November is World Vegan Month – a time to celebrate a vegan lifestyle.
As well as World Vegan Day which was on November 1st, this year is also the 75th anniversary of the founding of The Vegan Society; an interesting reminder that the rise of the vegan movement actually started way back in 1944. Today, veganism is a lot more mainstream with plant-based eating growing in popularity, and as the plight of the climate surrounds us the benefits of vegan living are also gaining momentum as a means to help the planet too. So, in our very own celebration of World Vegan Month, we’re featuring three inspirational women who’ve kindly shared their ‘going vegan’ stories and suggested some little changes we can all make to bring more veganism into our lives!
First up is Natalie Wakes, one of our Women Aloud members, who didn’t really ‘choose’ a vegan lifestyle but after experiencing unexpected health benefits she decided it was the way to go.
I spent the first 26 years of my life as a meat-eater and was pretty cynical about people going vegan. I’d heard some things about how going vegan could help fight climate change so I thought I would try it for a month (secretly thinking I would hate the whole thing). Within the trial month I noticed my energy improve, less pain during my period and my mood felt more balanced. That was four years ago and I’ve stuck to it ever since. Over the years, I’ve learnt a lot more about how being vegan helps the planet as well as the animals; and I’ve learnt how a plant-based diet also has health benefits. To me, it feels like win, win, win! Yes, there’s some weird combinations when it comes to vegan food. Some of which I don’t like the taste of. I realised just like a meat-eater diet, they’ll be things you like and things you don’t, but its fun trying loads of new stuff out though! Chain restaurants really helped me in the beginning; Zizzi, Wagamama, Pizza Express, Bill’s. Now there are many more as the popularity of vegan food has grown. Locally in St Albans we also have some amazing vegan food from local independent businesses such as The Green Kitchen, Hatch and Tara’s Vegan Treats (you can hear from Tara herself later in this blog).
A couple of other things which have helped me are: Flora butter – they recently made all their butter vegan and it tastes the same, so it’s a super easy switch and most places sell it; Taifun Tofu – it’s my go to – you can put it on pizza, in pasta dishes or curries, I pretty much use it in anything (I was scared of Tofu at first but this one is really tasty); swapping cow’s milk to soya milk was another easy change.
I realise I fell into veganism pretty quickly but I believe that even small changes can make a big difference. You can follow people like @accidentallyveganuk for updates on what food is vegan and new vegan products. If you’re interested in finding out more about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, I’d recommend the following: Cowspiracy (for environment benefits), Game Changers (for health benefits), or Earthlings (for animal benefits).
Next, we have another of our Women Aloud members, Eileen Morrison, who’s been on a journey from meat eater to pescatarian to ‘accidental vegan’.
I call myself an accidental vegan because to start with it wasn’t entirely for ethical reasons. I’d suffered with IBS since I was 11 and never really got on with red meat or dairy. Having said that my favourite dinner used to be boiled bacon with cabbage and mashed potatoes with loads of cream (a traditional Irish meal!) I would suffer for days after this dinner and thinking about it now turns my stomach. Then a few years ago my husband and I started to question eating the animals we were seeing on our farm visits, which led to us becoming pescatarian. But I ate so much fish I ended up with Gout. My GP recommended cutting out oily fish, and before I knew it, I’d gone three months eating a vegan diet. I started checking the back of packets for dairy (the hidden ingredients in most biscuits, cakes and snacks) and once I’d watched documentaries about the dairy and meat industry, there was no going back for me.
Technically I can’t call myself a vegan as after a year I realised how much I missed eating eggs. I’m also a keen baker and I was getting disheartened baking with egg replacements. So, I made the decision to still eat free-range, organic eggs. I set out researching local farmers until I found a lovely couple who supply Riverford and they kindly sent me videos of their chickens and answered all my questions regarding how they feed and care for their chickens.
Now that I am eating a plant-based diet (plus eggs) I feel lighter after meals, my food shop is much cheaper and I’ve opened my eyes to the huge variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils available in the shops.
Some things which have helped me are:
- My top five food items on my weekly shop: hummus, sweet potatoes, vine tomatoes, (so tasty kept out of the fridge at room temperature) almond milk (if I haven’t had time to make some) and falafels.
- Cooking from scratch and getting more adventurous with my food – there is so much more choice now in supermarkets, restaurants and cafes.
- Keeping a homemade, plant-based lunch or snack in my bag.
- Deliciously Ella – I’m a huge fan and subscribe to her app which has vegan recipes, a weekly healthy-living podcast and yoga videos.
- Growing my own fruit, vegetables and herbs. It feels so liberating to grow my own food and everything tastes so delicious.
- www.veganuary.com – a really practical website with lots of useful information and tips on eating out and food shopping.
- I started using then selling vegan skincare; I choose cleaning products which aren’t tested on animals; I vowed not to buy any more animal products such as leather bags and shoes.
I’d say if you are just a little bit curious about becoming vegan then start with one day a week where you don’t consume animal products. You might find that you really enjoy it!
You can find the vegan skincare products that Eileen mentions on her website www.beautifulbea.com.
Last but definitely not least, we have Tara of Vegan Treats who is cooking up a culinary storm at the moment, showing you can have great tasting and inventive vegan food.
Choosing a vegan lifestyle was a no brainer for me after watching videos on mass egg and milk production. A lot of people think being vegetarian is enough to avoid all types of animal suffering, but you might be surprised to learn about other foods such as honey… [“honey is made by bees for bees, and their health can be sacrificed when it is harvested by humans. The vegan alternative would be to swap honey for date syrup, maple syrup or agave nectar” The Vegan Society].
With so many alternatives now available there’s never been a better time to start making some switches.
- Breakfast is a great place to start. Milk is definitely the easiest household item to initially ‘veganize’. Plant-based milks are widely available in supermarkets at affordable prices – try oat-based ones for a creamy addition to a cuppa or stick to standard soy for high protein intake.
- I was also amazed to learn that the majority of breads and cereals were vegan anyway, just watch out for egg-washed breads such as brioche which are not always labelled as washes aren’t considered an actual ingredient. Top tip: a great vegan egg-wash substitute is maple syrup for that extra glossy look.
- Another grey area issue you might find with leading brand cereals such as Rice Krispies and Shreddies is their use of vitamin D3, which can often derive from sheep’s wool and they don’t specify it on the box.
- The best way to ensure your food is 100% vegan is to contact the manufacturer, who often reply saying “we just haven’t invested in the vegan trademark yet, however our ingredients are 100% vegan”. This certification can be expensive and unnecessary for some brands, so it’s always worth asking!
- My biggest tip of all – DO NOT limit your food shop to the ‘FreeFrom‘ section! From my experience, much of your local supermarket is vegan-friendly, you just need to think outside the box. Beans on toast? Vegan. Pasta with Dolmio sauce? Vegan. Bourbon Biscuits? Vegan. Manufacturers often like to avoid dairy, eggs and meat to avoid higher costs, so once you get to know you’ll be whizzing around the supermarket, throwing your household items in the trolley.
You can find Tara’s vegan food (and free recipe cards) at St Albans Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays; her pudding pots are on sale at The Odyssey Cinema St Albans; and a range of salads and sweet treats are also in stock at Flying Horse Coffee, BBC Studios, White City. Tara is happy to offer advice and to cater for your personal or corporate events, just pop along to the stall or message her: