Resolutions, cheese and ice cream
I’ve never been one of those people who makes resolutions or gives things up in January. I’ve generally been fine with doing this at any time of year and sticking to it. (OK, I did join my current gym in January 2012 – but only because my old local authority gym closed in December 2011 thanks to government cuts.)
My wife and I have both been vegetarian for ages – she since childhood and me since adulthood. We both made this choice mainly for ethical reasons. My wife decided to become vegan about nine months ago and has been brilliant at sticking to it.
I never thought I would become vegan myself. I thought if I was being honest I would miss cheese too much. And ice cream. I’m also conscious of feeling underweight for my height and therefore not wanting to risk losing more weight than I have to.
But since my wife chose to be vegan I had cut some dairy products out – mainly milk and butter, replacing them with soya milk and vegan sunflower or olive spreads. And I ate a lot more vegan meals, and cooked a few myself. By this stage, our household was a mixture of vegan (my wife), vegetarian with some vegan habits (me), vegetarian (our daughter) and pescatarian (our cat).
I was starting to take more of an interest in veganism, keeping an eye out for vegan news, info, food and recipes, and vegan-friendly restaurants and shops. And most of all – vegan people! My friend and colleague Amy mentioned Damien Clarkson and I started following him on Instagram and enjoying his pics of his vegan dishes.
Going vegan for Veganuary
I work in the world of charity digital and it’s a pretty small world. After an NFPtweetup event in November last year Damien tweeted that he was sad to miss the event and I replied to say I’d have liked to meet him, but in the meantime was enjoying his vegan cookery photos. He suggested I try Veganuary so I read more about it on the website and signed up.
“Eat delicious, healthy food, save lives and help the environment. Join the thousands of people going vegan for the month of January.”
– Veganuary Twitter bio.
The Veganuary site gives a range of reasons – ethical, environmental and health-based – for cutting down or cutting out meat and animal products, and the campaign is in partnership with the animal charity Viva. It also provides tips and recipes, as well as links to their social sites.
And now January and Veganuary are nearly over. So what have I found out and what happens next?
Being a vegan is hard, but not impossible
Actually, giving up foods such as cheese and ice cream hasn’t been the hardest part of becoming vegan. The most difficult thing has been working out whether everyday foods are suitable for vegans or not. This has involved lots of checking and rechecking ingredients listings on packaged foods, and asking and doublechecking with shop and restaurant staff that certain foods or dishes are vegan.
Although I’ve been vegetarian for nearly two decades and up for trying veganism, I’ve always enjoyed a mixture of healthier and not-so-healthy food. So it has been hard avoiding certain snacks and junk food that would be veggie but not vegan. Frustratingly, there are loads of snacks such as cereal bars that would be vegan except for tiny quantities of honey or sometimes milk powder.
Also, although food producers, shops and restaurants are much better at labelling foods as suitable for vegetarians, they often don’t extend this helpfulness to vegans, even if the food is actually vegan-friendly – hence lots of scanning of the ingredients small print.
On the plus side, I have found it harder to eat junk food – I have to be more creative or just do without. And healthier snacks are easier to get hold of – I’ve found the range of snack choices to be reduced, usually leaving healthier options such as fruit or nuts. Although, of course, lots of crisps and things are naturally suitable for vegans too!
There are lots of vegan food options
My wife is generally amazing but has surpassed herself this month, making some really lovely and creative vegan meals and snacks, many of them thanks to the excellent Veganomicon. And we have enjoyed eating at some great vegan places such as Manna, Inspiral Lounge and Vitao. Vegan Cross is a brilliant shop selling vegan food and merchandise – their Instagram feed is at times mouthwatering and in danger of overshare! 🙂 – and you can order online.
As a vegan you can still eat cheese and ice cream…
… Though it’s not quite the same, the best vegan cheese we found is Violife, and I think the best vegan ice cream is Swedish Glace. Booja Booja also do lovely ice creams and chocolates, and Hotel Chocolat helpfully label their vegan-friendly goodies on their website.
It’s not just about food
Another thing to be conscious of is animal products in non-food items such as clothing – as well as looking for cruelty-free toiletries and household cleaning products. However, my vegetarianism already extended to things such as cutting out gelatine and animal fats and avoiding wearing leather, so I already had a bit of a head start with this. But I’m aware that I need to look into this more deeply to find out more – my wife has already been great at prompting me to do this and she is getting pretty accomplished at this kind of research herself!
Vegans are friendly folks
Veganuary efforts have been supported by people taking an active part on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It’s been interesting to see the myth-busting, the information about the benefits of veganism and, of course, the recipe ideas (#morethancarrots). And the plan is for these pages and their communities to continue beyond the month of Veganuary and provide ongoing mutual support for following a vegan lifestyle.
There’s a Secret Society of Vegans
Being a vegan has helped me with a tricky fitness goal
Carrying extra weight around your middle is one of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Working at Diabetes UK, I’m especially aware of this. I have many of the risk factors that you can’t change, such as family history, ethnicity, and age – so have always tried to maintain a healthy weight to offset at least one of the risk factors. But another risk factor, having a large waist, has been much harder to target in isolation. Overall I’m slim, I go the gym regularly and walk a lot, but I’ve tried to shift some of the weight around my middle for a few years without success.
During January I have lost an inch from my waist size, as well as losing three kilos overall. I think this is thanks to eating less saturated fat during Veganuary, and possibly also because winning a Fitbit last autumn has led me to do more walking and running (I think that deserves a blog post of its own).
(By the way, you can check your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes using Diabetes UK’s online risk score test – I worked on redeveloping this last year to make it easier to use – let me know what you think of it.)
Veganism is not just for January/Veganuary
So – today is the last day of this Veganuary month, and the natural question that lots of people have asked me in recent days is – will I go back to being a vegetarian, or will I stick with veganism? Would my ability to give things up for good reasons be outweighed by my love of cheese and ice cream?
Well, for lots of reasons – love, health, morals and the environment – I have decided to continue being vegan… and I doubt I’ll be the only one. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Finally, to continue my theme of book-based blog posts, I’m about to start reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – which I’m expecting will give me even more reason to stick with being a vegan, and possibly more to blog about it.