VSL committee at the annual Vegan Christmas Market; Credit: VSL
In light of the global rise of veganism in recent years and the current focus, in certain countries, on "Veganuary", which encourages people to commit to a vegan lifestyle during the month of January, Chronicle.lu reached out to the Vegan Society Luxembourg (VSL) to learn from President Barbara Ujlaki about the non-profit organisation's mission and activities.
Chronicle.lu: Please tell us about the origins of the VSL. Who set it up and when?
Barbara Ujlaki: The VSL was set up in 2010 by a group of vegans dedicated to promoting a vegan diet and vegan way of life in Luxembourg. Veganism is much more than a plant-based diet, it's an ethical philosophy. We are a registered non-profit organisation (asbl).
Chronicle.lu: What is the main mission of the VSL? How has this evolved over the years?
Barbara Ujlaki: We are committed to support, develop and promote the transition to veganism in Luxembourg and the European Union. We do this through raising awareness and educating about the benefits of veganism (our three pillars):
• Impact on the animals: veganism reduces animal suffering and exploitation; we consider that all animals are sentient beings and that no form of animal exploitation is ethically justifiable, nor necessary (this includes animal use for food, clothing, cosmetics, animal testing or the entertainment industry). There are many alternatives available nowadays and with further support from society and politics, many more will become available in the future;
• Impact on the environment: veganism reduces greenhouse gases, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, water and land use; one study often cited by organisations such as the FAO and the UN (who also in many reports have stressed the importance of a move toward a plant-based diet to save the environment) is "Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers" by Poore and T. Nemecek (originally published online 31 May 2018). In this study, Poore et al. conclude that a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use;
• Positive health impact: according to studies, a well-balanced vegan diet can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer. Moreover, vegan diets have been linked to lower rates of obesity.
NB: some national dietetic and nutrition associations, such as those in the UK and the US have concluded that a well-balanced plant-based diet is suitable to all stages of human life.
The mission of the VSL has been the same since the beginning, but the level and frequency of activities has changed with the years, depending on the time and resources of the volunteers working for the VSL.
It is also worthwhile to stress that veganism is becoming more and more mainstream in society, societal change is already here and continues evolving at a fast pace. However, the VSL believes that more changes need to happen on a social, political, legal and economic level. We are thus currently in the process of diversifying our activities, as we believe that the promotion of veganism must happen on all these levels at the same time in order to further develop veganism.
Chronicle.lu: Please tell us about VSL's membership and how numbers may have changed since its creation. Who can become a member and how?
Barbara Ujlaki: We do not have the numbers from the beginning and none of the original committee members are still active within the VSL. Currently and in recent years, we had above 100 registered members. However, on our social media accounts, we have several thousands of followers, and in the framework of our activities, we always meet so many people interested in veganism. We realise that many people do not know about the possibility to become a member and why this is important to support the development of veganism, so we are brushing up our communications in this regard.
Everyone can become a member and thus support our work by signing up via our website: https://www.vegansociety.lu/become-member/. Membership fees are €30 per year (€15 for students).
Chronicle.lu: Similarly, how has the VSL team evolved over the years? Is the VSL composed entirely of volunteers? Is there a mix of nationalities/backgrounds?
Barbara Ujlaki: Yes, the VSL committee is entirely composed of volunteers. According to our statutes, the committee could consist of maximum nine members, but since 2021, eleven members. There is also a possibility to be co-opted. Vegans that are interested in joining the committee are always welcome to contact us.
Committee members come and go, but there's always a great mix of nationalities and backgrounds. What I particularly like about the VSL committee, but also our members and event participants, is that there is always a mix of locals and expats from all walks of life.
Chronicle.lu: What are some of the main events/activities organised by the VSL throughout the year? Do you have anything new or particularly exciting planned this year?
Barbara Ujlaki: Some of the activities we do:
• Support vegan businesses through collaborations and partnerships;
• Give presentations about different aspects of veganism;
• Organise social and educational events (e.g. film screenings, cheese tastings, cooking lessons, hikes and picnics, charity runs, invite speakers such as doctors to give presentations, etc.);
• Political activism and collaborations with different national and international organisations, such as the European Vegetarian Union;
• Inform about veganism at different events and markets where we have stalls;
• Vegan Buddy Program: help people transition to veganism by assigning a vegan buddy to a person interested in transitioning.
We also act in general as the point of reference for veganism in Luxembourg, for the press but also for the public when people are seeking for help or information. For example, in recent months many vegan families with little children have contacted us seeking information about a vegan nutrition for babies. So we are planning a networking event for vegan families, so they can exchange and share their experiences with each other.
We also have other new projects coming up, but I cannot divulge them at this stage; please keep an eye out on our social media channels. Our activities and events can be followed on our facebook page (Vegan Society Luxembourg), our Instagram and our website www.vsl.lu.
But we also work tirelessly in the background, like preparing presentations, further educating ourselves, answering press and public requests, creating social media content, managing our partnerships, collaborating with national and international organisations to promote veganism, etc.
Chronicle.lu: What changes (if any) have you witnessed in Luxembourg regarding veganism in recent years, both in terms of the number of vegans and their reasons but also the vegan offer at supermarkets, restaurants, etc.? How does this compare, in your opinion, to other countries, such as neighbouring Germany and France?
Barbara Ujlaki: As mentioned before, veganism is becoming more and more mainstream in society, societal change has already begun and continues evolving at a fast pace, also in Luxembourg. In terms of numbers, while there are no recent statistics for Luxembourg, we usually think that the numbers from Germany should mirror the situation in Luxembourg; with around 2% vegan, 7-10% vegetarian and 40-50% of persons saying they are trying to consciously reduce their intake of animal products. Concerning this last category, we encounter so many people ourselves telling us the same.
We can definitely see a bigger and bigger interest in veganism, in terms of the press and public contacting us, but also in terms of people participating at our events. In supermarkets, there are also always new vegan products popping up; once you start actively looking for them, you will discover there is much more than you would expect. There are also more and more restaurants offering vegan options, but in this area there is still much room for improvement in Luxembourg. What's encouraging though is that three new vegan restaurants/cafés have popped up in Luxembourg in the past six months.
As for reasons to becoming vegan, we did a little (non-representative and non-professional) survey on our social media end of 2021, which showed that the majority of people are vegan for the animals, closely followed by people becoming vegan for the environment. Vegan for health reasons came in third place, but we see that this is also in development and more people choose veganism for their health in recent years, as more studies and more information become available. It is also noteworthy that while most people become vegan for a particular reason, they often learn more about the other reasons as well at a later stage and also become [aware of] the other issues. Being vegan is a process and constant learning curve.
Chronicle.lu: Finally, is the VSL planning a campaign/activity for "Veganuary", an increasingly popular "challenge" in countries like the UK and Germany?
Barbara Ujlaki: No, not specifically. Our next bigger event will be a vegan wine and cheese tasting event on Saturday 25 February at Domain L&R Kox in Remich - a great occasion to try vegan cheeses (soon to be published on our social media channels).