28 things I learned when I went vegan for a month

Back in January I was cozily powering through those dark, winter nights accompanied by my best friends, red wine and Netflix. Faced with the nightly argument over WTF to watch, having exhausted all of the boxset options, attention turned to the many documentaries on there.

Vegucated was the first of its kind I had watched, late last year on maternity leave, pre-baby, whilst twiddling my thumbs – which isn’t easy when they resemble enormous sausages due to all of the baby weight I saw it as my duty to gain and then lose for your blog reading pleasure.

It struck a chord immediately. I was already pescetarian, but it was enough to make me quit fish immediately, and I LOVED seafood. I forged ahead with the veggie lifestyle and was happy to continue consuming dairy, mostly in cheese and chocolate form.

Until the Netflix war led me back onto the documentary path. Suddenly, I couldn’t rationalise my cheese addiction when it was stacked against all of the health benefits of a 100% plant-based diet. Prior to this, I knew very little about the animal welfare arguments against consuming dairy and animal by-products – I naively assumed there weren’t any. No cows were killed in the making of my pizza, so what was the problem?

I still consider myself to be far from an expert in these matters, I have literally just watched a few films,  read a little on the internet and talked to people. So I am not here to preach; live and let live and all that. I have no issues with other people’s choices, but I found myself struggling to live with my own.

As it was soon to be February, I resolved to take on a month-long, dairy-free challenge to see how I coped with and felt about the change in diet, outlook and habits.

And so, #fuckdairyfebruary was born.

Here are a few things I subsequently learned… 28 in fact, one for each day of the challenge which I will pretend was on purpose, and not just because I couldn’t think of 30.

1. I didn’t miss anything. Seriously surprising for someone who comes from a long line of cheese addicts.

2. Vegan doesn’t mean healthy. I had visions of becoming a member of that hated breed of people who just lose weight “without even noticing”. I put weight on after initially confusing things I could eat for things I should eat.

3. So in the same spirit, not all “treats” revolve around dairy.

unnamed (2)

Little Barista, big vegan

4. Having said that, if you don’t choose your dining venues wisely, it can feel dairy is inescapable (quick pub lunch at the nearest carvery? Green tea and fries for me then).

5. Withdrawl is a b*tch. Sounds ridiculous, but I went through a hippytastic “healing crisis“. Coincidence? Possibly, but Jak was on the vegan train too and we were both ill for at least half the month.

6. I did feel better…. post-crisis. I can’t say I noticed a crazy surge in energy, but my skin has been good and to quote a vegan friend, Gem, I don’t feel quite so “stodge”.

unnamed (3)

Who ate all the pies?

7. Vegan comfort food (or as our friend Katharine would call it, “nurture food”) is just as comforting. Homemade pie and chips, lasagne, mac and “cheeze”, all the carbs.

8. It can be a talking point – I had messages from old friends doing similar challenges, or forwarding recipe ideas.

9. Equally, it’s not as interesting as you may think to most (I became that Daily Mash militant vegan). In a good way, too. I felt guilty at times asking about ingredients or adaptions until I was reminded by several people that catering for different dietary requirements is standard for anyone who works in food, so any guilt was all down to my own desperation not to cause a fuss (my ultimate worst).

10. Breaking up with your milkman is hard. It took over a month, and even the mini member of the household who isn’t dairy-free doesn’t drink cow’s milk.

11. Substitutes work, some of the time. A couple of the cheese alternatives I tried were fine, others weren’t which makes you rethink recipes and habits – often in a good way. It turns out you can eat pasta which isn’t smothered in grated cheddar – who knew?

12. Bagels are your friend.

13. Tastebuds change – and I never really believed this prior to the challenge. Green salad had never tasted so fresh; dark chocolate now tastes like “normal” chocolate and former coconut hater Jak is now a Coyo convert.

14. 1kg tubs of peanut butter don’t go as far as they used to.

15. Virtually nothing is labelled up as vegan, I spent the month reading ingredient lists and now even my non-vegan friends are pros at scanning packs for milk powder.

16. And speaking of milk powder, it is in practically everything. Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

unnamed (1)

Pizza for everyone!

17. Chain places are great. I had my only vegan pizza of the month at The Brickworks. Incredibly for Accrington, it was one of two pizzas on the menu (as well as other vegan options). Chaz and I also enjoyed a #cheekynandos.

18. Vegan hotel breakfasts are easy. Fresh fruit, Marmite toast, granola, hash browns, beans and mushrooms saved me from a horrific hangover (it’s not a hotel breakfast without at least three courses).

19. You may find yourself shrieking “I can’t believe it’s not dairy!” when you discover a really amazing vegan product. I was sent these Pudology millionaires’ puds by Ocado as a review product (either cool or scary they know me this well) and was pathetically excited at how good they were.

20. People adapt. After my mum initially sent this Guardian article to our whatsapp group (apparently a joke but we learned our pass-agg skillz from the best), she soon switched the Wednesday night treat she leaves me after her childcare day, from Lindt to Bournville #bestbabysitterever #worstbossever

21. Indian restaurants and takeaways mostly cook in oil, not ghee, as it’s cheaper – so the majority of the veggie dishes are vegan. A top tip from our friend Jade and news to me – which made a curry house trip for my mum’s birthday a breeze.

22. Vegan fishless fingers are scarily similar. I know lots of veggies and vegans don’t like substitutes and I’d never bothered much until this month. Yet in the spirit of trying new things (and a #TBT to my former fish finger sandwich obsession) I explored a few bits and these were my fave.

unnamed (4)

Love a bit of cake

23. Cake tastes all the sweeter when you eventually find one you can eat. Thanks to Little Barista in Burnley, I tried a coffee and orange cake and a chocolate coconut flapjack slice over the month, while my mum and Quincy tucked into buttered toasted teacakes (in San’s/Beyoncé’s own words, #iaintsorry).

24. Come prepared. Jade takes a Tesco falafel and hummus wrap meal deal to weddings and christenings in case she goes hungry – top tip.

25. Support is plentiful – I joined a Facebook group for local vegans who post really useful tips and experiences on an almost daily basis.

unnamed (2)

Avo and hummus sandwich @ The Abel Heywood, NQ, Manchester

26. Eating out is a doddle… Mostly. Venture into Manchester and you’re laughing, nip down to your local garden centre café for lunch and you may be struggling. In which case…

27. If in doubt, call ahead. I ate lots of great food during the month and one such dish was a delicious veggie curry made especially at a country pub in the Lakes (the Stanley Arms in Calder Bridge) after I called beforehand. I’m sure I’d have found something to eat either way (salad and chips is always an option), but the chef was more than happy to accommodate my request.

28. It’s fun. I used to have a stupidly inaccurate perception of vegans as being sad and deprived, but I actually loved it and found it really easy. Which leads seamlessly to the question…

What’s next?

After an interesting month, I’ve decided to keep the vegan party going for a while longer. I am reluctant to commit to a label indefinitely, but I’m enjoying it so far and see no reason to stop now.

Honestly, I can’t say I’ll never eat (non-vegan) pizza again. But every time I consider it, I remember my reasons for starting this. OK, so health-wise I may not have exploited the benefits of the vegan lifestyle to their full potential just yet, but you only have to scan Peta’s Facebook feed for plentiful reasons to give this a try.

If you are curious about exploring this kind of thing, here are the documentaries that prompted my switch:

Food Choices

Vegucated

Forks Over Knives

And if you’re still interested after that, Peta do a free vegan starter kit which is a good place to start.

Advertisements

Nobody say cheese: aka F*ck Dairy February

unnamed

Quitting meat and fish was a gradual process for me and the latest food group on my radar is dairy.

Influenced by both health and animal welfare factors featured in some eye-popping Netflix docs I’ve been watching lately like Food ChoicesVegucated  and Forks over Knives, I’ve decided to go dairy-free for a month. I’m calling it…

(drumroll)

#f*ckdairyfebruary (sorry Mum)

It’s not quite veganism as I plan to continue eating eggs from my own hens. As far as I can gather, the only health risks posed by eggs surround battery hens and the associated animal welfare issues (please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m still learning).

So, at the moment I feel fine about consuming eggs produced by the divas who trot around my garden, bully my dog and make Quincy to go “tssssss tsssss!” (baby for chicken) about 50 times a day.

The easy bits

Huge parts of my daily diet are already dairy-free so in some ways, it’s a straightforward challenge.

Breakfast is usually porridge or granola with almond milk or yogurt. Switching to dairy-free yogurt is no problem taste-wise (hello Coyo) but it will make more of a dent in the budget (£4.99 for 400g… yikes).

Work lunches and evening meals tend to revolve around batch cooking basics, many of which are vegan but I do plan to branch out with some new recipes to mix things up.

Last week I tried a cheesy butternut pasta sauce (a take on this recipe with added nutritional yeast and less cayenne and salt, so Q could have the leftovers for lunch).

Next on my hitlist are some Thug Kitchen recipes from a book Chaz bought me for Christmas. So far, their chickpea biryani went down well with our (meat eating) friend Lianne, who said she “never knew vegetarian food could actually taste good” (has she never had chips?).

The shopping

This week, I’ve ordered my third Wholegood organic uber veg and fruit box and I’m basing most of my meals around these.

After I deleted all of the cheese out of my first dairy-free Ocado basket (a sad moment), I added the following to see me through week 1 of the challenge:

I also ordered extra cashews (for creamy sauces, stir fries and granola) and avocados (because I don’t need an excuse to be even more of a basic b!tch).

And survive week one I did – and that even included a pub lunch (albeit in the v vegan-friendly Northern Quarter).

The obstacles

1. Cheese

I LOVE cheese and it’s the culprit behind many of my indulgences…. pizza, cheeseboards, grilled halloumi on veggie burgers, baked camembert with warm bread (thank god bread is vegan), grated cheddar on chilli or pasta…. I could go on but I’ll stop before I run to Tesco and lose my sh*t at the deli counter.

It’s a challenge, but changing habits is what it’s all about. I’ve never been one to give things up for Lent, I’m not religious so never saw the point. As I have proper reasons for doing this, I’m already finding it much easier than I expected.

And according to some, cheese is as addictive as crack, so going cold tofurky may be a smart move.

2. Cake!

A weekend coffee and cake date is one of our main joys in life and while we always opt for dairy-free lattes and vegan cakes where they’re available, the reality of living in a small town means they are seriously limited in places we frequent.

If anyone knows of vegan-friendly options in cafes round our way, please share them to save me from Costa soya lattes!

Now I’m practically a Ribble Valley resident (half a mile out, people!) I’m a big fan of the Benedict’s almond milk latte and we are planning a trip to Lolo’s vegan cafe in Ramsbottom because it looks amazing and people keep telling us to go… But any other secret tip offs will be much appreciated, as it’s sometimes good to have a surprising option in an otherwise “normal” place that keeps everyone happy.

3. Awkwardness

Feeling like a pain in the neck is one of the biggest downsides of being veggie and I do fear taking it to extremes will make me even more of a social outcast. February is already filling up with a wedding on the horizon and several other social occasions, so I plan to just do my best.

Exchanging messages with our vegan friend Jade, she’s enlightened me to the ease of vegan dining and added me to a Facebook group full of ace tips and tricks to navigate the Lancashire culinary landscape.

4. Expense

I get annoyed when people claim switching to healthier eating habits is more expensive as someone on a constant budget; I do my weekly food shop for around £40 for three of us and lentils, chickpeas and seasonal veg are affordable staples.

BUT when it comes to indulgences like vegan chocolate and coconut yogurt it sure adds up. HOWEVER, this list of 44 accidentally vegan snack foods has reassured me dairy-free treat times needn’t break the bank. Obviously one of the main points of this is to adopt (even) more of a plant-based diet, so I don’t plan to exist on Pot Noodles and Pringles, but it’s good to know I could grab a Bournville from the garage if the urge for chocolate takes over (UPDATE: I actually checked my local garage yesterday and they don’t even sell it… WTF Nightingales? So veganist!).

I plan to report back at the end of the month (if I manage to stay out of the cheese aisle for that long).

In the meantime, anyone for an almond milk latte and an Oreo?!

Plant power: meat-free musings

jared

Carnivorous chums regularly freak out at the fact it’s been over a year now since a morsel of meat passed my lips. I do still eat fish – though increasingly rarely – but the veggie lifestyle has crept up and stolen the show.

Never a huge meat lover, I did used to inhale the occasional burger with the best of them and the obligatory hangover Big Mac tempted me all too often in those carb-crazed uni days. Post-uni, I shared a party house with my friend Nat and the only meals we ever managed to cook were giant vats of cheddar-topped chilli and spag bol washed down with lashings of cheap wine.

fat al and nat

Can’t say the mince and Marlboro Lights diet suited us

Living on my own in my late twenties I naturally gravitated towards veggie meals more and more until eventually cutting out meat full stop in January 2014. The way I eat now is more enjoyable and sustainable than a brief foray into vegetarianism aged 13 (that classic weapon in the teenage war against public enemy number 1: your own mum) so I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Make a meal of it

prosecco pals

For my 33rd birthday, Chaz and said mum (17 years post-ceasefire) took me to Greens restaurant in Didsbury to toast my pleasingly symmetrical age with a veggie feast. In between champagne cocktails we devoured course after course of amazingly fresh, surprisingly simple food that would delight the most steadfast of steak-lovers.

The main thing I took away from the day was a newfound appetite to make one humble ingredient centre-stage. My scorched broccoli starter was a treat, as was Chaz’s oriental pancake dish – where mushrooms punched above their rep as an alternative to the traditional duck (not to mention leaving at least one happy mallard free to quack another day). I had a ‘chuck it all in and hope for the best’ sort of attitude before this, but Greens’ considered approach to the humble vegetable made me rethink the way I cook and shun the chop-happy habit in favour of showcasing one thing. Win-win really, because it’s way more economical to save that aubergine for a standalone showstopper than mindlessly throw it into a dish which already has loads of veggies jostling for the top spot.

Come dine with me

 burger quinoa risotto

The veggie life chose me, but that’s not true of everyone so I expect menus to be jam packed with meat-based mains when I eat out. But over the last year I’ve discovered how badly so many eateries do veggie fayre. It’s a shame. I’m no Nigella, but off the top of my head I can name at least ten easy vegetarian meals that I cook and eat regularly. Yet whenever I dine out, it’s disappointing to see the same old tomato pasta, cheese and onion pie and bland veggie chilli combo.

Now, I do live in a smallish town in East Lancashire so I don’t expect culinary wizardry everywhere I turn, and I know there are plant-based treats galore to be found in lots of cafes, pubs, restaurants and delis in the big city and beyond. It just feels a bit like your average eaterie treats the veggie option as an afterthought (at best – one so-called gastropub had nothing more than a cheese sandwich on offer one Sunday afternoon, not quite the dish to set a weary walker’s world on fire), many can’t even tell you which puddings are veggie-friendly so there’s a certain ignorance even among trained chefs.

1526373_10152504368940419_7127553414329154599_n

Eating out is still one of my main joys in life (and the impetus to get me through many a rainy run or windy walk), I just scour menus in advance now to make sure there’s something decent to be had for the hungry herbivore. Not a massive hardship for a greedy menu fiend like me. There are of course plenty of great exceptions to this rule round our way (shout out to the great waiter at Northcote who brought me a separate veggie menu on a girls’ lunch out and didn’t make me feel like a social outcast in the slightest).

A lot of the time, though, cooking at home wins. As long as the wine is flowing and the attire is cosy.

Protein queen

e8b75a39fb2b7f46bc336ee9b23090ec

Can’t say I ever really thought about my protein intake as a moderate meat-eater, but eating veggie most of the time means I’m glued to the macro pie chart on MyFitnessPal.

I’ve read a lot of interesting stuff about how much protein you actually need and should eat, post like this one by Deliciously Ella have helped me to incorporate things I might not previously have considered to up the intake. These mostly consist of:

  • Pulses – love the humble lentil, stews and chillies bursting with beans and I make Deliciously Ella’s hummus week after week, heaping it on virtually every meal for an extra hit of chickpea power
  • Protein powders – currently experimenting with hemp and spirulina to give the old smoothies a kick
  • Nuts and seeds – any excuse to add almond butter to my porridge is fine by me
  • Grains – oats, quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat aren’t the most obvious sources but they hold their own
  • Vegetables and fruit – the fact kale and avocado pack a protein punch was just music to my ears

I’m still no expert on this and I’m always trying new things. Any suggestions welcome!

Take the flack

enhanced-28476-1410430288-8

If you’re considering kicking meat to the kerb prepare to get a lot of stick. People seem to be fascinated by it, I laugh it off. I heard a vegan on the radio eloquently and knowledgably defending her decision to raise her toddler on a plant-based diet and she argued the case for infant nutrition way better than any of the meat-pushing mums claiming she was mental. Now I’m not saying I agree with her choice necessarily, but it pays to know your stuff.

Be adventurous

joey

You’d be a pretty miserable, malnourished veggie if you didn’t explore all the options out there (as our stepdad John chastised Chaz during HER stroppy teenage veggie phase: “you’re the only vegetarian I know who doesn’t like vegetables”).

I’ve eaten all sorts of things I never thought I’d try or even knew existed over the last year (hello tofu chocolate mousse) in my never-ending quest for plant-based culinary nirvana.

Not to be all X Factor about it, but it’s a fun journey and if you’ve tried Chaz’s version of Naturally Sassy’s peanut butter cheesecake you’ll know the promised land does exist.

cheesecake

All images taken by us or from Pinterest