I used to think vegan and veganism were strange words assigned to a marginalised group of people who lived somewhere off the grid, loved their animals dearly and foraged for food from trees and bushes that grew around them. I am happy to now say that this ignorant veil has been lifted from me. What I have discovered since is a lifestyle that is so varied in great tasting food coupled with ethical practices when it comes to animal welfare, the environment, global resources and an all round healthier feel good factor to life. In fact as an avid meat eater all of my life I am sorry I didn’t discover it earlier. I am by no means a complete convert but I am at this stage around 70 per cent down a vegan pathway and the changes in my life have been considerable.
I am fortunate by way of a vegan introduction that both my brother in law, sister in law and their partners are all fully fledged members of a vegan lifestyle. I have been privy to more than a few lunches and dinners over the years in their houses. It has always amazed me the wonderful tastes and textures of the meals they produce. I used to own a cafe and so impressed was I with their dishes, I would have chosen any one of their curries, dahls, chillies, satays or kormas to mention but a few than the equivalent meat dishes we had on offer. Such was the extent of the quality of herbs, spices, seasoning, vegetables and fruit used it felt like I was tasting these dishes for the first time.
So at Christmas I decided to do the unthinkable in my world and go for a 100 percent vegan Christmas dinner with them. I almost changed my mind several times with the thought of not enjoying the traditional stuffed turkey and ham but I persevered with my decision. What followed was an absolutely delightful feast of sweet potato, parsnip, chestnut and cranberry soup followed by stuffed mushrooms with side salad, a beautiful main course of nut roast with gravy with all the usual trimmings, a vegan cheesecake for desert and finished off with coffee and a selection of mint chocolates. It was simply gorgeous and unlike most previous Christmas dinners I didn’t have to undo a few buttons afterwards, slump on to the couch to have the obligatory overeating stuffed to the brim hour long nap in order to digest the bloating away before round two of pudding, cake and mince pies.
My January, although not the full Veganuary, was not far off. My recipes for a large part has come from David and Stephen Flynn’s (aka ‘The Happy Pear’ guys) ‘Recipes for Happiness’ book. This book and others have given me a few things. Certainly I am eating radically less meat than I used to. So too has my dairy intake been reduced. Most importantly for me though is that I am eating far less high fat, mass produced, highly processed foods and I used to love that kind of eating. Takeaways, ready made dinners and deserts, processed meats and vegetables and a lot of frozen goods. With this one change I was already feeling better both physically and mentally. I started cooking again which can bring about a huge amount of satisfaction and it can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. I have two small babies so invariably I choose quick and easy options each time. I purchased a base stock of new ingredients(some seasoning and sauces I had never heard of before!), a whole lot of beautiful fresh and varied vegetables and started to make some exquisite and easy to make dishes.
Any snacking I do, although I try not to, is of a healthy variety and I am not talking raw celery sticks here. In the same cookbook I have found recipes for brownies, jaffa cakes, cookies, flapjacks and coconut bars which can be made in batch and eaten over time and yes they are all vegan and tasty enough for when you just need that ‘something’ to tide you over.
What I also like about The Happy Pear book (and I have absolutely no affiliation to this book or its authors) is that incorporating good eating and good living is part and parcel of the same lifestyle. They look at the importance of movement and exercise, managing your head through sleep, yoga, meditation and mindful activities. I have always tried in some way to involve these activities into my own lifestyle but when I eat the right foods as well the results are immediate. My energy levels are higher. I have lost some much needed weight, I have a more positive outlook. I am more productive in work and have a general feeling of well being.
This wave of veganism is certainly having a considerable amount of traction. You can tell by the label ‘suitable for vegans’ that is appearing on a lot of food items. On just my last shopping trip I spotted a selection of cheese, Goodfella Pizzas, Magnum ice creams, sausages, burgers and chocolates to name but a few and all vegan. It certainly seems like a movement that is not just a fad, particularly if the big food corporations and producers are taking note. This along with reputable reports on the topic are hard to ignore. The latest Lancet Medical Journal report has called for a comprehensive shift in how the world eats. It recommends a dramatic reduction in consumption of meat and dairy produce and a sharp increase in plant based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils. It states almost 2 billion people are eating the wrong food with unhealthy diets accounting for up to 11 million avoidable deaths per year. The dominant diets of the past 50 years are also a major contributor to climate change while global planetary resources are at crisis levels. It would certainly make you wonder how sustainable these current dominant world diets are?
The welfare of animals is also a sometimes overlooked but relatively obvious part of the vegan mission statement. The vegan society defines veganism as ‘a way of living which seek to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose’. It was not the main reason I started to dabble in the vegan arts but certainly as I continue my journey it is hard not to take note of the ongoing mass exploitation and cruelty that can be inflicted on animals for the sole reason of producing an enormous food source for ourselves. That combined with their use in our entertainment such as circuses and zoos are certainly good arguments for a shift in the way we think, live and eat.
For my own part I have found my venture into the vegan world more than just about food. It has made me feel healthier both mentally and physically. In addition it also comes with a smug bonus feeling of doing your part to contribute to not only your own health but that of the environment, our carbon footprint, protecting our global resources and giving a ‘shout out’ to the welfare of animals.
I may never reach the final destination on this vegan journey but in my view it is definitely a path well worth trying.