Going vegan Sam Harrington-Lowe for The Tonic

Vegan for a week – could you take the challenge?

As it’s World Vegan Month, it seemed as good a time as any to try out the lifestyle and see just what a plant-powered diet feels like. So I pledged to give it a go for a week.

I’m definitely an omnivore, but I love a lot of vegetarian food anyway, so I thought this would be a breeze. I was a vegetarian in my youth, for yonks – until I spent a couple of years living on Greek Islands (oh how I wish I was there now!) and ultimately ran out of new things to eat.

It might be different now, but in 1991 there weren’t many vegetarians in the remote Greek isles. Farmery men would walk through a restaurant full of diners with half a dead sheep slung over their shoulders, en route to the kitchen, and no one batted an eye. The concept of vegetarianism was like an idea from the space age future. Which I guess actually it was.

So after one Greek-salad-and-stuffed-vines-leaves dinner too many I just buckled (souvlaki, if you’re interested), and never went back. These days I try and eat meat as a treat, and not take it for granted. So I spend more on less, so that I can be sure the animal has at least had a good life and humane death, if there is such a thing. But I do still like to tuck into a decent steak. And as for cheese…

MAKING A START

So I get myself prepared. I do a shop – lots of veggie stuff, extra beans and so on. Tofu, which I don’t mind but don’t normally eat, tempeh (WTF? It looks like a nutty turd) and I have a good look at the vegan ‘dairy’ choices, which is a bit depressing. I pick out a few things that don’t look too bad, including a variety of different plant ‘milks’ and I’m set. Let’s do this thing!

Day 1 is OK. The first hurdle for me is breakfast (always have tea and always have eggs). So I try a range of different milks in my Tetley’s. Egad, but some strange things happen to tea with plant milk. The best by a mile is oat milk (I really like Oatly actually) and although it sort of separates in the tea until you stir it, a bit like miso soup does, it tastes fine. I can do that, I thought happily. Turns out it’s even nicer in coffee.

Eggs though. Definitely an animal product, this one, and I just can’t do sugary stuff in the morning so no swapping for cereal. So I knock up a tofu scramble, which was ABSOLUTELY LOVELY! Seriously – I mean, not eggy flavour but this scrambled plate of stuff was great. So far, so planty good.

 

Vegetarian Teenage Daughter Who Doesn’t Actually Like Vegetables is wary and suspicious of the whole operation, and begs not to be made to eat vegan food

 

It’s when I start to scrutinise the contents of my cupboard it gets trickier. Spag bol, I’m making, using Quorn vegan mince instead of cow. But lo! There is anchovy in the Lea & Perrins I always add. Oxo –dammit I forgot to get green ones. Pasta – that’s fine right? No! Not the one I’ve got here anyway; it’s got egg in it.

Vegetarian Teenage Daughter Who Doesn’t Actually Like Vegetables is wary and suspicious of the whole operation, and begs not to be made to eat vegan food, so basically we compromise – which means that throughout the endeavour she eats what I make, whilst covering it with cheese as I try not to look with gritted teeth.

I go back to the shops and really start to look at the labels. Turns out quite a lot of stuff is vegan and I didn’t even know it. Lots of breads, for example, and Jus-roll pastry (I made vegan tarts!). But lots more of it has hidden animal products. I got what I needed and made an actual vegan spag bol. We did try some vegan ‘parmesan’ that looked great in the packaging but was so revolting actually I’d rather cut off my own head than eat, so it was cheeseless. But the meal was nice all the same.

Incidentally, I found this stuff called Violife which isn’t quite cheese, but is a pretty good effort…

violife cheese The Tonic

I feel like I should do some research, and get some advice, so I cautiously look at the PETA site, as I’m always keen to avoid horrific images of tortured animals before bedtime, and download the Vegan Starter Pack.

The back cover has a picture of a cute piglet with the caption ‘I am not bacon’. Obviously then I immediately think of bacon. Own goal there PETA. Inside it says, ‘Would you eat your dog?’ I eye up the pug and the jury is out. There are some lovely vegan recipes in the thing though, and plenty of good advice.
 

The back cover has a picture of a cute piglet with the caption ‘I am not bacon’. Inside it says, ‘Would you eat your dog?’ I eye up the pug and the jury is out

 

SO HOW DOES THE WEEK UNFOLD GENERALLY?

Honestly, it’s possible to make absolutely delicious vegan food, but it takes a lot more time than my normal routine. Maybe this is just because I’m not used to the recipes and the ingredients, but it feels like every waking minute of the day I’m thinking about food.

And some of the food is good mostly because of the ‘little side dishes’ I make to jazz things up – I create a salsa, make guacamole, that kind of thing, but making this stuff from scratch all the time takes forever. I ended up a fair bit of the time grabbing stuff like peanut butter on bread just because I didn’t have time/knowledge to knock up other stuff.

peanut butter on toast with banana The Tonic Sam Harrington-Lowe

I’m aware that there’s a lot more vegan ingredients on the shelves than there used to be, and that’s great. But they’re often expensive. It’s also really hard to find food on the run! This made me really cross actually – if you’re going to make packet sandwiches for petrol stations etc, and you’re making a veggie option, why not just make it vegan too? EVERY veggie option has cheese in it. Would it kill you to make hummus and roast veg or something?

VERDICT

I haven’t talked too much about the food we ate in our vegan week but generally, it was absolutely fine and I didn’t miss the meat/meaty products. But wow, you do need extra time, and plenty of practice.

I found that by the time I’d eaten breakfast I was already thinking about lunch and dinner and what the hell I was going to make (soup became a staple for lunch, just to stop me having to think about one of the day’s meals) and planning and cooking food took up way more of my time than usual. I did however feel healthier – my gut definitely thanked me. And I felt nice, perhaps a bit smug. Nice not to be eating the lovely animals, tra-la.

Going forward I can’t see me making a change for good, but it has made me more aware of food products and I do keep my eyes open and ‘eat clean and green’ as much as possible. But I do think also that for a busy mum and business owner, one has to be realistic, and sometimes it’s just not possible to do the shining example thing every day. For me I’m going to aim for the 80/20 rule, but don’t let that put you off. I reckon it’s never been easier to switch.

For more information on veganism and World Vegan Month go to The Vegan Society

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Sam Harrington-Lowe

As editor at the Tonic, Sam works with an extraordinary array of...

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