Caro Overy, Engagement Manager, reflects on her month of trying out a vegan lifestyle in January.
I’ve worked in Sustainability for most of my professional life, and so have quite frequently ended up in groups, meetings, or discussions where the climate impact of industrial farming is mentioned. I fully understand the climate and health benefits of a diet with fewer animal products and more plant based food.
Not to sound too heartless, but I’ve never had a huge problem with animals losing their lives for food production, although I do have a big problem with the way they’re treated in the process, and as such only ever bought organic dairy products and eggs. I rarely ate meat because my flatmate is vegetarian. You could argue these are reasonably environmentally sound choices, but they’re also convenient choices that don’t take any more time out of my day.
I really love good food, and I cook pretty well, but I’m not big on routine, so I can quite happily schedule a day and then realise I’ve forgotten to leave any time for eating, let alone preparing food. I’ve made it to 30 years old without experiencing any eating related health issues, but it’s definitely my ‘could do better’ area.
I decided 2017 was the year to change
this, and to spend some time exploring and learning about food, and then I noticed Veganuary was a thing. It initially caught my attention because all truth told, it’s a pretty clumsy portmanteau, and I couldn’t tell how to pronounce it. Also I was quite critical of the ‘cute animal’ angle when my personal motivation is very strongly around global climate change. However, I tried running ‘vegan’ onto the front of the other 11 months of the year, and actually, credit where it’s due, Veganuary is the most convincing. It was around this point in mid-December that Veganuary had me. I signed up and got a really very useful recipe collection which got me off to a great start.
My first ‘proper’ vegan meal I cooked was a Club Mexicana recipe for BBQ pulled jackfruit, initially complicated by not really knowing what jackfruit was, but it’s 2017 and we have the internet so I looked it up and subsequently found it in the Chinese supermarket in my local area. It was absolutely delicious, and the day after I used the leftover sauce on some tofu with a chickpea and carrot salad. Cooking highlights since have been a spiced aubergine and coconut curry I made for a friend’s birthday dinner with surprisingly successful onion bhajis, some steamed filled dim sum buns, and the discovery of scrambled tofu and smashed avocado on toast. I also made vegan haggis with neeps and tatties for Burns night and made a stunning vegan chilli, although this one I realised I already knew.
Essentially, I’ve learned new recipes that I wouldn’t otherwise have sought out,
discovered coconut yoghurt (which sadly isn’t better for you than dairy yoghurt but does taste amazing), and didn’t miss cheese anywhere near as much as I expected to. Also almond milk is brilliant. Vegan ‘surprises’ include ginger nuts, Oreos, and rich tea biscuits, although on the flip side, some crisps turn out to contain milk powder, which seems unnecessary. Another disappointing thing about reading all the labels is discovering how many products contain palm oil, the production of which is linked with deforestation.
It’s true that eating out and in groups is a little tricky. Options are usually falafel or overpriced pasta and tomato sauce, which is lovely the first two times but after that it can get a little monotonous. The more I learn through cooking and preparing vegan food, the more I realise there are loads of really delicious options that anybody who likes food would like. Eating out is made an unnecessarily awkward process because shops and cafes assume that only the minority will choose the vegan option, so therefore they don’t bother making the vegan option nice, and therefore nobody else orders it. It’s a vicious circle.
With what I now know about the possibilities of vegan cooking and eating, I’m inclined to continue cooking vegan after January just because I really like food and I’ve turned out to be better at cooking new things than I thought I might be. It’s likely I won’t go back to dairy milk or yoghurt, and I don’t think I’ll rely so heavily on cheese for flavor or protein. On the other hand, I probably won’t be super strict when eating out or with groups of people where I’m not preparing the food. Overall, I plan to continue thinking more about what I’m eating and where it comes from because it’s been an eye opening and enjoyable month.