Laura Griffin (Product Innovation Project Manager) on her personal experience of following a vegan diet!
Taking the plunge to go vegan for January was daunting. My family couldn’t get their heads round the idea when I told them – “So you’re going to be eating lentils all month?” “No sausage sandwiches for you!” “You can’t have poached eggs on toast for a whole month!” All valid concerns. As a ‘flexitarian’ who had cut out most of my red meat intake in the last year, I secretly assumed that going vegan would be a fantastic way to get back on track diet wise after an indulgent Christmas, I was also sure that February couldn’t come quickly enough!!
The first change I had to make was butter and cheese. As a Lurpak devotee, I had already decided this was going to be a struggle, especially in the buttery toast season that is January. After swapping to Flora Freedom Spread, made from 100% plants, I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst it didn’t have the salty kick that I love about buttered toast, it wasn’t bad at all. Cheese on toast with Violife Cheddar, also exceeded my expectations – whilst like Edam in texture as compared to the normal firm and crumbly cheddar, with a dash of Henderson’s Relish (which is vegan, marvellously spicy and made in Yorkshire to boot, whilst Lea and Perrins contains anchovies and therefore can’t be classed as vegetarian) this vegan cheese on toast ticked all the boxes. Could this really not be as difficult as I first imagined?
Vegan cooking wasn’t as bad as anticipated either. Whilst I relied mainly on fruit and veg as the basis for cooking, I found I was becoming more resourceful with adapting recipes, reading more food labels, researching ingredients ahead of time, and thinking outside the box to make recipes interesting. Ratatouille, a dish that I’d made since university, suddenly became my go to recipe with various vegetables – so, of course, I had to make it look as similar as possible to the Pixar film’s version!
Awash with a flurry of confidence, I baked bread for the first time. My no knead bread was a success especially eaten with lashings of Flora Freedom – Paul Hollywood would be proud.
Tofu became my main protein source– something that my family cannot fathom, even now. Tofu has had bad press as being watery, tasting like cotton at worst or at best nothing at all. I opted for The Tofoo Company’s Firm Tofu, which comes already pressed and ready to go. The one time I attempted to press a tofu block, I overestimated the weight required and ended up with the ‘Flat Stanley’ edition of tofu. I marinated my diced Tofu in a variety of vegan approved marinades, including Knorr’s Vegetable Stock Pots, Sriracha Chilli Sauce, and Sweet Chilli Sauce, I would then bake before adding to curries and stir fries.
As a true millennial, I felt it my duty to hunt down and try a variety of vegan ready meals. Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen proved to be the front runner in this category, the Naked Burrito was packed with jalapenos, spice and beans; Spicy Mushroom and Vegetable Pizza was moreish and pleasantly spicy; whilst my personal favourite, Gunpowder Potato Chana Masala, blew me away with the comfort food factor at not many calories at all.
With January officially over, will I be continuing the vegan lifestyle? Well, if my delight at a cheese and tomato sandwich on February 1st is anything to go by, probably not. Not that going vegan for a month was very arduous or even unpleasant –my understanding of what creative cooking can do has come on leaps and bounds and my appreciation for vegetables and fruit is at an all-time high.
There are a few vegan options I will continue popping in my basket (Flora Freedom and Wicked Kitchen ready meals in particular). My appetite for red meat, which before was not high at all except on special occasions, has dipped even lower – not necessarily through animal welfare concerns, as I’ve always tried to buy free range and sparingly, but more down to not missing red meat at all during January. As a result of my first Veganuary, my ‘flexitarian’ approach to food will include more vegetarian cooking with maybe one day a week with seafood or chicken.
So why not totally vegan? As well as lamenting the lack of egg or cheese in the house, I’m also not completely sold on every single aspect of the vegan diet. It’s lauded as one of the healthiest diets out there, and yet I was still able to have chips and Walkers crisps throughout January – I know that it’s all down to personal choice within the parameters, but sometimes the health benefits of the diet went out the window when all you had eaten was rocket on a plate at a restaurant and you wanted something to fill you up.
There’s also the public perception that eating all this fruit and veg must be good for the planet – even though a lot of vegan produce uses palm oil, which has been in the public eye recently regarding rainforest deforestation and habitat destruction. Transportation of food to supplement a vegan diet in the bleak midwinter also raised an issue for me – is it really more sustainable for me to buy avocados from California, or would it be better for me to buy a box of eggs from a local farm shop, where the chickens lay 200 metres away?
This is a discussion that I can’t comprehensively settle, and will, I’m sure, be part of the public discourse surrounding sustainability and food consumption for years to come. Whilst the vegan diet does have its detractors and pitfalls, I’m still very glad to have done Veganuary. It has highlighted to me that vegan recipes and ready meals are just as delicious as those in omnivore diets; it’s made me more critical of ingredients and where they come from; it’s made me rethink how I can be sustainable, through food and other methods of day to day consumption; and it’s made me realise that if the vegetarian/pescatarian diet set out in The Lancet’s recent commission (Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems) does become government policy, it’s not the end of the world – in fact, it might just save the world.
P.S. The Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll was also fantastic – clearly Piers Morgan has not tried it properly.