even produced a 31-day Veganuary meal plan. A Nestlé CEO encouraged all employees to sign up, too.

The movement has caught on in the United States, where there were 80,000 sign-ups as of January 5, with many American food brands offering discounts and promotions to participants. Toni Vernelli, Veganuary's international head of communications and marketing, told Treehugger that the involvement of these US companies "is a great achievement, considering we have only been active in the US for two years."

When asked why there has been such a surge in interest in Veganuary this year, Vernelli cited the COVID-19 pandemic as having a direct impact.

"Many people have become more focused on improving their health and a plant-based diet is known to help reduce some of the risk factors associated with severe COVID, including type 2 diabetes and obesity. Others are realising that our consumption of animal products and destruction of nature are heavily linked with the outbreak of pandemics so are adopting a plant-based diet to reduce the risk of future pandemics. For some it’s an opportunity to take positive action at a time when so much is out of our control." 

There is no magic number of days that it takes to create a habit, but eating plant-based for an entire month straight is certainly sufficient to give people a good sense of how it makes them feel, what their favorite vegan foods are and how to make them, and why a dietary transition is important. It is also much easier to change and control one's diet when so much more eating is happening at home.

Andrew Stott, a spokesman for investment bank UBS that conducted research into plant-based eating, told the Guardian that many people fear they won't like the taste of plant-based alternatives to meat and worry about the over-processed nature of some of these foods and added cost. But once they start eating it, they're rapid converts. UBS found:

"The proportion of people who have tried the alternatives rose from 48% to 53% between March and November 2020, according to UBS’s survey of 3,000 consumers in the UK, US and Germany. It also found that half of those who try plant-based alternatives to meat continue to eat them at least weekly."

In other words, the habits formed during Veganuary won't disappear entirely. Even if participants don't stick with full plant-based eating long-term, they're probably going to be more inclined to embrace 'flexitarianism' or 'reducetarianism' going forward, cutting down on the amount of meat eaten and replacing with plant-based foods – and that in itself is a big step forward for the plant-based eating movement. 

We are part of the way into January at this point, but it's never too late to give veganism a try. Learn more or sign up for Veganuary here.