my experience of veganuary

Red rice and chickpea bowl with lots of lemon and guacamole

I’ve dabbled in and out of veganism for a few years now, experimenting with varying degrees of vegetarianism, and this year, I figure I would take it to the next level.

People go vegan for lots of different reasons. Because of animal cruelty, because of health reasons, because of the environmental impact… I feel personally more connected to the ecological effect of the meat and dairy industry, and I tried to stay as eco-conscious as possible throughout the month.

It’s been a fun month! A challenging and sometimes difficult experience – but I pulled through, despite the odd slip! So I thought I’d share my experience after my first full veganuary!

I relied almost entirely on a Chinese restaurant, a Lebanese deli and an Italian restaurant that had vegan cheese…

…which covered most lunch emergencies and impromptu dinner dates throughout the month. Adapting a pizza was easy – I ordered vegetarian pizzas with vegan cheese or the vegan special, since lots of places were on board with veganuary (like Franco Manca in the UK). I’ll admit I wasn’t exactly sure whether the Lebanese falafel wrap had dairy or not. I also did my best at Chinese restaurants with vegetable dishes and boiled rice, and vegan ramen from Shoryu.

If you can find a handful of places you know you’ll enjoy ordering from, it makes decisions much easier when you’re faced with the menu. Asian cuisine is easy to adapt (but watch out for ghee in Indian food!), whereas French is much harder for example.

Vegan ramen bowl from Shoryu

I didn’t always eat the healthiest things, but by lack of choice

It’s true, you can be a total junk food vegan. You can find burgers, nuggets, cheese, pizza, deep fried vegetables and ice cream… I didn’t really indulge in a lot of processed vegan food because I was trying to limit my carbon footprint and ate mostly home made dishes.

But at times, I really didn’t have a lot of choice, and when I struggled finding something to eat, I often ended up buying crisps, bread and ordering French fries. So just to make clear that when something is vegan, it isn’t necessarily ‘healthier’, whatever that even means.

That being said, I wasn’t obsessed about eating entirely ‘clean’. I don’t think I could have managed an entire month without treating myself and I definitely indulged in lots of pizza!

An example of vegan pizza from Portland’s VegFest last summer!

I majorly f* up at a work conference

I had a couple of trips planned for work and it was really, really hard. A three day work conference in a super nice hotel, buffet lunches and sit-down dinners really limited my choices. On the first day, I ate bread and leaves for lunch. I was so ravenous by dinner time (a whole 9 hours later!) that I ate an entire cheese and ham quiche. Oops.

And you know what? That’s fine. Part of the experience is to understand your habits and challenge them. No one is expecting you to starve to death if you can’t find anything to eat. The important part for me was the ability to bounce back and carry on when I got home.

Moving forward, I think it’d be very difficult to maintain an entirely vegan diet – purely for my sanity!

I saved lots of money, but that’s not always the way it goes

I think it’s a common misconception that vegan = cheaper. I think it depends. I ate a lot of locally grown vegetables from the market, fresh bread from the baker, oats, hummus and lentils (all cheap). But if you’re looking to replace your yoghurt, cheese, meat and chocolate with their vegan equivalents, it can get really expensive. So just watch out and keep track of your spending if you’re trying to maintain your existing food budget.

Cheap vegan food is generally not processed; canned beans, grains, plain tofu etc. I spent more money on specialty items to keep things interesting, like spices, sauces and the occasional wedge of Prosiciano.

A cheap meal of soup and bread – which I had most days

I didn’t eat a lot of protein, and I felt fine

You guessed it – I got lots of questions about protein. And like I mentioned, there are lots of protein alternatives now. But I’ll admit I didn’t have that much protein, and maybe in the long term, it would be an issue. I ate lots of low fat hummus, some tofu and edamame, but mostly, I ate carbs.

I don’t think there are as many excuses as there used to be not to try veganism, but it’s useful to understand what macronutrient combination works best for you. If you know a higher protein works for you, you should honour your personal needs instead of following what some high-carb vegan is eating on instagram. There are lots of delicious vegan meat alternatives out there, like Quorn, tofurky, flavored tofu, Beyond Meat and generic meat alternatives from the supermarkets.

A tofu scramble for breakfast with toast, avocado and veggies

It’s super hard if you have an intolerance, too

This was the hardest part for me – not being able to meat, dairy and fructose. No sweet potato. No tomato. No root vegetables. No ketchup. No sweet chilli sauce or butternut squash or vegan desserts. That makes veganism a lot more restrictive!

It was especially hard at buffets and events, where the only option might be a roasted vegetable dish which I couldn’t have. Eating out for breakfast was also quite difficult, since I couldn’t have fruit or chia puddings or the toppings on oatmeal. Agreed – it’s not the end of the world. So I decided not to drive myself insane and stay flexible. If that meant having chicken instead of nothing, I had chicken. Fortunately, it only happened a couple of times.

A veggie box from the Lebanese – I think it was all vegan!

I didn’t miss meat, but I missed eggs

I actually can’t remember the last time I cooked meat since I moved to Oxford in December. I’ve had chicken in wraps and fish at restaurants, but I had essentially already stopped cooking meat and fish at home. But I used to get half a dozen eggs from the market every Sunday, which I did kind of miss.

Eggs are cheap, and probably not as terrible for the environment as a piece of steak, especially if from a local farm. Eggs are also really delicious and much harder to replace in my opinion – how does one make a vegan poached egg without spending multiple hours creating a fake egg? It’s not possible. So – I’m very likely to reintroduce eggs!

Regardless of slipping up a couple of times and having some dull moments munching on dry bread, I really enjoyed challenging myself. I had fun, cooked a lot more, had interesting conversations with curious friends, and saved money! And really – it’s not as hard as it sounds.

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