Have you overindulged this festive season? Perhaps you never want to see another wheel of brie or a chocolate orange ever again, or at least for a while. January is a time that lots of people re-evaluate their dietary choices and opt for a healthier lifestyle. Veganuary is one initiatives designed to get people to think about what they are eating and become more ethical consumers through trying a vegan diet for a month. It’s quickly building momemtum as people realise there’s more to not eating animals and animal products than just losing a few pounds.
I only started eating vegan in May following a rather cheese-fuelled trip to Brazil. Originally it was just for a month but when the 31 days were up I felt much healthier as well as more aware of what I was consuming so I stuck with it. Becoming vegan was much easier than I thought it would be so I wanted to share my top tips if you are considering the change, just for January or even longer-term.
GET A VEGAN STARTER KIT
The Veganuary website has heaps of great information and advice, including various starter kits with tips on what you can or can’t eat, how to read labels and also the rationale behind a vegan diet.
GATHER RECIPES AND CREATE MEAL PLANS
I found that a lot of what I already ate was vegan however, if you have a diet that relies more on cheese and meat you may have to make more changes. There are loads of useful blogs and cookbooks out there. Pretty much everything on this blog is vegan, with some of my earlier recipes being vegetarian. My favourites blogs include The Tofu Diaries, Minimalist Baker (amazing for sweet treats you might think are out the window once you’re vegan!), Vegan Richa and Oh My Veggies. Book-wise I have just been bought Vegan Street Food, which I’m very excited about!, Easy Vegan does what it says on the tin and you can never beat old faithfuls like Linda McCartney. Charity shops and libraries are great for picking up books if you don’t want to fork out on them.
If you’re apprehensive about what to eat you can create eating plans or menus. You don’t want to get bored by your diet therefore you can plan to mix things up – I alternate breakfasts of toast with vegan-spread or hummus with muesli with dairy-free yoghurt. Cooking in batch and freezing is also good as it means having less meals to think about.
STOCK UP ON CORE INGREDIENTS
Whilst everyone’s diet and tastes are different below are my top standard items to get you set for veganism. I also wrote this A-Z list of vegan staples earlier this year.
- Dairy-replacements such as soya, almond or rice milk (I prefer almond) and dairy-free yoghurt and spread. You can get small cartons to try different brands and types before you commit to buying bigger packs. Vitalite is a good dairy-free spread that doesn’t include palm oil. Alpro yoghurt is sweeter so is good for breakfasts, whereas some supermarket brands like Tesco’s are more bitter and good for savoury dishes.
- Peanut butter. A great alternative to butter, but also fab for cooking. I always opt for brands like Meridian or Whole Earth that don’t contain palm oil. Other nut butters like cashew or almond are also available, and they are also super easy to make yourself.
- Hummus. Another good alternative to butter or cheese.
- Tahini. Great as a spread or for making sauces creamy, as well as a key ingredient in homemade hummus.
- Maple or agave syrup. Perfect replacements for honey.
- Tofu. Extra firm is best for cooking.
- Falafel. A great salad filling or snack, you can buy these pre-made or make them very easily in a blender.
- Pulses and lentils. I always have tinned/pre-cooked as well as dried. Chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans and red lentils are my staples but I also have green, brown and puy lentils as well as mung beans and split peas.
- Frozen peas. A surprisngly great source of protein!
- Nuts and seeds. Another protein hit, I use nuts and seeds a lot in salads, as well as cooking.
- Frozen products and replacement foods such as veggie mince, sausages, burgers plus premade meals available from brands including Linda McCartney, Cauldron and Amy’s Kitchen. These are great if you aren’t as confident about cooking or want to have something quick and easy. Note that many Quorn products contain egg so they aren’t all vegan-friendly, although they have recently launched a vegan range.
- Grains such as quinoa, rice, cous cous and pasta.
- Fruit and veg. I try to ensure every meal has fruit or veg, so I often have tomato, avocado or cucumber on my toast, or fruit with my muesli for breakfast, a veggie-packed colourful salad at lunch, and something just as vegtastic in the evenings. Stock up on what you like, but perhaps also push the boat out and try new things!
- Herbs, spices and condiments. These are really what makes a dish! Even just a trusty bottle of chilli sauce (I love Encona or Sriracha) or some soy sauce can make a meal.
- Snacks such as rice cakes, Ryvita, Nakd bars, dark chocolate, dried fruit, nuts and popcorn. Being vegan doesn’t mean no treats! If you’re more confident in the kitchen you can make your own snacks really easily.
MAKE SURE YOU GET ENOUGH PROTEIN
A lack of protein is one of the biggest issues for people new to veganism and vegetarianism. I’ve previously written about my top sources of protein (note, not all are vegan as it was pre-veganism).
UTILISE APPS AND WEBSITES
HappyCow is a global listings site that clearly marks vegetarian, vegan and veggie-friendly places and includes user reviews. I rely on it whenever I travel, as well as at home.
Vegan London is great for Londoners, and works very similarly to HappyCow, and includes vegan shops and special events.
Barnivore is a fab website for finding out which alcoholic drinks are or aren’t vegan as many beers, wines and spirits are processed using animal products.
Following different cooks, bloggers and active vegans on social media is a brilliant way to find recipes, information and to be inspired.
WATCH OUT FOR HIDDEN INGREDIENTS
The hardest thing can be being aware of exactly what is and isn’t vegan. Many people don’t realise that honey is generally not deemed vegan, and that there’s ingredients like isinglass – fish gelatin used in processing alcoholic drinks, whey – milk powder, and cochineal – red food colouring made from ground up insects, in many foods. The Vegan Society is a good source for information on what is and isn’t vegan.
But on the flipside, there are also lots of foods that are surprisingly vegan like Oreos (although they do contain palm oil which is a whole other ethical issue), Jammie Dodgers and Hobnobs meaning that not all treats are banned!
DON’T THINK THAT YOU ARE LIMITED WHEN EATING OUT
Even if there are a lack of vegetarian and vegan places where you live, or you don’t want to drag non-vegans to them, there are so many accessible dining choices in most places. Asian cuisines are great for vegan options. In Indian places you will need to check whether food has been cooked with butter or ghee (clarified butter) and whether there’s cream in anything, but you will generally be ok. One notable non-vegan item is naan bread which is made with yoghurt so opt for chapatis, puris or rice instead as accompaniments.
Other Asian food, like Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese very rarely uses dairy so you should find plenty of options. Many other cuisines, like Mexican can be adapted by removing cheese, sour cream etc.
The most important thing is to ask the waiter/server if things are vegan (if they’re not marked) or if things can be adapted, as there might be hidden vegan ingredients that aren’t obvious from what is written on the menu. Most places are really accommodating and a good chef will be able to prepare you something off the menu if required. If you can call or email ahead that is useful for them to plan.
Veganism is more than just a healthy diet. It’s about having compassion to other living creatures and being knowledgable about the food industry. The Vegan Society and Veganuary have lots of myth-busting information. There are also loads of great books and documentaries out there that will give you more insight into farming and food production. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals book got me back on the vegetarian straight and narrow after dabbling with fish a few years back, Earthlings is a moving documentary narrated by famous vegan Joaquin Phoenix, and Forks Over Knives is one of the best-known films of the dangers of traditional Western diets.
MEET OTHER VEGANS
Meetup is a fantastic website for events and happenings. In London there are regular vegan meetups at different restaurants, pubs and cafes, potluck lunches (where everyone takes a dish) plus events and talks.
If you’re considering veganism longer-term Vegfest events are fab for finding out what different produce is available as well as the chance to go to talks and workshops and to meet other vegans. Vegfest takes place in Glasgow, Bristol, London and Brighton throughout the year.
DON’T BE SCARED OF TOFU!
One of the most common gripes I hear from people is that they don’t like tofu which really irks me as more often than not, they will have just not had good tofu! It is a really versatile ingredient that can take on different flavours and textures and is a core part of my diet. If you’re not confident about cooking tofu have it whilst eating out – a good Thai or Vietnamese place should have great tofu that will melt in your mouth.
When cooking it be sure to marinade it for a reasonable length of time so it can really take on the flavours you’re using. Some tips on cooking tofu are available in this recipe.
It sounds silly but don’t be scared by veganism. Think about what you can eat, not what you cannot. Hopefully this will be the start of finding out about more fabulous foods and becoming a more ethical and informed consumer.
Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts on following a vegan diet. And if you want more advice or information do get in touch! You can read about my vegan challenge in earlier posts here and here.