At the end of December my dear friend Kate told me that her and her family were taking part in Veganuary 2021. I was delighted and asked her if she'd be interested in writing about her experience in a blog. I've been fully vegan for about 2 years now and vegetarian for some time before that...Once I took the bold step of researching and informing myself about the harsh realities of modern agriculture and the benefits of veganism (which admittedly wasn't easy to deal with at times), there was no going back! And as Kate says, I am very passionate about this, for many reasons. More about this in a future blog. For now, over to Kate and her journey through Veganuary (and beyond!).
I know what you're thinking. Vegans are super extreme. They wear tie-dyed clothes, are all dreadlocked hippies and hug trees. (Not that there's anything wrong with any of these things...I'm partial to a tree hug from time to time! ) But If that's what you're thinking, then it's time to abandon that idea. While it's possible that some vegans do fit that stereotype, most are everyday people like you and me and an increasing number of people are adopting and entirely plant-based diet for a variety of very good reasons. I challenged myself to adopt a vegan diet for a month after my husband suggested that we try Veganuary this year. I have been vegetarian for about 30 years so I wasn't too daunted by the challenge. I was definitely a cheese, egg, yogurt and butter lover though so I wondered how easy it would be to ‘give up’ these foods.
Vegans exclude from their diet’s animal-based products. This includes meats, eggs, cheese, milk, and other dairy products. Most vegans also exclude honey and eat a wider variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, grains, legumes and seeds than your average omnivore. There are numerous reasons to try a plant based diet. The following were really interesting and appealing to me:
Health concerns: often motivate people to explore veganism. Potential benefits of a vegan diet include lower cholesterol levels and risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of cancers, including prostate, breast, and colon cancers, and improvement in mental health, including alleviation of symptoms of anxiety, depression and fatigue.
The environment:. Almost one-fifth of man-made pollution comes from the meat industry. Methane produced by intensively reared livestock adds significantly to greenhouse gasses. Raising animals for slaughter or other food production is also extraordinarily resource intensive in terms of land, fertilizer, and water. Animal farming is responsible for 70% of agricultural CO2 emissions. Meat and dairy specifically accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization.
Compassion for animals: Mass meat and dairy farming is not a pretty picture. Severe overcrowding, disease, and treatment of ‘unusable’ animals (go read for yourself about how male chicks are often ground up live because they're not egg producers or how male calves are whisked away from their mothers at three days old or younger and put into crates so small, they can never turn around, all in the name of veal or because they are simply a by-product). Seeing milk described as ‘animal secretion’ really turned my stomach. We would find it weird to pour pig milk on our cereal or use cat or dog milk to make our cappuccino. Why are we fine using cow ‘secretion’?
Weight control: - vegans typically weigh as much as 5-20 lbs. less than their meat-eating counterparts and enjoy a lower body mass index.
After seeing how my friend Melissa who had converted to a vegan diet was so passionate about it, this also made me curious. Could I really 'live without' cheese and butter? Would I be able to? Would I want to? The other major motivation for me was the environmental impact and the humane consideration. As I learned more about modern dairy and egg farming practices, I knew I had to give veganism an honest try.
After being vegetarian for so long, already using plant milks and soya yogurts to an extent and cooking 95% of our meals at home from scratch, I hoped that this would be an easy transition, but I was keen to try out vegan alternatives and explore some vegan recipes. I panicked a little, thinking I wouldn’t know what to cook or have any tasty vegan recipes in my repertoire or in my cookbook selection, but I was really surprised how many standard vegetarian recipes were already vegan or could be made vegan easily.
It brought a consciousness to what I was eating. We ate lots of fruit and veg before but have tried more, eaten a wider variety and a greater amount too, trying out new meals and being very conscious about what you put into your body. I realised that without trying, my breakfasts were super healthy and set me up for the whole day (porridge with oat milk, loaded with mixed seeds, nuts and fruit). We ate more pulses, more nuts, more seeds, more healthy carbs. This part wasn't about earth-shattering adjustments, just being much more aware about what we were eating. I realised about a week in that I hadn’t touched a single processed food.
We did also try some commercial vegan products that were new to us. Some we had already been eating for a while (veggie sausages, Quorn, tofu). Dairy substitutes were what I was intrigued to try. We’d had non-dairy milk in our fridge for a while but the non-dairy cheeses I’d tried in the past were all awful! Some of the butter alternatives and cream cheese substitutes were fine and I bought a variety of vegan cheeses in the hope of finding a decent one. The best I got were some of the cheese slices – palatable in a sandwich along with other things, but in general vegan cheese is nothing like the real thing. I found it better just to leave it out and found I didn’t desperately miss it. Nutritional yeast flakes are a good addition if you’re looking for a bit of umami flavour, or to sprinkle on top of a pasta dish instead of parmesan cheese. Vegan dairy free desserts on the other hand – yogurts, chocolate puddings, brownies, were all delicious. One of the most amazing discoveries was the range of vegan ice creams. The Ben and Jerry’s ones and the vegan magnums were amazing!
It also made me read more food labels and I discovered that lots and lots of products are accidentally vegan.
My husband, who is pretty veggie these days but still eats some meat, has commented that with me trying Veganuary he found that his diet ended up being about 80-90% vegan and that he’s found it surprisingly easy to avoid dairy, with the volume of alternatives being greater and better than he had anticipated. He also found cooking to take less time and he lost 6lbs in January and doesn’t feel like he’s missing out. He’s definitely a convert.
So now after Veganuary, will I carry this on. My conclusion is that on the whole, yes, I’m a convert. I feel well fed and healthy and my digestive system feels like it’s working well. No bloating or heaviness. I’m much more aware of and appreciative of what I eat and where it’s come from and I'm going to try to keep this going, although I may not go all-in on a permanent basis. I did miss poached eggs (which I can buy from an honesty box at the bottom of the lane of a small, local farm) and I worry how easy it will be to eat out vegan when we get the chance to go to restaurants or friend's houses again, although friends who have been vegan for a while tell me it’s a lot easier than you think, with many places offering plenty of vegan options these days. I may be more successful as a part-time vegan or "most of the time" vegan. I also won’t beat myself up if I slip up. The big point is that I'll be eating significantly fewer animal-based products. Most of all, I will know that I am trying. Trying to be healthy, trying to think of the planet, thinking of animal welfare and knowing that I will be saving lives by my choices.
How you spend your money matters. What you eat matters.
By Kate Krachai
Kate enjoys travel, family, music, friends, baking, reading and gin.
Living a full and sustainable life is important to Kate, as is enjoying life’s pleasures.
A vegetarian since the age of around 12, with forays into pescatarianism, Kate comes from a family that love food and where food forms a big part of family and social life.
Kate is a consultant and small business owner in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry and health and wellbeing is really important to her. Kate lives in Sheffield with her husband and daughter. Thank you Kate! Here are a few pages to follow and resources that have really helped support me on my journey to veganism and beyond. If you haven't got Instagram, then you can find info on their websites - Thanks for reading. Melissa x Earthling Ed The Happy Pear Veganuary
Watch: Cowspiracy, Game Changers, Earthlings, What the Health.