It’s that time of year again! Everyone’s going to the gym, giving up crisps and trying not to drink (after two solid months of doing nothing but drinking and eating crisps) – and it’s also the awkwardly named plant-based bonanza that they call ‘Veganuary‘. I guess it was hard to find a more sensible-to-pronounce name.
Veganuary is fun. Some people are doing it because they want a healthy start to the year, others are trying out veganism with their eyes on a reducetarian diet and others are preparing for a full-on conversion to the land of twigs and berries. Whichever category you might fall into, there’s probably a fair bit of Googling going on. Which restaurants have vegan options? Which supermarkets are best for vegans? Am I legally required to stand in the street shoving Earthlings videos in people’s faces if I want to be a vegan?
In short, the answers to those things are ”bloody loads of them”, ”all the big ones” and ”absolutely f***ing not”. But if you’d like a bit more detail… read on.
Eating out during Veganuary (and afterwards)
Now that going vegan is all cool and trendy, and not a miserable lifelong ode to mung beans and things that taste of dirt, loads of chain restaurants are trying to cash in on the newfound popularity.
There are plenty of chain restaurants that now offer vegan menus – places like Zizzis, Ask Italian, Las Iguanas, Wagamamas and Wetherspoons. Even Handmade Burger Co now offer a whole bunch of vegan-friendly meals, Pizza Hut and Pizza Express do vegan cheese on their pizzas, Gourmet Burger Kitchen have a vegan burger, flippin’ Nandos of all places blew my mind the other day with a killer Super Green Patty (minus the mayo) and the news that THEIR GARLIC BREAD IS ALSO VEGAN.
One of the first things a lot of people have said to me when they’ve found out I’m vegan is ”Wow, doesn’t that make eating out really hard?”
Nope. No, it does not.
Finding fully vegan and veggie restaurants can be more of a challenge if you’re not living in a city, but as far as general dining out goes, it’s not all a case of ordering side salads and a portion of fries. During Veganuary, Zizzi and Las Iguanas offer 2-4-1 on vegan main meals and Yo!Sushi have extra vegan and veggie dishes on discount. Delish.
(This is one thing where the Veganuary website is really lacking – it hasn’t been updated in a while as far as I can tell, so not all the options and offers available are listed.)
Supermarket shopping, vegan style
Oh my god, the amount of things that turn out to have frickin milk powder in them. It’s unreal. When I first tried my hand at veganism, I got caught out several times by stupid things like salt and vinegar Pringles (milk? are you kidding me?) and frozen potato wedges that turned out to be laden with whey. Don’t let it deter you. There are way more things that you’ll find out are unexpectedly vegan (Mr Kipling Apple & Blackcurrant pies, party rings, Tesco chocolate-filled churros) than there are things that bloody well ought to be vegan but aren’t.
The instagram page @accidentallyveganuk is ripe with such discoveries, and if you’re elsewhere in the world then check out the international versions – Australia, Switzerland and Singapore all have their own versions, to name but a few!
Tesco and Sainsbury’s are definitely leading the way as far as vegan cheeses go, and you can make a mean lasagne with the Tesco smoked ‘cheddar’ and a jar of their vegan white sauce. Filtering by ‘vegan’ on supermarket online shops can help when you’re on the hunt for good eats, although anything with a risk of cross-contamination may not be in there – and for now, a lot of places aren’t using ‘vegan’ on their labelling.
As a general statement, you’re probably going to spend a lot more time reading the backs of packets than you ever have done before – but once you know the basics it stops being such a pain in the butt. (And by ‘basics’ I mean things like ”all frozen apple strudels I have ever found have been vegan” and ”the cheaper the garlic bread, the more likely it is to be vegan”.
If you’re going vegan for health reasons you’ll probably have an easier ride – fresh fruit and veg, tins of beans and pulses, rice, dried pasta and grains are the foundation of all things vegantastic. If you’re like me and you like eating fake meat and fake cheese all day long and just don’t like thinking about animals having a horrible time, you need to embrace Linda McCartney products, anything by Fry’s and try not to buy literally any kind of junk food that’s vegan just because you can. Easier said than done.
Side note… if you want to make a vegan version of a McDonald’s Chicken Mayo, Fry’s chicken-style burgers and Tesco Mayo-Maize are the key ingredients.
You don’t have to be an activist to be vegan
I cannot emphasise enough how important this point is to me. As someone who was pescatarian and vegetarian previously and was completely put off from really thinking properly about veganism by people shoving it down my throat and trying to guilt-trip me about my choices, I think it’s important to recognise the difference between being a vegan and being a vegan activist.
There are plenty of people who care greatly about the environment, about animal welfare, about human health, who have regular conversations and debates and discussions and sow seeds of thought in people’s minds in their own way. Some people share articles or videos, some people keep themselves to themselves and let others get on with it. There are also people who feel very passionately that they need to do whatever they can to convert whoever they can at all times, which is fine, but you don’t have to be in those ranks to go plant-based.
There is no entry exam where you are forced to accost people in the street and show them disturbing videos of animal abuse, and you don’t have to pull a funny face every time someone eats meat anywhere near you in case the vegan police kick you out. You don’t really have to do anything to be a vegan, other than stop eating and using animal products. Sometimes people will interrogate you about veganism, and try and make hilarious jokes about bacon, but it’s entirely your call whether you take that as an opportunity to laugh it off or to educate.
It’s okay to have slip-ups
No, really! Obviously in an ideal world we’d all stick to our New Year’s resolutions without fail, and during veganuary or after converting to veganism everyone would just immediately do it perfectly and never crave anything ever again and that’ll be it. But if it doesn’t work out like that, don’t beat yourself up.
In the first three months after deciding ‘enough is enough, I’m cutting out eggs and dairy’ I think I had three slip-ups. One was accidental because I hadn’t read a packet properly, and two were because I was drunk and had given up on self-restraint and really wanted some cheesy chips.
Rather than saying ‘oh well, that’s it, I guess I’m a vegetarian again’ I just started over, ploughing my way through every vegan cheese I could get my hands on until I found some that scratched the itch. It’s probably not the best example, but hopefully you catch my drift!
Whether you decide to stay vegan after veganuary, go vegetarian, flexitarian or otherwise, taking a month off from animal products is still a brilliant thing to do and it does still have a positive impact. And if you are sticking with plant-based life, don’t feel bad or let anyone else make you feel bad for making mistakes once in a while. You’re still kicking ass anyway.