Veganuary has picked up pace over the last couple of years, with almost 400,000 people taking the pledge to stick to a vegan diet for one month in 2020, which is nearly double 2019’s figure. Veganuary is a great way to challenge yourself to be kinder to the environment, animals, and your own body, as well as introduce yourself to the delicious and expanding world of plant-based foods. Read on to find out about how my personal experience of adopting a vegan lifestyle has gone in My Veganuary 2020 Experience!
Veganuary: A Natural Step
Having been vegetarian for some time, and in the process of reducing my dairy intake during the latter half of 2019, making the Veganuary pledge seemed like the natural next step. I already had a pretty good idea of all the meat substitutes available; my appetite for chicken, sausages and duck, for example, were easily satisfied by brands like Quorn, Heck and Linda McCartney, not to mention the incredibly versatile jackfruit.
Meat Substitutes are Becoming Replicated to Near-Perfection!
Meat substitutes are getting more and more sophisticated by the day, and during Veganuary, I found that even the nuanced taste and texture of chorizo could be replicated to near perfection in the London-based vegan restaurant, Genesis (check out, or shall we say ‘taste out’ their Smoked Chorizo Tacos!).
The Cheesy Challenge: Enter Violife & Asda
In terms of dairy, I found that milk, yogurt, butter, and even cream all have more than satisfactory plant-based alternatives, with Alpro leading the way. But the one thing that I have struggled to find a good alternative for is cheese. Texture wise, most mozzarella alternatives just don’t do it for me, and I find the smell of Violife cheddar a bit off putting.
However, being strict with my Veganuary challenge has encouraged me to search further afield, rather than succumb to dairy. For example, I had never before investigated the possibility of a good vegan cream cheese. And there I found my saviour. Violife cream cheese as well as Asda’s own brand Garlic and Herb Free From cream cheese, are not only delicious on crackers or as additions to wraps, but they are also perfect in risottos. In fact, I found my risottos were actually creamier using these alternatives than they had been with regular cheese.
Okay, so I may be yet to find a good cheddar, but I haven’t given up. The same goes for mozzarella; the M&S Plant Kitchen Not-zzarella Sticks have satisfied my cravings for now, but I am still searching for a suitable cooking alternative.
The Best Vegan Cheese in the World: La Fauxmagerie?
I have invested my hopes in a plant-based cheesemonger called La Fauxmagerie, which is fabled to have the best vegan cheese in the world. They were originally an independent shop in London, but have recently branched out to begin selling their products online – and I can’t wait to try them.
Sweet Treats & Guilty Pleasures: Brown & Blond Dark Chocolate & Greggs ‘Steak Bake’
In terms of sweet treats and guilty pleasures, it really hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it might be. I can still enjoy a lot of my old favourites such as chips, crisps and dark chocolate without hunting for alternatives, because most of them were already vegan.
What’s more, I’ve found that many vegan alternatives to other treats are either just as tasty, or even better, than their meat and dairy counterparts. The Brown and Blond vegan dark chocolate and cherry brownie, for example, is probably the best brownie I have ever tasted, while I felt that the new vegan Steak Bake at Greggs was vastly improved without the grisly, fatty chunks of meat that I remember from before I went vegetarian.
My 3 Vegan Faux Pas!
My month has been by no means perfect though. I have made mistakes. On the very first day, for example, I ate a flatbread which I had always assumed to be vegan. I read the packaging afterwards thinking that I’d better get into the habit of checking, and lo and behold! milk was listed as an ingredient.
On another occasion a week or so later, I tried a sip of a few new beers at a pub, only to realise later that many beers, including a couple that I tried, are filtered through isinglass (the swim bladders of fish).
A third mistake was made more recently when I bought an innocent enough looking lip balm. I later found out that one of its ingredients, lanolin, is in fact an oil extracted from sheep. Before doing Veganuary, such an ingredient would have been unfamiliar to me. Even if I had checked the ingredients, I may not have realised what lanolin was, and used it anyway.
Veganuary: a Learning Process
Veganuary has therefore been a learning process; being strict with myself for a month, checking labels religiously and looking up unfamiliar ingredients, has meant that I have become far more aware of just how deeply animal products pervade day-to-day commodities.
These mistakes have not, however, been a reason for me to give up. The notion of perfectionism within veganism can be damaging. There is a widespread perception that if somebody slips up once or twice, then they are not a real vegan, and they should therefore give up entirely, rather than learning from it and continuing to lead the best plant-based lifestyle they can.
Veganuary is over, so is it time to Quit? Who me? No Way! I’m Extending it into February…
For me, the way I responded to my mistakes was to add on a day of veganism to the start of February for every day I made a mistake. I decided to extend my challenge to make up for mistakes, rather than throw in the towel completely. Not only did this make me feel as though I had fully succeeded in my Veganuary challenge, but it also meant that I was extending and therefore normalising my vegan diet, making it more likely that I would stick to it in the future.