I signed up to Veganuary before the Christmas 'eat all the food in sight' period because I knew that by January 1st I would be ready for a change. Since having my second son my diet hasn't been as healthy as I'd like. The kids devour all the fruit, and veggies just weren't as appealing as carbs! I didn't have much variety in my diet and had lost my enthusiasm for cooking new things. When I mentioned doing veganuary my husband's initial reaction was one of scepticism and my parents acted as if I'd lost my mind. I'm still not sure if they realise it was only for a month or understand what veganism actually is.
Despite my critics here I am on day 31 having really enjoyed this month. So here is what I learned during veganuary:
Less is more
Having less choice actually makes life easier. The kind of places I eat out with the boys tend to have one or two vegan options and even slightly more grown-up eateries don’t have an amazing selection for vegans. Despite this, I’ve eaten out several times this month and enjoyed it. I didn’t need to spend ages pouring over the menu and while I had some tasty food my mindset changed a little so it was less about eating for pleasure and more to fill up and nourish my body. All that said, if you're a vegan eating out and you don't like hummus and falafel you're a bit screwed.
Planning is everything
This month I have done most of my shopping online. I planned two weeks worth of meals at a time, including the kids' meals, and wrote a menu plan. I never had that moment of staring into the fridge wondering what to cook which used to happen all the time. Instead of asking the boys what they wanted to eat I gave them one of two choices from the meal plan so there was no debate and no recurrent beans on toast dinners.
Less choice but more variety
Not being able to eat my usual go-to foods has meant that I’ve tried new things and cooked from new recipes. I rediscovered recipe books we bought while travelling and haven't cooked from since before the boys were born. We've been stuck in a bit of a dinner rut for a few months and I was tired of cooking the same meals week in week out. So we’ve all enjoyed having more variety in our diets.
Vegan food can be familiar
As well as trying new recipes I was able to cook some of our favourites with vegan ingredients. We’ve had veggie curries, pad thai with tofu, chilli with soya mince and a family roast dinner with a nut roast for me. Giving up meat and eggs wasn’t difficult at all and I didn’t really feel that I was missing out on anything. In the end, it was only milk in coffee that felt like a loss but the fact that I've been drinking less coffee can only be a good thing.
Plant-based food is everywhere
I was vegetarian for six years in my teens and twenties but back then there wasn't as much on offer and my diet was pretty boring (and cheese heavy). Now all the main supermarkets and lots of smaller shops sell plant-based foods and milk. I didn’t have any trouble finding what I needed aside from Oatly Barista which was elusive but worth it. Even the cinema had oat milk for coffee and my local corner shop sells raw food bars in the biscuit section.
Vegan food is not always environmentally friendly
Many of the pre-prepared foods and meat substitutes are wrapped in plastic which can't be recycled. Pack sizes are smaller than meat alternatives and there isn't the option of buying in bulk so even where packaging is cardboard and recyclable it is more packaging than we are used to in our house. Plant milk cartons are not recyclable in my area either. We generated less recycling this month but more ordinary waste. I was surprised to find that some vegan food contains palm oil, something which I actively avoid due to the environmental impact. A family friend questioned me on the environmental impact of soy and I couldn't answer because I didn't know. I do now, kind of, but I'm still not clear whether it should be avoided in which case my vegan diet just got even more restrictive.
It is possible to bake with ‘Vegan Eggs’
This was a bit of an eye opener if I’m honest. Using chia seeds soaked in water I produced a gloopy egg-like substance which I used in cakes, brownies, pancakes
and flapjacks. They all tasted amazing and none of the family noticed the difference.
Veganism does not equal weight loss
This is partly down to the discovery of those chia eggs which made cake possible! I also discovered that Oreos and custard creams are vegan but after eating a whole packet of each because I could (not both at the same time) I’m quite happy not to eat them for a while! I don't weigh myself so I can't be sure but I don't think I lost any weight. However, my clothes are fitting better and I'm sure this is down to feeling less bloated.
My children will eat meat substitutes
Why didn't I know this sooner?! My boys will not eat meat (apart from sausages) no matter how I dress it up. This month they have eaten stir-fries, pasta dishes and shepherds pie, all made with soya substitutes and tofu, with no questions asked. Game changer.
Nobody likes temporary vegans!
Non-vegans think you’re weird and vegans think you’re lame. Everybody questions why you're doing it. It didn't bother me. I had my own reasons for doing veganuary and I don’t feel the need to justify them. I encountered some hostility from a vegan couple in a cafe and got a lecture about giving my children cows milk from a man in the library. I'm sure there are more tolerant vegans out there but I didn't meet them.
One of the last emails I received from veganuary.org assumed that I was now a vegan for life and discussed how to live in a 'flawed world built on the consumption of animal products' and advised me how to 'communicate with non-vegans' who may ask stupid questions. That email left me a little cold and I didn't read many of the ones that followed. I don't believe that consuming animals is wrong but I accept that for health and the environment a vegan diet has many advantages. Nobody is right or wrong and I definitely will not be seeking to 'convert' anyone.
I’m not going to become a vegan for life
It’s not about wanting to eat meat or not wanting to give certain foods up. I could definitely eat a vegan diet for much longer and I probably will. However, I'm the kind of person who won't follow rules unless I really believe in them and the truth is that I’m not morally opposed to eating animals. If I committed to veganism I’d be following a set of rules without having a reason to. It would be difficult to justify to others and eventually I would rebel and 'cheat' as I have done many times in the past with weight loss plans.
My boys don't really like meat but I'd struggle to completely remove dairy from their diets because they enjoy it. My oldest child had a food allergy which he's now grown out of. For two years I had to scrutinise restaurant menu's and party food and explain to him over and over what he couldn't eat and why. It's is a relief that we don't need to do it anymore and it's not something I wish to repeat. I feel that my children are too young to make an informed choice and are too used to eating animal products. I don't want them to eat differently to their friends and family when they don't understand why. I can't imagine a vegan child would find much to eat on a children's menu or at a standard kids birthday party. It isn't right but it's the truth.
So what now?
This month I’ve been learning more about the meat and dairy industry. I’ve watched some documentaries and read articles which made me think more about how our family’s diet impacts the environment and our health. Some of what I've seen has been very one-sided and I'd like to read articles from another perspective. However, I suspect the more I read the more confused I'll be. I read a Telegraph article about healthy foods that are ruining the environment and many are vegan staples (avocado, quinoa, almonds, soy) but then meat, eggs and dairy also made the list so I'm not sure whats left to eat?!
At the moment I’m enjoying this way of eating and am feeling healthier. It may sound odd but I like having less choice and I don't feel like I'm on a diet (I've never been able to stick to them) so I've had no desire to 'cheat'. I’m going to carry on eating a vegan diet for now but I may treat myself to milk in coffee now and then. When I decide to introduce animal products into my diet I'll be more considered in my choices.
As a family, we're going to continue to reduce our meat and dairy consumption. My other half is happy with vegan dinners and the boys have started drinking fortified oat milk alongside cows milk. As long as there is no protest we will continue with this. I know that I won’t manage to persuade anyone in our house to go without cheese and that's ok.
We are doing what we can in a way that suits our family and that’s good enough for us.
If you've been doing veganuary too let me know how you got on and if you have any recipes to share I'm all ears :-)