Happy New Yea… hang on, I’m a few weeks late.
If you are slow to the party, for the first three weeks of 2019 I have been living as a vegan, after committing to participate in Veganuary. I wrote a short post about it back in December.
In this follow-up post I am going to summarise my experiences with Veganuary – the good and the bad – as I approach my final week. Here goes.
Adapting to Veganism
Before the month began, I didn’t look up the ins and outs of Veganuary. There is an organisation / charity / something that spearheads the movement, and I’m sure they had their own rules, but I didn’t sign up to do it officially – the thought of another unread email sitting in my inbox was enough to put me off.
No, I went about things my own way.
I decided I would not be eating meat (…obviously), fish, eggs, cheese, milk or honey, or any products containing those items. No milk chocolate, no brioche buns, no flatbreads and so on.
And I am pleased to say that I have succeeded. I have eaten a purely plant-based diet for the last three weeks.
Completely free of animal products? Well…
As I mentioned in my initial post, I take a daily grape seed extract tablet as a natural assistance to slightly high blood pressure (family history) – the shell of that is made with gelatin. Technically not vegan, although I wasn’t going to stop taking it for the month.
I have also been a little flexible with alcoholic drinks. Not that I have drunk much alcohol in January, yet I turned a blind eye to a few beers which may or may not have contained isinglass (a fish by-product used in the beer refining process).
So potentially I drank some dried fish bladder, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
Enough About Restriction… What DID You Eat?
As many people know, even before Veganuary, I wasn’t a big meat eater – maybe a burger once every few weeks or some fish if I ate out. Oh yeah, and my dad’s bolognese. But it wasn’t like it hit January 1 and I suddenly had to replace all my meals with meat-free alternatives.
Aside from meat, I was already eating many vegan dishes too – three-bean chilli, bean stews, a LOT of oats, and that kind of thing. My regular protein powder is vegan too (I prefer the taste).
But to this list I added some new recipes. One was a high-protein Mexican dish made with tofu, quinoa and beans (as pictured at the top of this page).
The other was a warming paprika-spiced bean, courgette and vegan sausage casserole, which was a particular favourite. I also made a one-pot cajun bean and rice… thing. Nice.
The main meal I found tricky was lunch. The dishes I mention above were usually reserved for evening meals, and a few times I found myself lost at lunchtime. My pre-Veganuary staple was egg and avocado with toast, but that was obviously off the cards.
So I did what any freelance writer would do – worked from cafes and let somebody else make lunch for me.
What About Eating Out?
It’s fair to say that, in Swansea, we are not spoiled for choice when it comes to decent vegan places. Greasy spoon cafes, sure. Vegan restaurants? Not really.
However, there are some decent vegan-friendly places in Swansea, if you know where to look.
In no particular order, I found that the best places for me – which offered a decent choice – were Crumbs Kitchen (Uplands), Bluebell (Tycoch), 1825 Coffee Shop (Dylan Thomas Center), and Arthur Neave (Walter Road).
Others that I dined in at least once and had a good vegan selection include the Croeso Lounge and Boo’s Kitchen, both in Mumbles. While the food was good, these two in particular were pretty expensive for what you were actually served (I am a quantity over quality guy…).
A Trip to London
‘Bollocks,’ I said to myself, ‘I forgot I was going to London.’
I realised that, on the second weekend of Veganuary, I would indeed be staying in London for three nights.
Thankfully London is a hip, happening city (hipper and more happening than Swansea at least) and there was plenty of vegan fare to keep me full.
On the first night I was treated to a home cooked vegan meal, which I was originally scared wouldn’t fill me up (people tend to underestimate how much I eat), yet it was delicious and very filling. A cauliflower curry of sorts…
The next night we visited a suave new all-vegan restaurant that had newly opened up around the corner (I was staying in upmarket Islington). I can’t remember the name, but this was a winner. I had a plant-based burger which came with kale crisps. Not very photogenic for the slightly-steep £15 price tag (which explains the absence of a photo), but it tasted nice at least.
We also visited The Coach and Horses in Soho, which claims to be London’s first vegetarian pub. Upstairs sat a hidden tea-room, which served a good selection of vegan food (as well as veggie dishes). This is where I had the good old tofish and chips, as pictured above.
Tough Times and Potential Slip-ups
Things weren’t always easy in Veganuary – there were a couple of tough times.
And, when I say ‘tough times’, this is in relation to my usual day-to-day life. I’m not comparing my frustration over not being able to find an oat latte to, say, living in war-torn Syria or something equally distressing. Just low points for me during the month.
The first came in London. After visiting the Churchill War Rooms in the morning, it dawned on me – ‘Shit, it’s 1pm and I’m starving’. Now, when I’m hungry I get angry (the traditional ‘hangry’) and it became an immediate rush to feed Chris before he said or did something he’d regret.
We walked (well, marched) down Birdcage Walk towards Buckingham Palace, where I knew restaurants and cafes were located. Irritatingly, none of them seemed to offer vegan options, apart from one, but it was around £20 for a bowl of pasta. Not happening.
I eventually found some hipster place just down the road serving plenty of reasonably-priced (for London…) vegan food. Disaster averted… just.
However, that spell was the first time all month where I was a bit pissed off that I was doing Veganuary. I was that close to just caving and eating a cheese pizza. But no – if I commit to something, I commit to it.
About an hour later I was having second-thoughts again though. We had popped into Harrods – I love browsing the food hall there. To my delight, they were offering a range of free samples. Cheese… no! Meat… no! Dammit, none were vegan. I love food and I really love free food.
I eventually stumbled across some little balls of nut-coated Vegetarian Indian somethings… I picked one up, then asked the assistant ‘these are vegan too… right?’
She checked a pad of paper… ‘Sorry, no – there’s a little bit of milk in the mixture.’
I hurled the little ball of food across the room and headbutted the glass counter until the police arrived and escor… No I just put it back, thanked her and cursed Veganuary once again.
Despite a handful of frustrating moments, Veganuary has been pretty simple. It’s not over yet, but I doubt there will be many problems in my final week.
Before I conclude, I can’t say it’s had a dramatic impact on my health – but remember that I was eating vegan around 75% of the time before anyway. My energy levels are the same and I’ve made good gainz in the gym. No problems here.
Will I continue being a vegan? Yes and no.
Firstly, meat. I have no great desire to eat it. Of course, there will be a time where I do – whether I end up in at a social event where they didn’t cater for vegans, or attend a BBQ, or somebody gives me a free burger.
However, I will not be rushing to the butcher on February 1 for one of everything. It’s not really something I am craving and the health, environmental and ethical benefits of not eating meat outweigh it.
I will also definitely be cutting down on eggs and products containing eggs. Reading about the egg industry angered me (I won’t go into detail here, but it’s pretty horrific) and it has made me reconsider the several eggs I ate every day before Veganuary. Again, I may have one now and again, but it’s not something I am craving.
Milk-wise, I have really enjoyed drinking oat lattes and putting oat milk in my coffee. It tastes much nicer than regular milk – much creamier! If I end up in a scenario where there is no oat or soy milk, then yes – I’ll have a splash of cow’s milk in my coffee, otherwise I am happy to keep drinking vegan.
What this all boils down to is that I will be incorporating more of the vegan lifestyle into my already relatively vegan lifestyle – just with a little flexibility (in case the Harrods scenario presents itself again).
Part-time vegan? Yeah, let’s go with that.