The rumours are true. Easter is coming, and chocolate season is already in full swing. There’s a new Kinder egg. Twitter declared #ChocolateCakeDay was a thing. There was a boutique brownie company on Dragon’s Den the other night. A pop-up Creme Egg cafe has opened in London.
Veganuary is officially over.
For those of you that are furrowing your brow and muttering ‘that’s not even a word’ and preparing to exit this webpage, crack open a fresh bar of Dairy Milk and declare my blog full of stupid hippie nonsense, let me explain a bit. While ‘Veganuary’ might be a pretentious-sounding buzzword made up by bored Cosmo journalists, Instagram-famous It girls or the people working at Pinterest, it’s actually a pretty great concept when you think about it.
The idea was to go vegan for the entire month of January – no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey or other consumable animal product was to touch your plate for four weeks. Depending on your definition of vegan (whether you were doing it for ethical, environmental or health reasons), this could also have extended to clothing, beauty products and household products. That means no leather, wool, silk, fur or animal-tested make-up. Sounds like a lot of hard work when I lay it out like that, doesn’t it?
So why in the name of all that is cheesy and delicious in the world would anyone commit to this??? Well, let’s start with the motivations behind it.
As New Year’s resolutions go, it’s quite a good one. Technically it’s not a New YEAR’s resolution as you’re only giving it a go for a month. It’s like a free trial. After the 31 day grace period you can decide if you want to aim for the year, going the whole (texturised soy protein) hog, or if you want to cancel your membership. No strings attached.
Then there’s the peace of mind aspect. Just the smallest of glances into the meat, fish and dairy industries will make even the biggest bacon-lover a little uncomfortable. There’s also the environmental side – if you enjoy recycling, riding a bike and tutting at people who pay 5p for a carrier bag, the likelihood is you’ve already considered cutting down on meat to some extent.
Plus, most vegan food is super healthy – low fat protein sources such as tofu, soya mince, beans, lentils and pulses make up the bulk of veggie recipes, and dishes are brought to life with plenty of vegetables, grains and fancy-sounding spices. If you resolved to lose a few pounds this year and finally learn to cook instead of getting Domino’s to cook for you, starting the health kick by going vegan was probably a good idea. As long as you didn’t get too tempted by ‘accidentally vegan’ foods (Oreos, Tesco jam doughnuts, chips, sweet and salt popcorn, Betty Crocker’s Devil Food cake mix, SMOKEY BACON FLAVOUR PRINGLES OMG well that’s a whole other post for another day), if you tried Veganuary your body is probably thanking you for it already.
In case you’ve read all the way down to this ninth paragraph and still haven’t realised, I am a vegan. That is, I follow a vegan diet, try to wear synthetic fabrics, buy cruelty free make-up and greet every dog/cat/hamster/pigeon I meet like an old friend. I have been vegetarian my whole life and a vegan for the last two years. I’m by no means an expert, but I have picked up a few tips and tricks that make being a veggie supreme in a meat lover world a bit easier.
Whether you’ve completed Veganuary and want to continue riding the vegan train through 2016, or if you’re completely new to the idea of going veggie, here’s a short guide to making green eating seem less daunting. Because I am a humble and modest person, I have called it The Ultimate Vegan Survival Guide. You’re welcome.
1. Find what you love
First of all, you’ll need a few staple recipes to form the basis of your diet – really tasty, really easy and really reliable ones. You’re not going to stay motivated if you’re not enjoying the food you’re eating. Try experimenting with vegan versions of dishes you love already – before cutting out dairy I made a roasted Mediterranean vegetable lasagne with cheddar cheese sauce all the time, and I was dreading saying goodbye to my go-to mid-week dinner. One soya milk, dairy-free marge and Violife cheese slice substitution later, it was back in my belly, and just as delicious as before.
You should also discover some new recipes and make them your staples. This BBC Good Food curry has changed my life, as has the Oh She Glows chilli – they can both be made in large batches and frozen in individual portions, so act as homemade ready meals for when you can’t be bothered to cook. I’ve impressed friends at dinner parties with this chocolate mouthgasm, and I actually prefer Jamie Oliver’s vegan brownies to regular ones.
2. Stay healthy
This one can’t be stressed enough. While the amount of protein humans actually need is way less than what shake-wielding guys at the gym will have you believe, it’s still important and you need to make sure you’re hitting your daily recommendation. Try meat substitutes such as Quorn if you’re veggie (not suitable for vegans!), soy protein or tofu. If you don’t like the processed stuff, pack out meals with beans, nuts, lentils and pulses such as chickpeas. And don’t forget about iron – leafy greens are your best friend, so double up on the broccoli and stir some wilted spinach leaves into your curry.
You might also want to take some supplements for things that can’t easily be found in a plant-based diet, such as Vitamin B12. And if you’re going vegan to lose weight, please make sure you’re eating enough of the right stuff. Although it’s good to try and be healthy, if you have a tendency to obsess over things you could be in danger of developing an eating disorder. Veganism isn’t about counting calories – it’s a positive lifestyle change. If you find yourself fixating on food, make an appointment with a doctor or health professional to check everything’s OK.
3. Knowledge is power
And preparation is key. Going out for dinner with friends? Check the restaurant’s menu online or phone ahead to see what you can eat. There’s nothing worse than watching your pals chow down on an extravagant three course meal while you’re sat there with a side portion of chips served with the bitter taste of regret.
Pizza Express’ Pianta pizza is vegan. Nando’s do a soya burger and their garlic bread is dairy-free. Wagamama dishes can be made vegan by switching to rice noodles. At Jamie’s Italian, the chef is often happy to make you something from scratch if you tell them what you like (spicy tomato pasta with roasted red pepper and fresh basil for me. YUM).
Get to know your supermarket treats as well. Things like milk and eggs count as allergens so are helpfully highlighted bold in ingredients lists, making them easy to spot. You’ll soon learn about the accidentally vegan stuff and shopping in Asda will become less of a chore, more of a treasure hunt. Thought Jus-Rol chocolate croissants were a thing of your non-vegan past? Think again my friend.
4. Get involved online
I don’t mean become a keyboard warrior – well, you can if you really want, but by now I think it’s safe to assume that most people know where their meat, dairy and eggs come from, and if they are happy buying into those industries that’s their call. What I mean is find inspiration and support from the online community. It might surprise you, but there are A LOT of other veg lovers out there.
Instagram is unbelievably good for foodspiration. Accounts such as Deliciously Ella, Minimalist Baker and Plantbased Pixie are life savers. Often I’ll be scrolling through my feed, thinking about having peanut butter and marmite on toast for dinner as well as lunch (and probably breakfast) when BOOM, I’ll see a Pixie Plate of veggie goodness that will make me want to lick my phone screen. Before you can say ‘falafel’ I’ll be off my arse and chopping veg like a grown up.
5. Don’t be hard on yourself
There’s no such thing as ‘breaking’ veganism. You can’t cheat, or mess up. Sometimes you’ll just really want a packet of cheese and onion crisps, or your Gran will forget and start piling chicken pie on your plate. It’s not the end of the world, or the end of your new lifestyle choice – unless you want it to be.
Some people might choose to go ‘flexitarian’ and aim for reducing their meat and dairy consumption rather than cutting it out altogether. I’ve always been a fan of people eating whatever they feel comfortable eating. If you do decide to go vegan, you’ve made a conscious decision to be more mindful of the not-so-tasty aspects of the food industry. That stays true even if you accidentally eat a cheesy Wotsit when you’re drunk. I still believe in you!
Ultimately, going vegan has never been so easy. So if you want to give the greener side of life a go, stock up on Linda McCartney sausages, strap on your pleather boots and become the Disney-esque best friend of animals you always dreamed you could be. Bloody hippie.