How it all vegan Meat-free movement encourages us to start the new year with a plant-based diet

The month of January has long been synonymous with health and wellness, setting goals and getting back on track after a possibly gluttonous holiday season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/01/2022 (335 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The month of January has long been synonymous with health and wellness, setting goals and getting back on track after a possibly gluttonous holiday season.

It makes sense, then, that the growing plant-based eating trend would take off especially during this month. In fact, there is name for it, Veganuary, and it appears to be getting bigger by the year.

Veganuary, which originated in the U.K. in 2014, is a challenge to eat vegan — meaning no meat, dairy, eggs or other animal products — for the month of January.

Dennis Burnett, kitchen manager (left) and Jay Kilgour, owner and GM, show off some of the plant-based, meat-like products on the menu at Fionn’s locations. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The non-profit that created the movement, also called Veganuary, offers online support including recipes, meal plans and documentaries for those who sign up. That number, it appears, has dramatically increased, from 12,800 sign-ups in 2014 growing to to 580,000 people from 200 countries and territories in 2021.

As of Dec. 28, Veganuary reported 300,000 people had already signed up for 2022.

Very likely that number is even higher, with many people doing it on their own without officially registering.

That’s what I did in 2017. As a longtime animal lover and environmentalist with an interest in where my food comes from, it seemed like an obvious and interesting thing to try. I mean, it was just one month; how hard could it be? And learning that in the span of just a month I could save 30 animals, 600 pounds of CO2, and 33,000 gallons of water, according to TheVeganCalculator.com — awesome!

It’s the minimal obligation that seems to be a draw for many people. “For people who don’t want to commit to not eating something forever, it’s a nice way to get into it,” says Jillian Dempsey, who is trying Veganuary for a second time.

Veganuary is a chance to try out new recipes, such as Thai ginger eggplant with peanut sauce. (Supplied)

As a vegetarian, Dempsey still eats dairy and eggs, and says this year she wants to see if the one-month challenge can kick-start her into eating fully plant-based going forward. Her concern for animals and the environment is motivating the move, along with a desire to try new foods.

“I want to find more of the alternatives, more of the nut-based cheeses; there are just so many new products that I haven’t tried,” she says.

Adam McDonald, Manitoba territory manager for speciality foods distributor Tree of Life Canada, says the increase in plant-based products available to Canadian grocers and consumers over the last two years “has been crazy.

“If you would have told me two years ago that we would have not just one or two different lines, but 10-plus plant-based items…” he says. “The market has just absolutely taken off.”

Jay Kilgour, the owner of Fionn MacCool’s restaurants, has had the same experience.

The Hunny Spicy Chicken Burger was Roughage Eatery’s meat-free entry in last year’s Le Burger Week. (Mike Sudoma Winnipeg Free Press files)

“It’s increased like crazy,” he echoes. As a result, he and his staff have pioneered a special plant-based menu for his two Winnipeg locations.

“It’s just become a part of what we do. When we’re developing features, we always take a step back and see if it could be made vegan,” he says. “We’ve developed such a large vegan clientele that come regularly; they look forward to the features.”

Both McDonald and Kilgour believe the climate crisis is a major catalyst behind the mounting interest in plant-based eating.

According to much climate research, switching to a plant-based diet can slash one’s carbon and water footprints by about half, and require up to 75 per cent less land. Moving away from animal-based food production to plant-based foods could also help feed more people and fight global hunger, according to some studies.

And as we continue to cope with a global pandemic, there is, of course, no worry about future zoonotic diseases springing up on Manitoba pea-protein farms.

Winnipeg’s Roughage Eatery offers a vegan charcuterie platter for those who prefer not to eat meat or dairy products. (Shannon VanRaes / Winnipeg Free Press files)

For me, Veganuary has lasted five years and counting. The one-month commitment got me in the door, while the good food and positive impact on the planet, the animals and my own health made me stay.

OK, Fionn’s vegan poutine may have also helped a little.

Thai ginger eggplant with peanut sauce

Marinade for 2 large or 4 small eggplants:

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup olive oil

1.5 inches of fresh ginger

1 red chili

3 cloves garlic

Fresh cilantro to preference

Blend ingredients until smooth. Use 1/2 for marinade, save 1/4 for basting, 1/4 for peanut sauce.

Score eggplants then pour marinade over top. Cover and refrigerate for minimum three hours or overnight.

Roast eggplants covered at 400 F for one hour or until tender, basting half way.

Mix remaining sauce with two tablespoons of peanut butter. Serve eggplants atop rice or quinoa, with peanut sauce on top. Optional garnishes: crushed peanuts, chilies and cilantro.

— Jessica Scott-Reid

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