It’s the first week of Veganuary and, at the risk of being a bit premature, I feel like this year it’s a bit easier – but I’m not sure why!
Perhaps it is to do with the simple fact that as I sit down to write this little blog, I’m munching on some delicious vegan chocolate. It was a Christmas gift, and I’m struck by how I really would not actually be able to tell that it is vegan from the taste alone.
I’ve been vegan on and off for decades now, and the change I’ve seen in vegan food is staggering. I remember becoming a vegetarian back in my teens and having lots of friends who were involved in the animal rights movement. Although I knew many vegetarians I only ever remember knowing one vegan. And honestly, he really struggled to eat anything more interesting than pulses, grains, and nuts along with his fruit and veg. At the time, I personally hadn’t made the connection between dairy products and animals suffering. I had no idea how dairy cows were treated, or how chickens were treated in the intensive farming processes. But then slowly I began to understand why many people were beginning to turn vegan.
These days there is a wealth of information available about the dairy industry and many more people are aware. I now probably meet more vegans than vegetarians, and the reasons for turning vegan they give me vary from animal rights and ethics to concerns for the environment, and also their personal health. The range of vegan foods now available is huge, encompassing the needs of all vegans whatever the basis for their dietary decisions.
Making a change
Changing your diet is usually a challenge because of entrenched habits, even if you really want to make the change. Most people who move from being vegetarian to vegan have experienced that moment where you completely forget and absentmindedly eat a cheese sandwich or put dairy milk in tea. And it’s also hard because we have to give up things we like the taste of. For years I tried to convince myself that vegan cheese and vegan chocolate was as nice as the non-vegan versions! But in my heart, I knew a bar of Dairy Milk tasted better than the Carob Car I had in my hand instead, (does anyone remember Carob Bars?!)
And old-school vegan cheese – well, let’s just say it was only tasty if you liked chewing plastic.
The result of my time as a vegan all those years ago was that I felt virtuous and healthy, but a bit deprived and peckish most of the time. To be honest, even just being vegetarian thirty years ago was a challenge with the meagre options available! You were usually served up the same as everyone else, just without the meat. Or if you were lucky a bland nut loaf or flat veggie lasagne. Being a vegan in 2022 is totally different and in a very good way.
Thanks to the efforts of the Veganuary movement, which has been running since 2014, businesses such as supermarkets, restaurants, and cafes have all been encouraged to make vegan food more visible, thoughtful, and available. The main supermarkets actively advertise their Veganuary specials and you can step into any of the big shops and do your entire vegan shop in one go – including ‘butter’, milks, cheese, fresh and frozen food, along with dried and ambient products. Only a few years ago a vegan would have to visit multiple shops to get everything. The smaller independent wholefood shops are also brilliant for vegan food and also usually sell dietary supplements such as Vitamin B12, which is an important vitamin for everyone.
Over 500,000 people signed up for Veganuary last year which is an incredible number, and they have many well-known faces as Veganuary Ambassadors who help promote the vegan ideal through the month.
Many restaurants now have a separate vegan menu with a decent choice, and even if not, they understand veganism and will usually cater to vegan customers. In 2021, more than 825 brand new vegan products and menus were launched especially for Veganuary!
On the move
For the travelling vegan, there are websites such as the Happy Cow which I have happily watched grow over the years into a global hub for vegan food places and the vegan community. With reviews and a wealth of information to make your business trip or holiday easily vegan, it’s well worth a look even for the non-vegan.
There is also the Vegvisits website where you can find vegan or vegetarian travel and accommodation across the world, enabling vegetarians and vegans to connect and trust that their accommodation will have a meat-free kitchen. They call themselves the AirBnB for veggies!
More meaty options?
If you are one of the many people who enjoy the taste of meat and fish but don’t want the animals to suffer, or you want to minimise your environmental impact, then the movement for realistic plant-based meat products is gathering pace. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the taste of meat but I know people who have been genuinely surprised at the latest meaty additions to the vegan food available. Fish seems harder to replicate but I can definitely vouch for vegan fish fingers which make a great fish finger sandwich!
Cultured or lab-grown meat is a new pathway for ethical eating, as it promises less slaughter of animals while still providing meat. As it originates with animal cells, for many vegans and vegetarians it’s not a suitable food. However, it is hugely better than killing animals for food in the traditional way and will appeal to those who would like to eat meat but are looking to reduce the suffering of animals, and also their impact on the environment and their carbon footprint.
Ready to have a go?
So, perhaps my feeling that it has become easier to eat vegan isn’t too premature this month? We are super fortunate nowadays that there is a wealth of resources, recipes, and support out there, should we decide to take the plunge. Also, the effort that supermarkets, restaurants, and cafes are going to for us should be celebrated. It’s not perfect and sometimes you do get caught out without any vegan options but these moments are getting fewer and farther between.
If you are thinking about trying out being vegan, it’s worth having a go, and don’t worry that it’s not January 1st! Anytime is good to start but particularly this month there are extra resources available for you that can help you to get started.
Many people try veganism and stick with it, many try and become a flexi vegetarian/vegan. Many more will carry on eating meat and fish but will opt for vegan more often after they have tried it out. It’s all good.
I have discovered over the years that it’s best not to expect too much of ourselves. It’s much better to be gentle and just to keep the intention to get to our goal without putting a time limit on it. If we aspire to eat vegan 50% of the time and we achieve that, we can then feel happier moving on to becoming a full vegan later on if that is what we want to do. If we go from being a meat-eater to a 100% vegan straight away we might get discouraged if we don’t manage it.
Vegan living can be a joy, and 2022 certainly seems to be a good start for aspiring vegans. Of course, there is more to a vegan lifestyle than food, some alcoholic drinks are not vegan (particularly real ale and wines) but there are alternatives out there that can be easily discovered online.
Vegans also try to choose ethically when buying cleaning products, toiletries, and clothing. Again, there are lots of websites that list products that do not contain animal ingredients and have not been tested on animals. Once you start to get to know the brands, it becomes second nature to choose them, and not all vegan brands are expensive ones.
Personally, I do feel happier and healthier as a vegan. I tend to cough less when I don’t drink dairy milk and I shake off colds more quickly. Other vegans I know have said they have lost weight, reduced IBS symptoms, and increased their energy levels. I do sometimes miss things like blue cheese but the alternatives now don’t feel like second best any more, and I like the feeling that I have made a choice with my diet which aligns with my ethical views.
Over the remainder of the month, we will be exploring veganism in greater depth here at the Hub. If you are already a vegan or just vegan-curious then check back with us as we will be delving into motivation, ethics, inspiration, and how to keep the intention going through the year ahead. Keep an eye on our social media for useful links.
So join us on our journey into veganism and beyond in 2022!