“IT IS definitely a lifestyle choice.”

As more and more people sign up to the annual pledge to go vegan for the first month of the year, Helen Kennard, a member of the cooperative who run the vegetarian and vegan café Plenty at the Square, in South Square, Thornton, explains why people may opt for veganism.

“There are all sorts of reasons - some choose to because they don’t like dairy products, others worry about the impact of intensive farming on the environment or are unhappy with farming practices, and some become vegan for the health benefits. The vegan lifestyle is not just about food.”

Vegan choices on the menu include rich mushroom, roast vegetable and lentil stew, roasted beetroot hummus salad and home-produced, lightly spiced Daal with pink onions and soya yoghurt.

Staff at the café have noticed a rise in the number of customers choosing vegan meals. “Some customers don’t even realise a meal is vegan, they just like the sound of it, choose it from the menu and enjoy it,” says Helen.

Britain has become the vegan capital of the world, taking Germany’s title after UK supermarkets

launched the most plant-based products last year. This month sees more people across the world trying vegan dishes as the annual Veganuary - a charity inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year - takes place.

Record numbers have signed up and will try living on a plant-based diet, at least for a few weeks. With vegan options becoming cheaper, more widespread and convenient, organisers of the initiative believe 2019 will be the year of the vegan.

Since the movement started five years ago, participant numbers have more than doubled each year and a total of more than 250,000 people in 193 countries have signed up. Rich Hardy, head of campaigns at Veganuary, said that on one day alone at the end of December, 14,000 people pledged to go vegan for the first month of 2019 - a rate of one every six seconds.

Adds Helen: “I think Veganuary is a great way to raise awareness about being vegan and the huge range of meals that are plant based. Because so many outlets are involved - cafes shops, restaurants and even supermarkets it's a really easy way to give it a try. Plus, it's a reminder that you can still have the fun stuff too, we always have vegan cakes available and they are popular with all our customers, even those who are not vegetarian, never mind vegan. One of our regular customers has found she prefers her latte made with oat milk rather than dairy.”

Bread + Roses in North Parade, Bradford, is serving vegan specials every day throughout January, alongside its normal vegan and vegetarian menu.

Duty manager Jason Redman says: “Veganism is becoming more normalised, particularly among people who are lactose intolerant. Around a quarter of coffees we serve are with oat milk.

“Veganism is growing as a healthy option - you don’t have to be vegan to try it. I am not vegan and I enjoy everything on our menu. We have a lot of regular customers and are seeing a lot of new people too.”

Choices include courgette and carrot fritters served cold with a chilli dip, roasted pepper pizza slices, mushroom burrito and fry up with tofu scramble. Special events include Indian street food cooked by vegan chef and kitchen manager Sonia Sandhu.

She says: "I think more people are becoming aware of the environmental effects and ethical concerns linked with meat and dairy consumption, so are making attempts to change their diets.

“I have been vegan since Veganuary 2015. For me, it was a combination of environmental and health reasons. I'm all about disproving the view that vegan food is bland and boring - pop-up food events I've hosted and the menu at the cafe have proved popular, so it feels really good to provide quality and lovingly made food in Bradford."

Café manger Tess Connor says: “Through offering vegan specials throughout January for Veganuary, we have had a lot of customers who are not vegan trying it. First-time vegans are surprised by the amount of options available to them. January can often be a slow month for cafes, but we have definitely seen more of a buzz and had a lot of conversations about vegan food.”

The trend for a diet free from any animal products saw high street baker Greggs launch a vegan sausage roll this month, while McDonald’s is now offering its first vegetarian Happy Meal.

Adds Tess: “The popularity of vegan food festivals and events and the rise of street food showcases the vast range of possibilities vegan food offers. Accessibility to vegan food has also increased due to supermarkets now carrying more vegan options and mainstream food places embracing the lifestyle.

“People's exposure to vegan food has increased and I think there is now more understanding that vegan food is not particularly niche, can be enjoyed by anyone and is worthy of merit. Through not having a separate vegan menu and incorporating vegan dishes throughout our menu, customers enjoy food due to its freshness, good ingredients and because it’s homemade, not just because it’s vegan.”