Veganuary: Yorkshire founders reflect on impact as new film marks 10 years of the vegan movement
The date was February 12, 2013, the time 10.37pm. From a kitchen table in York, a global phenomenon was born.
Matthew Glover sent an email to two of his friends asking for thoughts on an idea he’d been dreaming up with wife Jane Land. ‘Veganuary’ read the subject line. The text that followed was only a few words: “Like Movember, but all money raised goes to Farm Sanctuary or similar. Good idea?”
A really good idea, the couple agree now, talking from their Yorkshire home more than a decade later. “Veganuary has been the biggest success of our careers,” Glover says. “It’s been the biggest thing, the thing we’re most proud of.”
It’s not surprising he feels that way. From its humble beginnings with launch month in January 2014, the campaign to encourage people to try vegan has made newspaper and TV headlines around the world and has received support from a whole raft of celebrities including Eastenders star Kellie Bright, wildlife presenter Chris Packham and music legends Brian May and Paul McCartney.
More than 700,000 people signed up to its tenth edition in January this year, with the Vatican City and North Korea the only two corners of the world missing from the official list of participants. And the record-breaking sign-up number is likely to only be the tip of the iceberg too, Land says, with many more people going plant-based for the month without registering through the Veganuary website. It’s a far cry from the 100 people she hoped would be involved that first year. Though even at the start, expectations were surpassed, with more than 3,000 joining the movement for 2014.
“As much as we don’t like to think about it, it was a trend, it was quite fashionable,” Land reflects, considering how it took off in the years that followed. “The newness element to veganism [back then] I think is what attracted the media to it. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle and I guess people saw it as something new to give a try.”
“For most people, going vegan for a month is a huge challenge,” Glover adds. “It’s a difficult thing, but that makes it newsworthy and interesting. That helped us.”
Glover and Land share their input into how Veganuary blossomed into a global calendar event in a new documentary about the movement. In It’ll Never Catch On: The Veganuary Story, which premieres tomorrow, the founders are joined by team members and celebrity ambassadors to tell the story and look back over ten years, exploring Veganuary’s challenges, impact and its expansion around the world.
It has been credited with changing the lives of individuals, but perhaps the movement’s biggest impact, says Glover, is how it has revolutionised the food landscape. More than 1,600 new vegan products and menu options were launched in key campaign countries this year alone. “We were pushing against an open door with restaurants and supermarkets. They saw the financial opportunity in developing more plant-based options and having a month in the calendar dedicating to launching new products, adding new menu items and trialling them at a time when there’s more people interested in them.
"It makes sense….It’s spurred innovation both on the restaurant side and on the supermarket side. The [vegan] options in restaurants and supermarkets were limited in 2014 when we launched…Now, there’s options. That really has changed dramatically in the last ten years.”
“We’ve also helped to create a flexitarian market that wasn’t fully there before,” he continues. “People who have done Veganuary but aren’t vegan are more likely to eat less meat, eat less dairy and egg and add more plant-based options into their diet.”
People signing up to Veganuary cite animal welfare reasons, concern over the environment, and a desire to improve their health as key reasons for doing so, Jane explains. "It ticks so many boxes as a cause,” she says. The mission is to inspire and support people to try vegan and drive corporate change across the globe. The aim? To end animal farming, protect the planet and improve human health.
“We were both vegetarian for ten years before going vegan and we both care deeply about minimising cruelty to animals,” Glover says. The couple met on a dating website specifically for vegans and vegetarians and got involved in activism together through marches, talks and leafleting. But they wanted to do more and were inspired by the likes of Stoptober and Movember.
After the response that first January, Land gave up her job as an English teacher to focus on developing Veganuary, with Glover using funds from his Wakefield-based double glazing business to support the cause. But in 2015, they ran into financial difficulties and made the decision to temporarily move in with Glover’s mother in Flockton, West Yorkshire, turning her dining room into Veganuary HQ.
“But every year wonderful things would happen. You would get more businesses taking part, more people signing up, the reach of our social media was increasing,” Glover says. “Everything was in growth mode.”
From 2019, the couple took a step back from the day-to-day running, passing the baton over to a Veganuary team, which is working more and more to grow the movement overseas. Land remains a trustee on the charity’s board and whilst Glover has now stepped down from that too, he’s still firmly involved in the vegan cause, investing in plant-based companies and for the past 18 months working on a documentary filming undercover inside factory farms. “We’re not resting on our laurels and there’s so much more work to do,” he says.
The Veganuary documentary will debut at Plant Based World Expo in London tomorrow. An online premiere will follow on November 17, hosted by Plant Based News.