You’ve almost made it! It’s almost the end of the Veganuary challenge! For some it gets easier the longer you’ve been checking labels for, but for others it remains an uphill struggle. So how did it go, and how will you be moving forward?
We share our office with other companies, so we challenged a devout omnivore to take on Veganuary. They took a lot of persuading, but free Vegums for the month sealed the deal… They kindly agreed to lettuce know how it’s bean going: from what they were struggling with to what they were enjoying most, we got all the gory details so that we could give some tips and pass them onto you!
[responses edited for clarity and continuity] What made you agree to do this Veganuary challenge? (apart from us forcing you)“As cliche as it sounds, I do like to try different things and set myself challenges. I strongly feel that as a nation we eat too much meat, and even if I don’t disagree with eating animals on the whole I definitely think we’re over-farming. I also wanted to offer a gesture of support as someone who’s privileged enough to relatively easily adapt to a vegan diet!”
So what are the effects of intensive farming?
Intensive farming is used to create a higher yield using a lower input or area, and it’s a huge deal-breaker for people thinking about going vegan. It’s an umbrella term that covers factory farming (often disguised under the phrase ‘confined animal feeding operations’), but that’s not its only negative impact. Huge amounts of harmful pesticides and insecticides are used, soil is eroded, forests are destroyed, and disease is rife amongst the livestock in cramped conditions.
Have you ever considered veganism/vegetarianism before?“I’ve considered vegetarianism because it seems like a more comfortable lifestyle with a more balanced approach. I’ve been put off of veganism because it strikes me as a struggle.”
So has Veganuary confirmed this assumption or made you realise it’s false?
“I think it’s true in the sense that you do have to make the effort to check ingredients and watch what you eat initially, but I haven’t actually struggled to adapt my lifestyle – it was practically seamless compared to what I expected and it’s made me realise that life goes on regardless.”
What’s been the most difficult thing during this Veganuary challenge?“To give up? CHOCOLATE! I like Vego and other alternatives, but I still really struggle when the cravings hit. Otherwise, the only thing that’s a bit of a pain is checking the labels for everything because there are animal products in items you wouldn’t expect there to be. It’s great that lots of chains offer vegan options now but it’s still a bit of a pain finding local places where I can eat; especially when I’m with omnivores.”
There are great chocolate alternatives out there, but it’s still frustrating when you need some NOW and only the corner shop is open. Some well-known brands have got our backs such as Cadbury’s Bournville, some Lindt or Green & Black’s dark bars, Ritter Sport Marzipan and occasionally own brand dark chocolate (Lidl’s is very good!). However, it’s really important to support smaller independent brands, so if you can get to a specialist shop (or Holland & Barrett) check out Moo Free, Vivani, Seed & Bean, Doisy & Dam, Ombar, and of course Vego. Make sure you check the label, because recipes are liable to change!
When it comes to eating out and checking labels, technology is our best friend. We use Happy Cow whenever we’re in a new place (like when we go on roadtrips to vegan festivals!) to narrow down eateries in our current location and categorise them into vegan-only, vegetarian- and vegan-only, or omni with vegan options. Happy Cow can be accessed via a web browser but is also available as a handy app along with a range of “is it vegan?” scanner apps. These have vast databases of products, so they can quickly tell you if something is vegan after you point your phone camera at the barcode.
What’s been the easiest thing?“Catering to cravings has been a struggle, but catering for my needs rather than my wants has been easier than I expected. I’ve managed to eat plenty of fruit and veg and don’t feel I’m lacking in any nutrients or protein.”
It’s really important to have a varied diet, but not all deficiencies rear their ugly heads until later so it’s still good to remain vigilant and take supplements. This applies to every diet and is an easy fix (especially with Vegums), so don’t go away thinking that veganism is like a culinary game of ‘the floor is made of lava’! Keep an eye on your B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc and selenium and make sure you notify your GP if you do decide to go vegan so they can identify any symptoms ASAP.
Have you felt a difference in your body or mind since starting this Veganuary challenge?“It might be circumstantial or psychosomatic, but I have to say that I’ve noticed a bit of muscle cramping when I’ve been typing…”
Muscle cramping definitely isn’t something to ignore: it can be down to calcium deficiency and can have more serious long-term effects because calcium is used in blood clotting and nerve transmission. To avoid this, eat plenty of collard green and tempeh and look for fortified milk alternatives.
“I’ve had a really positive reaction to the diet too, because meat and dairy are heavy foods and difficult for the body to break down, so I’ve felt much lighter in body and mind. I’m not shocked by my previous eating habits and it hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind, but it’s a nice feeling that I’m contributing to the fair treatment of all animals regardless of the status we’ve given them.”
Read on to see if this means he’ll be cutting out meat forever…
What’s the best product you’ve tried so far?“Without a doubt Swedish Glace vanilla ice cream. It’s so creamy and I have no idea how they do it, I don’t think they’re given enough credit! I was pleasantly surprised by Vego chocolate as well, but vegan cheese substitutes don’t do it for me.”
Vegan cheese substitutes get very subjective reviews: personally I like Bute Island Foods’ options, but I know plenty of people who swear by good old Violife. The only advice I can give is to just keep trying! The new flavours are one of the things that make veganism so exciting, so don’t give up when you try something you don’t like because there are so many options out there.
What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far?“I hate to be That Vegan, but I absolutely loved a recent meal at Comptoir Libanais. Hummus has been a staple for me since forever, and their hommos, falafel, batata harra and tabbouleh are amazing. I’ve enjoyed spicing it up with a few caribbean meals too!”
Have you just eaten plant-based or have you taken on the full vegan lifestyle?“I’d say I’ve gone the whole hog – go big or go home. I’ve avoided wearing wool and leather, used eco-friendly cleaning products, and I’ve always stuck to using cruelty free health and beauty products.”
(I’d like to present this evidence to the jury: I actually got a paper cut during the interview and was offered a Patch™ bamboo plaster.)
In that case, what brands have you been using as replacements during the Veganuary challenge?
“At work I use Muji stationery, who recycle or upcycle customers’ donated clothing. For the home I’ve always bought Ecover cleaning products, which I love because they’re eco-friendly, use recyclable bottles, and are vegan and cruelty free. Luckily I haven’t had to buy any clothes yet, otherwise I think I’d be stumped…”
Cruelty-free and vegan beauty products are at the forefront of the market at the moment, but we agree that sustainable fashion brands are harder to come by – especially when you’re shopping on a budget. Charity shops are a great way to reduce production demand and are fun for a browse, but if you’re looking for something in particular then Peta (sorry) have a comprehensive list of Vegan brands here and this list of sustainable brands by Printsome ranks them by price.
Are you enjoying the Veganuary challenge?“Whilst I do enjoy the fact that I was challenging myself, I think that I only really take pleasure from the social aspect of veganism. The motivation and enjoyment has been coming primarily from reporting back to my support network [the Vegums team] and sharing treats rather than a personal urge to carry on. I’m not exactly a creature of habit, so making resolutions and sticking to things doesn’t come naturally to me.”
We’ve been living the dream sharing vegan snacks, but we know that when you’re heart’s not in it then veganism is a whole lot more daunting. Mainstream media is still trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes so it’s important to do your own research and connect with who and what you’re making the change for. There are documentaries galore available online – try starting with Cowspiracy, What The Health, Forks Over Knives, or Simon Amstell’s Carnage if you fancy something a bit more light-hearted (but no less hard-hitting).
The big question… Are you considering full conversion now?“I can’t lie: I’m not entirely sold on veganism, but I’m definitely considering going meat-free at least during the week and I’ll continue to buy eggs and dairy products from local farms whose livestock I can see. I think this alone will help me to stay focused and keep my body and mind happy and healthy, but who knows how I’ll feel by the end of the month!”
When asked what had put them off veganism, a key hurdle was substitutes. Looks like the Vegums team needs to up their game and get some Oatly Barista in the fridge!
Either way, would you recommend it to others?“I think that there’s a stigma surrounding veganism and vegans and it’s almost seen as acceptable to bully them. They’re viewed as the ‘far-left’ opposition to intensive farming, but sometimes a far-left is needed to force the far-right into meeting in the middle. I’d definitely recommend cutting out meat and getting into the habit of really thinking about what you’re eating and its impact, even if it’s just as a holistic approach.”
We hope this helps those trying out the Veganuary challenge to power on, and that it raises awareness of some of the hurdles faced so that confident vegans know how to help out. Remember that every vegan is equal regardless of whether they went cold turkey or cut things out one at a time. Go at your own pace and get comfortable before you take your next step – cutting out even one type of dairy product has a massive impact so don’t rush yourself into unhappiness! We’d like to say a massive thank you to our poor office guinea pig, and to wish you all the luck in the world with the next half of your Veganuary quest. We know it’s corn-y, but you’re kale-ing it! Just drop us a message on Instagram or comment here to ask any questions and we’ll do our best to help you out 🙂 Love, The Vegums Team