THIS being January, we must consume our annual helping of Veganuary. When this vegan project began in 2014, vegans accounted for 1% of the UK population.

Veganuary’s promoters believed that if we could be encouraged to replace our usual food with the vegan equivalent – no meat, eggs, dairy products, or any other animal-derived substances – for one month, we would achieve enlightenment and then transition to a fully vegan diet.

Eight years later, and guess what? The number of vegans in our midst still languishes at 1%. Even the Vegan Society admits this.

Frankly, if I were leading this campaign to radically overhaul the way we eat and was confronted by such a stubborn, dispiriting lack of progress, I’d give up.

But the strange thing about Veganuary is that despite its abysmal recruitment rate it nevertheless commands much of the mainstream media, with the BBC and The Guardian in key cheerleading roles.

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I can’t think of any other tiny minority lobby that has such a prodigious ability to fill the airwaves on a repeat basis and rely on much favourable coverage. Veganuary’s 2021 campaign featured in over 1,500 media stories.

The now familiar, formulaic ‘vegan-is-taking-over’ news buzz might lead you to think that vegan products are enjoying astronomic sales growth.

But such headlines are almost invariably generated by reporters and editors who either have an ideological axe to grind or who haven’t a clue how to interpret retail food sales figures.

The hard truth is that after almost a decade of stagnation, vegan food in the UK is struggling to become anything other than a fringe category in the overall food market. In the US, business analysts estimate that vegan meat alternatives will not amount to more than 2% of true meat sales.

Despite all the anti-meat hype with which we have been assailed, meat sales went up last year in the UK, an impressive 5.3% by value. That’s a tidy bit of growth for such a mature sales category. They have steadily climbed since the first lockdown.

Very sensibly, a beleaguered population chose the reliable, time-tested nutrition of a bacon sandwich, mince, and chops, over new-fangled, vegan lookalikes with upwards of 30 tortured techno-ingredients and chemical additives.

On this trend, vegan lobbyists’ stated goal of halving our meat consumption by 2030, and eliminating it entirely by 2050, looks hopeless.

And as meat sales have increased, so vegan hero products that were heavily pushed by supermarkets to burnish their green credentials have put in lamentable performances. You didn’t buy that Beyond burger? You’ve got plenty of company.

According to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, shares in this star vegan brand fell by 44% in 2021. Investors in vegan brands are getting twitchy, or pulling their funding.

Sales of dairy foods have also stood up well against plant-based spin-offs. The value share of plant ‘milk’ in the UK milk market is about 8% by volume, a big niche, but not mainstream.

So why hasn't veganism broken through to a mass audience?

Not before time, progressive farmers and food lovers with a holistic appreciation of food production are beginning to effectively debunk the faulty vegan metrics underpinning the assertion that livestock is wrecking the planet.

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Cattle and sheep, providers of our much maligned red meat, only account for 3.7% of total UK emissions when you include the carbon sequestration effects of livestock on pasture.

Indeed, grass-fed livestock systems can be carbon negative, building soil fertility as part of a living habitat that supports wildlife.

You could also argue that in the UK, veganism was never more than a fad.

The demographics are interesting. Data from market analysts Kantar show that female millennials are the most engaged, outnumbering their male counterparts by five to one.

Interestingly, vegans exhibit more extreme population differences than those associated with the vegetarian consumer.

Although both groups are more likely to live alone, in London and the south of England, and not have children in their household, vegans “over-index” in comparison to vegetarians. 44% of vegans live alone, 37% live in London and the south of England, and 93% do not have children.

Dabbling with veganism might suit singletons, but it’s less common within a family.

Perhaps when people become parents they feel safer with a tried-and-tested omnivore eating approach than a new, risky dietary experiment?

Another reason that vegan numbers in the UK stick at 1% is that many new adopters fall off the wagon between the 18 month and 3 year mark. Often they do so for health concerns: disrupted periods in women, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems.

Actress Anne Hathaway, for instance, ditched her vegan diet partly because it didn't make her feel healthy or strong. "I had a piece of salmon and my brain felt like a computer rebooting.”

Social media is studded with papped pictures of erstwhile vegan celebrities being outed as traitors to the vegan cause as they tuck into steak at a restaurant.

The bottom line here is that a vegan diet doesn’t deliver the nutrients we need to stay healthy.

Go vegan and you’ll be running short on vitamins B12, D3, K2, and retinol, and other key micronutrients, such as essential fatty acids, complete amino acids, heme iron, and more.

Sooner or later you’ll hit health problems, unless you add an expensive array of supplements into your daily vegan routine.

The vegan movement has underestimated just how much people love the taste of animal foods. Modern vegan ultra-processed creations cannot rival them. They fail every food appreciation taste test you care to apply.

Omnivore cuisines around the world have savoured delicious ‘vegan’ dishes for millennia. Middle Eastern hummus and aubergine baba ganoush are a joy to eat and tick the vegan boxes, but in that region they are typically served as an element in a meal with meat – lamb kawarma, fried chopped lamb, and the like – or with dairy foods, such as cheese or yogurt.

We should interpret contemporary vegans’ attempted appropriation of traditional omnivore dishes like these as a sign of despair. It is blindingly obvious that 99% of the public has no appetite for vegan eating at any time of year.

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