First thing’s first, let’s acknowledge that the what we should be eating to be sustainable debate is a very complex one, complicated more so with the use of globalised statistics (rather than national or even local) with many variables, new research emerging all the time and by no means do I believe that everyone should be doing the same thing. For example, being gluten-free for medical reasons AND vegan would be a challenge unfeasible and inadvisable for many. Notwithstanding the fact that even having a choice in the first place is heavily reliant on privilege (that’s a whole other kettle of fish for another day, here’s a podcast that explains some of it). That being said, I believe strongly in doing what you can, when you can and being kind to yourself about it [relevant now during lockdown more than ever]. Many of you will already be aware that I’ve been vegetarian for just about ever – finally giving up full-time fish midway through last year (I say full-time because really, do we need to label ourselves as strictly this or that? A responsibly-sourced treat once in a blue moon is still a reduction and therefore a win in my view) – so I figured it was time to take the plunge and see how much further I could go. How hard could it be, right?
My answer: pretty damn easy.
Obviously there are a multitude of caveats as touched on earlier, which I feel important to mention: I was already following a plant-based/vegetarian diet but with some added dairy; I am privileged to have the access, finances and time to shop & eat in this way; I don’t (to my knowledge) have any medical issues which might compromise a vegan diet; and I’ve done my research to do my best with regards to proper, balanced nutrition, which is absolutely crucial if you are considering making such dietary changes. Ideally it’s advised to seek professional dietary advice to ensure you’re aware of how to cover all bases, which I do intend to do when funds allow.
Right, now that’s out of the way we can get to it.
What is Veganuary?
Most of my followers have no doubt at least heard of the concept (because social media is designed to be an echo-chamber thanks to those damn algorithms) but just in case you haven’t: this is the idea of pledging to go vegan for the whole of the month of January – Veganuary is the official charity running this. I would recommend pledging via their website if you do decide to go for it because they send out super helpful emails throughout the month advising on nutrition, helpful swaps and how to cope with cravings if you have them. If you fancy the challenge sooner than next January, there’s nothing stopping you trying it now and in fact Macmillan ran a campaign this year supporting a Meat Free March [I had meant to publish this prior to that, my bad] which they may well repeat – there’s no deadline!
Why did I decide to do it?
The answer to this is basically that I wanted to push myself because most of what I was already eating was only a couple of ingredients away and I’d gotten into a bit of a rut of cooking the same stuff over & over, so this was a brilliant excuse to mix things up in the kitchen. As well as the environmental impacts, of course, though it’s important to note that some things like avocados & almonds can also have a large carbon footprint in comparison to other fruit/veg/nuts due to importing and growing practices; hence why it’s super important to do your research and consider what’s manageable for you personally. Don’t beat yourself up if you start with these things to ease the transition and phase them out gradually; I still eat avocado sometimes and had more during veganuary than I normally would but the whole thing is a journey. Some argue that shopping local, regardless of whether it’s meat or veg, is still better for the planet overall but there are so many variables at play and relatively little research on a localised scale that I’ll let you make your own call on that one – it’s preferable, no doubt about that, but not necessarily a definitive answer. Anyway, I digress.
How did I do it?
As mentioned earlier, I would really recommend signing up to the official Veganuary emails, they were so helpful during the first few weeks of getting into the swing. Those first few days post-New Year celebrations I was pretty clueless to be honest and not in any fit state to do a thorough, planned food shop, but once I had set aside time to do this I felt much more in control and confident. A crucial golden nugget of info for me has been the ‘daily dozen’ checklist from Veganuary which details the recommended portions of fruit/veg/nuts/seeds/wholegrains/beans to succeed nutritionally in a vegan diet. Absolute game changer. I’ve since used it alongside my weekly meal planning to ensure I’m getting as much ticked off as possible each day. [If anyone’s interested in this please get in touch, I’d be happy to share] I also think that talking about portions rather than macronutrients (% or grams of protein/fat/carbs) is a much healthier way of looking at things and promotes a more positive relationship with food, which is especially important in any sort of restrictive diet.
What did my typical meal plans look like?
Well, I’ll show you. As someone who bases their intake on 3 meals a day plus a few snacks, it was relatively easy to incorporate most of what I needed according to the
daily dozen checklist but getting absolutely everything in required a bit of extra effort and careful planning, so I didn’t always manage it truth be told. But it’s so handy to have that awareness to start with! And crucially, which I should’ve mentioned earlier, the widely accepted advice is that all plant-based eaters should be taking daily supplements for optimum health; namely B12, vitamin D and omegas [ref: podcast linked below]. This is not to say that meat & dairy eaters are exempt from supplement requirements, in fact I’d wager that most people probably don’t tick all the right nutrition boxes because we’re not really taught about it growing up and consumption of animal products does not guarantee a balanced diet.
Exactly what supplements to take/how much and how to meet nutritional needs in your own diet can only be answered by a registered dietitian though, as it depends on your own body chemistry etc., but Dr Rupy Aujla of Doctor’s Kitchen recommends these three as a base to work from in this podcast. As I said earlier, I intend to seek professional advice on my own requirements when funds allow; for now I take these three daily (most days, sometimes I forget) in the form of easily available pharmacy tablets – there are sprays and drops on the market but can come at a greater cost and are not as widely available.
As you can see, our meals were not revolutionary, ground-breaking or particularly challenging for a competent home cook and the benefits we found of not topping meals with grated cheese was that I put more effort into herbs, spices and more intense flavours. My OH reckons that some of my best homemade meals came out of veganuary! There were a few things we tried that one of us didn’t like much but these were mostly substitutes and they do take a bit of trial & error to work through. Going into veganuary I was particularly worried about not being able to use most Quorn, which we relied on quite often before, but during meal planning I found that I didn’t even need substitutes most of the time to be honest; carefully balanced veggies/beans/legumes was more than enough.
So, my advice to you:
If you’re thinking of trying vegan cooking, even if just a day or two a week, is to look up some recipes and just give it a go. If you find you like it, then do a bit more research into properly balancing your meals and appropriate nutrition. And if you like that? Then go for it. You don’t need to label yourself as vegan to enjoy vegan food most or even some of the time. A perfect example of this is my in-laws, who when my OH and I first got together were ex-farming meat lovers. 3 and a bit years later I’ve taught them to recycle properly (no easy feat with my father-in-law let me tell you), they’ve cut down their packaging consumption, keep their own chickens whose eggs they distribute to friends or other family and now eat plant-based about 90% of the time. It’s a journey. (PS. if you’re reading this I’m super proud of you guys!)
Final thing: have I carried on veganism post Veganuary?
Most of the time. We still have some things in the house like mayo, cheese and non-vegan Quorn that it would be wrong to waste, plus my OH isn’t vegan so there will still be some consumption there; but since the start of February I’ve only had the odd bits of dairy and still practise vegan eating the majority of the time. I thought chocolate would be really difficult for me as a previously daily consumer but found that during Veganuary because I was snacking on more fruit, nuts, seeds and small-ish amounts of dark chocolate I slimmed down a bit and didn’t crave that sugar hit as much as I thought. Cheese was the hardest thing by far. Most vegan cheese I tried just did not cut it. However, since then I’ve visited La Fauxmangerie during a weekend in London and that is pretty damn close to the real thing in my view – not to mention the vegan cheese & chocolate we had in Paris recently which was NEXT LEVEL so there’s still hope for the future of non-dairy cheese.
If I’m honest, I’m not convinced cheese actually agrees with me based on my experience of reintroducing it. My digestion has never been all that reliable, I definitely have work to do on my gut microbiome (could be a number of things, one of the reasons for wanting to double-check dietary advice), but post-veganuary I do feel much better in myself – until having cheese in a couple of my meals. It could be a coincidence but my skin has been great lately and I don’t buy into the ‘veganism gave me more energy’ thing but if I feel good in myself and am having more normal digestion than I was used to, then why not carry on? Not prescriptively, I don’t think labels are helpful as you can probably tell, but enough rambling. Diet is a very personal and emotive thing. There are so many arguments for so many things but if you aren’t able to go plant-based and have the privilege to be able to make choices such as organic, free-range, responsibly caught or local then make those choices when you do decide to eat meat, fish or dairy. There will be some that disagree but that’s what makes us human.
As of the day of posting (which is much later than intended but better late than never), I am back to my milk chocolate addiction but do mix it up with vegan ones every so often and I’m going to blame some of it on the Covid-19 chaos because we all need to cut ourselves some slack right now. I am more consciously aware of what snacks are nutritionally preferable so it just depends on my mood on the day at the moment; doing #PEwithJoe helps me feel on top of things and make those healthier choices too (who knew it’d only take a global pandemic to get me back into fitness?! Sure I’m not alone there). Enough rambling – I hope this post was of some benefit to you and please let me know any questions via Instagram or the comment box 🙂 I’ll link some of my favourite plant-based recipe sources below just in case!
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,
Plant-based recipe sources I love:
- Zanna Van Dijk – as mentioned earlier
- The Happy Pear – YouTube or Instagram & they have a new book coming out soon
- The Food Medic – some great plant based meals in her Lunchbox Club IGTVs
- BOSH! – I use their book every so often which is full of good ideas
- BBC Good Food – Vegan Meals book, I use this regularly for all sorts!
And so many more…