I've seen loads of posts over the past week about people doing "Veganuary", ditching animal products and switching to a plant-based lifestyle for January (and maybe beyond).
Vegans have a bad rap. They're the butt of many jibes, and an easy target. There's that old joke, "How do you know if someone is vegan? They tell you". The irony of me discussing my food preferences in this post is not lost on me. BUT! In my experiences of dalliances with veganism over the past couple of years, you only talk about it because non-vegan people have alllll the questions.
How do you get your protein? Don't you miss bacon? What's wrong with an egg? What about cheese? Isn't soya milk weird? I couldn't give up butter, how do you manage? What about calcium from milk, don't you care about your bones? What can I cook when you come over? Why are you such a hipster? etc
You end up explaining your dinners to people when all you did was ask for a cup of tea without milk. I'm not yet 100% vegan; I have the occasional egg, or Old Leigh cockle (which I can't seem to give up) and I still eat honey. But mostly, I'm plant based. I consume no dairy at all. I haven't for about 2 years, and I feel so much better for it. Dairy (milk, butter, cream, cheese) gives me terrible eczema on my arms, legs and hands, painful spots on my face and neck, and makes me feel bloated and gross. Oat milk is lovely in tea, almond milk makes killer white sauces, and literally any milk substitute makes for creamy milkshakes and hot chocolates.
I make my own garlic and herb cashew cheese which is a bit like Boursin, something I used to love. There are substitute cheeses available, which we do have sometimes, but I try to stay away from too much over-processed junk. Because as a vegan, you can eat a LOT of junk. Oreos, bourbon biscuits, a lot of crisps (but watch out for the milk powder), vegan Quorn products, instant noodles, cakes and chips (oh, CHIPS) - it's not as if being a vegan means you're super healthy. Sainsburys have a good vegan range in the freezer department. Tesco have just released a batch of vegan ready meals which is good - but read the label. It might be full of salt and sugar, even though it's missing the animal stuff.
Health is something I'm conscious of, despite my 'stack of bourbons and a cup of tea' habit. Most of my midweek dinners are vegetable-based though - how novel eh? A lot of restaurants that cater for vegans/veggies fall into the trap of thinking we all want a meat substitute. Fake beef burgers! Faux chicken strips! Pretend bacon! The texture is like rubber (I'm sure that stuff can bounce), the smell is overwhelmingly... well... fake, and the taste is artificial and processed. It's just not something I dig, so increasingly, I avoid places that are heavy on that kind of thing (although a vegan hot dog I had in Brighton 2 months ago is still in my mind, it was so good). It's about balance.
Part of why I'm almost-vegan, aside from the health benefits to me personally, is for animal rights and environmental reasons. I mentioned in my previous blog about the carbon footprint of meat and how high it is. But eating processed, factory-made fake meat isn't being particularly eco either. And it's so expensive! Instead, we get our veg from Sarah Green's Organics, a smashing local veg box scheme that's very reasonable, and delivers to one of my favourite places in town (/on the planet), Green's Health Foods. Greens is a brilliant source of healthy options and alternatives if you're new to this journey, and their email newsletter is a source of pure joy. It's definitely one of my favourite shops in Leigh on Sea (AND they do Oatly Barista style oat milk now, rejoice!).
So, if you're thinking about going more plant-based, don't think it means loading up on boxes of expensive rubbish from the supermarket. Many traditional Italian meals are "accidentally" vegan (look up Rachel Roddy's gorgeous recipes online), or easily adapted - just leave out the parmesan or use a sprinkling of B12-rich nutritional yeast.
Stews, soups, pasta, pies (Jus-Rol is vegan fyi), curries, stir fries, fajitas and tacos, bakes, casseroles, roast dinners... these can all be made with fresh ingredients, delicious vegetables, and are nourishing and healthy. Not a piece of bouncing, Frazzles-flavoured fake meat in sight! Recently I made a Nigel Slater dinner that involved roasting slices of aubergine with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil until everything in the roasting tin just collapses, turning into a kind of paste that you stir through pasta. It's creamy because of the melted aubergine, and intensely savoury because of the garlic and salt - no need for cheese or cream at all. Delicious.
I could bang on about food all day - I watch programmes where people have job titles like "Food Historian" and wish I could do something like that. I am a sucker for Masterchef, Great British Menu, the Hairy Bikers, anything involving Rick Stein or Nigella. They're all full of meat, fish and cheese of course, but now I'm used to the veg-filled way of life, my brain starts spinning with thinking how I could adapt them to be cruelty free. It's fun. Food should be fun - full of passion and life. If you'd like to be bored by my foodie exploits, you can follow my Instagram account of what I'm cooking and eating with my partner Jo at @beepbeeppop. And if you're doing Veganuary - good luck! You're making a small change to your health and to the planet. I salute you.
This article is by Ray Morgan. To read all of Ray's previous blogs please click here