Last Updated: Saturday 18th November
In celebration of World Vegan Month in November 2017 I’ve challenged myself to go vegan for the entire month.
For background, I have no experience of being vegetarian or vegan at all. It’s something I’ve thought about for a number of years as I can see the case for it on cruelty, environmental and health grounds, but this is my first time trying it. What better way is there to experience what it’s actually like than by taking it to the maximum extreme?
I am going to be opting for the strictest definition of the Vegan diet. So that means no meat, no fish, no dairy products, no eggs and no food that has been made with animal products like gelatin, milk powder, egg whites, etc.
This won’t be an easy task because I work away from home and stay at a hotel Monday through to Friday in London, so I don’t have the fallback option of just cooking my own food during the week if I can’t find a good alternative!
I will update this blog post as I progress over the month.
I nearly tripped at the first hurdle by forgetting I was doing this until I was about to buy a chicken sandwich for lunch. Thankfully I hadn’t had any breakfast and remembered just in time!
Having done no reading of any kind or preparatory research I had to resort to an emergency bean salad that tasted truly terrible. This together with the discovery I couldn’t eat a flapjack that said “suitable for vegetarians” on the front because it contained condensed milk probably wasn’t the best introduction I could have had to this challenge!
I compounded this by ordering my first takeaway from Picky Wops, a specialist Vegan pizza restaurant in London that seems to be available on Deliveroo. I don’t think I made a particularly good choice as the pizza I’d chosen had a horrible base and was made up of mushy vegetables and coconut cheese that tasted of nothing. I suspect I will need to keep an emergency bottle of Tobasco sauce on hand to fix any future taste problems.
After a terrible first day I did a little reading on vegan food and am pleased to say that lunch today actually tasted of something. This was a chick pea salad with falafels and humus washed down with a fruit smoothie.
I’m also pleased to see that fizzy drinks and most beers are perfectly acceptable for vegans, so at least I won’t be living on black coffee and fruit juice for the rest of the month!
Finally, I noticed an annoying amount of food seems to have milk powder in it. Even granola bars seem to be problematic in most cases, which is just bizarre. It looks like cake and chocolate this month is going to be tricky because both have eggs and milk in them.
So for lunch I had a pot of vegetable couscous and a fruit salad, washed down with a bottle of coke. I’ve also been munching on Nature Valley Oat & Honey bars with my coffee over the course of work day.
Last night (Thursday) I had a much better experience with the pizza I ordered from Picky Wops. It was a burned-base pizza with all kinds of fruit on top of it, and was actually pretty good!
On Saturday morning I went through my cupboards, fridge & freezer removing all temptation. I threw out anything perishable, but everything that’ll last beyond this challenge is currently sat in a shopping bag on my kitchen floor.
Some of the things I spotted really surprised me. For example, I found some packets of instant couscous were Vegan-friendly while others weren’t. Instant noodles were also out because of allergy warnings saying they might contain traces of egg. That bag mostly contains things like tinned curry, tuna, desserts, chili con carne, ravioli and mayonnaise.
Thankfully I wasn’t just left with bare cupboards! Pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, tinned fruit & veg, jars of pickled food, tea, coffee & sugar got to stay. Also because I’m lactose intolerant I already had some Alpro soya and yoghurts to continue with, but I sadly had to jettison all the Lactofree-branded stuff.
On Sunday I did my first supermarket shop for vegan food. I picked up some excellent cruelty-free vegan jam tarts and cakes (they were gone within the hour!) and added some noodles, salsa, nachos and tinned vegetables to my food cupboard. I’ve also started buying unsweetened Alpro soya milk and desserts, and even Tesco own-brand dairy-free cheese.
The biggest improvements were to my freezer. On Saturday I ended up losing frozen mince, burgers, fish fingers, fish cakes and sausages. I replaced them like-for-like with Quorn and Cauldron brand equivalents. I also replaced desserts with Alpro soya vanilla ice cream, mango sorbet and a coconut milk-based frozen yoghurt (I’ve been watching The Good Place on Netflix recently, so it felt appropriate!).
On Saturday I got through the day with pasta in tinned tomato sauce. On Sunday I started the day with a bowl of cereal and for an evening meal had quorn in breadcrumbs with oven chips and baked beans. I’d skipped lunch because of the snacks and frozen desserts I’d dusted off over the course of the day.
I guess at this point I can start to offer some early advice about people wanting to try out veganism.
The most important thing: The more you try, the more you’ll like. You will taste some things that are just godawful. Also, just because something says “suitable for vegetarians” on the packet doesn’t mean it’ll be something you can eat. I’ve had some near misses, but thankfully haven’t accidentally broken the rules as yet by being super cautious.
I had cereal again on Monday morning but skipped lunch. After work when I checked into my hotel I was gutted to discover I’m not allowed to eat the free cookie they offer to guests on arrival. I came ridiculously close to saying “Sod it, I’m eating this. Who would know?”, but I stayed strong!
For Monday evening I took a trip to the Tesco Express across the road to pick up some food. Unfortunately the choice was quite limited so I ended up with a disappointing salad and some health bars. Definitely not the best vegan meal I’ve ever consumed!
The following morning I ate a dairy-free instant porridge for breakfast and for lunch I had a pot of pasta and a fruit salad. The evening meal I ordered as takeaway that evening was a lot better, with an Avocado toast starter and a vegan chili con carne main course.
So on Wednesday I ended up eating my instant porridge pot for lunch and snacking through the day on more oat bars. That evening I ended up making good use of the Tesco salad bar, which was a lot better than their pre-packaged salad from Monday because I could also add couscous, lentils & chickpeas in chipotle sauce.
I also discovered a slightly unexpected perk, as an attractive young woman spotted what was in my shopping basket and tried to chat me up! Unfortunately I was quite tired from the work day so reacted to my over-the-top nervousness by fleeing at the first opportunity and not getting her number! (This is probably why I’m single...)
For Thursday I ended up skipping breakfast and lunch. However, that evening the meal was pretty amazing. I went to Whole Foods and bought two big packs of hot food. One was a vegan sweet potato stew, while the other was boiled rice with a butternut squash and cranberry thing on top. The pumpkin smoothie I bought as an experiment though was just terrible. It looked, smelled and tasted like cold vomit, so after half a bottle that went down the sink!
Friday was a bit of a weird day because the office I was working in was being re-arranged so I finished around mid-day. For lunch I’d managed to pick up a spicy vegetable wrap, and for the evening meal I cooked another round of Quorn in breadcrumbs with oven chips and baked beans like I did last Sunday. I wouldn’t have made it for a second time if I hadn’t liked it the first time, and again it wasn't bad.
So, before we go any further there’s an observation you probably won’t read much about, and that’s how your bowel habits change when you switch to the Vegan diet. You will find you have to "go" a lot more. I used to defecate once a day or less, but now it's three times a day! On the upside though I suppose the (erhem...) “quality” of my scat has improved and trips to the bathroom now happen at routine times.
I’ve also found surprisingly that while I seem to get hungry a lot more often (hence the introduction of oat bars and biscuits for snacking) I now seem to have a lot more energy. I’m not sure if it’s the quality of the food or the fact my sleep pattern now seems a lot less sporadic, but if this is actually the result of going vegan I may yet keep it going in some limited fashion past this month!
As a final observation my weight hasn't changed, remaining at 10 stone just like it was when I started this experiment. I'm 5' 9" tall, so if BMI is any indicator that's good news.
Today I did another supermarket shop, and I used it to pick up more frozen Quorn stuff and replenish my desserts with vegan alternatives. Unfortunately I discovered some of those products (like Quorn bacon and lasagne) use milk powder and eggs, so they’re currently sat on a freezer shelf behind a giant bag of oven chips so I don’t eat them this month by mistake. I also picked up a couple of posh vegan-friendly instant noodle pots.
This morning I had a bowl of granola, and this evening I ate Quorn “fishless fingers” with oven chips and frozen peas cooked in sunflower spread (the closest thing I can get to butter).
Sunday was a pretty relaxed day. I was pleasantly surprised on a trip to Asda that they'd rejigged their freezers and now have a big meat-free frozen range. I'm looking forward to trying those out in coming weeks.
The day again started with granola cereal, and for an evening meal I tried nut cutlets (not a euphemism!) with boiled rice, soy sauce and classic British mushy peas. The cutlets were actually quite nice, and I'll enjoy finishing off the rest of the box.
I've started picking up a bit of a cold, which I'm hoping isn't a harbinger of bad things to come...
Yep, it was all kinds of bad. I'm currently off work with the flu (again), so that's less than fun! I didn't succumb to the temptation to give up the challenge though.
Understandably my food intake has been devoid of proper meals. Largely it's been bowls of cereal, "free from" cakes and tea with biscuits. This evening I had slightly more energy so cooked up some meatless "popcorn chicken" and enjoyed them with nachos and salsa while watching some films on Netflix.
The meat substitute this time definitely needed ketchup because it tasted pretty bland. However it's worth bearing in mind that my sinuses are currently blocked so that might be affecting my perceptions!
These days were fairly quiet on account of the fact I was still off work sick with the flu.
Food over the course of these days was mostly made up of whatever I could oven cook with little effort. Vegan nuggets, chips and "fishless fingers" featured heavily.
Due to my dodgy sleep pattern I wasn't up until the afternoon. But when I did find the energy to cook an even meal I decided to be a little adventurous. I cooked up a tomato, chick pea and red wine sauce, then poached two quorn fillets in it. Served with a side of oven chips.
While I took this photo next to half a glass of wine, I didn't end up drinking very much of it. I figured it probably wouldn't mix well with paracetamol!
Again, my sinuses are affecting my ability to taste, so the sauce probably had a little more Tabasco and seasoning than I'd normally be inclined to use. Also, if I was going to cook those fillets again I'd probably fry them on a skillet to get some grill lines on them first before poaching. But overall, I'd say this hit the spot.