Wednesday, 1 November 2017

How to go vegan | World Vegan Day

Today is World Vegan Day, marking the start of World Vegan Month and also the formation of the Vegan Society. Since going vegan in January 2017, I've toyed with writing a post about my experiences and how to go vegan, and today seems like the day to publish it. Here goes.

Back in 1993, I decided to stop eating meat. Turning vegetarian then, aged 16, wasn't exactly a walk in the park. Vegetarians were thought of in clichés: the Cranks aficionado, the lentil botherer, the sandal wearer. Mainstream options involved a lot of cheese and pasta. 24 years on and things have changed so much. 12% of the population now identifies as vegetarian, and over half a million are vegan. That's a 360% increase since the last count, ten years ago, when the total was just 150,000. Along with that boom is an industry on the increase. Eating vegan is way more mainstream than it's ever been which is why I'm going to stick my neck out and say that going vegan in 2017 is easier than it was to go veggie in 1993.


More choice. There are so many options now, both in health food shops (of course) but also in supermarkets. The major ones sell at least one or two vegan cheeses as well as all the increasingly vegan ranges from Quorn and Linda McCartney. And eating out isn't usually a problem either. Curry houses and asian restaurants have always been a good meat-free bet but now there are veggie and vegan options on most menus (let's overlook my bad spa day experience...).

But the main thing? It's actually not that big a deal. It's just the way I eat. My personal reasons for going vegan are a mix of environmental, health and ethical.

Why go vegan?

Watching documentaries like Cowspiracy, What the Health?, Forks over Knives etc made me realise what a huge impact the meat and dairy industries have on the environment (one fact: the amount of water needed to produce one burger is equivalent to a month of showers).

The health benefits of a plant-based diet are well known (the China Study is a great place to start) and, heck, I'd written all about this in my book from 2014 - The Mount Athos Diet. New studies are coming out all the time and it's worth tuning in to the latest research.

And ethical reasons... where do I start with those? If I'm really honest, seeing footage of cows in distress after their newborn calves are taken away from them made me sob. Ditto the thought of all male chicks being minced at birth. Personally, I don't want to contribute to those industries and if I don't have to then I won't. Some people boycott Nestlé, I'm boycotting the meat, dairy and egg industries (although having said that, the rest of my family are not vegan which means we do still buy some dairy products. I try to avoid them as much as possible though and won't buy meat at all anymore).

I'm fascinated by the idea of eating meat from a cultural perspective. Ever wondered why some cultures tuck into dog or horse meat and others find it revolting? There's a fascinating TED talk about Carnism which explains the concept well - it's definitely worth a watch.

What do vegans eat?

I began writing this draft a while back and one of the things I'd written was that I missed eggs more than I'd anticipated, but I think that was because they're such a quick and easy meal rather than the way they taste. Alternatives you could opt for are avocado toast or tofu scramble which I LOVE (this Minimalist Baker tofu scramble recipe is the one to try, although all her recipes are absolutely brilliant).

Vegan waffles are AMAZING - here's our vegan waffles recipe. The kids eat them every weekend with no concept that they're eating vegan. (It's occurred to me that I could probably feed them vegan food for a week before they noticed or mentioned meat.)

Pizza is one of the things people often cite as a reason not to give up dairy (and cheese in general). There are non-dairy cheeses out there but I'm not a huge fan. Instead, I go for pizza without cheese, apparently quite commonplace in Italy but less well-known here. Plenty of the chains offer options, including Pizza Express, Zizzi and Papa John, and for Bristol readers: Pi Shop offers a cheese-free pizza as standard on the menu, Bertha's do a couple of vegan options using their own special 'sausage' recipe, and Pizzarova have now introduced a vegan mozzarella for both pizza and garlic bread.

There are plenty of delicious foods that just happen to be vegan - there's a huge list on the Veganuary site plus googling 'accidentally vegan' will bring up endless search results. My favourites are:
Plenty of ordinary biscuits - ginger nuts, hob nobs, party rings, Bourbon creams
Aldi Orange & Almond chocolate bars
Fry's Peppermint Creams
Ritter Sport
Bendicks Bittermints
Bacon wheat crunches
Pernigotti gianduiotto chocolate

And the specifically vegan products?
Koko yoghurts
The Coconut Collaborative little choc pots
Swedish Glace ice cream
Baileys are bringing out an almond milk alternative

My biggest concern when going vegan was what my tea would taste like. Non dairy milks vary so much so it's worth going into your favourite coffee shop and asking what they recommend, trying a few out and seeing what you think. I started off using the Rude Health cashew or almond milk but have now switched to Alpro Organic Soya.

What else do I need to know about going vegan?

My skin is absolutely glowing (there's a reason one of the top vegan blogs is called 'Oh She Glows'!) - about a month into going vegan everyone I bumped into commented on how well I looked. I felt it, too.

Vegan skincare and beauty is next on my list of what to tackle, but the brands I'm already using are:
Magic Organic Apothecary - everything in their range is vegan except the green balm. My favourites are the Aphrodite facial oil, the Sunshine body oil and the AMAZING bath oil which is essential during winter cold season.
The Ordinary - if you watch my Instagram Stories you'll have seen me wax lyrical about this stuff. Cheap, effective and vegan.
Green People - I adore their lipstick, plus the older kids are trying out their new Oy! range for tweens and teens.

I'm pretty gutted that the big brands I love (Kiehls, Clarins, Chanel etc) aren't cruelty free. This is where I'm hoping things will change in the future as more and more people opt for cruelty free brands and consumer power triumphs.

Are you getting enough protein?

Yes, thanks.

What about supplements? 

I hadn't realised this but one of the reasons vegans need to supplement is that animals are given supplements rather than their meat or milk naturally containing them. I'd rather take these direct myself. I supplement daily with vitamin D (apparently we are heading for a vit D crisis in this country and most people are deficient!), calcium, vitamin K, omegas, vitamin B12. I know it sounds like a lot but I have honestly never felt healthier.

What advice from other vegans?

I asked a few of my vegan blogger friends what advice they wanted to share, so here are some words of wisdom.

Amy, Amy Treasure:
When transitioning to vegan don’t forget to meal plan and then it won’t be as daunting. Pinterest is your friend! Each week I type ‘Vegan Recipes’ into the search bar, I pop over to each website and check the recipes are quick family meals. I have a tab open on my online grocery shopping and add in the ingredients. I usually do this in the kitchen so I can check in the fridge and cupboards as I go - making sure we don’t already have the ingredients. This has saved me loads of money, there’s next to no food waste and we eat vegan without any hassle! People will say things like “what on earth do you eat?” but there are literally thousands of vegan recipes to try and you won’t run out of meal ideas, promise!

Claire, Diary of the Evans Crittens:
I'd been vegetarian for over 25 years and had tried but failed on many occasion to follow a vegan diet.  The turning point for me was to find a vegan milk and spread that I enjoyed.  From there I was able to "veganise"  all of my favourite meals so "eating vegan" became second nature to me.  

Fiona, Watching You Grow:
My top tip would be to download the Safe For Vegans app. You scan barcodes and it tells you if it's vegan. So much easier than reading labels!

Polly, This Enchanted Pixie:
Start simple – lots of veggies, grains, fruit, add in meat or dairy replacements if you need to. Read lots of vegan cookbooks and follow some vegan Instagram accounts for ideas and inspiration, and take it one step at a time – don’t beat yourself up if you slip up!

There's so much to say about veganism that I know I'll be writing about it again. But I'm interested in your take - what do you think about it all?

Please note: this isn't a covert attempt to convert anyone to veganism. I don't believe it's possible to convince anyone to change their beliefs if they aren't already open to the possibility. But if you're curious and need a wee push to get you there, start with Cowspiracy and Dairy is Scary.

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