Shouldn’t we be praising each other’s efforts instead of putting each other down? This is counter-productive and it may well turn potential supporters away from going vegan.

The International Press Foundation (IPF) started 2017 with a pledge to put “forks over knives” and try veganism for a month, hoping to shed some light on the many benefits (and struggles) of switching to a plant-based diet.

We were clearly not the only ones to be inspired by the trendy epidemic of the vegan ethos. Even if you do not care about animal exploitation, the health risks of a diet based on rotting flesh seems to be putting people off. In Britain alone, the number of vegans has risen by 360% in the last decade.

But why are people turning vegan? And is it really as hard as it sounds?

We had many unanswered questions. So we joined the other 60,000 people who signed up for Veganuary to find the answers we needed.

“Why would you quit cheese?”, “You need meat for the protein” or “Your plate looks so sad – where is the chicken?” were just a few of the not-so-supportive comments we received during our honest attempt at a vegan lifestyle.

We cannot say we did not expect this. Public figures speak openly about their positive experience with a vegan diet and vegan-only cooking channels explode online. But it still remains a choice prone to scrutiny – and lots of online trolling.

This is where the vegan community becomes so important for first-time vegans. We quickly realised that relying on the support of our meat-eating friends and family was only going to demotivate us.

We were lucky enough to have joined Veganuary’s official Facebok group, a remarkable example of what any community should be all about – a place where people shared everything from advice to suggested readings, as well as psychological support and encouragement. Some members even offered to mentor newbies.

However inspiring that was, as the weeks went by, we realised that was only a slice of the cake (a vegan cake, obviously). As much as we wanted to focus on the upsides – and trust us, there are plenty of those – we could not ignore the elements undermining the triumph of plant-based diets: the “vegangelists.

Human beings have a strange tendency to turn everything into religion – from gods to trees, from buildings to what they put on their plate. We just need something to bow to.

And so veganism, like most –isms, has become a thing. To many, it became a sort of members-only club with special rights and duties. If you fulfil your vegan duties, then you are a “true vegan”.

The definition of veganism is in itself open to interpretation, much like the bible, and that is probably why the “vegangelists” like it so much. We are not saying that everyone should be able to call themselves vegan as they please. There is a certain criteria that must be met.

The Vegan Society defines it as:

“A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Yet, so many vegans are quick at policing others, making judgemental and unkind remarks about their choices, as if their boycott to Unilever gives them a higher moral ground.

There has never been a better time to “convert” to veganism (sarcasm intended), and yet, many chose to play the “Who is more vegan?” game. Shouldn’t we be praising each other’s efforts instead of putting each other down? This is counter-productive and may well turn potential supporters away – particularly young supporters.

Yes, our journey into veganism was pleasant, but not without failure. Strings of motivation slipped through the tracks at times when the going got tougher. If we hadn’t felt the enthusiasm and the support of the Veganuary community, we might have failed entirely.

The lesson was not to feel guilty about it, but to understand that it is okay to fail. In business, failure is the first rule of success. “Fail fast. Fail forward,” they say. The same rule should apply to any challenge you decide to take on.

To thrive, vegans must become much more supportive of not only one another, but of people from other dietary groups who might be considering or even attempting to have a go at it.

Most people are trying their best with their own financial, physical and psychological means. It is unfair to judge them based on what we find right for ourselves.

The IPF believes that everyone has the power of making a difference by doing what they can – how they can. Just because someone is not fully vegan, that does not mean they are not making an impact. It is about looking at the bigger picture and seeing it as a whole.

Rarely anything is achieved individually. We need each other just like the ants need one another to carry a heavy weight. Our challenge is also to come together and do what we can with what we have got – to save not only animals, but our own lives. This is our heavy weight. We are no different.