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Veganuary: WE DID IT!

Rabbits rabbits rabbits! And hello February. January is finally over and, with it, the crazy journey that has been Veganuary. So how was it? Was it a big long struggle or more of an enjoyable journey? Are we going to be spending the day gorging ourselves on steak, cheese, milk chocolate and ice cream? Read on to find out.

Before we go any further, I just have something to get off my chest:

VEGANUARY IS OVER!!! WE HAVE BEEN VEGAN FOR A WHOLE MONTH!!! WE DID IT!!!

Back in December, I asked the following question(s):

Can two meat-lovers make the switch to a meat-free, dairy-free diet? Will we spend the whole month feeling hungry, craving bacon sarnies and turning a whiter shade of pale? Or will we adapt amazingly well? Relish trying out new recipes and new foods that we didn’t even know existed?

It is fair to say that when I wrote this, I had no clue how we would feel come 1st February. We had never considered being vegetarian, let alone vegan before. We loved food too much. It seemed like a fair enough choice for left-wing, animal-loving, tree-huggers, but “normal” food lovers like us? Naaaa.

And yet, and yet…

 

We are still vegan

We managed a full 31 days of being fully vegan – no meat, no dairy, no honey. No gelatine, no fish and NO CHEESE! I mean, when you put it like that, it is a wonder that we have coped at all. Meat, dairy, fish and cheese were our staples. So what on earth have we been eating?

Well, one of the greatest benefits of this whole thing (aside from feeling less sluggish, way more energetic and generally wholesome) is that we have been forced to cook different foods and to eat different meals. We have embraced quinoa, lentils, chickpeas and even seitan. We have also significantly increased our tofu and tempeh intake (although that was above average anyway due to hubby’s Indonesian roots).

I have taken to baking. Not being able to just eat any kind of cake has forced me to cook my own. I’ve mastered brownies, chocolate cake and banana bread thus far. And I have more baked vegan goods in my sights.

We have eaten at different cafes and restaurants. We tried Ippuku Tea House in York and had an amazing meal, including this quite stunning vegan dessert:

Vegan dessert at Ippuku Tea House, York
Vegan dessert at Ippuku Tea House, York

I enjoyed a delicious mushroom burger from Goji – a vegetarian cafe that I have walked past hundreds of times but never felt the need to enter. It turns out I was missing out. I am planning on going back next time I am in town! And, perhaps most importantly, my husband has found a supplier of vegan donuts in Leeds and, oh my goodness, they are amazing…

 

So what now? Back to the meat and dairy?

Well, I never thought I would be saying this, but we have decided to stay vegan. We have, in fact, loved being vegan so much that we see no reason to go back to our pre-vegan habits.

I know, I am very much surprised too. Or at least, the me of 32 days ago is very surprised.

In reality, it just feels like the natural thing to do. We have got used to not eating meat and dairy AND we feel better for it. Why would we go back?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when I think: “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?! NO MORE CHEESE? NO MORE SUNDAY DINNER? ARE YOU MAD?” And the thought of never eating these things again does freak me out massively. But, on a day-to-day level, I see no reason to not continue being vegan. I haven’t missed any of the non-vegan things so much that I am totally desperate to go out and consume them.

I do wonder what would happen if we got invited round to someone’s house for Sunday dinner. I would want to be eating the Sunday dinner, not tucking into some nut roast. I’m not going to lie. But I will face that hurdle when it arises. Right now, this vegan thing is staying. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it feels like the most natural decision in the world.

So, how has the massive transformation occurred? Just how have we managed to not only be vegan for 31 days, but to decide that it is our preferred option? To conclude this Veganuary series of blogs, here are my top tips for being vegan…

 

Top tips for being a little more vegan

  1. Switch to non-dairy milk
    This has to be the easiest place to start and it makes a massive difference to the impact you are having on the environment. As I wrote in a previous post, by switching from dairy milk to oat milk, you reduce your milk-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70%, from 229kg a year to just 65kg (based on 200ml of milk per day). There are loads of different non-dairy milks to choose from. We like oat milk – it is thicker than most, so more like the full fat milk we were used to, and it is streets ahead of the alternatives for coffee. Soy milk is used in a lot of baking, and almond milk is good if you prefer a thinner milk (say if you normally drink skimmed milk).
  2. Try non-dairy yoghurts and spread
    Instead of buying normal margarine, give Pure Dairy-Free Olive Spread a go – you won’t even notice the difference. (We tried Koko Dairy-Free Spread and were less than impressed. It didn’t spread very well and didn’t taste very nice.) Yoghurt alternatives are also really easy to come by. I love Koko Dairy-Free Plain Yoghurt – it is made with coconut milk, so has a lovely subtle coconut taste and has all the goodness of “normal natural yoghurt”. Alpro also seem to have cornered the market for flavoured yoghurt – we like their big pots of vanilla soy yoghurt, but they do small pots in loads of different fruit flavours too.

    Lentil Dahl with Fried Tempeh
    Lentil Dahl with Fried Tempeh

     

  3. Embrace new recipes
    We used to automatically add some meat or fish to everything we cooked. It was just a habit. Like a meal wasn’t complete without it. Well, I am pleased to inform you that this is absolute nonsense. We have eaten so many amazingly delicious meals since turning vegan and we haven’t missed meat or fish at all. One of my very favourite recipes is this Spinach, Aubergine and Chickpea Curry from the BBC website. It is super easy and soooo good. And, like most vegan recipes, it is really quick to cook – that’s the thing about not cooking meat, you can whip up something truly delicious in half the time.
  4. Listen to the Deliciously Ella podcast
    Ella Mills started blogging, then published recipe books, then opened a deli and launched an app. Now she has a podcast (together with her husband and business partner) and a whole range of vegan foods, now available in Ocado and other supermarkets. The podcast is a really easy way to get some inspiration for eating better and enjoying life more. They have a different guest on each week and cover topics ranging from happiness to gut health (fascinating by the way!) to dealing with stress and eating a vegan diet. If you have a spare 30 minutes on your commute, or whilst you are cooking dinner or simply lying on the sofa, give the Deliciously Ella podcast a listen.
  5. Know your vegan snacks
    I reckon one of the easiest places to slip up on the road to being vegan is snacking. When you are desperate to eat something and just grab whatever you see in the cupboard. As a vegan, you obviously can’t eat ham or cheese (my two pre-vegan savoury snacks of choice) and most biscuits and chocolate are off limits too. There’s even milk in loads of crisps and bread! There are plenty of vegan snacks available though. Here’s some of my faves:

    1. Biscuits: Party Rings and Oreo cookies, those Biscotti biscuits you often get in cafes
    2. Nuts – all the nuts. Nuts are great sources of protein and are full of vitamins and minerals. Eat more nuts!
    3. Dark chocolate – not all dark chocolate is vegan but a lot of it is. Just check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain milk.
    4. Other chocolate – happily, there are loads of vegan milk chocolate substitutes available these days. We love VEGO – milk chocolate with hazelnuts. But it is pricey and very moreish! Vivani also sell a range of vegan chocolate under their iChoc label and they are not just vegan but palm oil free and sustainably produced with eco-friendly packaging. I haven’t tried them all but they sound delicious – White Vanilla, Almond Orange and Caribbean Gold with coconut blossom sugar. Yum!
    5. Nakd Cocoa Orange bars and these Raw Chocolate Goji Berries are also seriously delicious.
  6. Watch the Happy Pear on Youtube for recipe inspiration
    Their Irish accents alone are enough to make this a winning tip, but they cook really nice food too. Their video for a Vegan Tikka Masala Sandwich, see below, inspired my current favourite vegan dish. Here’s the video, read on for my tweak:

    So, a tikka masala sandwich sounds great, but I’d rather have a tikka masala curry to eat with rice. So, I make two portions of the tikka masala sauce (blend together 2 tins of coconut milk, 6 garlic cloves, 2 tbsp soy sauce/tamari, 2 tbsp syrup, 200g tomato puree and 2tsp of ground ginger, ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and smoked paprika) and add it to a pan with diced tempeh, diced aubergine and a load of spinach. Cook until the aubergine is soft (20 mins or so). One hell of a tasty meal that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare!

  7. Get organised and stock up on essentials
    When you are cooking loads of vegan meals from scratch, there are certain ingredients that you will get through quite a lot of. I have found that if I have a good stash of rice, quinoa, pasta and vegan noodles, as well as tins of chickpeas, coconut milk, tinned tomatoes and black beans, then I can make a good range of dishes. I keep the fridge stocked up with aubergine, spring greens, sweet potatoes, tofu and tempeh, and keep some spinach and butternut squash in the freezer too. And I make sure I always have loads of different types of nuts and seeds and non-dairy milk. Once you have all of those bases covered, you can find loads of quick and easy vegan recipes online. And, as I’ve said before, they tend to be way quicker to cook than meat dishes.
  8. Know that you are making a big difference to the environment
    Even if you only make a few switches or commit to eating vegan dinner a few nights a week, you will be making a difference. The truth is, the meat and dairy industry are huge contributors to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. An average UK consumer would save a staggering 2 to 4 tonnes of carbon per year by switching to a vegan diet. That is more than switching to an electric car and is, in fact, equivalent to 13 return flights from London to Copenhagen.
    To find out more about how your food choices impact upon the environment, check out this tool on the BBC website. If, for example, you eat 75g beef per week, this amounts to a staggering 604kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year – equivalent to driving 1,500 miles in a normal petrol car or a return flight from London to Malaga.
    This handy table illustrates the point:

    Greenhouse gas emissions from proteins
    Greenhouse gas emissions from proteins

    Almost 8kg of greenhouse gas emissions PER SERVING of beef. If you want to reduce your impact on the environment, the best thing to do is reduce the amount of red meat you consume.
    Handy tip: these figures are all from a study conducted by Joseph Poore from Oxford University. Happily, rather than reading the whole study, you can just listen to his chat with Ella on the Deliciously Ella podcast.

 

The end

So, that’s it. Veganuary is officially over. That crazy journey of trying veganism has become the norm and is now a way of life in our household. It has been a fascinating journey and I have really enjoyed trying all the different recipes, weekend baking with the kids, and just feeling healthier and like I am doing something positive.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs and that they have inspired you to try some new recipes. I don’t want there to be any guilt if you don’t want to go vegan. Fair enough. If someone had told me I should be vegan a year ago I would probably have laughed in their face. I certainly wouldn’t have suddenly stopped eating all meat and dairy. You have to do what is right for you.

But, at the same time, I do hope that I have managed to get across some of the environmental reasons for reducing our consumption of meat and dairy. We can all make a difference by making small changes. I had no idea of the scale of the environmental damage caused by our eating habits. At the very least, I hope I have helped to spread the word a little.

If you know of anyone who is interested in going vegan, please feel free to recommend this blog. Now Veganuary is over, I will switch back to Simple Steps – publishing one Simple Step a week to make small changes that can make a difference. I hope you will join me on the journey!

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