So, veganism, being vegan, Veganuary. Where to begin? Over the last few years the number of people who have identified as vegans in the UK has dramatically soared. In fact, according to The Vegan Society, 560,000 people signed up to take part in Veganuary this year. This means that over half a million people in the UK pledged to strip all animal products from their diet, including meat, fish, dairy, and eggs throughout the month of January. This number is a record high thanks to a swell in growing health and environmental concerns during the many lockdowns over the past year. I was one of these 560,000 people, and here is what found.
Perhaps I should start with what lead me to take on this dietary change. I was raised a vegetarian until I was about 8 years old and I started to eat meat. I’m not sure exactly what caused the change — but it happened. I then went vegetarian every Lent, yet never found it hard to cut out meat. However, the main prompt for me to try Veganuary this year was a friend I made here at Surrey, who has been Vegan for almost a year now. We stayed at university over Christmas and I will put my hands up now and say that I am not a great cook, so she did most (all) of the cooking. So, without even trying, in December, I was predominantly eating vegan apart from the milk in my tea and the odd bit of cheese. So I thought, why not carry this over into the New Year and swap out any remaining animal products?
"I found that I spent less when vegan. I filled out my meals with so many vegetables that I got full quicker and my leftovers would last a couple of days."
Some of you may be thinking that that’s all well and good, but veganism is expensive and I’m a student and can’t afford it. And I completely understand these concerns! I’m also a student — doing my Masters, who’s student loan doesn’t cover her tuition, and with having just paid this semesters tuition and rent there is obviously even less in the bank. However, I found that I spent less when vegan. I filled out my meals with so many vegetables that I got full quicker and my leftovers would last a couple of days. Oh and on a side note, if you’re worried you are going to compromise on flavour, vegan food still tastes amazing and if you get adventurous with your spices and seasonings, it only gets better. Additionally, there are so many options that I felt overwhelmed by the choice. Tesco has some plant-based food including ready meals (for those lazy days), frozen kebab pieces (they go great in a toastie), and the milk and cheese replacements are incredible! There is coconut-based cheese which was my go-to saviour and a jalapeño infused cheese that melts nicely (it can be hard to find good melting vegan cheese) in my toasties. I tried coconut milk (good for teas), almond milk (great for cereal), soya milk (great in pancakes, plus you can find some with extra protein), oat milk (great in lattes — makes it super creamy), and my personal favourite hazelnut milk (loved it in my tea, coffee, and hot chocolate!). Speaking of coffee, I really recommend the almond milk cappuccino from Starbucks - it was my go-to coffee during the most stressful periods of January (coursework deadlines *shudders*).
Initially, I didn’t find much difference in meals, I even had a full English Breakfast with plant-based bacon and sausages! I was also eating so much better than I would normally, because being vegan made me actually think about what I wanted to eat and plan out my meals. I didn’t crave any meat or dairy products apart from one evening about a week before the end of January, when my flatmate made a fish finger sandwich and believe me, that was a struggle. The rest of my flat had been cooking steaks, eating burgers, frying fish and not once did I want some, but something as basic as a fish finger sandwich was my weakness that day. I didn’t crack and even now, past January, when I can go back to eating whatever I want, I still haven’t eaten any meat or dairy products. I just don’t feel like I want or need to. It’s also not that I feel awful about eating animals or that I want to do this to improve the environment. Don’t get me wrong, these are incredible positives of veganism but for me personally, I have just noticed that I lack the cravings I had before, I feel better, healthier and I have so much more energy. On a side note, according to Peta, there are plenty of health benefits of becoming vegan including a reduced risk of developing cancer and other diseases, and can help prevent type 2 diabetes. During exam periods, I used to stress eat pretty much any snacky food I could get my hands on, but I haven’t this time around. I haven’t even wanted to.
I wouldn’t call Veganuary a challenge for me personally because all it took for me was a couple of changes here and there, but I do know that for some, becoming vegan may be a really big transformation. But with a little research, it is nowhere near as daunting as you may think. Next time you go to Tesco have a look at the plant-based sections to see what’s on offer, it might surprise you. Find a couple of Instagram accounts that interest you; I recommend @vegan.roey who regularly shares some incredible, easy recipes — plus his adorable dog features in every video. I also suggest following @mikaelaloach, who is not only vegan but is an activist on climate justice, feminism, and antiracism. Both of these people are well worth following and I have learned so much in doing so.
It’s not always easy to make the switch instantly, so making small changes can be the way forward. I know I will be making some serious conscious decisions to be as plant-based as possible (however I do still have chicken in my freezer from months ago), but ultimately, I am doing this for me and my health. I think it might be time for another cup of tea with almond milk, and my daily reminder that this is just the veganning.