Veganuary scared me… but now I’m a convert

As a child, GFC Northamptonshire editor Lisa Hayter spent her pocket money on breaded ham, not sweets. Veganuary was always going to be tough…

January 1st, 2018. The day I woke up and said to myself: “You know what? I think I might give this Veganuary a go this year.” And that was that.

Now, Veganuary, for those of you who have somehow missed the news stories, is a month of being vegan – kind of like Dry January but without meat, fish and dairy products! Piers Morgan hates the idea. What other reason do you need to do something?

Before I explain how it went, let me fill you in on my normal meat eating habits. When I was young my Nana used to take me to the shops after school, pocket money in hand. I would walk past the sweet shop and their selection of 10p mix-ups and I would go next door… to the butcher’s. My treat of choice was two slices of breaded ham.

Not much changed as I grew up. My choice of food at my wedding was roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, and have I told you about that time I had pork knuckle in Budapest?

So, when I woke up on January 1st and announced to my husband that I was going to try a vegan diet for a whole month – he looked at me like I had finally lost the plot. But I was determined. And I am so glad that I did it.

I have always been extremely careful when buying meat, eggs and milk. I buy the best that I can afford (from farm shops and delis if I can) and ALWAYS buy meat that I know has had good welfare standards. It is a minefield out there – packaging in supermarkets seems deliberately misleading. Who else has stood for too long holding packets of pork reading “outdoor bred” and “outdoor reared” and trying to remember which is best? And do not get me started on the trend for sticking a farm name on a product just to make it seem more homely and appealing!

I always knew that if I ever decided to change my eating habits that I would never be able to give up meat while continuing to consume milk and eggs. Not while knowing the nature of what has to happen for those products to exist. Don’t worry, I am not going to start lecturing or going into details – it is out there for people who want to know.

But aside from any of this, I must admit that my main reason for doing Veganuary was curiosity. It is something I knew little about. What would I eat? How restrictive would the meals be and what would I do when I went out for food? And I genuinely do not believe you can have an opinion until you have tried it yourself.

It was another excuse to buy more cookbooks, too. I’m always looking for an excuse to buy more cookbooks.

My first obstacle was my 12-hour working day on January 1st. All of my quick and easy lunch options were out the window. That was when I discovered hummus. Oh, I ate so much hummus this January. Luckily as the month went on and I got a couple of cookbooks, I was able to be more prepared.

I discovered a few simple recipes for those days when I couldn’t spend much time in the kitchen. One was a Sri Lankan coconut dhal, another an adapted version of Singapore noodles with whatever vegetables I had left in the kitchen. And for those times when you want a sneaky treat? Oreos. There is a full (and sometimes surprising) list of food on the Veganuary website.

I must admit I was too scared to eat out for the first two weeks of January. I was worried I would be too tempted or that I wouldn’t know what I could eat. But then I discovered that a lot of my favourite Northamptonshire finds for Great Food Club were vegan friendly. The Plump Partridge and The Magic Bean Emporium both cater for vegan diets, and I was over the moon to discover Karmana – a brilliant vegan/vegetarian restaurant in Northampton. It was great to be able to choose food from an entire menu! And a trip out for a midweek brunch was thoroughly enjoyable when I discovered that Vintage Retreat Tea Room offers loads of vegan versions of their meals.

Now when I started this I thought that by the time February rolled round I would be hallucinating and seeing meat everywhere I went. I wondered how I would get through the month. But you know what? I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve only wanted to grab a sausage sandwich out of someone’s hand once. And I resisted.

I think I might have cracked the secret of it, too. I found that if you make something not usually vegan into a vegan meal then it would never live up to the original. A vegan mac and cheese will be a pale imitation of a ‘proper’ mac and cheese full of gooey, stringy cheese. But make something completely new that just happens to be plant based – that you have nothing to compare it against – then you are opening up a world of new and exciting flavours.

But my main reason for enjoying Veganuary so much is the health benefits. I have so much more energy, feel less sluggish and I’m sure my jeans are not quite as tight as they were. That for me is motivation enough to not want to go back to my old ways.

You know what? I think I might carry on eating a plant-based diet. Most of the time. I still do quite fancy a steak and ale pie and a chunk of cheese. But one thing is for sure… now it will be a treat to enjoy every now and then.

The author:

South Northants editor Lisa lives in Wootton with her husband and son.