Crying over Spilt Oat Milk: Why it’s Okay to Mess Up Veganuary


Through the Sense and Sustainability column, Jess McDonald sheds some light on the complexities of climate change and what it means for the world around us. From lessons on sustainable living to informative insights on emissions and renewable energy, she’ll keep us all up to date on this increasingly hot topic.

There comes a point in every self-proclaimed environmentalist’s life when they’re faced with that life-changing choice: to go or not to go vegan. No doubt, adopting a vegan diet has one of the greatest impacts on an individual’s environmental impact, as any reduction of meat and dairy in the diet supports more sustainable agriculture and a reduction in personal carbon footprint (up to 73%!). In the UK there are around 3.5 million vegans, and with growing accessibility to tasty plant-based options and more self-awareness on personal climate impact, this number only looks to grow in the coming years.  But it would be a lie to say going vegan doesn’t involve a fair bit of sacrifice, too. Not only might you be suddenly rejecting foods you once loved, but there’s still a fair bit of social stigma around the move too. 

Enter Veganuary.

Since its creation in 2014, this beautiful movement has encouraged more than 1 million people to try Veganism for January, with 400,000 signing up last year alone.

Though from humble origins, Veganuary now has massive commercial success, as you may have seen from the various ‘plant-based’ sections popping up in supermarkets across the UK. For many would-be vegans, it seems like a logical first step towards an enlightenment of sorts, a gateway into the next stage of environmental warriorship. So, you sign up for the emails, buy your oat milk and stock up on all things plant and begin your quest to a vegan lifestyle. 

Then week two rolls in, you crave a chunk of real cheese than the alternatives just never seem to replicate. In a moment of forgetfulness, you take a bite of chocolate before reading the label throws you back to your senses: Contains Milk. It’s over before it really began, you’re a failure as a sustainability advocate, a fraud.

I’m writing here today to tell you that you aren’t. In fact, for the past two years that’s been me, committing to climb the Veganuary Everest and being unable to even get over the first rock. The past two years I have let my mishap throw me back to my usual ways, scoffing cheese toasties in solemn defeat. But in my dairy shrouded sorrows, I was missing the real point. It’s not about doing it for a month, or two, or even a whole year. It’s about taking a step towards sustainable change that you can control.

Veganuary is a tool to help you adjust to a new way of life, not an elite club from which you’ll be ousted on too many strikes. It’s okay to mess up, because at the end of the day it’s your life to do whatever you want with. Heck, you don’t even have to go vegan if you don’t want to. As effective as it is in reducing personal carbon emissions, there are plenty of other lifestyle changes you could choose to take to be more environmentally friendly. Simply reducing your meat and dairy intake by half, swapping in alternatives here and there, can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint.

Full disclosure, this is the furthest I have ever got in the Veganuary journey, and I have to say I’m finally getting the hang of it. Side note: it is much easier to do Veganuary coming from a longer-term vegetarian background anyway, which I hadn’t in previous years. So much is about learning what works or doesn’t work for you personally which is difficult to do straight off the bat for a whole month! If you’re especially new to plant-based eating, websites like Vegan Food UK and Barnivore are great for checking if food or drink is vegan or not.

There will definitely be more mistakes made on my part, and I’m yet to decide if this is a more permanent lifestyle choice for me or something to dabble in, but I’m embracing my fallbacks and moving past them as best I can. So, if you accidentally put cow’s milk in your tea this month, don’t fret. Just pick yourself up and continue trying your best. You are but a drop in the tide of change, just do what you can where you can. 

Jess McDonald is a third year student at QMUL, studying history. Aside from her reflections on the climate crisis, she also has a hidden love for Hollywood’s Golden Age of cinema.

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