So, you’ve decided to take a punt and try veganism for the month of January. Maybe you feel like it’ll be a nice way to be healthier after the excesses of Christmas, or to kickstart a healthy 2016. Perhaps you’re vegetarian already and want to see if you could manage a transition to veganism, or maybe it’s a dare from a vegan friend to a committed carnivore. Maybe you’re toying with a more long term lifestyle change. Whatever your reasons, you’ve probably got a couple of days in and realised that a month feels like a pretty long time, and you’ve turned to the internet to help you out…
Firstly, although it seems endless right now (maybe), the month will fly and, if you’re anything like me (Veganuary 2014 alumnus), you’ll shoot straight into mid-February without even thinking about returning to your old ways. This list is just a few of the things that helped me get onto a path that I’ve since not faltered on, and which has drastically improved my health and my wellbeing.
Get your store-cupboard in order
We did a post on store-cupboard essentials recently, and that might be a good place to start. For the basics, plant-based milks are increasingly easy to get hold of, and there are loads to try (my personal view: soya is probably the best all-rounder, hazelnut is *amazing* for hot chocolate, coconut is good for coffee, oat is good for tea. The Koko chocolate milk is delicious). For butter, you can find the Pure spreads at most supermarkets these days, and Vitalite is also dairy-free.
I’d recommend getting a few pulses in stock (tins of beans and the ready-cooked puy lentil sachets are great to have in and don’t need hours of soaking or simmering) so you aren’t just reliant on meat and dairy replacements. They absolutely have their place and I am basically in love with Linda McCartney’s Country Pies, but you’ll find your meals get a bit samey if they are the axis on which your world turns, and you won’t get the benefit of my next tip…
Use it as a jumpstart in the kitchen
Before going vegan, I’d got into a bit of a rut in the kitchen, especially midweek. It went like: come home from work, grill some meat or fry some mince, add pasta/potatoes, add cheese, add token veg: repeat. I wasn’t enjoying cooking any more, and I wasn’t really enjoying mealtimes. There are loads of really involved (and great in their own way) vegan recipes out there, but often they require 36 hours and a bunch of specialist ingredients, which is no good for a rainy Tuesday after work, although it can be a great way to spend a homely weekend if you’re so inclined. There are, thankfully, just as many great vegan food bloggers out there who make accessible meals with standard ingredients and as part of regular busy lives. My personal favourites are Pink Puff Loves Vegan Eats, Guac and Roll, Emi’s Good Eating, Yes, It’s All Vegan and *coughs* this very blog and associated Instagram.
Seriously, Instagram is an absolute treasure trove of amazing vegan food cooked by regular people in regular kitchens with regular ingredients. Check out the #veganuary #veganfoodshare and #whatveganseat tags for a healthy dose of great ideas, not all of which will be artfully arranged plates of fruit…
I’d also recommend @accidentallyveganuk for a very heartening list of widely available items which are vegan by default rather than design. Firm staples in our household are the JusRol pastries (pain au chocolat, anyone?).
Find a buddy
Having someone to give you tips or boost you up is really helpful during the month, but it can be tricky to find amongst your immediate social circle. Instagram will help you out again here, and I’ve found vegans online to be hugely supportive to those making (or trying to make) a change. If you want to reach out to us by email or on Instagram, go ahead – we’d be happy to help you out! There may also be local groups that have regular meetups, so have a little web search and see what you can find.
No, seriously. You might imagine that it’s a nightmare eating out as a vegan but it truly doesn’t have to be. As well as loads of local gems (again, Instagram ‘#vegan[yourcity]’ will help, or look here if you’re London-or Berlin-based), some of the big chains are starting to realise that there’s a market to be served. You can get vegan options in Nando’s (the veggie burger without mayo and the chips are good, as is the sweetcorn side – your server will typically be well versed in what’s legit as it can vary branch to branch); Pizza Express (the Pianta pizza is very good, and you can get pizza sauce with your dough balls instead of garlic butter); Carluccio’s and Jamie’s Italian both have separate vegan menus available on request. You can even get takeaway – Papa John’s dough is vegan friendly, and so is the special garlic sauce (not even kidding) – just ask for your favourite without cheese, or choose the ‘make your own’ option and make clear you want it without cheese. If you’re in London, Basilico do a vegan cheese option, or you can go cheeseless (see a note on cheese below). You’ll typically find that Turkish, Lebanese, Indian and Southeast Asian restaurants have options which are already vegan friendly, or can very easily be adapted. Happy Cow Guide is a godsend, you’ll be surprised how many options there are!
Get some treats in
Not all vegans are abstemious snore-inducers who only eat barley and wizened carrots, I promise. Most of us like our treats and junk food as much as everyone else, we just do it without animal products. If you only get one treat, make it a Vego bar – hands down the nicest chocolate I’ve ever eaten, bar none. Check out the range from Vegan Cross for a huge range of vegan alternatives to basically every conceivable treat (available online for delivery too, so you don’t have to be in London or Bristol to benefit).
Do some research
I’m not talking a dissertation here, but take the opportunity to learn more about the food choices you’re making day to day. Do you know how the dairy industry works, for example? Do you know how free range eggs really compare with battery eggs when it comes to animal welfare (hint: it isn’t all chicks frolicking in the sunset)? What about the health benefits of a plant based diet, what are those? And how about the impact on the environment and climate change?
For me, Veganuary offered a great opportunity to be more comfortable and accountable when it came to the food choices I made. It played out that I made a permanent change right off the back of Veganuary, because what I learned made it impossible for me to consider a return to eating animal products. Some of you (especially those hardened carnivores doing veganuary for a bet or a dare) might do all this research and find that you’re still cool with a bacon double cheeseburger in a way that can’t be fulfilled by the (frankly incredible) vegan alternatives. You do you, but do it with full knowledge – own those choices. There are some pretty hard hitting documentaries out there that make it harder to return to old ways for many, and there are some gentler ones which are fantastic introductions to the benefits (for you, animals, the world) of a plant based lifestyle. I’ve listed them in two sections below, so you can work within your comfort (and come back for the badass ones when you’re ready). There’s a bigger list of resources here.
- Forks Over Knives (Available on Netflix – full documentary)
- Animals Should Be Off The Menu ( Youtube, 10 mins)
- Vegucated (available on Netflix, or for purchase on Youtube ($3.49)– full documentary)
- Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (available on Netflix, gentler than the title suggests, great if you like juice – full documentary)
Super Badass Level
- Earthlings (full documentary)
- Dairy is F***ing Scary (5 mins)
- What’s Wrong with Eggs? (20 mins)
- Meet Your Meat (11 mins)
A note about cheese
Yep, I’m making this a separate point. I’m making it separate for a couple of reasons: most people I speak to cite cheese as the main thing holding them back, and it was the biggest obstacle for me too. So, how did I go from 3-cheeses-a-week to vegan overnight? I just didn’t have cheese. I mean, for the first few months, I didn’t even have vegan cheese. There are some really great vegan cheeses emerging but, if I’m honest, they probably only taste amazing after you’ve forgotten what dairy-cheese tastes like. If you’re hovering on the brink because of cheese, take a look at the super badass Dairy is F***ing Scary video linked above, and see how you feel.
For a savoury, cheese-like, topping (on lasagne and the like), nutritional yeast is absolutely your friend. It also takes the slight sweet edge off a soya-based white sauce, and is a great source of B12.
For that zingy parmesan taste on your (lentil) Bolognese, the vegan parmesan available from Vegan Cross (VX) is actually great, and a store cupboard staple for us. (VX do mail order).
A note on nutrition
When people in your life find out you are vegan, even if only for January, they will suddenly all become trained nutritionists with an expert knowledge of the level of protein and B12 you need. So, here’s some info:
- Most people eat far more protein than they need. When we’re getting protein from, say, beef, where do we think that cow got its protein? Yeah: grass. Plants have you covered. Add some nuts and pulses in for good measure, but don’t freak out about protein. Look at this chart if you don’t believe me:
- We can’t produce B12. Nor can animals. Nor, indeed, can plants. Most of the population are deficient in B12. The only B12 in the human diet comes from bacteria that live the soil that grass-fed animals pick up with the grass they chew and the water they drink (how much of the bacon and beef you eat comes from grass-fed animals, do you think?). Take a supplement if you like, and go about your day (you can also get B12 from marmite, and B12 enriched nutritional yeast, which is why both are a store-cupboard staple!). You need to get B6 for your body to get the use out of B12, so get some nuts, seeds, banana or avocado in and you should be golden.
- Calories count. When you drop dairy, eggs and meat from your diet overnight, you need to recalibrate your portion sizes and introduce snacks like fruit, nuts (or a sneaky vego bar) to get your recommended daily allowance (even if you’re using veganism to lose a bit of weight and get healthy, you need 1200 calories a day at the absolute minimum). I’m not saying go hell for leather on a kilo of pasta for lunch (unless you want to), but don’t imagine that a green salad and a bowl of soup will get you through the day. Don’t fall into the trap of ditching Veganuary half way through because “you knew all vegans were weak, probably not enough protein”. You need more calories: have some avocado on toast (make mine with marmite please!) and chill.
Don’t just take my word for it
There are great resources out there with other guidance that might work for you even better than the tips above. Find out what works for you, ask questions, and enjoy it!
The Veganuary website is an absolute treasure trove of handy tips and info: http://www.veganuary.com/
The Vegan Society has a huge range of information and they also answer loads of questions around veganism on their twitter channel https://www.vegansociety.com/
Pink Puff Loves Vegan Eats is doing a veganuary tip each day this month: http://pplveganeats.com/tag/veganuary-1/