I finally decided to take the plunge and give Veganuary a go, but why now? First and foremost, it is coming up to three years of being vegetarian and the idea of going vegan has played on my mind over the past few months. So you know, it seemed natural to try it out at a time where vegan food was in abundance and if it didn’t work out, at least I could say it was only for the month anyway. Secondly, we are in a lockdown and it gives me something to do – even if that something is spending too much money on trying all the new vegan substitutes out there. As someone who loves food a lot, it does not take a lot for me to get excited and go overboard.
Going in to this, my initial plan was to give it my all for the month and then follow a reduced dairy diet after – after all, my housemates and I have really got into our cheese boards lately. My reasoning here being something along the lines of taking baby steps, much like the lead up to my going vegetarian. It was something I had considered for a while, cutting down on meat – not really eating it at home, but not turning it down elsewhere. The switch to going fully veggie was pretty sudden – there is no concrete reason other than I simply did not want to eat animals anymore. I’m not entirely knowledgable on the ins and outs but sometimes just a small amount of info is enough to turn you off, and sometimes that moment just comes out of nowhere. Of course this time, I decided to utilise an ever growing campaign, kick starting the new year with a new diet and lifestyle as I fully signed up to Veganuary.
With my birthday being in January, it was definitely prime time to take advantage of takeaways. I of course enjoyed my much loved plant based range at Byron Burger – definitely recommend The Truffler – this time with a vegan salted caramel milkshake! This new drink was great for not feeling too heavy on top of the burger and fries, but if you’re not a fan of coconut then I have bad news for you as the taste of coconut milk really comes through in this one. I did not mind it at all, but I know it is not for everyone – I was just happy to still enjoy a milkshake on my birthday.
Wagamama announced the release of some sticky vegan “ribs” which were absolutely divine and I sure hope they stay! I feel like even as a meat eater I would have enjoyed them – what’s not to love about “ribs“ that you can just eat whole? I was also intrigued by their mushroom “squid” however it wasn’t available to order so I am yet to try it.
Then there is Subway, finally offering something more than a patty for us non meat eaters. I enjoyed the fake chicken pieces and plant based mozzarella, along with my usual salad bits and some sticky chilli sauce and garlic aioli (plant-based, yes). I am so hoping this stays part of their regular line because ugh, so good! I haven’t tried the pizza places yet because in all honesty, I know what a decent pizza with vegan mozzarella will taste like so it just does not have the wow factor for me right now – but absolutely buzzing about them being on the menu, again, hopefully they stay around a little longer.
Then there’s the food shop. The great search for all those new vegan friendly bits and bobs. Despite being vegetarian for quite some time now, there are still a lot of meat alternatives that I am yet to try. My top finds so far are Plant Pioneers’ Chorizo Shroomdogs – great in a vegan paella or pasta dish, and the This Isn’t Bacon. The strips look a little questionable before you cook them, sure, but this IS absolutely the best bacon alternative I have tried.
In terms of cheese, I was a little apprehensive to start with. If you’re a hardcore fan going cheese free for the first time I would recommend just going cold turkey to start with and taking some time before trying the alternatives. The truth is, as it is, out of the packet, vegan cheese just does not hit the same. That being said it is delicious in its own way – but I think you really benefit from it by looking at the vegan cheese alternatives as a totally different option rather than a straight swap. Having dabbled in vegan cheeses before, and contacting my fellow vegan pals however, I felt confident in going straight for it.
My top recommendations are Violife cheddar (which I find to be very mild, almost like the Dairylea version of cheese strings if you remember those?) and, like many other people will tell you, the Applewood vegan cheese is an absolute winner. Both of these worked so nicely in my vegan mac and cheese which I will absolutely be making over and over again – the perfect comfort food for sure! I also had the Mexicana cheeze slices in a toasted sandwich with the Quorn smoked ham, it was phenomenal. There is definitely a different texture and taste, but I am so happy with it. I did try some “Greek style” cheese from Lidl, but wasn’t overly impressed, so am still on the look out for the perfect faux feta. So far I have been recommended Violife and Green Vie and I cannot wait to try these out.
Another great find is the Elmlea Plant Double Cream, which has worked great in both savoury and sweet dishes alike. I am keen to use it for a mushroom stroganoff style dish, but also love it over some homemade brownies – topped off with some Sweet Freedom chocolate coffee sauce. Chef’s kiss central. It is such a staple and my next mission with this cream is to make a no bake Oreo Cheesecake – can we just take a moment for Oreos being “accidentally vegan”! Talking of baking, I am so in love with Oggs as an egg alternative. One carton (or 200ml) counts as 4 eggs and they worked a dream for my cookies, although I am yet to perfect the Yorkshire pudding. There is still time though.
One thing I have noticed about myself is that I have felt a lot more tired in the morning, however I am not sure this is exclusive to going vegan. I think the pandemic and lockdown are having an impact on motivation and routine here. In reality my diet has not changed all that much apart from the sweet treats – but still, there is definitely some work needed on the nutrition front on my part. There is plenty of nutritious vegan food out there, I just need to make sure I’m using it. As far as I am concerned, veganism is not the cause, but absolutely the wake up call I need.
In short, I am loving it, and surprising myself with how little I am missing. Every now and then I do pine for the sweetest, most milkiest of chocolates, but it is in fact not too overbearing. As far as cheese goes, I think it is still early days. I can live without it day to day for sure, but when the inevitable house special cheeseboard comes out, I may feel like I’m missing out. That being said, I do have my eye on some vegan pâté along with some decent cheese alternatives – I know they exist and I will find them. So really, it is fine, and yes I can totally see myself continuing with the vegan diet. Lifestyle still needs a little work, in terms of ensuring my cosmetics and what not are all up to scratch, but as I hate waste, if it is already in my bathroom or make up bag, then it stays for now. I also know that since COVID fudged up the Christmas plans I have a bunch of definitely non-vegan chocolate waiting for me somewhere in Kent. The jury is out on whether I will enjoy them as a final goodbye, or offer them out to friends and family, but rest assured, they will not go to waste.
I am genuinely so excited to carry on trying out more vegan food and discovering new favourites. Veganuary, you may have just made another convert.