It’s been just over a month since I decided to start moving towards veganism, and although I originally intended to just start with cow’s milk, I’ve found myself naturally avoiding cheese, yoghurt and butter too. Aside from a pizza one Friday and the odd milky naan bread, I’m really embracing my new lifestyle and the only animal product I now eat on a regular basis is eggs.
The reason for this is because Dave and I are hoping to move from our flat into a house within the next year, and as soon as we do we’re going to keep ex-battery chickens and ducks in the garden. I’ll be eating their eggs with a fairly clear conscience, so I’ve decided to keep eating free range eggs in the meantime, preferably ones from smallholders – the muddy kind you find on the side of the road for £1 – as even commercial ‘free range’ poultry have an unnaturally short lifespan. I know some vegans will disagree with this but I’m happy with the decision and I’ve never been too bothered about calling myself truly vegan – it’s just a label.
*Update: Wednesday 2nd May – After further thought, discussion and a screening of Cowspiracy, eggs are now out of the picture too. Some may pounce on this as inconsistent, but this is a long, open-minded process and one that requires constant thinking and rethinking.*
I had two reasons for wanting to post an update this early into the transition to plant-based living.
First, to share how the process has made me feel – both physically and mentally. When I switched to vegetarianism four years ago, I loved the fact that I was making a change to protect the environment and stop the slaughter of animals, and this ‘warm feeling’ has always been the best part of vegetarianism. I did feel more healthy not eating meat on a daily basis, but I wouldn’t say it was life-changing.
Now that I have cut milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter out of my diet, I can honestly say I feel like a completely different person.
I don’t have any allergies, illnesses or intolerances; my organs are functional, I’m fit and healthy, and my body behaves in exactly the way a 26-year-old body should (lucky me!). So when I cut out dairy products I knew that any effects I felt would be completely down to my diet and nothing internal.
In the last month I have gained energy, lost weight and just felt happier. I quickly realised how much cheese I had been eating (!!!) and, although many plant-based foods are still quite fatty (avocado, coconut, nuts), they are obviously super healthy fats and consequently, while I haven’t cut down or even been counting calories, the weight is dropping off. I’ve also felt much more energised and willing to exercise. Dave’s been eating the same as me and he’s also felt a difference, although I’m keen to make sure he’s eating enough protein (see below) as he has two physically demanding jobs in building and drumming. It’s also just been wonderful to eat and drink what I like, knowing no animals suffered to produce it. That feels really cool.
All in all I am so pleased I decided to leave dairy products behind – I feel completely rejuvenated and a few lovely people have commented on how healthy and happy I look. From a health perspective it’s been an amazing lifestyle change and I have no intention of going back to commercial dairy. (I may still have the odd glass of hand-milked goat milk from our girls because if they aren’t milked they get really uncomfortable and otherwise it’s wasted.)
The second reason I wanted to post an update is to share a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. I’m sure there are veteran vegan brains out there overflowing with recipes and delicious ideas and healthy titbits, but I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen and I wanted to share what I’ve discovered at the beginning of a long and exciting journey. I hope these help if you have also decided to make the change!
A plant-based diet can be supremely healthy when enjoyed properly, but if you miss out on the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, you can become really unwell. I’m quite keen on healthy eating so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything vital. I drew up a little pie chart (below) and stuck it on the fridge to help us remember everything we need. Flaxseed is the bomb.
2. Snacks & Lunches
One of the hardest adjustments has been replacing impulse snacks, the ones you reach before between meals and after exercise. In the past I went for cheese or yoghurt with fruit, and it took a while to realise the cheese wasn’t there and think of something else. Nuts and dried fruit are great and I really love Koko coconut yoghurt, but I’ve also started making big batches of falafel for snacking and lunches, as well as homemade houmous and almond butter to have with ryvita and delicious pickles. Lunchboxes are a bit tricky too, but I found Vegan on the Go a really great book for cool ideas, given to me for Christmas by my niece Meredith!
The blender is my new best friend! We only have a crappy hand-blender from Tesco but I’m planning on upgrading to something more sturdy because we use it for everything. Oat milk, houmous, smoothies, soup, falafel, guacamole – a blender will make plant-based living so much easier.
Vegan alternatives are a bit of a whirlwind but for every meat/dairy product out there, you can bet some weirdo in a laboratory will have concocted an alternative. Some of these are HORRIBLE and some are miraculous. Where possible I try to make my own alternatives rather than shop-bought stuff (which can be a bit sugary/salty). My absolute favourite recipe is crispy aubergine bacon, as discovered by Dave, and my favourite shop-bought thing is Koko dairy free yoghurt. Some things you’ll like and some you won’t, but it’s fun trying them out. Just remember to look at the back of the packet as sometimes things might taste ok but have very little nutritional value.
5. Try New Things!
So this might be a little tricky if you’re a fussy eater or not into cooking, but the best thing about moving towards veganism has definitely been experimenting with new ingredients and techniques. I really love cooking and I’m not fussy at all (except celery, blurgh), and I’ve managed to make some really fun and tasty dishes using the wisdom of the internet, including working with tofu which I’d never quite mastered before. My latest purchase is This Cheese is Nuts by Julie Piatt – I love the process of cheesemaking and I can’t wait to try some plant-based caseiculture!
6. Chill Out
Vegans have a bit of a bad rep for being militant/angry/preachy, and while I get this can be annoying, once you understand the logic behind a plant-based lifestyle it can be hard to see how other choices can be justified. Having said that, one of the most important things I’ve found when making this change has been not to be too hard on myself for slipping up. One evening we had a lovely pizza, another time I had tea with cow’s milk in. The point is I’m making a cool change and massively reducing my demand on animal products and the environment, and if everybody in the world did that we would have very few problems with sustainability and pollution. So while I’m trying my best not to eat animal products (and really enjoying it), I’m not going to lose focus by guilt-tripping myself about that crisp I ate with dried milk powder in it.
I’ll probably update again in a few months or so, but for now I’m really loving my transition to plant-based living, and it’s been so inspiring to see some of my close friends doing it too. It’s a real movement with huge momentum behind it, and while everyone’s choice is their own, I would love to chat to anyone who is interested in moving away from meat and dairy.