So January came and went, and I fulfilled my commitment to eating vegan for the month as part of Veganuary. Aside from my shaky start, when I hadn’t done any preparation and was alarmed to discover dairy could be found in all sorts of unsuspecting foods, like vegetable stock, it really wasn’t too hard at all.
As I mentioned before, I rarely eat meat and stick to a predominantly plant-based diet, thanks to our allotment, so my meals were not so very different to how they’ve been over the last few years, which was why I didn’t really expect to lose any weight. To my amazement, however, I lost 3 1/2 lbs. While that was a happy bonus, on the flip-side, I did experience a little twinge of joint pain towards the end of the month, and I did wonder if this was due to the lack of fish oils in my diet.
I did miss fish, and the homemade pizzas I throw together every so often (I’ve yet to be convinced by vegan cheese!), but on the whole, I enjoyed it. A couple of favourite dishes that I cook regularly, turned out to be vegan anyway, which was a nice surprise. As this was a solo challenge (I didn’t rope Ade into taking part), I occasionally had to cook separate dinners for us, but then I did that beforehand, as Ade has always been more of a meat-eater than me. And there were vegan treats which scored highly with both of us, such as the amazing Jamie Oliver Chocolate Brownies I baked a couple of weeks into the challenge.
I tried to educate myself on meat and dairy farming as much as I could, but, I’ll be honest, some of the documentaries I watched were so upsetting, I couldn’t finish them. But I did read a fair bit about it, and I intend to make some permanent changes to my diet as a result of what I now know. I’m going to, by and large, stick to a vegan diet as much as I can. But if I eat out, or if someone’s cooking for me, I’ll be flexible. At home, I’ve switched permanently to nut/soya milk. I’m avoiding butter and cheese most of the time. Meat? I didn’t miss it at all. But I did learn that there’s one animal product I really struggle to live without: honey. Yep, I had no idea that was going to be off-limits when I started this challenge.
For now, I aim to be about 80% vegan. Who knows, I might switch to full-on vegan in the future, but for the moment, if I occasionally eat fish or cheese, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’ll enjoy it. Maybe this is part of the problem; we’re so used to having all these foods available to us all of the time, we’ve stopped appreciating them. We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and perhaps moderation is the lesson to be learned here.
Veganuary has certainly made me appreciate food more. I used to get up every day, put the kettle on, and splash milk into my tea without a thought. I didn’t see it as anything other than something the milkman delivered that lived in my fridge! I mean, obviously, I knew it came from cows, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t think about what had gone into producing that milk. Back in the day when we were running across the frozen plains in our fetching loincloths and spearing bison, food was understood and valued in the way it should be, and nothing was wasted. Now the hard work is done for us, we just don’t think about it. We are more disconnected than ever to the food we eat, and, for the most part, oblivious of the cruelties inflicted on animals in order to produce it.
Having said that, I don’t think a vegan diet is the guilt-free ethical choice some would have you believe. Soybean production is now the second biggest contributor to deforestation after cattle production (although interestingly enough, most of it actually feeds the cattle that then feeds us). Not long ago, we heard how quinoa, the protein-rich super-grain beloved by vegans, had become so expensive in Peru and Bolivia, that the locals who had depended on this staple for generations could no longer afford to eat it. Then there’s our insatiable appetite for avocados, a popular vegan alternative to dairy, which has indirectly resulted in illegal deforestation in Mexico as farmers seek more land to grow the the lucrative crop, while the local population becomes increasingly ill due to the heavy use of pesticides. You really have to think about what you’re eating and how it has arrived on your dinner plate, because seriously, food can be an ethical minefield.
Which is why growing your own food is just about one of the best things you can do. You know exactly what has gone into it and it has zero food miles. But not only is it the kindest way of eating, it also re-educates you in all the wisdom that’s been lost along the way. It takes us back to our primal impulses. When Ade walked into the kitchen a few days ago with a bag of swede, cabbage and cauliflower, it wasn’t with the tired air of someone who had just spent an hour mechanically picking the items off a supermarket shelf, but with the pride and excitement of someone who nurtured these plants from seed and harvested them himself. We appreciate this food, because we know how much effort has gone into producing it.
As well as being the most ethical way of feeding ourselves, growing our own food reconnects us to all the very basic instincts we have somehow forgotten in the name of progress, and that’s the food I like to cook and eat the most. So for now, I may occasionally eat fish or eggs, and I’ll certainly be more appreciative of them when I do, but I’m stepping up my diet to include even more delicious, homegrown vegetables than before.
It’s time to get planting! 💚