Veganniversary

Today is one year on since I became a vegan. Initially, Veganuary 2014 gave me the chance to try being vegan for the month of January – but what I learned in that month, combined with the support (and amazing cooking) of my already-vegan wife, convinced me to stay vegan and helped me to stick with it.

So now I’ve had a whole year of learning how to be a happy, healthy* vegan, I thought I’d share some of that info with you and – I hope – help you if you’re trying Veganuary or otherwise new to veganism. A big part of this post will be recommendations for vegan foods, and places to eat or buy them, as well as sources of info and recipes… so I’ll come back and add to this list when I discover new ones. (With big thanks to my wife, who is great at research and discovered so many of these.)

Just a quick caveat – I live in London, so most of the places are based in the capital, but there are a few elsewhere or with branches outside London.

People and information

Vegan London is a useful resource, especially for restaurants, broken down by area of the city.

The Fat Gay Vegan has been a brilliant source of vegan information, inspiration, news and more – especially on his Instagram feed.

Some other vegan Instagrammers

As well as @fatgayvegan, here are some other people and places I follow who post varying degrees of vegan-related content on Instagram, including pics, videos and comments about food, products, events, recipes and more…

@damienclarkson

@weareveganuary

@bampingtonbamps

@cookiesandscreambakery

@hannahbananabakery

@ssov

@willsveganshoes

@vegantuckboxpix

Food favourites and eating out

As I mentioned in my blog post at the end of Veganuary last year, one thing you get used to when you’re vegan is checking the small print of ingredients on foods in shops and on menus. Allergens are usually highlighted, which helps, but it’s a shame that more food producers don’t use a vegan symbol in the same way as they commonly use a vegetarian symbol. It’s the same in many restaurants, although some have a vegan menu if you ask, and lots will get creative if you give them a bit of notice of what you need.

For example, many places will happily substitute or omit ingredients; Pizza Express goes as far as letting you bring your own vegan cheese for them to add to your pizza; and Carluccio’s has a vegan menu on request.

Restaurants, cafes and shops

I was grateful that Ruby Violet was closed for the month of January 2014 – it helped me avoid temptation during Veganuary! Thankfully alongside non-vegan ice creams they do lots of nice sorbets, suitable for vegans, including great strawberry and chocolate ones.

Manna restaurant serves delicious vegan food – I think the entire menu is vegan. You can also buy Manna cakes at Vegan Cross and Earth Natural Foods (see below).

Tibits is a small and well-established chain of restaurants – I’ve now eaten many times at their central London branch, and the range of food is excellent. It’s a vegetarian and vegan buffet, you pay by weight(!) and food is clearly marked as vegan, etc. Highly recommended.

Cookies and Scream bakery – they serve amazing vegan cakes, bakes and shakes from a counter in Camden Lock Market. Hard to choose a favourite but their chocolate doughnuts and brownies are delicious. The service is fantastic too.

Vegan Cross aka Vx (and home to the Secret Society of Vegans – see @ssov on Instagram, above) is a great vegan shop in King’s Cross, which sells “vegan junk food”, with usually a good range of dairy-free cheeses, cakes, sandwiches, rare imports, plus lots of other things such as clothes, trainers and bags, as well as mugs and other merchandise.

Earth Natural Foods – this shop in Kentish Town is not exclusively vegan but it sells a lot of vegan foods and the staff are very friendly and helpful.

The Gate restaurants are vegetarian with vegan options; I’ve tried the Islington branch and enjoyed the food there.

Inspiral Lounge cafe and bar in Camden Town is all vegan (except you can ask for cow’s milk in drinks).

Basilico – this is the nicest vegan pizza I’ve tried – takeaway-only, I think, with two vegan options (including vegan cheese) and you can customise your toppings.

Vantra Vitao restaurant – I tried this when they were based in Soho and the food was nice – but be warned – they don’t serve alcohol…! 😉

Amico Bio is my newest discovery – I’ve just tried the Barbican branch of this Italian vegetarian restaurant, whose menu is almost all vegan-friendly too, or with vegan options available on most dishes. A really lovely restaurant with a welcome variety of dishes and friendly service. Will definitely be returning.

Foods

Vegan cheese

I’m yet to find a vegan cheese that is much like dairy cheese in terms of texture or consistency, especially when melted. But these have been the best vegan cheeses I’ve tried so far:

Violife

Vegusto

Veganic Vegan Pizza Cheese – on the GoodnessDirect website.

Vegan ice cream

I generally prefer Booja Booja or Swedish Glace.

Vegan snacks

Nakd are excellent, and supporting Veganuary this year.

Clive’s Pies do quite a few vegan/dairy-free pies and other snacks – stocked in places like Earth Natural Foods.

Most dark chocolate is vegan but take care to check it doesn’t contain milk or milk powder. Seed and Bean and Hotel Chocolat are among the chocolate makers with  – quite a few vegan options.

‘Eating Animals’

I didn’t read this book by Jonathan Safran Foer until just after I decided to become vegan but it reinforced the decision. It was a great, wide-ranging and detailed piece of investigative journalism through storytelling – very harrowing in places. Breathtaking and often sickening to read some of the unbelievable techniques used to manage meat production on a massive scale.

But as the book’s title suggests, the focus was just on production of meat for consumption and not of dairy products, eggs, or any related items such as leather, wool, gelatine or other things often just called ‘animal products’, or animal testing for cosmetics or toiletries. However, given what the book uncovers, it feels to me that (while worthwhile) just becoming a vegetarian is not going far enough as a response. I would appreciate a book as well written as this but that also gives a wider picture about how the meat trade is connected with other industries.

Also, the book is mainly focused on the US, so although the foreword makes it clear that practices are not much different in the UK, I would appreciate a UK-focused version of the book – I think it would help to address any differences in scale and perhaps cultural attitudes to meat production and consumption – and whether terms such as ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’ are as effectively worthless as they seem to be in America.

Do let me know in the comments if you know of such a book/article/blog. Or let me know what you thought of Eating Animals.

* A note about staying healthy

I’m not saying veganism is a simple path to instant health. In fact, I’ve probably been more ill this year than I have for a few years – but only slightly, and none of it seemed to be connected with my eating habits, as it was mainly back pain or other signs of getting a bit older! But I’m still very healthy overall, managing to go to the gym regularly and have lost weight around my middle (something I had tried and failed to do before becoming vegan). So I think a next step for me will be looking into how vegan athletes combine their fitness and eating habits – I think there are various vegan runners and at least one vegan bodybuilder who blog about their experiences.

It’s also worth pointing out that as a vegan you might need to take a vitamin B12 supplement or eat B12-fortified foods – the latter commonly include some nutmilks, some other dairy replacements and some cereals. I’m not qualified to give medical or dietary advice but you will find info about nutrition for vegans on the Veganuary website – with specific info on B12 – and on NHS Choices, among other sources, and you should always ask your doctor if you want to discuss your options.

Veganuary 2015

So, Veganuary is back this year and it’s bigger than before, with lots of useful information, recipes and stories. If you take up the challenge this month I wish you well and I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

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