There are a multitude of reasons why people might take a vegan diet. It might be animal welfare, environmental concerns, personal health or maybe for reasons of Faith. I was simply curious. Curious about the challenges it might present, whether it would be enjoyable and also to identify possible health benefits.
My youngest daughter has been a vegetarian for past few years, and although she’s not as adventurous as she might be – what can possibly be wrong with mushrooms? She continues to thrive, and indeed is probably most physically active of the family. For myself I have previously been pescatarian for a couple of years but certainly since then have been a meat eater and thoroughly enjoyed dairy produce in particular.
I have now been living healthy(ish) for past year, which has included calorie counting, reducing “bad food” and much much more exercise. In the process I have lost over 6 stones but as importantly I’ve really embraced my new way of living and feel so much more positive and healthy. Veganuary was a convenient opportunity to experiment; and enjoy the support of a community with ideas and shared experiences.
I do want to be absolutely honest and state that there were occasions I slipped but mostly this was wholly innocent, and although better preparation might have prevented I earnestly made best endeavour to do the right thing. To this end the biggest pitfalls I found were dairy derived items, Quorn products (due to eggs) and bakery items – and so yoghurt, cheese, Quorn protein and bread which incidentally were things I missed most.
It is certainly a challenge to prepare a Vegan meal alone amongst many of meals, and although I was not too concerned about cross-contamination through shared pans and utensils I understand why others would. During January there was only a couple of meals which whole family would join in with, and although I was able to cook a few more vegan dishes which my daughter enjoyed she would often feel need to add some cheese for example.
Shopping was more expensive because I wasn’t really reducing the bill elsewhere simply buying additional items for me. The adventure did lead to marginally more vegetables in particular being added to the table but with the exception of vegan sliced swiss cheese nobody fell in love with any of the bespoke vegan items I bought from the supermarket. I rarely eat ready meals but did try a couple – it was striking how little choice there was and also how much more expensive dishes seemed to be.
I did experiment widely with the dairy alternatives. I used to drink at least a pint of milk each evening, and in addition to milk in hot drinks and with cereal. I don’t have the luxury of fridge space or shopping time to store alternatives, and so I was looking for best “all rounder”. Of course this will be a subjective exercise but I’ve ended up with Oat Milk first and Almond second – I’m not a fan of soya due to taste but also persuaded by oestrogen concerns too . Oat doesn’t behave as well as it might with hot drinks but definitely tastes best, and is great with porridge.
I really missed eggs. Whilst it is an issue because so many products contain eggs my concern was really about the egg itself. Certainly during my time as a pescatarian eggs (and mushrooms) were a significant part of my diet, and so I found automatic alternatives denied to me. With regard to the “other products” I do think that food producers and retailers should try harder to source alternatives but probably also make packaging so much clearer. It was a couple of weeks before I realised Quorn products generally included eggs and were not necessarily vegan by nature of being a meat alternative.
Bread had been my weakness before I started healthy living plan, and so although the challenge was not so great, it still presented difficulties. I tried a few “vegan” breads but none of them greatly impressed me, and so for the duration of January I mostly avoided sliced bread. I was a little happier with flatbread alternatives but I did end up a couple of meal eating standard flatbreads because alternatives were “out of stock”. If I was going to commit to this diet in the longer term I would probably get into the habit of making my own, and it is likely family would have been ok with this for flatbreads at least.
Not sure whether it should be surprising or not but what I missed least of all was meat. Again, this might be partly due to my current diet whereby I eat vegetarian and fish for part of the week and rarely eat sandwiches of any kind for lunch any more. I certainly made some hearty meals with beans and pulses, and never felt hungry. I can think of a couple of occasions when family meals did look and smell really good but no so much it caused me any anxiety.
One of the things I really enjoyed during this month was trying new recipes, and with ingredients I had previously rarely used including lentils and beans. I also used a lot more spice than normal, although I’m not a stranger to heat, and the bottle of West Indian Pepper Sauce was always on the table during January. The downside was that many recipes only appealed to me, and at best were considered by the family to be side dishes. Again, the exercise did add cost and effort to every meal – there was some saving when I was able to cook a batch but at same time I didn’t want to make 4 portions of red lentil curry just for me to consume.
Eating out was also a challenge. Having a vegetarian in the family we are already very aware of the issues this can provide – and probably more so if you are trying to cater for a child. Not enough restaurant chains provide genuinely interesting options so often felt I was “making do” rather than able to enjoy a decent meal. If you are blessed with a creative independent restaurant, or maybe several, then you are blessed, but otherwise you’re largely screwed at present.
So, what have I taken from my experience? With a good supermarket it can be done, if you had decent restaurant it would be enjoyable. Within the setting of a family it is additional work and at some extra cost, which increases if you’re eating alone. If you can get mindset and the time to prepare much of the food yourself it will be easier to manage providing you with more options – I can see that home baking would definitely help in this respect. Health benefits are more difficult to quantify over such a short period but my personal experience would be losing dairy saved fat and calories, eating more pulses and vegetables is obviously beneficial, and I got into better habits when eating away from home especially in planning and preparing food not relying on fast or convenient foods. I’ve not returned to dairy milk, still eat a health conscious lunch during the working week, and always scan the vegetarian options on menus.
My lifestyle blogs
Weight loss: My heavy heart
Vasectomy: My Snippet
Hernia surgery: My Snippet
Fitness: I’m a #GymWanker
Change: Be a morning person
Planning: Personal Planner
Bucket List: My 50 things at 50