Victoria Pendleton on veganism and why she thinks everyone should eat less meat

The former Olympic athlete and jockey changed her diet nearly four years ago.

Ever since Blue Planet II broadcast devastating scenes of marine wildlife being destroyed by single-use plastics, many people have been looking at ways they can be kinder to the planet.

But while saying no to plastic straws, cycling to work and planting trees in our gardens is a great start, some experts claim that avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your environmental impact overall.

It’s no secret that lowering the amount of meat we eat is an essential part of avoiding the devastating effects climate change, and researchers are predicting that by 2050, the developed world will need to reduce their meat consumption by 50%.

If you’re still eating meat with every meal, it’s arguably never been more important to consider the environmental implications of your diet.

It’s something that former Olympian Victoria Pendleton, 38, is extremely passionate about. “I’ve been vegan for probably about three and a half years now, but I went vegetarian the moment I retired in 2012,” she says.

The two-time Olympic cycling champion is encouraging people to try just one meat-free meal this week, or challenge yourself to go a whole seven-days without it.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018 – Arrivals
Vegan advocate: Victoria Pendleton (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The drive is part of World Meat-Free Week (June 17 – 23), an annual campaign that tries to raise awareness about how adopting a ‘flexitarian’ diet – where meat is eaten less often – can make a difference to the planet.

“I’m a massive animal lover, but I’ve always felt the environmental impact of meat was an easy way for me to lower my carbon footprint,” says Pendleton.

“I’ve always been very environmentally conscious, so for me, it was about finding a way that I could fit it into my life – as I knew it could make that significant difference.”

Pendleton, who says she loves to cook fresh and healthy vegan dishes, came to the conclusion that a balanced, vegan diet could be just as wholesome as her old one, if done correctly.  “I’ve always wanted to be vegetarian but there were always limitations on what I could eat when I was an athlete.

London Olympic Games – Day 11
Pendleton gave up meat after retiring from cycling in 2012 (Stephen Pond/PA)

“I don’t need to eat meat to be healthy though, so it was an easy option really,” she says. “I always like to know what’s in my food and that’s something that will never change.

“When I was in a team and you’re travelling, sometimes you get what your given and you have to eat it, regardless.

“You might be in the middle of nowhere at a competition, so you couldn’t be that fussy. For me, [meat] wasn’t something I missed at all. In fact, I found it very easy,” she says.

Since retiring from cycling after the London 2012 Olympics, Pendleton has used her platform to talk about her growing commitment to green living.

“It’s very strange that people are only just becoming concerned about it,” she says. “I remember when I was 16 we got book tokens at school for being good. I used to spend it on books about global warming or endangered species and I remember saying, ‘Mum why is nobody panicking about this?’”

Pendleton’s concerns about the environment have shaped a low-carbon way of life for her that she’s keen to share with others. “I use green energy suppliers and I’ve put a biomass boiler in my house instead of oil – so I use carbon-neutral wood pellets to heat my house.

“I collect rainwater and I recycle as much, and reuse as much, as possible. I really look after the items I buy and try not to extensively consume.”

She adds: “These are things that have always been important to me and things I’ve taken seriously for a very long time.

“I’ve always wanted to understand how I can live my life in a way that is as conscious as possible.”

Victoria Pendleton is encouraging people to try just one meat-free meal this World Meat Free Week between 17-23 June 2019 worldmeatfreeweek.com