Heading into the new decade I was reluctant to set myself any new years’ resolutions.
After years of failing to ‘become less lazy’ and to make flossing a permanent fixture in my dental hygiene routine, I decided that time was a social construct and new years’ resolutions can, more often than not, set you up for a loss. This is actually backed by a convenient statistic I found – according to research by running app, Strava the second Friday of January is officially ‘quitters day’, when most people give up on their NYRs.
A ‘new year new me’ narrative can also be very damaging for your mental health. It’s not productive to tell people that they aren’t good enough and that the turn of the new year is the only time that they can improve themselves. You are good enough and the first day of the calendar year shouldn’t make you feel any less than that! If you do want to make some lifestyle changes, go for it but make sure that self-love is the primary focus of the decisions you make.
However, I’ve been a vegetarian for two years and have spent much of that time urging myself to cut out all animal products and to go fully fledged vegan. So, Veganuary 2020 was a perfect way to begin my journey towards plant-based living. After all, the reason I became vegetarian is because I gave up eating meat for January 2018 and haven’t looked back.
And, to be honest, I’ve loved it! It’s now the 28th January and I’ve got just 3 days left until I’m free to gorge on all of the cheese, chocolate and butter I desire. Except, to my surprise, there is no desire. There are obviously some things that I’ve been craving, namely a pizza with REAL mozzarella, a mattar paneer (my favourite curry), and, weirdly, a melt-in-the-middle-chocolate-volcano-cake from Co-op. But, truthfully, I love my new diet.
I’ve explored loads of interesting new recipes, I’ve eaten more baked potatoes and baked beans than you can shake a vegan goujon at, I haven’t experienced that post-cheese sluggish feeling and I also feel guilt free! That’s not to say that eating animal products is a sin and those that do should be riddled with guilt. But, I love animals and I’ve never fully been comfortable with the fact that I eat them, or their produce. So I’ve been happier living a lifestyle that’s consistent with my ethics.
That being said, I should be honest about my slip-ups. On the 1st January, I did (only half-knowingly) drink a cup of tea that had cow’s milk in it. I was hungover and, with it being the first day, I allowed myself this early mistake.
I also had mayo. But this wasn’t my fault, I promise! I went to Daddy Bao in Tooting in the second week of January to try out their new vegan menu. I ordered szechuan cucumber, kimchi, sesame aubergine and sweet potato fries with vegan wasabi mayonnaise to start. When the fries arrived, I was lathering the mayo all over them, exclaiming ‘THIS MAYO IS SOOO REALISTIC I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW GOOD IT IS!’ with every bite. It really was so delicious, but there was a creeping sense of nervousness in the pit of my stomach as I slowly started questioning how they managed to so successfully replicate that sweet, sweet mayo taste. Trusting my instinct, I asked the waitress. I was right. It wasn’t vegan. It was mayo. Proper egg mayo. Probably Hellman’s. My two week streak had come to an end and I was so annoyed!
The thing about veganism is – it requires effort. Though restaurants and shops are far more accommodating than ever before and there are endless meat and dairy alternatives to try, you do need to train yourself into checking menus before going out to eat, and reading the ingredients of every food product you buy. I was annoyed because I’d done just that – I’d checked the menu and went there specifically for the new vegan options. I’d done everything I was supposed to but, through no fault of my own, I was chowing down on a delicious egg-based condiment.
After a ten minute sulk and money off the bill, I got over it and since then I have been in the clear.
What I’d tell someone wanting to become a vegan is that you have to go into it with the right attitude. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – any reduction in the consumption of animal products is good going. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want, as long as your diet makes you happy.
I also recommend doing your research. I had a lovely chat with a Kapten cab driver who had also turned to veganism on the 1st January after watching ‘Game Changers’ on Netflix. He told me I was going into the diet blind and that I could end up seriously damaging my health if I didn’t properly think about what nutrients I would be losing. He recommended reading the vegan diet page on the NHS website, and it’s been really useful. I’ve since been eating far more meat alternatives than I did as a vegetarian and taking an ‘OmniVegan’ supplement everyday, to make sure I’m getting all the nutrients I need.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned from this month is: there is no such thing as the perfect vegan. There will be times that you miss a hidden ingredient (like the sly milk in Quorn sausages), or you are tricked into eating non-vegan mayo; there will even be times that you get over-excited by a birthday at work and only remember that you’ve become a religious vegan while biting into your third slice of Victoria Sponge. But that’s okay! You are your own vegan!
If you’re thinking of going vegan then do it! But stay safe and enjoy the ride!
I’m going to leave you with some of my new food staples:
And to treat yourself:
If you’d like to donate to the official Veganuary campaign, then follow this link: https://veganuary.com/donate/
Also, if you were interested in exploring a vegan diet, then this is the link to the NHS page that I mentioned: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-vegan-diet/
By Phoebe Hanson-Lowe, External Affairs Graduate at Marie Stopes International