Well here we are. Another year, another Veganuary (and please make sure you give that a hard ‘g’ sound because I’ve heard people refer it to as Ve-january and that kinda sounds like something else entirely…!) I have to say that birthdays aside, January is normally a pretty bleak month which makes Veganuary always very well-timed for those of us who don’t eat animal products. Supermarkets go nuts to release their new plant-based lines and quite frankly, I’m here for it.
I’ve never really written a blog post before about what I’ve learned since going plant-based around 4 years ago so it feels like now is as good a time as any. This isn’t about saying there’s a right way and a wrong way – whenever any food item sees demand grow exponentially (eg avocadoes, almonds) it will always cause issues. At the same time we’re all free to make our own choices and I’m always here to encourage people who may be thinking about making the switch and will never try to be evangelical or pious about it. 100 people making a small change is better than 1 person getting it perfect in my humble opinion. If little old me can help to navigate the murky waters of the vegan world then I’m willing to give it my best shot!
Tip One: Things Won’t Taste The Same
If you come to a brownie made of sweet potatoes thinking it’s going to taste like your favourite salted caramel gooey chocolate delight, it won’t. It will probably taste a bit strange, maybe good, but it won’t taste the same. Ditto cheesy sauces as an example. I make a super yummy broccoli and cauliflower “cheese” bake – it’s delicious, it’s creamy, but it’s NOT the same taste as the cheese sauce you’re used to. If you approach it with an open mind, it definitely helps.
Tip Two: Vegans Can Be Militant
Oh my. The true vegan brigade (ie the ones who won’t have any product of an animal in their home) can be terrifying. If you’re only attempting animal product free food, then technically the term should be plant-based, if you’re planning on skincare, furniture, furnishings, clothing, the lot, you may be entitled to call yourself a vegan. They settle at nothing less than 100% dedication and are not encouraging or supportive of people who want to dip their toe in the water. If you come up against any resistance, ignore them. You do you, boo!
Tip Three: It’s OK To Still Want Animal-Like Products
I stopped eating red meat almost 20 years ago but dallied around with white meat and fish for a long time after. I love animals, really more than I love people and that’s why I stopped eating meat, but I never stopped loving the taste, the texture, the smell. There are brilliant burgers, sausages and so on on the market – I can really recommend the No Bull Burgers from Iceland and Shroom Dogs sausages from Sainsbury’s.
Tip Four: Go Slowly If It Helps
When people ask me on Instagram how they can start trying more plant-based foods if they have resistant household members, my advice is always to try something like a spaghetti bolognaise or chilli by switching out regular mince for vegan mince. Most supermarkets do their own brands in the supermarkets which are great. Just note that often it’s soya so if you have allergies please be careful. If you have all the flavours for a spaghetti or chilli I swear it would be impossible to tell the difference.
Tip Five: Lots Of Food Is Accidentally Vegan
This was my BEST discovery, especially if you search for the #accidentallyvegan hashtag on Instagram. Bourbon biscuits, chocolate chip hobnobs, many crisps just as examples. Because I’m not about that mega healthy life, we all need a little junk food every now and again and you really don’t need to miss out on your favourite foods
Tip Six: You NEED M&S Plant Kitchen No Chicken Kievs
Ok well maybe not if you don’t like garlic but who doesn’t love a chicken kiev? For those nights when you do just want something to bung in the oven, these are the absolutely winner winner no chicken for dinner. They taste EXACTLY the same as regular chicken kievs (which leads me to question how much chicken is actually in one of those things…?!)
Tip Seven: Don’t Do It To Lose Weight
Following on from Tip 5, many people mistakenly equate a vegan lifestyle with better health and/or a desire to lose weight. That’s something I don’t personally agree with – you can be healthy on a plant-based diet or healthy on a meat-based diet. If you’re someone who loves to cook all the time then yes, it can be healthy. But too many processed foods are unhealthy no matter what so do it because you love animals, do it because you’re concerned about potential environmental aspects but don’t do it for weight-loss. If you don’t set out with that as your main aim you may be pleasantly surprised.
Tip Eight: It’s SUPER TASTY
Honestly, I feel like cooking has taken on a whole new joy since I went plant-based. There are just so many, many DELICIOUS meals to be made. As much as I do still remember the smell of cooking bacon, I can’t ever say I found a steak or a chop particularly flavoursome – mostly it was all about the sauces or the accompaniments. I make stir-frys, curries, stews, pasta dishes, salads, soups, soooo many things and I’m definitely more adventurous now than I used to be.
Tip Nine: It’s Not Expensive
There is a really big misconception that vegan food is expensive. Again, yes if you buy ready-made foods they do tend to be pricier than meat-versions. Cooking vegetables though will always be cheaper than cooking meat or fish. Some cookbooks have slightly outrageous ingredients but you don’t need to use coconut oil for example, regular old olive or vegetable will do just fine. And once you stock up on herbs and spices etc, then they’ll last you ages.
Tip Ten: You’ll Miss Some Things
Whilst there are so many amazing products on the market now and it’s easier than ever to try the plant-based way, substitutions on certain items probably won’t ever exist. I miss eggs. I used to eat a boiled egg for breakfast almost every day, or scrambled/poached eggs if we went out at the weekend for breakfast. I miss eggs and although there are secret ways to mimic them for baking, in terms of eating an actual egg, nothing really comes close. Tofu does a good scramble but boiled or poached, it’s hard.
Tip Eleven: You Can Still Eat Out
Well this one probably isn’t relevant for early 2021, but there are so many options for eating out. Many restaurants get on board with Veganuary and even if you live somewhere with more limited options, you can always call ahead to a pub or restaurant and with enough notice they can normally create something that meets requirements.
Tip Twelve: Wine Isn’t Vegan
Now this one comes down to how seriously you want to go in for things. Wine is off the menu unless you shop for vegan-specific wines because of the process in which most wine is made. I’ll hold my hands up here – I’m NOT that specific. If I’m out and there’s a vegan wine on a menu I’ll always go for it but otherwise I’m content to drink wine and I’m totally ok with that. Again, you can set your own boundaries/benchmarks and don’t let other people judge you for it.
Tip Thirteen: Vegan Food Is Really Filling
I often have people comment via Instagram when I share what I cook that our portion sizes are really small but it’s amazing how dense some plant-based meals are. If I think about what I used to eat, it would be maybe some grilled fish with vegetables, whereas now you may find that you have potatoes and lentils in the same meal, or lentils and rice. All of those vegetables in one dish mean that you probably find you feel full on a smaller portion than you’re used to.
Tip Fourteen: It Might Make Your Tummy Feel Funny…
If you’re not used to eating this way, a lot of vegetables and plant-based foods (rice, lentils, cous-cous etc) may make you feel a bit strange until you get used to it, or it may just be the case that there are some foods you need to avoid and figure out.
Tip Fifteen: But Then Again, Scrapping Dairy May Make You Feel GREAT!
It’s very well known that dairy intolerance causes a huge amount of allergies and gut intolerances for people. But I get it – we love cheese, ice cream, butter etc and it’s hard to give up. I could write a whole separate post on the amount of people I’ve seen cured of ailments when they’ve been advised to stop dairy. I used to have all sorts of issues with vegetables, especially stir frys when I wa still eating dairy, bloating, wind, you name it. As soon as I stopped eating dairy products, everything just went away and there is nothing that causes me discomfort ever, anymore. That’s got to be worth a go in itself!
Tip Sixteen: Naturli Vegan Butter For The Win!
I have done your vegan butter research for you so look no further. Similarly to eggs, butter is something that’s quite hard to recreate and I’ve tried just about every one going. Naturli is definitely the winner – it tastes like butter, is spreadable and even melts on toast and crumpets. I mean! It’s available in Sainsbury’s and probably other locations but that’s our nearest big supermarket and if you’re lucky you can even find it in a block rather than a tub to avoid plastic. It’s also not overpriced like many vegan products are.
Tip Seventeen: Your Tastes Will Change But It Can Take Time
Just like a relationship break-up (stay with me for this one!), eventually you stop missing what you can’t have anymore and/or find a super great alternative. Yes, there are some things I still miss but for the most part tastes just adapt and you look forward to different things instead. As an example, I used to drink 4 mugs of “normal” tea (ie tea with milk) a day and some years ago I switched to green tea because I kept reading it was good for me. I HATED it but I kept persevering and found a couple of brands I loved the taste of. Now? I probably haven’t had a cup of normal tea for at least 3 years and the thought of it is rancid.
Tip Eighteen: Don’t Worry If You Slip Up
If you’re planning to do Veganuary but have a day when you just don’t feel it or maybe your period strikes and you need alllll the chocolate, that’s totally ok. Don’t sweat it, but likewise don’t let one or two days stop you from giving it another go. As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’m a fully paid up supporter of encouraging people all the way rather than criticising people for not trying hard enough.
Ok this post was meant to be 15 tips and I’ve realised I could probably write 100 tips so I think I’m going to stop here. Please, please reach out to me either here or on Instagram as I’m so happy to help and totally think that even if it’s just one meat-free day a week it’s all totally valid. I hope this has been helpful and good luck on your journey!