HOW hard can Veganuary be? I haven’t eaten meat for two thirds of my life, so going vegan should be a piece of (dairy-free) cake...

Flippancy aside, I’ve always thought a vegan lifestyle would be difficult to sustain, as so many everyday items, from fabric softener to plastic bags, contain animal product. But I’ve decided to try a plant-based diet for a month - once I’ve scoffed the last of the Christmas choccies and mince pies, and that nice posh cheese in the fridge. That’s the trouble with new year health kicks; you’re nearly half-way through January before you’ve finally gone through all the festive food you over-bought.

There are several reasons for giving a vegan diet a go, but climate crisis concerns are now a big factor, and this month a record number of people are expected to turn to the global Veganuary movement.

More than 582,000 people took part in Veganuary 2021, with public support from the likes of Ricky Gervais, Sir Paul McCartney, John Bishop and primatologist Jane Goodall, and almost half the participants cited animals as their main motivation, followed by personal health and the environment. After the month-long challenge, 40 per cent planned to stay vegan and, of those not staying vegan, 85 per cent planned to at least halve their intake of animal products in future.

After the excess of Christmas, going vegan can be kind on the body, with increased energy, better skin, improved mood and weight loss the most common benefits for 2021 participants.

Since Veganuary began in 2014, there has been a shift in attitudes towards veganism. Once lazily dismissed as a mung beans-and-sandals fad, it’s pretty mainstream now, with hundreds of plant-based products on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. You don’t have to go far to find a meatless meatball wrap, vegan ice-cream, or a McPlant burger. And many companies take part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge, encouraging employees to try it and providing more vegan options in the workplace.

When I turned vegetarian, aged 18, it was regarded largely as “a phase”. But not by my family, who supported my decision rather than ridiculing it. My mum made me separate meals and enjoyed experimenting with meat-free dishes. When I left home for university I lived on packets of dehydrated soya mince and a horrid sausage mix that, once water was added, turned into a thick grey paste resembling something you’d grout a bathroom with. But I persevered, and when I later discovered that I loved mushrooms I started to cook food that didn’t come dried in a packet.

There wasn’t much veggie food around then, in the late 80s, and the only meat-free option you’d find on a menu was a rather tired vegetable lasagne. Now there’s a huge variety of vegetarian and vegan products and recipes, and advice and support from organisations like Veganuary.

I’ve often had to defend my vegetarianism to meat-eaters. And I’ve always said that I don’t have a problem with meat - I have cooked it many times for friends and family - but I do have a problem with how many animals are farmed and slaughtered, and that’s why I choose not to eat it.

I think people eat far too much meat, and I fear for the impact of this mass consumption - on the environment, on the living conditions of animals we share the planet with, and on the wildlife driven to extinction because vast swathes of natural habitat are being wiped out.

But even if you stick your head in the sand or simply don’t care about that stuff, you should maybe think about cutting back on meat and dairy, even for just one day a week. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.