As we leave behind January and its hectoring food and drink campaigns such as Dry January and Veganuary, we can all start to relax and enjoy eating and drinking again.  

The campaign group Alcohol Change UK claimed that 8.8 million people were planning to ‘go dry’ this January.  

How many of that astonishing number managed it is rather more open to debate; the same organisation reported that just 175,000 actually got through the month last year without having a drink.  As good a demonstration as you will find of how bad we all are at keeping our new year’s resolutions.

Veganuary was a little more successful (possibly driven the fact that there are plenty of people eating plant-based diets anyway).  It is always difficult to measure these things, but in 2023 a YouGov survey found that four per cent of respondents had participated in Veganuary to some degree, although much like Dry January, we don’t know how many of those managed to go cold turkey (if that is the right expression) for the entire month.

In a way, it doesn’t matter whether people see these things through for the whole 31 days. Both campaigns are there to make us think about what we eat and drink, and that sheer amount of media coverage for both would suggest job done.

Certainly on the alcohol side, there has been a big shift towards drinking less, or even not drinking at all. The massive growth in sales of low and non-alcoholic drinks shows that more of us are cutting down at the very least.  Even if only 0.026 per cent of the UK population stayed sober for the whole month, the campaign has certainly hit home.

For Veganuary, not so much.  While many of us are indeed cutting down on the amount of meat we eat (for economic as much as health and ethical reasons), there is also some evidence that the bubble might be bursting for those who espouse an exclusively vegan diet.

Last month – ironically during Veganuary – there was something of a controversy when a vegan restaurant in Macclesfield announced it was adding  a small selection of meat-based dishes to its menu, because it had calculated that without doing so it couldn’t afford to stay open.  

Unsurprisingly, given that vegans tend to be at the more evangelical end of the food spectrum, the restaurant has faced a backlash. Although it is interesting that there has also been a backlash to the backlash, pointing out that it is surely better to have a vegan restaurant which also serves some meat-based dishes, than not to have a vegan restaurant at all.

And that is a real threat.  Over the past 12 months we have seen a spate of Norwich vegan businesses forced to close their doors, including The Little Shop of Vegans, plant-based kebab shop Doner bei Tante Anne, vegan restaurant Erpingham House and The Little Vegan Butchers.

Just as the most red-blooded of steak restaurants now offer an increasing variety of plant-based dishes on their menus, why shouldn’t a vegan restaurant also cater for those whose tastes lie elsewhere?  

Few restaurants can afford to shut out groups of potential customers who have varied food preferences.  Being vegan doesn’t make you allergic to meat any more than being carnivorous make you averse to others wanting to eat vegetables.

Too often we are presented with veganism as if it is a religion. It is not; it is a lifestyle choice, usually made for one or more of ethical, health and environmental reasons, and sometimes just because it is what an individual prefers the taste of.  

For vegan restaurants to survive – for any restaurant to survive for that matter – requires an adaptable attitude, an acceptance that not everybody will make the same lifestyle choices as you.

The number of full-on vegans has plateaued in recent years.  However, the ranks of flexitarians, people who embrace the plant-based way of life to an extent, but who still occasionally want their fix of meat or fish, is swelling.  

Moulding to that flexibility, rather than demanding all-or-nothing adherence to a strict philosophy, seems to me the best way of making veganism a more mainstream choice.