Since Veganuary finished, friends have asked me if I’m still vegan. My answers usually began with, ‘Um…’ and finished with, ‘Well, no, not exactly. Well, no.’ It’s a ‘no’ because – before the vegan police shout at me – I’m aware there’s no such thing as being ‘mostly vegan’, just as there’s no such thing as being ‘a bit pregnant’ – you either are or you aren’t. And although I haven’t eaten much dairy since January, I have eaten some, so no, I haven’t stayed vegan.
I’m also aware being vegan means more than just eating a plant-based diet: It’s also about not wearing wool, silk or leather. It’s about not using lip balm containing beeswax and avoiding shoes that have glue. It’s also about animal rights, the environment and living compassionately. And it’s also – going by what I’ve seen on various vegan Facebook groups – about wearing t-shirts with vegan slogans on, getting the word ‘vegan’ tattooed on to your arm (with vegan ink, obvs) and telling people to watch Earthlings. Oh, and arguing amongst yourselves about who’s the best at being vegan (if you eat anything containing palm oil, then it’s not you).
Why I took part in Veganuary
If you know me in real life or are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I have strong vegan/plant-based diet leanings (I really can’t be arsed to keep typing ‘plant-based diet’ so I’m going to write ‘vegan’ in this post from now on) so it probably wasn’t much of a surprise that I wanted to take part in Veganuary.
I’ve been vegetarian for twenty-four years and that’s not your willy-nilly fish-is-a-vegetable/parmesan-is-cheese-and-therefore-must-be-vegetarian-innit vegetarian – I know what I’m doing. I know Parmesan and Gorgonzola are never vegetarian. I know to ask in a restaurant or cafe if the stock in a seemingly vegetarian soup is vegetarian because just because it’s a vegetable soup, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been made out of chicken bones.
But – and I shouldn’t generalise but I’m going to anyway – most long-term vegetarians know vegetarianism is a half-hearted attempt at doing the right thing for animals. We know veganism is the only way to show you’re serious about animal cruelty. Yes, we don’t eat meat, but the dairy and egg industry is just as cruel, if not crueller. There’s no such thing as humane slaughter and there’s definitely nothing humane about stealing cows’ milk and taking their babies away from them or chucking live male chicks into grinders.
Most vegetarians don’t bang on about being vegetarian because, secretly, we’re embarrassed about not being vegan.
I’m sitting here trying to think of a good reason why I haven’t changed my diet from vegetarian to vegan before (except for one month in 2008) but there are no good reasons. My only excuses are a) lack of choice when eating out; and b) living with an anti-vegan. But I could live with a) for a month and, happily, b) didn’t make any fuss when I said I wanted to take part in Veganuary and so I took the vegan pledge and signed up.
What did I think would be difficult during Veganuary?
Given that my diet is mostly plant-based anyway, I didn’t think I’d have too much difficulty during Veganuary, other than finding a month’s worth of main meals the Meat Eater would like. I’d happily have omelettes made from chickpeas and cashews made into cheese but I knew the Meat Eater wouldn’t be impressed. So, I made a list of meals that were vegan, simply by being vegetarian meals that didn’t contain eggs or dairy anyway, e.g. stew, curry, stir-fry, etc., and if I made something that traditionally (but doesn’t have to) contains cheese, e.g. pizza, tacos, jacket potatoes, then I could make two of them – one for me and one for him.
So that was the main meals sorted and I was happy that the only problem I might have was finding enough variety and not ending up having curry three times a week, but a bit of meal-planning (which I do anyway) took care of that.
My main concern was hot chocolate. I drink about three mugs of it a day and before Veganuary I used the instant low-calorie stuff that contains milk, so that had to be swapped for a tub of drinking chocolate and soya milk and whenever I’ve done that in the past, I’ve burnt the saucepan while heating the milk.
But Veganuary doesn’t care about burnt saucepans so I decided to experiment by heating drinking chocolate and soya milk in the microwave and, do you know what? It works fine! All those burnt saucepans were for nothing, dammit. Now I’m a convert and have a couple of cups (not massive mugs – yes, sometimes I can do moderation) of Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate and soya milk, heated in the microwave a day. Yay.
Cheese is obviously the big ‘BUT I CAN’T GIVE THAT UP’ thing when it comes to veganism. I knew I’d be fine indoors and would be happy to put Violife on my pizza, jacket potatoes and tacos while the Meat Eater had dairy cheese on his but eating out would be a problem, even in a cafè. In fact, especially in a cafè, as I love me a toasted cheese panini. As it turned out, Billy-no-mates here didn’t have any dinner engagements during Veganuary (probably because I’m a ponce who calls ‘eating out’ a ‘dinner engagement’) and the only time I ate out, I had a houmous and falafel wrap in Caffè Nero to go with my soya milk hot chocolate, and very nice it was too.
I didn’t have to go without garlic bread with my Violife-covered pizza, as I made my own vegan garlic bread (along with a non-vegan one) and it’s better than any garlic bread you can buy in the shop.
Friday night is chippy night in this house and pre-Veganuary, my usual order was battered halloumi, onion rings and chips (and curry sauce in a jar, heated up at home as I don’t think curry sauce in the chippy is vegetarian). Obviously battered halloumi was off the menu during Veganuary so I had the brainwave of making tofush and what a fucking brilliant brainwave that was, even if I do say so myself.
I made this vegan tofush (tofu and nori covered in batter) and had it with chips from the chippy every chippy night during Veganuary. It’s fantastic and you can find my recipe for tofush here.
Everyday vegan food/snacks that are easily available in the supermarket
A lot of food is vegan. Or, ‘accidentally vegan’, as the vegans like to call it when talking about food that doesn’t scream VEGAN quite like, say, a lettuce or a bag of lentils does.
I’ve already mentioned above it’s easy to find vegan hot chocolate. Most of the tubs of drinking chocolate are vegan – just avoid the instant ones, as they usually contain milk. I started off Veganuary by treating myself to a tub of Green & Black’s cocoa but I didn’t like it much, so I ditched that and bought a tub of Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate instead. I liked that so much, when it was half price in Tesco last week, I bought another four tubs of it.
I’m not going to lie and say supermarkets all carry a vegan range of Snickers, Twix, Dairy Milk, etc. (DAMN YOU, SUPERMARKETS) but if you like dark chocolate, a lot of that is vegan (just check the label for milk) and most supermarkets sell their own ‘free from’ range and/or Mini Moo dairy-free chocolate, so you don’t have to go without your chocolate fix.
It’s not all ready salted and salt and vinegar crisps when you’re vegan. Bacon Wheat Crunchies, Skips and BILLIONS of other flavours are vegan. Unfortunately though, while manufacturers will happily create artificial pig flavours for their crisps, there aren’t any artificial cheese flavours in the supermarkets. Sob. If you’re lucky though, you might find some Ten Acre vegan cheese and onion flavour crisps in your local TK Maxx.
I don’t eat many biscuits but I ate Oreos during Veganuary purely because they’re vegan and everyone goes on about them in vegan Facebook groups (please note, not all the Oreo range is vegan, so check the label).
There are many, many ‘accidentally vegan’ snacks you can buy. For a list far better than mine (let’s face it – it’s a shit list), Vegan Womble’s your man (or woman – I have no idea if it’s a boy or a girl womble)
Side effects during Veganuary
I had no side effects. Nothing. No hunger, no tiredness, no urge to get a tattoo, no nothing. I didn’t at any time feel any different. I was expecting to feel something; at least a little bit of ‘holier-than-thouness’ but nope.
One side effect I thought I might have, especially as it was coupled – nay, tripled – with not drinking during January (except for a couple of days) as well as doing Janathon, was a bit of weight loss but I was disappointed there as, although I did lose weight, it was only two pounds during the whole of January. Still, that list above of crisps, chocolate and biscuits might give me a bit of a clue why not much weight loss happened. Just because something’s vegan, doesn’t mean it contains no calories.
February and the future
At no point during Veganuary did I announce to anyone – either in real life or online – that I’d stay plant-based after January but I think most people, including myself, thought I probably would.
But, here’s the ‘but…’
I’ve already admitted that, although I haven’t instantly gone back to instant hot chocolate and cheese and onion crisps, I have eaten dairy. In fact, I know I said I’d only eaten some, now I’m thinking about it, it’s actually quite a lot and I was talking bollocks.
I ate a cheese and tomato toastie on the plane back from Tenerife, along with a slice of pizza when I got home from the airport. Since then, I’ve been out for a friend’s birthday where I – with only a slight pang of guilt – ordered a cheese-laden pizza in Strada. In my hungover state the next day, with it being Friday, I – again with only a slight pang of guilt – ordered battered halloumi from the chippy.
On Saturday, I decided we should use up the Papa John’s leftover pizza that had been in the freezer since December and when the Meat Eater made some garlic bread, I didn’t insist that my half be vegan (or make any myself).
This week, I’ve had a bad cold, thought ‘sod it’ and had a couple of bags of crisps that contained milk (WHY DO ONION RINGS HAVE MILK IN THEM YOU FUCKERS?) I’ve also cooked meals that contained honey and cheese (admittedly only a tiny bit that I could easily have left out) from a Riverford recipe box that I’d already agreed to review.
My only excuse was ‘I couldn’t be bothered because I was on a plane/tired/ill’ but when I thought about it, I thought, ‘not being bothered’ wouldn’t make me not be vegetarian so why should it be any different now? Even if I couldn’t be bothered to make my own tofush last Friday, I didn’t have to order the battered halloumi – I could have just had chips. Using up leftovers is fair enough but I didn’t have to have garlic bread with it.
I haven’t totally fallen off the wagon though. I purposefully checked the labels in Tesco last week on their chilled soups to find vegan ones to have for lunch this week (their Mexican Chilli Bean one and their Minestrone ones are vegan, cheap and delicious) and yesterday, I fancied some biscuits and spent about half an hour studying labels before settling for a packet of Oaties. I’m still drinking my Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate and soya milk and haven’t gone back to my lazy but quick instant stuff that contains milk. Tonight is chippy night and I’m going back to making tofush.
So, now I haven’t just got off a plane or have recipes containing dairy to review and my cold is clearing, next week will be a new start and I’m going to resume my plant-based diet. I just need to find onion rings that don’t contain milk. I think Asda do them and although Asda is a two mile bike ride away, I will cycle for crisps.
I’m not saying I’m never going to eat a pizza with cheese again and I’m not going to call myself a vegan, but I’m going to do my best to stick to a plant-based diet.
I think that’ll do for now.