I have been a vegetarian for almost three years and one of the questions I get asked a lot is: ‘Will you ever go vegan? ’ Often, I’d reply: ‘I’d love to and I know it’s better for the environment than my current diet, but I’d miss cheese too much... ’ Lame excuse, I know! So, at the start of 2019, when colleagues at work mentioned Veganuary, I thought: Why not? I like a challenge
For those of you who don’t know, Veganuary is a pledge that more than 225,000 people have taken this January to go vegan for the month. Not only is a vegan diet great for your health, it’s also one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your impact on the planet because of how carbon-intensive the meat and dairy industry can be.
As I reflect back on the past month, here are some of the main things I am going to take from my vegan experience and some thoughts about how I plan to carry it forward. I was worried that it would be hard work, but I have really enjoyed being vegan for the month, and with a bit of pre-planning with friends’ help, it really hasn’t been too hard! So, let's dispel three myths that lead people to think going vegan is a big missed steak:
Myth 1: A vegan diet is not very apple'a'ling!
This is far from the truth. I have cooked some really exciting, new and colourful meals this month! There are so many great recipes out there and I have loved experimenting with new methods to replace animal products. The supermarkets have really upped their game, with many vegan alternatives on offer – from plant-based milk to sausages made from mushrooms, and not forgetting that delicious vegan ice cream!
One thing I learnt as a vegetarian, which I took with me into being a vegan, is that you have to switch from seeing vegetables as a side dish to realising that they can be a main dish instead! Seeing it this way allows you to fill your plate with lots of goodness and all the vitamins, minerals and protein you need.
It should also be said that you’re not short of sweet treats as a vegan. We love eating cake in the Tearfund office and this month I’ve tried out a few vegan recipes which went down a treat! My housemates have also been very surprised at how tasty some of my home-cooking has been. Their common response was: ‘Is this vegan!!?’
Myth 2: When you’re vegan, eating out can be a pickle
Not at all: I’ve had some really tasty lunches and dinners out. So many restaurants are now providing more and more vegan options as they see the demand for it increase. Or, if I’ve been somewhere without an advertised vegan option, I have generally been able to request that they hold back certain ingredients or switch them for vegan alternatives. It’s all common sense really: turning up at a steakhouse and expecting a vegan option probably isn’t going to work. Also, street food becoming more popular is great for the vegan diet! It is another great place to find lots of vegan and vegetarian options. Why don’t you try and scout out your local vegan restaurant and give it a try? It might surprise you!
Myth 3: What’s the point of being a vegan? It doesn’t change shallot!
Switching to a plant-based diet is a great positive change for the environment! A study by researchers at Oxford University in 2018 found that cutting meat and dairy from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint for food by up to 73 per cent! It might feel like one individual making the choice to switch their diet won’t make much difference, but little changes in combination can have a huge impact. Just think about how the Fairtrade movement has grown! You never know, you might inspire someone else to give it a try.
So, how do I plan to continue after this month, you ask?
Surprisingly, I have enjoyed Veganuary, I’ve learnt lots of great new recipes and it has shown me that I can make easy changes to have a vegan diet. I would like to carry on with it, but I am not going to be too strict on myself. I think I will mix between vegetarian and vegan days/weeks. This gives flexibility for friends and family if they cook for me and ease when I travel and vegan options aren’t readily available.
Why not try some vegan options in your own diet with these bite-sized ideas?
- Host a bring-and-share vegan dinner party
- Take Meat-Free Mondays to the next level and do a Vegan Meal Monday instead
- Try out an all-vegan/veggie restaurant
- Start by switching your dairy milk to a plant-based alternative
Have a look at our lifestyle web page for more ways that you can get involved: www.tearfund.org/lifestyle
Photo from Ella Olsson