I had a particularly gluttonous end to 2016, munching everything in sight in December – just as it should be. After my nine burgers over the month, and my trip to Berlin a detox was needed in some way for 2017. I saw a poster on my Tube train for Veganuary that made me stop and think that going vegan for a month couldn’t do me any harm.
I’ve previously done challenges such as:
- The 5:2 diet (basically starving myself for two days a week)
- Combinations of being Vegetarian/ Pescatarian (no meat / only eating fish)
- Giving up white bread, rice and pasta (opting for wholewheat only)
- H2Only (drinking only water and nothing else for a month)
…so I thought about this as just another challenge.
I also cook quite a lot and like to think I have a fairly healthy diet, going to the gym when I can be bothered. Liv and I had been having soups/ stews for lunches most days at work before the end of the year, but we’d both agreed to start a plant-based diet to kick off 2016 after one final blow-out on New Year’s Eve. (Liv had already taken the first step in eating no red meat for all of 2016).
Here’s what we’ve learnt…
It’s been difficult
Breaking habits and saying no to certain foods is never going to be easy. This month has brought lots of temptation as well as politely saying no many times. (Particularly the free Burger from Bleecker Burger last week)
You have to check labels…ON EVERYTHING
If you’re used to eating without restriction, checking everything in shops and at restaurants is tough. “I’ll just have a cake” – not when you realise most shops don’t sell any kind of vegan cake or dessert. “Biscuits should be fine though?” – not when you realise most are made with butter or milk! “There’s always veggie burgers/ sausages” – not if they’re held together with egg though! There are obviously exceptions and quite a few tasty snacks vegans can eat (PETAs list here). Fruit, cashews, almonds as well as bourbons, ginger nuts, Pringles and popcorn have kept us going outside of main meals.
Vegan food can be really tasty
From original vegetable-based dishes to plant-based takes on meaty favourites. We tend to cook with Quorn mince usually and hardly notice a difference, and the special vegan mince we bought is pretty much the same. I’ve also sampled bean burgers, chickpea burgers, mushroom burgers and tofu too. We picked up a load of new recipes this month including new things like ‘Buddha Bowls’ and using Gozo Deli Casheese which is a delicious cheese alternative packed with flavour.
It can be expensive
This can be managed by cooking things yourself, buying in bulk or finding deals. Holland and Barrett, Revitalise and Waitrose offer tons of choice. Sainsbury’s seems to have the best labelling of it’s vegan food in my opinion.
You will want to try every restaurant with vegan dishes
We’ve eaten out quite a bit. Due to wanting a quick bite when out and about, we’ve been to Leon, Zizzi, Byron Burgers, Thai Square and Busaba Eathai to name a few. We’ve also been able to try great vegan food at Squirrel (in South Kensignton) and 222 Veggie Vegan (in West Kensington for a fully vegan Sunday buffet). In the long run this month we’ve saved money by not buying meat and a number of restaurants sell non-meaty dishes at a lower price.
People will have questions
I have explained Veganuary (and what I can or cannot eat) to friends, family and colleagues a few times. The waiter at Busaba also continually asked why we didn’t want egg in our rice noodles. Not all vegans love talking about being vegan or being asked why they don’t eat meat or dairy!
Not a lot of high street chains cater for vegans
Some chains are starting to offer a few more options and a few also did special Veganuary discounts, including All Bar One, Leon, Zizzi and Pret a Manger. TGI Friday is obviously a meaty restaurant but I managed to have a vegan starter and main there – however desserts, like most places all contained milk, butter or cream.
I feel more energetic and have slept better
I haven’t been having the usual slump after eating dinner and we’ve also been doing home workouts after eating. This could be more related to wanting to get fitter for our next holiday to Hawaii though, but I’m going to say some of it is the food!
We’ve learnt a lot
We got free tickets to Vegan Life Live at Alexandra Palace. The Veganuary campaign was launched in 2014 and their daily emails have been useful to learn more about a plant-based diet as well as the meat and dairy farming industries. They have also sent tips, recipes, vitamin suggestions, exercise ideas and handy discounts.
I’ve avoided most of the videos encouraging veganism (some can be quite extreme), but Veganuary has been an enlightening experience.
It remains to be seen if I’ll continue being fully vegan after this month, but one thing is for sure I will now be looking at alternatives on menus and when cooking at home.