Update (March 2018): I'm very proud to say that I managed to stay Vegan for roughly four times the original duration of the challenge. That period also included Christmas so it's amazing I stuck with it, particularly given I went into this completely "cold turkey" (pun intended).
I learned a lot about nutrition, got into the habit of cooking proper meals from base ingredients and also gained a better understanding of animal welfare issues. Overall, I'd say this exercise was a resounding success. :)
Anyway, let's continue with the original text I last updated on 4th December 2017...
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.
Sunday was a fairly low key day where I was mostly living on cereal, biscuits, tea and mango sorbet. (I'm weird when I'm ill!)
On Monday I managed to work through lunch (bad!) but thankfully had cereal for breakfast that morning. In the evening, I basically grabbed whatever I could lay my hands on from the Tesco Finest range. So this was mostly cous cous, homous and falafels and I'd also managed to pick up some snack foods like a green pea salad, carrot sticks with humous and olives for munching on over the remainder of the week.
I skipped breakfast (boo!) but had a dairy-free porridge for lunch and munched on oaty bars over the course of the day with my black coffee.
I did the smart thing on Tuesday and visited Whole Foods again. The vegan chilli con carne with rice was awesome on many, many levels. I found the beer a bit disappointing though, Brewdog IPAs are usually a bit better than that!
I've decided to save the "Vitality box" for later in the week because the box on the left was quite large and very filling!
On Wednesday I had another of my porridges for lunch and grabbed another Picky Wops pizza for my evening meal. I'd had a couple of beers with work colleagues, hence I'd also brought a cider up to the room with me from the bar!
I also had a crack at eating the contents of the "Vitality box" and found it was... kind of disappointed. Most of it was shredded cabbage and onions, and the sauce it came with lacked any sort of flavour whatsoever.
I decided to be a bit more adventurous with my lunches for these two days. The first one involved a flatbread with many vegetables, homous and falafel with a side of vegetables and vegan-friendly noodles.
On Friday for lunch I aimed for a more traditional sandwich (I'm glad I'm a fan of falafel, because there was more of it!) this time with a side of rice with vegetables. I also managed to snack on some pretzels.
On Thursday evening I met up with an old university friend called Nick Charlton. He works for Thoughtbot these days so we grabbed a meal in a nearby vegan-friendly restaurant called KIN. For the first time this month I ate Tofu in "Red curry" form with some boiled rice. Much beer was had!
On Friday evening my evening meal was sleep. After a very tough and busy week, I found it duly nourishing!
Just like last weekend my energy levels were quite low, so my food mostly consisted of "fishless fingers" and chips. Also cereal in the morning and tea with biscuits.
Approaching the end of the month a lot of people are prodding me to ask the following big question:
"Bob, are you going to keep this up past November?"
First of all, it's pretty awesome that despite my crazy-busy lifestyle working away from home I have actually managed to do this and stick to it. I'm also exactly the same weight I was when I started, so clearly there's no issues here with malnutrition from "lack of protein"!
So the answer is... yes, for the most part. It might be that I drop down to vegetarian rather than vegan on some occasions to avoid wasting food or because I'm not being offered any better options (such as with takeaways or eating out). But my policy will be "vegan if possible".
Also there's a concern next month that asking people who are cooking for me to make allowances could be an issue, particularly given this is something I only started doing a month ago... (I think the easiest solution to avoid annoying people in the short term is to just ask them to not cook for me!).
So, in summary: While I will be mixing vegetarian & vegan cuisine in December to clear out my cupboards & freezer, I intend to go vegan full-time from the New Year.
Hopefully when I'm able to cook for myself more I'll also be able to introduce some more pasta, noodles and tofu into my vegan food selection and will keep an eye out for other cool ideas in coming months. I'm already plotting what I'll be cooking myself for Christmas dinner!
Thank you to everyone who's read this far. The post isn't quite over yet as I still have Monday through to Thursday to complete as part of the challenge, but I expect to eat a Vegan lunch on Friday 1st December. :)
The remainder of this month took on a very Italian slant. Aside from the usual breakfast cereals in the morning I focussed on pasta and pizza.
As you can see I made some pasta with a Ragu bolognaise sauce, garnished with some Vegan coconut-oil based cheese. I made way too much of it, but thankfully it tasted great and I consumed it over a couple of days.
On Tuesday I opted for a takeaway. I ordered an XXL "Garden Party" pizza from Papa John's with the intention of eating it over a couple of days. I asked for no cheese and to swap the sweetcorn for red peppers. After it arrived I grated what was left of the vegan cheese over the top. The photo here shows the pizza before I chucked some slices in the oven to bake them again.
My challenge over and I managed to go a whole month with a vegan diet. As I said in the last update, I'm looking forward to doing the Vegan/Vegetarian thing from now on. If I can get through Christmas I shouldn't have any issues getting through the rest of the year.
Thank you for reading my story. Maybe it's encouraged you to give it a try sometime? At the very least it just goes to show that vegans aren't stuck on a diet of drab lentil salads. You can also eat ethically on a reasonable budget and still fit it into your busy life, which is pretty awesome.