Taking the Vegan Pledge
In 2008, the London-based group Vegan Campaigns started an international trend by supporting 25 people who pledged to be vegan for a month. The group offered recipes, a cooking demonstration and vegan buffet, and held group discussions and a panel featuring a nutrition expert, a doctor and a long-term vegan with a young child. During the month, an estimated 138 animals  and about 5½ square miles of land were spared from the meat, dairy and laying industries. A dozen participants planned to stay vegan. Another, an omnivore, decided to be vegan for another month. Participants also said their family members were eating more vegan food, and some challenged their work colleagues to be vegan.
Dr. Mike Hooper, a general practitioner who gave free health checks to the group, reported:
It was surprising how quickly switching over to a vegan diet improved people’s health. Most participants lost weight, and their average for two important health indicators -- Body Mass Index and waist-hip ratio -- came down from an at-risk level into the ideal range, as well as an overall reduction in blood pressure. ‘Pledgers’ also reported more energy, better sleep, better digestion, fewer pre-menstrual symptoms, and healthier skin, nails and hair.The average participant reported exercising more, drinking more water, and having less caffeine and alcohol. Participants shed an average of 4 lb. each.
Four participants measured their cholesterol before and after the pledge. One started with and remained at a low cholesterol level. A second went from being near the lowest level to being squarely within the lowest level. And the other two moved from borderline high to desirable cholesterol levels.
The project was advertised through leaflets, magazines, Internet groups, posters in health food shops and word of mouth. One participant had visited the Vegan Society website to look for a butter bean casserole recipe featured at a food fair, and saw the Vegan Pledge advertisement. One omnivore “used to be vegetarian and wanted to go back to it, saw [the] ad and thought I’d give veganism a go.”
Participants filled out and submitted questionnaires in return for vegan goody bags. Asked what they found most challenging about being vegan, most cited eating out, or finding vegan food on the go. University student Miriam Mallalieu said finding lunch at school was difficult, noting that even the tomato and lentil soup contained milk.
But eating at friends’ houses was the biggest hitch. Being vegan, participants noted, requires planning ahead, and remembering ethics instead of being “swayed.” When people couldn’t eat, they “felt rude” or uncomfortable because people tried to persuade them to eat non-vegan food. Yet one of the pledgers wrote of having “met a lot more vegans, which encourages me to be vegan.”
Most participants reported feeling more energetic and healthier (not being as affected by a cold, for example). Some also expressed a feeling of taking ecological concerns seriously. (A varied vegan diet uses half the one fifth of the land used for a typical European omnivorous diet, according to Vegan Campaigns; and animal farming disrupts our climate more than all transport combined, according to the United Nations.)
Another comment focused on ethics: ”Morally I can’t cope with eating dairy. The more knowledge I gain, the less my conscience will let me succumb. I may have the odd lapse in the future but I know I will feel I am helping in some way if I stick to my guns. I just cannot eat something knowing an animal has suffered in any way, shape or form. Ignorance is no excuse.”
Good feelings about the project came from “making the commitment, which was long overdue” and “the fact that the food looks so good.” Only two pledgers decided to resume their original diets (one was an omnivore and one was an ovo-lacto-vegetarian), although one pesco-vegetatarian dropped out. One pledger wrote, “It has had a good impact on my health. I am almost certain I will continue to be vegan and if I do it will be mainly for health reasons.”
For the 2009 New Year, the plan is to double the number of participants, to encourage similar projects elsewhere, and to increase publicity. Participants may be the project’s best spokespeople. One said, “I think I have been vegan at heart since I became vegetarian twenty years ago, but never had the support or encouragement to take the step. Taking the vegan pledge has made it possible for me. Thank you.”
And Emma McMorrow, an actor who took the pledge, asked, “Once you know the facts, how can you not be vegan?”
- Omnivores and pesco-vegetarians, according to the conveners of the pledge, eat on average 11.5 animals a month. Around 33.4m laying hens are killed each year in Britain and dairy production costs the lives of 1.14m cattle a year. These figures were used to form the estimate.
- The conveners used the carbon calculator at www.earthday.net to work this out, based on the amount of animal products and processed food participants had eaten before the pledge.
- Four of these participants had been omnivores, eight had been ovo-lacto-vegetarians or pesco-vegetarians -- that is, people who ate fish, but no other kind of flesh. Thanks to Donald Leung in London for helpful accounts of this project, for which a full report appears in PDF format on the Vegan Campaigns website.