Veganuary for You and Your Companion

Vegan zoologist Jordi Casamitjana discusses the implications of people beginning their plant-based journey together with their companion dogs.

The Magic of January

There is something about January.

We know it’s just another month we invented in a 12-month calendar we created using a year counting system we made up. Astronomically, it’s meaningless. The winter solstice, the day with the longest night of the year, happens in December in the North hemisphere and June in the Southern one. Culturally speaking, the major celebrations of most ethnic groups happen either before or after January. It is an unremarkable month, and yet, we choose it as the month we will turn things around. The month we will start exciting new things. The month we will change ourselves for good.

 We have made January magical, giving it powers no other month possess. I have done it myself. I gave it the most transformative power there is. A metamorphic power that, like a crawling clumsy caterpillar becoming a flying elegant butterfly, changed my life forever. That was the month I decided to become vegan.

Through the years, I had gradually accumulated information and knowledge that was pointing me towards that decision, but it was not until 1st January 2002 that I did the jump. I had spent 23 days in isolation in a cottage on an island in the North Sea writing an autobiographical novel, and in that process, I confronted all my excuses and rationalisations for continuing to consume animal products.

I realised how weak they were, and I saw that by constantly hiding under them I had become a man I did no longer want to be. I have landed on the island as a meat-eater, but now I would leave it as an ethical vegan. Up there, surrounded by deep snow in a dark, cold and lonely afternoon, January gave me the push I was waiting for all my life. I did it, but I did it alone.

This is why it took me so long.

This is why I was so afraid to try.

January Becomes Veganuary

In 2014, Matthew Glover and Jane Land, recognising the power of January, decided to partner with this magical month. They founded the very successful organisation Veganuary, which annually encourages people to follow a vegan lifestyle for January — with the hope that if they do it for a month, they will stick with it for life. The campaign grew from 3,300 people signing up for the challenge in the first year to 580,000 in 2021, with participants from over 200 countries and territories.

In an interview with Elysabeth Alfano, Mathew explained how it all began: “I’d taken part in a campaign called ‘Movember’ where you grow a moustache for the month of November. I thought it was such a great campaign. So, when I got together with my wife Jane, we started to think about: what is the best thing we can do for the animals? Well, we thought about ‘November.’ Go vegan had to be whatever someone would be doing for the month, obviously. And then, what was going to be the best month? It had to be January because of new year’s resolutions.”

This project is so successful that many organisations and companies are queuing to partner with Veganuary —for instance, the Vegan Society did it in 2021. This year HOWND has also partnered with the UK vegan football club Forest Green Rovers, known as the greenest football club in the world, as it offers an all-vegan menu to both fans and players — who also wear shirts made of a combination of coffee grounds and recyclable plastic bottles. 

Doing it Together Helps

When organisations become partners with each other, they can amplify their messages and mutually support their work. They become stronger and can achieve more. And the same happens when a person becomes a partner of another — be that romantically, fraternally, or professionally. We, humans, are social animals, and we thrive when we share our adventures with others we care about. We cope better with adversity and difficulties. We enjoy more our triumphs and achievements. As a social species, we like doing things together.

But we are not alone in this. Our most trusted non-human companion animals, the dogs, are social animals too. They evolved from a type of wolf 15,000 years ago and gradually changed their dietary adaptations from carnivores to omnivores, so they could live with us and eat what we eat. However, they did not change their social inclinations. Like the wolves, they remained very social but more flexible about who could be part of their societies. Humans were now allowed in. Today’s dog packs are composed of humans, other dogs, and sometimes other species. For them, the more the merrier. As long as they are not abandoned and left pack-less, they don’t care much about who joins in.

But there is something else that dogs have inherited from the wolves too. Hierarchy and bonding. Wolf’s societies are hierarchical, with some individuals being dominant over others. Although the concept of alpha-male was first described in wolves in 1947 by Rudolf Schenkel, it turns out that it is not accurate as it was studied in captive packs. In the wild, gender doesn’t matter that much, and normally it is a couple of a male and a female that are on top. And wolves are monogamous, so these couples are very faithful to each other and remain paired for life.

Veganuary for Two

Dogs have inherited these hierarchical and bonding features from the wolves, and although they do not manifest them in the exact same way and have become more flexible about them, this means that, often, one person and his or her companion dog form an extraordinary bond.

In wolves, the younger wolves are submissive to the parents, who control the distribution of food. We can also see this in human-dog partnerships, where the human is dominant and controls the supply of food to the dogs. This means that dogs are quite happy to eat what their companion humans give them. They are hardwired to accept it. And this is why they are very happy eating nutritionally balanced vegan dog food supplied by their human guardians (as science has recently proven). As one of the top members of the pack, they expect you to choose what is the right food for the group.

If you are a compassionate person who cares about the suffering of animals and the destruction of the planet, you may have already concluded that upholding a vegan philosophy and adopting a plant-based lifestyle is what you should be doing. But perhaps you have not made the step yet, as you are afraid it would be too difficult — as I feared all those years before I became a vegan. But if you are not alone, you don’t have to wait that long, and you can try it now. If you have a partner, you both can try it together, and help each other. And if you have a partnership with a dog, you both can do it together too. You can do #VeganuaryForTwo.

You can start with the most important meal of the day, breakfast. For instance, Blueberry Porridge for two. You can get your vegan porridge from the Great British Porridge company and for your canine companion HOWND has launched a Superfood Taster Pack so vegan doggy newbies can trial their nutritionally complete meals and join their human companions in their Veganuary adventure.

You can have fun with it and even win a competition and get a month’s free supply of HOWND superfood. For that, you only need to take a picture of you and your canine companion eating a meal together featuring HOWND superfood, post it on Instagram using the hashtag #VeganuaryForTwo and tagging @DogsLoveHownd, and email the high-resolution photo at hello@dogslovehownd.com.

Think About it

Think how amazing it would be if you and your companion animal choose to begin your vegan journey together. Not only you will be able to support each other (and if you have shared your life with a dog you know how much emotional support they can give you), but your positive impact in the world would more than double.

And you don’t have to worry about their health as dogs are omnivorous and thrive with nutritional balanced plant-based dog food. You can be reassured that complete vegan dog food is highly ethical as it doesn’t harm the dogs but helps other animals and the environment.

Think about the impact of you becoming vegan but continuing feeding meat to your companion dog. Meat-based pet food is responsible for up to 30% of the contribution to environmental destruction attributable to animal agriculture.

Now think about the impact of both of you avoiding animal products at the same time. Traditional dog food tends to have more meat than the average human diet. It has been reported that one 70-pound dog on a plant-based diet, by not eating traditional dog food, could save every day an equivalent of 2,200 gallons of water, about 60 square feet of forest, about 90 lbs of grain and the lives of two farm animals. Having that into account, and using Vegan Calculator to make the estimations for humans, an average person having a plant-based diet together with their companion dog may have an annual impact equivalent to saving about 1,095 non-human animal lives, 668,750 gallons of water, 32,850 square feet of forest, and 40,150 lbs of CO2.

Together, Everybody Wins

Did you know that when wolves howl together, they harmonize their voices rather than sing on one note to give the illusion of greater numbers? Working together they become bigger than the sum of the individuals of their pack. Equally, if you and your companion dog begin your plant-based journey at the same time, the message of compassion and kindness you are sending will be amplified, and anyone meeting you will feel it. You will gain coherence. You will become morally stronger.

If you tell your companion dog that this is the ethical thing to do, he or she will happily do it for you. And if you need a push to make this step a reality, ask the magical month of January for help.

If on any cloudy day during your vegan journey you feel disheartened and unmotivated, you only need to look at those sparkling eyes always by your side, and you will remember you are doing the right thing. And then, you both can howl together in harmony, as a couple of wolves embraced by an ancient bond. Let January do its magic on you.

Use Veganuary to help you take the step.

Try #VeganuaryForTwo

Jordi Casamitjana for HOWND 

After Jo Amit, co-founder of HOWND, read Jordi Casamitjana’s book “Ethical Vegan: A personal and political journey to change the world”, she knew he was the right person to write this blog for HOWND to help people on their ethical journey and make the right decisions for their dogs too.