So it’s been a whole year since I’ve become vegan, and now it’s the end of Veganuary 2019! Congratulations if you’ve made it the whole month, and if not – well done for giving it a try. Veganuary ended their January campaign this year with a HUGE quarter of a million people who have tried going vegan! So to mark the occasion I’m going to share with you the highs and lows of being vegan this past year, and what might happen in the first year of becoming vegan if you decide to make the change.
I started my journey officially in January 2018 – committing to the Veganuary pledge. Although some months prior to this I did start to remove certain foods from my diet, such as butter and milk, and replacing them with plant-based alternatives like these:
I also decided to stop buying meat, fish, eggs and cheese. As well as getting into the habit of checking ingredients. I was shocked at how many products in my cupboard contained animal products, my sweet tooth was especially shocked! So I focused on eating these items (determined not to waste any food – I hate wasting food!), anything left over I gave to friends and family so they wouldn’t go in the bin.
My main motivation for becoming vegan was to put an end to my participation in any form of animal cruelty. This was spurred on after I read Art of Happiness: A Handbook For Living by the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler. After reading this book it really hit home the importance of having compassion not only to fellow human beings – but to any sentient being. How can we show compassion, if we condone killing and eating animals unnecessarily or exploiting animals purely for our own entertainment?
I didn’t find adjusting incredibly difficult, probably because I was so mentally and emotionally committed, but you will experience some kind of period of adjustment. A lot of your previously favourite foods will suddenly be out of bounds, I must say though I probably experienced about a second of ‘ah damn’ realising my favourite food item contained animal products, then ‘oh yeah no, I don’t want it if an animal has suffered for this’ to ‘ok I’m good again …what shall I have instead?’ This is where the advantage of getting creative in the kitchen comes in! Once you start checking out food labels you will be amazed by how many different processed foods contain animal products! Most of my kitchen cupboards probably contained some kind of egg or milk, I was so shocked!
Becoming more my self
I feel like my true self now, being genuinely me, knowing I’m not contributing to any harm to any being (as much as I am able). I’ve always been an emotionally sensitive person, but one vivid memory, in particular, I have as a child was me, probably around 6 or 7 wandering down our garden path with yellow socks on (I even remember the pale yellow socks). All of a sudden I feel a crunch under my foot. I’d trodden on a snail! I can remember being so upset and crying that I killed this poor innocent snail, probably especially more so because I wasn’t wearing shoes and could feel the crunch through my sock.
Vegetarianism found me as a teenager, which lasted up until my twenties when I returned to eating meat. I never enjoyed cooking meat though, and never chose to eat steak, meat on the bone or anything that slightly resembled the actual animal because I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I did, however, continue to eat meat until I started thinking more about what it meant and what I was contributing to. Anyway, I may not have made the connection and the step to veganism as soon as I would have liked, but I am wholeheartedly committed now, and there’s no going back.
Just as I got very emotional at my accidental killing of the defenceless snail, I not so long ago relived an experience like this, ironically whilst I was writing this post, only a couple of days ago. I was enjoying a family meal which I was lead to believe was a soy-based minced shepherds pie. A couple of mouthfuls in, I thought the texture of this doesn’t taste like the classic spongey soy mince I know and love, when all of a sudden the table was hit with an eery silence, everyone realised I’d been eating a meat version which was also in the freezer waiting to be consumed! The silence was broken with a princess-like outrage. I felt sick, I wanted to be sick, I tried to be sick, I couldn’t be sick. I was so devastated and upset that I had actually consumed beef mince, a poor innocent defenceless cow. After a period of grieving, however, I tried to remind myself that we are all human, and accidents do happen. I’d only eaten a couple of mouthfuls, and living in a carnivorous world as a vegan does come with its challenges.
If you’re a meat eater reading this post, thinking maybe I over-reacted, the only way I can try to make sense of it to a non-vegan is like this:
For a vegan to accidentally eat meat, is like a meat eater accidentally eating their own beloved family pet (presuming your pet has recently died and someone has decided to cook it up into something like a spaghetti Bolognese) it’s absolutely shocking, repulsive and you would just feel sick to your stomach.
So, these are some of the things you might face in your first year. Starting off your journey maybe interested in where it might lead you, to possibly becoming so utterly passionate that you don’t see yourself ever going back. There may also be some tears along the way if you have any accidents like I have. You will also most certainly become so much more passionate about animals rights than you ever have before, and you might even feel a little despairing ( I know I do ) at how animals are treated all over the world so cruelly and unnecessarily and how it is so normalised by society. Be warned – it’s a bit of a waking nightmare if you dwell on it too much.
One of the best things about being a new vegan and going to the supermarket is discovering the ‘free from’ section and stumbling across new things I haven’t tried yet! Most supermarkets will have an area like this in their cupboard store items, as well as their fridge and freezer sections. Although granted they aren’t always easy to find and I’ve done plenty of u-turns in a supermarket before finally asking for help to find them, but guaranteed they are there somewhere. Track down yours in your local supermarket if you haven’t already and see what’s in store. Also, a lot of supermarkets will have different ranges and items available so if you always frequent the same shops, mix it up a little and see what else is out there.
One of the worst things about going to the supermarket shopping though is finding that my favourite plant-based items aren’t in stock. It’s a big bummer, and also annoying as you never see the meat aisles simply ‘out of stock’. I’m sure there’d be uproar and revolt if that ever happened! Once I visited a supermarket to be told the one freezer aisle which stocked the vegan produce had malfunctioned and defrosted and the lot had to be tossed! I was so disappointed, especially having to walk past the ‘death aisle’ of meat and seeing it all sit there, and my poor vegan fridge all empty, desperate to be fixed and restocked! More supermarkets have got on board for plant-based diets, and there does seem to have been an increase in vegan-friendly items hitting the shelves, so this is very positive. One of my favourites are these Lynda McCartney Vegan Sausages:
Eating out or ordering in
So even though there is an advantage in that a lot of mainstream restaurants and independent restauranteurs do offer vegan options, there are still a lot of restaurants out there that sometimes don’t even understand the concept of a vegan diet and what it entails, which can be frustrating. However, I know I’m always pretty safe with a salad or a selection of side dishes of vegetables or chips/fries.
Sometimes, I’ll ask if something contains dairy, egg, fish, cheese, meat etc. and I’ll get an answer that is technically a no, but is shrouded in uncertainty and hesitance. This can get a little frustrating because sometimes you have to go with your gut as to how much you trust the restaurant. This is the thing, aside from cooking at home or walking into the kitchen of a restaurant, you really have to trust what you’re being told.
There is a plethora of vegan restaurants out there though, my favourite app for finding them is ‘Happy Cow’. Going to a vegan restaurant is great because you can trust 100% you are going to get a vegan meal, and because it’s a vegan restaurant, you know they’ve got their vegan flavours down (hopefully) and you’re in for a treat!
Learning to cook again
I would describe myself as an average cook and could whip up a selection of meat dishes before I became vegan. Although, I would never cook anything on the bone, and actually hated even touching meat, so the signs were really there! As a vegan though, you do have to sort of re-train your brain with regards to cooking, but it doesn’t take very long and once you know all of the substitutes you can use for your usual dishes, it’s really great and there are so many options out there. Check out my ‘Tried and tested vegan desserts’ for some inspiration!
You also change the way you think about meal times. For a lot of meat eaters, I know their dinner plate would generally consist of meat and two veg, or meat and carbs. When you take meat and animal products out of the equation you redefine how you portion up the different components of your meal and I think this is how vegans end up eating a healthier diet. We end up consuming more, as well as a different variety of, veggies, legumes, beans, and lentils because we have to rethink our entire plate and how it is divided up.
It’s not just food
Finding or even being able to understand what alcohol is vegan is a bit of a minefield I must admit in the first few months I didn’t even make the connection that my dear friend alcohol would involve animal cruelty? How could it? Apparently, it does! In the beginning, I probably wasn’t as strict with the alcohol element of becoming vegan, as I wanted to get a handle on my diet, I felt that this was secondary – as were toiletries, shampoo, conditioner, make-up, and clothes! I didn’t want to go into meltdown mode so I let myself be a little lax in places. One year in though, I feel like I’ve pretty much got it covered and know my favourite vegan beers, ciders, wines and spirits, here are some examples:
As well as finding vegan alcohol, there also comes a challenge when trying to nurse a vegan hangover! Gone are the days of the greasy spoon, McDonald’s breakfast run, or late afternoon Dominos. But do not fear, I’ve come up with ‘The best hangover food for vegans’.
The rise of veganism
I don’t know if its because I’ve been vegan a year now so am more tuned into the vegan world, but it feels like everywhere there has been a surge in supermarkets, restaurants and bars embracing the vegan diet! Veganuary has reported year on year increases in the numbers of people pledging to try Veganuary. More and more information is coming out about the benefits of veganism, aside from ethical reasons, such as sustainability, climate change, and health benefits. It seems as though an ever increasing number of people are talking about veganism and are interested in what it’s all about.
Other peoples opinions
You will face criticism from others, with any minority group the majority will have an opinion and let it be known. I’m up for healthy debate as much as the next person, but sometimes people aren’t equipped to actually have a healthy debate and instead of understanding, they are just completely dismissive/rude/insulting/small minded. Granted these occasions are very rare but when it does happen I want to slink away to the nearest exit so I don’t have to participate anymore. There are however some moments where I have just looked back and been in fits of laughter at the things people come out with when they learn you’re vegan! (so it’s not all doom and gloom I promise!) I’ve even rated my ‘Top 5 finniest things I’ve heard since becoming vegan’.
How has my health changed over this past year?
Well, I have lost a little bit of weight. However, I also had metal braces put on in February 2018 so I do think sometimes I’m faced with a combination of ‘ow my teeth hurt, what can I eat?’ and then basically the only option is vegetable soup or porridge. I have definitely eaten a lot less fat since being vegan though, I used to be a cheese fiend! I lived for cheese and probably ate a hunk of cheese at least once a day. Now that’s been completely cut out of my diet. Although coconut oil does often makes an appearance, especially when I’m trying out new vegan desserts to satisfy my sweet tooth, and coconut oil is quite high in saturated fat! Overall, even though my weight fluctuates, I would say I’ve probably lost around half a stone to a stone this past year.
Cold and flu
I don’t seem to have been more susceptible to colds and flu, since changing to a vegan diet. I did experience a bout of illness for around 6 weeks which I just couldn’t shake – however I also started volunteering at a primary school and everyone knows kids breed germs! So I’m putting it down to that. I also went for a blood test to be sure there wasn’t something more sinister going on and reports back show I’m in tip-top health – so obviously a little unlucky getting hit by coughs and sneezes by the little cherubs!
I can’t really say either way whether I feel more energised or less energised from being vegan this last year. Although I am kind of one of those people that is always tired. I don’t have underlying health conditions, but I could probably just do with exercising more and emotionally detaching myself from the love affair with my bed (I seriously love my bed and love sleeping!) I am going to make more of an effort to get into better morning and evening routines and also include more exercise in my lifestyle. As far as vegan eating goes, I don’t think I feel any more lethargic or any more energised either way – pretty much status quo for me.
To begin with, when I first became vegan I read a lot online about the difficulty of getting enough vitamin B12 on a vegan diet and lots of vegans arguing that all vegans should take a supplement so I erred on the side of caution and thought why not, I don’t see it doing me any harm and started taking vitamins. I then ran out because, well it turns out I’m just not that organised (I’m working on it) and thought, well maybe I’ve got myself into a better place diet wise and don’t need them. Then I got hit by the 6-week long variety of illnesses and started taking them again. I’m still undecided as to whether they make a difference. I haven’t got ill again yet but maybe I’ve just built up an immunity to the cherub’s germs! I’m going to continue taking them for the meantime, and maybe visit my doctor again in a year to get some bloodwork and see where I am. I also got these tablets (below) on sale for a bargain so decided to stock up for about 6 months, and obviously I can’t let them go to waste!
As the main photograph would suggest for me the journey to veganism is one way only. I don’t ever intend on going back to a diet which incorporates any kind of animal cruelty. I will also continue to strive to avoid any activities, purchases or involvement with anything that abuses or takes advantage of any sentient being. What have been your experiences as a new vegan? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re thinking of becoming vegan or want to find out more about it, there are some great books to check out too – How To Go Vegan: The why, the how, and everything you need to make going vegan easy, The Little Book of Veganism, Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet and Vegan Life: Cruelty-Free Food, Fashion, Beauty and Home.