Before I begin to try summarising all of the things that this vegan month has brought, some important facts need to be considered:
1) I've been meat-free since 2003.
2) I became fully vegetarian in 2005, by which I mean no gelatin, no anchovies, no oyster sauce, etc.
3) In my view there is nothing more glorious than bread lavished with a thick layer of salty butter. Nothing.
4) I've been considering and reconsidering my vegetarianism for a year or so, and in November I started eating fish again.
5) During marathon training I've tended to give up milk - at least during the week - as I find my gut is more sensitive when I'm putting myself through so much physical
Based on facts #1, #2 and #5, I thought that going vegan for a month would be a breeze. We eat pretty much no dairy in our evening meals, I tend to stick with veggies or soup for lunch, and porridge can easily be made with non-dairy milk, right? I'm sure that it was much easier for me than it would have been for many meat-eaters out there, trying out veganism for the first time, but in fact it was much more of a challenge (and at times, a headache) than I had anticipated.
I started Veganuary on 2nd January (see above about my half-hearted commitment!) after a New Year's lunch of fish and chips - my first in years and years and years, at a lovely pub in Sandsend after a day walking in torrential rain. The batter was light and beautifully crisp and the fish was gloriously chunky, but still, after a few mouthfuls I could only think 'meh', and secretly wished that I'd ordered the vegetarian chilli. By the next day - a Thursday - I was ready to go, and we'd planned a menu of our favourite dairy-free meals to see us through the following week. But all my enthusiasm came undone almost as quickly as it had started, when I tucked in to a slice of freshly-baked bread the following Sunday, smothered with peanut butter. I tried olive oil, still it wouldn't do. So I bought some vegan 'margarine' (eurgh what a disgusting word) and have died a little inside (probably literally) every time I've used it.
|Did someone say portion control?|
I was feeling pretty gloomy about the whole thing, and also missing cake (I have since baked a few great vegan cookies and muffins and have inevitably eaten more cakes than I ever would have otherwise), when it hit me like I imagine silence might hit any long-suffering victim of tinnitus - I no longer had stomach ache. Months and months - years and years! - of grinding cramps in my intestines went silent one day, and honestly haven't made an appearance since. Over the course of the month I feel as if my insides have taken a new lease of life - they're dancing a glorious, pain-free dance and everything just feels easier. I also feel lighter, somehow - not in the literal sense, too much cake for that, but in a physical sense, nonetheless.
|Vegan cookies - they looked better than this in real life!|
So now I am balanced between two lifestyles, unsure about which way to go next. Overall health is a big question, but to me the ethical side of what I eat is equally as big, and in my opinion veganism doesn't cut the mustard. Again, small choices over big sweeping commitments. I honestly don't know what I'll do next, but I'm pretty sure it won't involve fish - it turns out that it wasn't really for me, as delicious as Elly's spiced mackerel recipe was. I'm also sure that it won't involve soya milk or vegan 'butter' (pah!), but it probably will involve more avocados, nuts, nut butters and tahini. Just as my palate has transformed over the past 10 years to the point where fish and chips taste a bit 'samey', so too has it changed over the past month to find serious satisfaction in a handful of nuts, a 'creamy' tahini sauce, or a drizzle of maple syrup.
Essentially, though, I think it's too easy to get bogged down in the shoulds and the shouldn'ts. While it's all too typical of our gloriously privileged society to think that we somehow have the right to have milk on our cereal and meat on our dinner plate every day, consideration of these issues is the first and most important step: once we start thinking, we're already acting. Vegetarianism, veganism, raw food, whatever - at the end of the day they're all sweeping commitments to habits that aren't ever going to be 100% ethically sound. Maybe the most important thing any individual can do in this respect is to consider their options alongside their choices, and to do whatever feels the most right, both personally and generally. That way we're more likely to make choices that stick for the longterm, and even when these choices change as we change (as has happened to me), to keep thinking and keep choosing what works best on both levels at any one point.
I definitely recommend testing out veganism, as it turns out that cutting out dairy can leave you feeling 100% better, and that's always worth a shot. Other than that, though, there are some seriously delicious vegan recipes out there that are worth trying out - my top 5 are linked below!
Oh She Glows' Roasted butternut squash pasta sauce
Oh She Glows' Roasted Buddha bowl
Oh She Glows' Creamy avocado pasta sauce
Oh She Glows' Creamy cauliflower 'Alfredo'
Veggie Runners' best ever roasted squash