The Verse’s Charlotte Crane tells us about her expectations, the experience and outcome of participating in Veganuary.
For those of you who aren’t aware, (although I’m sure most of you are), Veganuary is a challenge in which people pledge to give up eating all animal-derived food products during the month of January. This year I decided to do just that and wanted to share my experience, in order to help others who are considering taking the plunge.
I decided to give Veganuary a go on a whim. Just before Christmas, I suggested the idea to my boyfriend and he agreed to join me. Just to clarify, I’ve been a vegetarian for about two years now. I also rarely eat eggs and don’t drink milk, so I’m aware this challenge was perhaps a bit easier for me than it is for other people.
That being said, I do have cheese with almost every meal. Eating cheese has been part of my identity ever since I was small. As a picky child, I mostly lived off a diet of cheese sandwiches and crisps. I also love chocolate as much as the next person, and as a fan of Mexican food, sour cream ends up in my meals far too often. I must say, I was concerned as to whether or not I would realistically be able to keep up this diet.
The motivations behind Veganuary:
Much like why I turned vegetarian, if I was to actually visit a farm that mass produces milk and eggs, I’m pretty sure I’d never touch animal products again. I’m far too aware of the realities of this industry and how the animals are treated. There’s an element of hypocrisy I feel about myself when I eat animal products. It’s definitely something that plays on my conscience.
I have heard that veganism makes you feel healthier and more energetic. Anything that promises these things appeals to me a lot. I was also concerned (whether or not justifiably remains uncertain) about the hormones that I take into my body when I eat animal products, and how they affect me.
- The people around me.
Two of my housemates are vegan. Every day I see them eat lovely food without seemingly missing out on much of the good stuff.
What concerned me about Veganuary:
- Environmental factors.
Although veganism sounds like it would be better for the environment, a lot of products contain large amounts of palm oil which is linked to deforestation. Soy is also used in a lot of vegan alternatives and is associated with the production of greenhouse gasses. I know that animal farming also contributes to greenhouse gasses, but it’s hard to find clear information on which is worse.
There’s also literature that links soy to thyroid problems in people, although a lot of this information is cloudy and unclear. I also worried about getting enough protein. I’m not entirely convinced I manage to get enough as a vegetarian half of the time. Cutting out animal products entirely would be yet another source of protein that disappears from my diet.
I’m incredibly poor and a lot of nice vegan products can be quite expensive. I was worried that veganism might not be so accessible to someone on a tight budget.
Despite all this, I was still curious and wanted to see for myself whether or not my ideas of veganism were valid.
How the month went
I went into Veganuary pretty sceptically, not really expecting to succeed. I am proud to say that I completed the month, except for a couple of slip-ups. At one point I mindlessly ate some cool original Doritos before remembering they almost certainly have milk powder in them. The other slip up was when I ate some rocky roads picked up from the ‘free from’ aisle at ASDA. The packaging said that they were ‘milk free’ and ‘egg free’ so naturally (and naively) I assumed they were vegan. I then remembered that they had marshmallows on them and double checked the packaging. Sure enough, they contained gelatine. (A friendly reminder to always read the packaging carefully!)
In terms of my health, I have to say that during Veganuary I felt a lot better physically and mentally. I felt less bloated and fatigued than I usually do. Now, I remain sceptical on this, as I’m aware it may well have been a placebo effect. That being said, feeling better intrigues me. I would love to complete future bouts of pure veganism to see if I feel the same effects.
Money wise, I was right that a lot of vegan alternatives can be more expensive. I did find, however, that there are a lot of items you only really need to invest in every so often and they will last you a lot longer than you expect. I definitely spent more money on food than I usually would, but that’s mostly due to the excitement of trying lots of new things. In a normal vegan month, I probably wouldn’t end up spending much more money than I would on a vegetarian diet.
It also should be noted that you definitely need to give more time and attention to planning to your meals, but I feel like this is true of any big diet change. Also, as time goes on things become easier and more routine. One of the aspects I found hardest was coming up with new and alternative meals. Although only after a month of veganism I now have a whole new back catalogue of meal ideas.
In terms of missing certain foods, it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I thought it was going to be. The biggest challenge was, of course, my one true love – cheese. I am surprised to say though that there are quite a few good cheese alternatives on the market. The problem with fake cheese is that the bad ones are so very bad. The same can be said for vegan chocolate. Because of this, my next article will be a guide to the best vegan products and the ones to avoid. Along with useful tips, recipes and resources that should help you if you’re thinking about taking on veganism yourself.
A big thing I want to highlight is that there is so much room for vegan junk food. During Veganuary I ate so many burgers and pizzas. You definitely don’t have to commit to a life of clean eating in order to be vegan. Although a lot of the time veganism is a good way to force yourself to make healthier choices.
How I’ve eaten post Veganuary
I was always going to go back to eating certain animal-derived foods after Veganuary. I had a whole stockpile of chocolate that I was given over Christmas that I hadn’t yet managed to get through. Whether or not I find eating dairy unethical, I find wasting food even less ethical, (especially if it’s delicious.) One thing I have found interesting is that after not eating it for so long, chocolate tasted different. A lot sweeter and less flavourful than I remember.
There were also a couple of occasions in February that I selfishly decided I could not possibly do without eating cheese. One of which was Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend and I shared a pizza and a Camembert. Afterwards, my stomach was in knots. I haven’t experienced food based pain like that for a long time. It was clear that after over a month of avoiding cheese, I’d developed a slight intolerance to it.
I was right, there is a lot of palm oil in vegan alternative foods. This is the part of veganism that makes me think ‘What’s the point? Whatever I do to try to be ethical, there are always negative sides to it.’ This is why I have decided not to be hard on myself. After a month of veganism and discovering which vegan alternatives I like, I will continue to incorporate these into my diet without driving myself crazy with guilt if I don’t stick to it all of the time. However, plant-based eating is easier after realising that I didn’t miss these foods half as much as I was expecting to.
If you are considering taking on a vegan diet, I would recommend building up to it by slowly replacing certain products. Dairy and egg free alternatives are becoming easier to find, especially in a town such as Brighton. I can imagine going straight from a vegetarian or meat-based diet into veganism would be quite overwhelming. The key is to be kind to yourself and not beat yourself up if you slip up from time to time.
Just as I respect any meat eater who decides to cut down on their meat intake, I think that at least cutting down on animal products is a good start. At this point, I’m eating vegan as much as I can. There are some instances where vegetarian options are cheaper than the vegan ones and as a student, I’m currently a slave to my purse strings. For now, though, I’m happy with the increase of guilt-free meals that have come into my life.
Featured image courtesy of Stevie Shephard aka The Brighton Vegan. You can find her Instagram account here.