"I’ve been vegan for more than four years, and haven't regretted it once"Danielle Jump

I had always considered myself an animal lover. Growing up, my mum and I had cats, and over at my dad’s house we had a veritable menagerie ranging from dogs and horses to chickens. While I knew that meat theoretically came from animals – and was vaguely discomfited by that thought – I swept it aside, eating meat and fish most days without a second thought. My animal-loving credentials were a given, after all.

One innocuous evening, as we often did, the family sat down to watch a film. Scrolling through Netflix, we came across a new release; Boon Joon Ho’s Okja. 15-year-old me rolled my eyes, sceptical about a South Korean movie following a little girl’s mission to save her genetically-engineered ‘super pig’ - hear me out - from the clutches of an American corporation. Little did I know what I was about to experience.

Okja was unlike any movie I had ever seen; it was like the child of Schindler's List and Babe. This violent ecological fable combines humour and horror in equal measure, swinging between adventure and atrocity as it explores questions of corporate responsibility and the ethics of meat consumption. Chillingly grotesque scenes in a New Jersey slaughterhouse shook me to my core, as Okja and others of his species are subject to barbaric experimentation. I was forced to confront the extreme inhumanity of commercial meat production for the first time, and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

“In the space of a few days, I had been confronted with the facts - and horror - of mass production of meat”

In the days that followed, I spent obsessive hours on the internet, trawling through more conventional videos and articles about meat consumption, the dairy industry, and the growing movement towards vegetarianism and veganism – especially among young people. Documentaries like Earthlings and Cowspiracy brought me to tears, as I watched footage of chicks being ground up alive, animals being ‘farmed’, an innocuous, sterile term behind which lies the truth: living beings being beaten, screaming for their lives. In the space of a few days, I had been confronted with the facts - and horror - of mass production of meat and its impact on our planet that I had always, somewhere in the back of my mind, been aware of but had never faced. I was shocked at the inhumanity at the core of our food system – an inhumanity we all seem to turn a blind eye to, day in, day out.

Okja poses the question; what is our responsibility in a system where we can’t change all that much? My response was to go vegan. And I never looked back. I’ve been vegan for more than four years, and haven’t regretted it once.

The benefits to veganism are innumerable. In 2016, Oxford University revealed that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet can reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. Not only that – it leads to improved nutrient levels, and can reduce premature deaths from chronic disease more than 20%.

According to Greenpeace, the industrial meat system is the single biggest cause of deforestation globally.

Those forest fires in the Amazon you saw on your Instagram feeds? They were set deliberately to clear land for grazing to grow huge volumes of animal feed. This deforestation leads to a rapid loss of biodiversity and directly contributes to climate change. The global food system alone is responsible for one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The bottom line; the meat industry is contributing to the destruction of our natural world.

“For every person who responds positively to the words ‘I’m vegan’, there will be several more whose response is to extol the virtues of a juicy steak”

And sure, being vegan isn’t always easy. There are concerns about the higher cost of meat substitutes and claims that the lifestyle isn’t accessible for everyone. For every person who responds positively to the words ‘I’m vegan’, there will be several more whose response is to extol the virtues of a juicy steak or ask where you get your protein from. But other than the occasional idiot, you’ll find that most people are open to talking about veganism – with the climate crisis at the fore of many of our minds, lots of people are seeking ways to reduce their environmental impact and stave off the powerlessness that many young people fear in the face of disaster.

Veganuary is an annual challenge encouraging people to adopt a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. Their goal is to create a world where plant-based products are the mainstream, easily accessible to everyone, everywhere. If you sign up, you’ll receive a ‘starter kit’ with tips, recipes and products, and be part of a growing global movement.


Mountain View

Veganuary: are you doing it right?

Since the challenge started in 2014, participation has skyrocketed. In 2015, just 12,800 people signed up. By 2021, that number had grown to 580,000. On Instagram, #Veganuary has over 1.6 million posts. And everywhere you look, businesses and restaurants are responding to the surge of veganism – with vegan ranges being introduced everywhere from the ‘McPlant’ burger to Wagamama’s new ‘f-ish and chips’, there are no shortage of options to try. Why not join the crowds of students perusing the meat-free aisle in Mainsbury’s, or substitute your post-Rumboogie doner for one of Gardies’ vegan options? The movement has never been more accessible, and I truly believe that moving to a plant-based diet is the best way to protect the environment, prevent animal suffering, and improve your health.

January is almost over but there is no reason you can’t start embracing veganism now. If you could get through the Cambridge application, you can do this. Why not give it a try?