Veganuary: Honest anecdotes from a month of eating ‘plants’
First thing’s first. I own an iPhone, drive a car, consume meat and dairy, fly on airplanes and buy clothes from the high street. I’m a foodie, I’m a glutton, I’m a snowflake taking flat-lays of avocado toast. I’ve read Eating Animals and watched Cowspiracy. I know that when McDonald’s say they make their nuggets with 100% chicken breast it’s all spin, but I still order them.
If it was left to me to hunt and kill my Big Mac, I definitely couldn’t do it and working for a pet food company, I feel increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that cats and dogs are considered VIPs of the animal world, while others end up in a breakfast bap. I have a pet Yorkshire Terrier and wouldn’t dream of eating him, but sometimes I order cows for dinner that I might’ve once jogged past.
Regardless, this isn’t a right-on thinkpiece about the ethics of veganism, or a superior sniff at anyone’s food choices, it’s just one woman’s honest account of Veganuary. Food recommendations, the third degree and musings from a stint at plant life.
Blessed be the evangelists
The cool thing about veganism is that even when you’re minding your own business, gnawing on carrot sticks and hummus, meat evangelists will suss you out like prowling pigeon wardens.
“Is that ALL you’re having?”
“Well, I have some fruit and rice cakes for later..”
“You’re not doing that bloody Veganuary are you?!”
Honestly, you’d be better off announcing that you’re quitting your job to pursue a career in pig aerodynamics than taking a break from chewing flesh.
Veganism is as divisive as Jeremy Corbyn. In no particular order, here’s a selection of golden nuggets that came flying at me faster than Piers Morgan Twitter trolls during Veganuary:
- Where do you get your protein from?
- WHY would you want to eat something that looks and tastes like meat, but ISN’T meat?
- What’s wrong with eggs? Chickens have to lay eggs, after all.
- Veganism is a trend. It’s just a fad. It won’t be around in 5 years.
- Do you own a leather belt or shoes? It’s JUST as bad.
- Vegan magnums?! FFS, you lot are taking over.
- Aren’t you really bored? It’s not a proper meal without meat.
- Did you know that they’ve stopped exporting avocados in Kenya because they haven’t got enough supply for their own people?
- Have you thought about what you’re doing to those poor farmers??
Most of these questions and comments are perfectly valid in their own right, but the truth is that any endeavour can be picked apart with a fine tooth comb. Generally speaking, people don’t start ranting and raving about alcohol mortality rates when you order whisky on the rocks or lecture you about chem trails when you post a picture holidaying in Dubrovnik. Veganism seems to stir up a special kind of rage.
Perhaps it’s the notion of thinking about where our meat comes that makes us feel uncomfortable. Perhaps we’re worried demand will run out and so will our lifetime supply of ham and cheese toasties. Perhaps it’s difficult to find fault with killing or confining animals for food after a lifetime of nonchalance. Perhaps it’s because environmentally, there are still bigger fish to fry. Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that meat is tied up in culture and nostalgia, so to alter it seems unimaginable.
Answers on a postcard.
Love thy kitchen?
I initially started Veganuary with the intention to feel healthier after a particularly excessive Christmas. However, waving a clean eating wand for an entire month is a real challenge if you don’t want to spend hella long in the kitchen, have a busy life and /or are domestically challenged.
It began well, sure. Rainbow vegetables with peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Peanut butter & banana on rice cakes. Traybakes of roasted sweet potatoes and legumes with hummus. Guacomole and salsa and black beans and smokey mushrooms in wholewheat tortillas. Kiwis and mangoes and overnight oats and so on and forth.
At the beginning, I had lofty dreams of becoming fluent in seitan, marinading tofu and hunting down rice wrappers (no easy feat in West Wales) and agar agar powder. None of this happened.
By Week 2, life well and truly got in the way. At work, I found myself eating some incredibly confused combinations in the canteen, including this salad roast.
Taking the vegan name in vain
On busy, ravenous days I defaulted to lazy, convenience mode which meant stacks of Oreos, Alpen Jaffa Cake bars and Linda McCartney sausages. Then came the discovery of Gregg’s vegan sausage roll, and Co-op jam doughnuts. The final nail in the wholefoods coffin arrived after stumbling upon an Instagram account called Accidentally Vegan. This account shows you all the glorious foods and brands you may not have realised are vegan. With my newfound obsession, I took to stalking the freezer aisles of supermarkets like a gluttonous nightcrawler.
This of course made sticking to the - ahem- diet, a total breeze. But on one occasion I woke up in the night with seering abdominal pain. Maybe my body doesn’t cope well with soya, maybe it was pining for it’s usual dose of halloumi and fun-size Twix bars. Either way, when convenience kicked in I certainly wasn’t reaching nutrition nirvana. And the ‘plants’ were nowhere to be seen.
Psalm 2019: The survival list
Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock in meatville for too long, but the sheer abundance of vegan options out there is amazing. From Beyond Meat burgers to Gardein fishless fillets, pretty much any meat craving you have can be satisfied by a vegan alternative. There are an abundance of products out there and I’d hazard a guess that you could fool the biggest carnivore in a blind taste test. The jury is out on whether these products are any healthier than their meaty counterparts, but eating them will save you precious time hunting for adzuki beans and hemp seeds.
Here’s a list of some of the best tasting vegan convenience products. Hopefully it’ll help you out should you find yourself at wits end with the trials and tribulations of dicing a butternut squash.
- M&S Plant Kitchen Pulled Jackfruit Pizza
- M&S Plant Kitchen Cauliflower Popcorn
- M&S Plant Kitchen Green Thai Curry
- Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll
- Co-op Jam Doughnuts
- Vivani Chocolate
- Pulled Oumph — far and away the best meat substitute I’ve tasted.
- Oatly Creme Fraiche and Oatly Milk
- La Boulangere Vegan Pain Au Chocolat
- Strong Roots Cauliflower Hash Browns
- Strong Roots Sweet Potato Fries
- Wahaca & Wagamamas for eating out
And some that really aren’t worth the hype
- Itsu Vegetable Fusion Gyoza — tasteless, rubbery lumps of nothing.
- Violife Mediterranean Style Block — sure, if you like your halloumi to taste of burnt feet.
- LovingEarth Salted Caramel — sugary, sickly soap.
- Sainsbury’s cheddar style and spring onion bakes — bland and nothing like the real deal.
Thou shalt be lighter and brighter
Perhaps it’s also because I laid off the booze, but I genuinely felt more energised and in better spirits during Veganuary. That sluggish, slumpy post-lunch feeling? Didn’t get it. The food coma? Nope. My mood improved, my skin improved, I felt lighter, brighter and (unintentionally) lost 9lbs.
Even a change in work schedule which meant getting up at 5:30am instead of 7 didn’t exhaust me nearly as much as it usually would. Bad days didn’t feel as hopeless, either.
The only time I recall feeling bloated at all was after discovering Co-op Jam Doughnuts were dairy-free and eating 3 on the bounce.
I don’t think I’m alone here. Plenty of videos and articles report similar feelings in the halcyon days of veganism. Perhaps this would plateau in time but it certainly worked for me in the short term..
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Veganism isn’t a magic elixir, it doesn’t put you on a virtuous food pedestal or guarantee you a healthy life. It’s simply a choice. A choice that is as worthy or worthless as your own personal belief system.
For me, it was an interesting voyage to uncharted food lands and an exercise in self-control. For you, it could be something different entirely.
Try it, I promise it won’t be boring.