You made it! Seven days into Veganuary, how are you feeling? Whether you’ve thrived or survived you should be feeling immensely proud of yourself. I’m all too familiar with the creeping feelings of doubt, cravings, and guilt that can raise their ugly heads. This is why I’ve compiled my list of 7 things I learned in 7 days during Veganuary.
1. Many foods contain freaky shit you didn’t even know was there.
As a vegan, label reading soon becomes second nature. What you may never get used to however is the amount of freaky shit that some foods contain. From crushed beetles to fish bladders and animal fats to stomach enzymes. Vegan or not it definitely gives you food for thought.
One of the first things to learn is label checking for the obvious stuff like meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. You’ll be amazed and a little disheartened at how many products you are unaware contain milk or eggs. For example, many seemingly safe vegetarian meat substitutes such as Quorn sausage and deli meats contain egg powder as a binder.
Then there’s the stuff you never imagined in your worst nightmare would be present in the foods you eat. Here’s a list of some of the things to look out for, it’s by no means exhaustive but its a good place to start. Some of these items are only found in vitamins and fortified foods. Some are also available from either animal or vegetable sources so If the product is not labelled vegan or vegetarian it’s best to avoid until you can get a clear answer from the manufacturer.
- Albumen / Albumin
- Anchovies / Anchovy Essence
- Bee Pollen
- Bone Meal
- Carmine / Carminic Acid / Cochineal
- Cod Liver Oil
- Confectioners Glaze
- E – Numbers: Click here for a full list of the non-vegan E numbers.
- Fish Oils
- Glycerine /Glycerin / Glycerol / Glyceryls
- Lactic Acid
- Lactose/ Lactulose
- Omega 3 Fats / Fatty Acids
- Royal Jelly
- Vitamin A, B12, B Complex, D3
- Whey / Whey Protein
2. Your taste buds hate you right now.
Something that nobody ever mentions is that once you decide to go vegan your taste buds declare all-out war. What often happens when going vegan is that you begin to avoid the more highly processed, convenience foods. This is mainly because a lot of them are not vegan and because you’re a bit nervous about what’s hiding in that looong ingredients list.
Your taste buds are more than likely used to overly salted, overly sweet, high-fat flavours, which by comparison can make real foods such as fresh vegetables and grains taste bland or bitter. Mouthfeel also plays a bigger role than you realise, with the texture of foods adding to and influencing our enjoyment of them. If you begin your vegan journey by bombarding yourself with too many new flavours and unfamiliar textures you can expect a little resistance at the start. The good news is your taste buds and preferences will reset, just give them time.
Whenever you try something new and decide it’s not for you make a mental note to go back to it in a few months time and see if your opinion has changed. The opposite is also true, in that things that you thought you would never be able to live without will lose their appeal over time and fall off your radar and out of your diet with ease. The surprising thing for me was milk chocolate, I was totally addicted to the stuff and now eat it very infrequently and hardly miss it at all.
Another mistake I see all the time and one I was guilty of in the beginning was to rush out and buy vegan alternatives to my favourite foods such as cheese, chicken, and chocolate. I won’t lie, the first time I tried vegan cheese I cried. It took me nearly 18 months to try again and realise it wasn’t that bad and now I can honestly say I like it. Going straight from eating meat or cheese to the vegan alternatives will, for most be a disappointing comparison. You need to allow yourself and your body the time to forget the brain appeasing properties of these highly processed foods and whilst this won’t happen overnight, I guarantee you it will happen.
3. Anything you can eat, I can eat vegan.
Something that still surprises and bemuses the majority of non-vegans is exactly what do vegans eat? I’m perhaps not the best example here as I love and have always loved salads so I eat these often either as a main meal or side dish. I also eat burgers, pizzas, burritos, curries, lasagna, nachos, doughnuts, chips and cheese toasties, I just eat them better.
Whether you’re a staunch home cook or expert microwave pinger you will soon realise that every meal you ever loved can be made vegan. It’s true that people with a bit more confidence and experience in the kitchen are ahead of the game on this one. However, with a bit of planning, I believe anyone can create delicious versions of their old favourites the vegan way. I’d go so far as to say this is an excellent tip for new vegans to easily build up their repertoire of go-to meals before moving on to more experimental dishes.
What seems to irritate militant vegans and non-vegans alike is the fact you might want to replicate some of your old classics. This attitude has always baffled me. Why should we choose between eating familiar comfort foods or sticking to our vegan principles when in this day and age we can do both? In particular, the naming of things seems to raise illogical and unnecessary anger in some people. You may have heard about the whole ridiculous Gary/cheese scenario last year? If I make a vegan Bolognese and a friend asks me what it is I’m going to say its Bolognese. Because that’s what we know it as. People can relate to it and are much more likely to taste it than if I called it my textured vegetable protein chunk based pasta sauce, which does not sound yummy. What tickles me about this is how many animal foods and products are given new, appealing names to disguise the horrors contained within?
Most people do not go vegan because they lose their taste for meat or dairy overnight. It’s a conscious decision, an ethical choice that has far-reaching consequences on what and how you live and eat. Don’t allow anyone to make this harder for you than it need by declaring you should only eat nondescript fruits and vegetables arranged in a way so as not to be confused with a meat-based dish. There is a world of delicious ingredients, flavours and meals just waiting for you to discover but if the only thing standing between you and giving up is Gary on toast then go for it.
It’s amazing how defensive people can become when faced with a vegan sausage. It is as if the very thing itself is an insult to the very core of all that they hold sacred. Which brings me nicely to my next point.
4. Until now your diet was entirely made up of habits, memories and cheese.
Everything you think you know about the food you eat is probably a lie. “But I could never give up cheese,” is the battle cry of non-vegans everywhere. Whilst you soon learn this simply isn’t true, the fact that it’s even a thing for most people has much more to do with habit and much less to do with craving the pus ridden discharge of a cow’s teats than you may realise.
All we know about food we learned. Since our time began babies have had to be shown how to eat and more importantly what to eat for our mere survival. We have been taught by family and society which foods are good and which are bad. What to eat at what time of day, in what season or for which occasion. Hunger and hormones, which at our most basic levels are all our bodies need to respond to, have been superseded by habit, ritual, culture, religion, emotion, social influence and timing.
Who decided you eat Turkey at Christmas or eggs for breakfast? When did you learn that cake is a treat and lettuce means diet? Have you ever been told you were a picky child, a comfort eater or to always clean your plate because others are starving? Everything we’ve ever been taught about food stays with us, whether we realise it or not.
Choosing a different way of eating is not as simple as dedication and willpower. It requires us to potentially step away from long-held family traditions, comforting memories, powerful religious influence, social acceptance and ingrained behaviours. These associations mean far more to us than the craving for any specific food, yet it’s easier for us to make the food and not the emotional tie behind it be our focus.
Some people find this easier to do than others. Although for myself my biggest regret is not going vegan decades earlier I do strongly believe that the timing and circumstances need to shift and align in order to make the transition smoother and the changes long-term. The biggest factor here is that you need to make your “why” your reason for going vegan, more meaningful than all the objections and cravings you can think of.
5. Everyones a nutrition expert, except you.
I seriously never realised I was among such esteemed company until I went vegan. Suddenly everyone’s calculating my protein requirements, diagnosing my vitamin deficiencies and forwarding me articles about the link between soya and cancer. Frequently whilst balancing a double bacon cheeseburger in one hand and a beer in the other.
How many non-athletes or bodybuilders do you know that ever gave a thought to how much protein they eat, much less what happens to said protein before it reaches their plates? How many of your colleagues ever voiced an interest in your weight, muscle mass, skin, nails, hair or bowel movements until now? Yet suddenly It’s all anyone can talk about, loudly and usually whilst you’re trying to eat lunch.
In a way I blame the media and more so the people who derive all their knowledge from it. We are constantly bombarded with the latest diet, health kick, superfood or quirky celebrity craze. Each one fizzles out as fast as the next appears with no real sense of continuity or commitment. Everything is treated as a phase or merited on its virality and once its old news we move swiftly onto the next big thing. Making a significant, lasting change is becoming a thing of rarity and something we’ve been taught to be suspicious of, particularly if that way differs from our own.
Yes, there are particular nutritional considerations that you need to make before going vegan. If you are planning on existing on a diet of Oreos and chips then I’m afraid it’s bad news all round. A vegan diet can absolutely be as unhealthy for you as an omnivore diet if you choose it to be. Vegan does not automatically equal healthy, much to my utter disappointment. There is a growing number of vegan junk food items being made available, lots of which I’ve personally tried and tested. Are they tasty and delicious, hell yes! Will they help me lose weight or become healthier, not so much.
On the other hand, I also think it’s seriously unhelpful to make outrageous, unsupported health claims about a vegan diet. There is absolutely no denying the many positive health implications of going vegan but this alone should not be your main motivation. Not everyone will experience a miraculous cure or remission of disease or symptoms. Not everyone will drop 3 dress sizes, reverse diabetes or prevent a heart attack. To say they will is misleading at best and cruel at worst.
6. When you say vegan, people hear perfect and seek to prove you wrong.
Somewhere along the way the word vegan seems to have been redefined as meaning perfection. In 1979 when The Vegan Society became a recognised charity they defined veganism as such:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
You see it’s right there in the first sentence “as far as is possible and practicable.” And those two words mean different things to different people for different reasons. You are no less vegan for taking life-saving, life-enhancing medication. Yes, you are still vegan for walking on the ground and inadvertently killing insects. You can declare yourself a vegan right here and now despite every cheeseburger you’ve ever eaten if you truly mean to live by those words.
That’s not to say it’s a get out clause. I don’t condone you flying the vegan flag today then eating a kebab tomorrow because you couldn’t resist. Those words and principle mean something and committing to them 100% is what it means to be vegan. Can you really be 100% vegan? The water you drink, the air you breathe, the ground you walk upon, the food you eat, regardless of if you plant and grow it yourself. Our very existence on this planet, using its resources, living our daily lives is full of non-vegan acts. But if we look at being 100% vegan from the point of view of intention then it’s absolutely possible to be 100% dedicated to doing the best you can.
People love to remind you of everything you’ve ever eaten, done, bought, used or experienced that wasn’t vegan. My answer to them comes from one of the most eloquent vegans I know, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”
7. You’re already much more vegan than you realise, you just need to remember how.
You were born vegan, we all were. From your very 1st breathe you have always known wrong from right, compassion, and kindness and boundless love. Whether you were fortunate to experience it or learned from its absence. As a child you loved unconditionally, your human and animal friends alike. There is a reason we try to hide the horrors of the world from our children. To protect that innocence of mind and spirit for as long as we can. Although long forgotten that child lives within us still. Treat yourself and every living being around you with the acceptance, kindness and open heart of that child and you’ll see that vegan is the only possible way.
I’m willing to bet that the majority of foods you’ve grown up eating and enjoying are vegan. If you extended the love you feel for your pet to the animals of the world you could no more eat a pig than a puppy. You’ve expressed outrage, publicly and openly about the Yulin Festival, Cecil the lion, Harambe the gorilla and Tilikum the Orca. You despair at scenes of animal cruelty, the imminent extinction of entire species and natural disasters. You refuse to watch Earthlings because it’s too much bear.
In the depths of your soul you already know how to be vegan, all it takes now is the next step, then to keep going, keep learning, keep feeling and living by all you’ve seen and all that you believe is true to your core. You are vegan, you have remembered what you forgot you knew, you are love.