Take up the Veganuary challenge and spend a month discovering the joys of being vegan. Charlotte Willis is your guide…
First and foremost, on behalf of Free-from Heaven, the growing vegan community and myself, congratulations for deciding to take the challenge, give it a go, and finally making the switch. You may not be aware, but these next 31 days will see you take your first steps in becoming a healthier and enriched individual, transforming all aspects of your life and leading you towards a more conscious way of life. A decision today that benefits the body and planet on equal levels, and from this day onwards, you’ll never look back.
Speaking from experience as a veteran vegan of almost three years now, my only regret is that I waited a good 19 years on this planet to realise just how enlightened your life becomes when following a plant-based diet. Whatever your reason for making the change, have no doubt that this month will see your eyes open, mind widen, taste-buds tantalised and preconceptions challenged.
Be prepared. You are about to enter a world where cheeze is made from cashew nuts, fruits can be cooked to resemble meat and meringues are made from canned bean-juice (No, really). Needless to say, cooking as a vegan can take some serious getting used to. Intimidated? Don’t be. In reality, becoming vegan is pretty simple. In no time at all you’ll look at your lifestyle and diet in a whole different light. To aid you in your journey, I’ve compiled a one-tip-a-day guide through your first month, helping keep you on track. I wish you luck and much excitement on your healthful discoveries, delving into this incredible and diversely beautiful lifestyle. Welcome to being vegan. Your future begins here!
1 Clue up
It’s day one. You’re officially vegan and it’s time to educate yourself! The Vegan Society, www.veganuary.com, www.veganfoodandliving.com and nutritionfacts.org will provide all the key information you need regarding the main dietary dos and don’ts, including all you need to know about key food groups. This is a great place to start building the foundations of your new vegan lifestyle.
2 Fresh and easy
As a self-confessed food obsessive, I can honestly say that my grocery shop brings me an above-average level of enjoyment! Take a stroll down the produce aisle and pick up some new and exciting ingredients. Search out your local farm or produce markets to source fresh and seasonal produce that is bursting with flavour – and often is so much cheaper than when bought from the average supermarket.
3 Be inspired
The first week is full of discoveries. An online search reveals countless vegan blogs, magazines like Vegan Food & Living, recipe books and social media full of stories, recipes and news to inspire your journey.
4 Veganise your favourite meal
Steak and ale pie may have been your go-to meal, or maybe you revelled in a chilli con carne? Whatever your favourite meal was prior to going vegan, re-master it! Source the substitutes needed to reinvent dishes even better, and this time make it vegan. It’ll aid your transition and stop any cravings during your first week. As a vegan, you can truly have it all.
5 Accidentally vegan items
A brief scour of the supermarket shelves will reveal all manner of staggeringly secretly items that you never knew were vegan! Original Oreos, Jus’ Roll Pastries and even vegan ice cream such as Swedish Glace are just a few of the secrets in the vegan community, with many more to be revealed! Check out more at www.veganfoodandliving.com.
6 Preparation prevents relapses
Make some larger meals in advance and keep them in your fridge or freezer for busy days and easy meals to prevent you reaching for a ready meal. Staples in my freezer include hot-pots and Thai curries.
7 One week in! Remember why you started
You’ve reached a whole week of plant-based living! I often find with new vegans that taking a second to think about why you chose this diet really helps focus your energy and mind to motivate you onwards!
8 Get social
Almost every form of social media these days has links to vegan clubs and meeting groups for you to try out and get together with more like-minded people. Birmingham Vegans (Facebook and in person), UK Vegan Supermarket Finds (Facebook) and London Vegan Meetup (Facebook and in person) are a great way to find new restaurants, friends and good conversation! Search online to find the nearest group to you.
9 Become a master of label reading
The easiest way to identify a product as vegan is to search for the official Vegan Society logo, although most supermarkets now label their products as vegan too. However, if this is not available there will be a list of common food allergens on the packaging of products with eggs and milk being shown in bold lettering.
10 Tell your friends and family
Coming out as a vegan can be met with mixed responses! Prepare yourself for a whole array of thoughts and reactions ranging from positive and supportive to confusing and questioning with everything in between. Just remember to be strong, stick to your principles and be passionate. Remember, not everyone will agree with your choices, but there are many more out there who will.
11 Experiment with vegan meats
Everything from beef chunks, sausages and kebab-style slices, to faux fish fingers and gourmet roasts. No meat is un-veganised! Often soya or wheat-based, alternatives to meat can be useful when substituting in early vegan meals, and can even fool children and amaze friends to the tasty ways of veganism.
12 Go out to eat
There’s never been a better time to eat out as a vegan. Over the last two years the number of vegan items on menus, along with proper allergen labelling, mean it’s easier than ever to eat out as a vegan (crafting your own dish from various menu items is so last year). Some restaurant chains even offer their own vegan menus. Enquire ahead to get the best from
13 Start a food diary
A creative way to re-think your diet is to start a food diary. Make a note of what you made, ate and sampled – what did you like? What didn’t you like? How would you change the dish or what would you do next time to make it even better? This will help you discover your new tastes and help begin weekly meal planning.
14 Swot up on supplements
Think you know your vitamins A, B and C from your Vitamin D? It is recommended that all vegans supplement with both vitamin B12 (1000 iu) and Vitamin D (1000 iu) every day to maintain optimum health. These can be found in vegan varieties from health food shops or from the Vegan Society’s website – www.vegansociety.com/shop/supplements
15 Buy in bulk
By now you should be getting to grips with the basic ingredients you need to cook with. Everything from pulses, lentils and whole grains to nuts and seeds can be ordered online in bulk from reputable sellers offering the best price per kg. I store nuts, seeds and legumes in glass jars – it saves space and makes for a unique kitchen display!
16 Embrace your culinary disasters!
The first few weeks of experimenting with vegan food and ingredients is likely to be a combination of delicious hits, and the… not so delightful misses. Don’t hang up that apron! The first time I made tofu, I swore I’d never again. A few non-stick pans, recipe trial and errors and weeks later, my relationship with this delightfully versatile ingredient blossomed to become one of my everyday staple foods! If at first you don’t succeed… bake it in the oven instead!
17 Become a vegan athlete
There’s never been a better time to get into shape and fulfil sporting ambitions. Being vegan, cholesterol levels will drop, circulation improves and you may even see a few extra lbs naturally falling off. Take the opportunity of starting a fresh lifestyle to take up a new sporting hobby, whether it’s becoming a gym bunny or casual cyclist.
18 Slip up? No problem!
The first time I became vegetarian, at the young age of 13, the very next day I found myself instinctively ordering a chicken dish at a restaurant! Being vegan takes some getting used to, and if you make a mistake or accidentally consume an animal product, don’t give up. Learn from where you went wrong, try not to dwell on your experience and simply move on.
19 Veganise your tipple
Becoming vegan doesn’t mean an end to enjoying a drink or two. There are so many drinks that are certified vegan, so just take your pick and enjoy responsibly. Brands include; Malibu Rum, Grey Goose Vodka, Coors beer and Red Truck Wines. There is a plethora of independent brewers and distilleries whom are also vegan – many can be found and bought online.
20 Equip your kitchen
One of the best bits of gear for a vegan is a large food processor. From making huge batches of fresh hummus, creating raw cheezecakes and blitzing burgers together, a processor is used again and again. It’s worth investing in a high powered machine, with a longer warranty, that’s built to last.
21 Go greener
Altering your lifestyle has already reduced your carbon footprint and helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Why not consider upping the effort? Start recycling household waste more, reduce the food waste you produce by buying and eating smarter, and switch to ecologically friendly cleaning products (available from most supermarkets).
22 Substitute staples
By now, you may start craving things like mayonnaise or yoghurt. You’ll be pleased to know that soya-based alternatives to both of these common dairy products are available to buy. What’s more, you’ll most likely find that they taste exactly the same (if not better, in my opinion) than the originals! Alternatively, create your own veganaise and coconut yoghurts for ultimate kitchen-revelling glory.
23 There’s an app for that
Thanks to modern technology, every aspect of being vegan is handily condensed into a smartphone app! From restaurant finders including HappyCow and VanillaBean, to product scanner app Is It Vegan? enabling you to scan any product barcode to check its allergens and suitability. There’s even the BunnyFree app that checks whether brands of products are tested on animals or not.
24 Organise a vegan trip
There is no better place to discover more about being vegan than at a local or nationwide vegan festival. Some top picks are The Allergy and Free From Show and VegFest. These great festivals provide you with inspiration and products you never expected to discover, alongside some delicious free samples and a melting pot of like-minded individuals
25 Be a great vegan guest
Crumbling at your first invitation to a dinner party? Has the thought of a birthday gathering reduced you to a nervous wreck? Fear not! To be the perfect vegan guest, simply inform your host in advance. Give them a list of dishes or recipes that you enjoy eating and suggest simple alternatives they could create. Clueless host? Just take your own dish! That way you can share your delicious creation around the table.
26 Eat a variety
Just as with any diet or lifestyle, it’s easy to fall into a rut of eating the same dishes again and again. Maintain your interest and creativity by thumbing through the pages of our magazine, some vegan cookbooks or websites such as Pinterest. There’s nothing better than shaking up your daily food staples and finding ways to freshen your diet and spark creative genius.
27 Watch out for non-vegan items
There are some hidden animal products lurking in seemingly-vegan foods that you need to be aware of. Common ingredients include cochineal (artificial red colouring made from ground insect shells), most jelly sweets contain gelatine (sourced from animal bones), and certain mass-produced baked goods may contain egg or milk.
28 Don’t worry about protein
I guarantee after a month you’ll be used to people asking about protein! You may be surprised to know you only need 10-15% of your energy from protein each day, and it can all come from plant-based foods. Sources include buckwheat, wholegrains and quinoa, which should be combined with legumes, beans and pulses such as soya and chickpeas.
29 Supercharge your pantry
Now you’re getting used to being vegan, why not upgrade your pantry with some superfoods? Chia seeds and flaxseeds are a rich source of plant-based omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, cocoa nibs will give your breakfast an antioxidant hit, while a variety of nuts are going to boost your protein and mineral intakes. Simply add in a few of these into your diet and watch your health and palate grow!
30 Don’t be scared to ask for help
There will be many different aspects of veganism that you’re still yet to discover. Never be afraid to ask your vegan friends or members of a vegan group/community for help. From my experience of being a loyal member of the UK vegan community, I can honestly say that vegans are extremely enthusiastic and supportive of others who ask for help or need support. There are so many places to turn if you’re unsure or need advice, there is never a need to feel alone – you’re part of a global support network.
31 Have your cake and eat it
Congratulations! The first month of being vegan has officially ended, and you can now call yourself a certified Veganuary Veteran. Mark this special occasion by baking yourself and your loved ones (or just yourself – you’ve earned it after all!) a delicious vegan cake. Make this day your official Vegan-niversary, knowing that you have contributed to the promotion of a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle, what more reason could you need to celebrate?
About the author
Charlotte Willis is a student researcher of nutrition and human disease. Studying to become a Doctor of Human Nutrition, she is particularly interested in wholefood, plant-based nutrition and healthful lifestyle intervention in the prevention and reversal of chronic human diseases.