According to research conducted on behalf of The Vegan Society, over half a million people in the UK have now made the switch to a plant-based diet. There is no doubt that veganism is on the rise, with not only animal welfare concerns but increased media attention to meat-attributing environmental issues encouraging former omnivores to ditch animal products altogether in favour of a more herbivorous regime.
For some, giving up meat and dairy can be a relatively smooth transition, whereas others find the change a lot more challenging. Common foods to cling to are cheese, eggs and chocolate and a lot of would-be vegans find it hard to let these go. My own journey was made a little easier by becoming lactose intolerant long before I decided to give veganism a try, so I was not consuming dairy to begin with. My wife, on the other hand was a self-confessed cheese addict and that was the one area that made her journey problematic. How did she deal with it? She bought a huge online consignment of vegan cheese containing just about every variety one could imagine. A comfy blanket, if you will, with which to navigate the road ahead.
Vegan cheeses vary greatly in texture, taste and the way they cook. They don’t all melt like dairy cheese, even the ones that say ‘melty’ don’t have quite the same properties, but this should not put you off. There is enough variety on the market for you to pick any number of cheeses that you will enjoy. I have been making pizzas, nachos and other melting cheese dishes using these products for a few years now and am perfectly satisfied with the results.
There is now an abundance of alternatives to dairy cheese and, by shopping online, you can have them delivered straight to your door. Here’s a selection of the stores my family use to get our cheeses:
Of course, there are other questions that cause concern for the vegan newbie. One that is asked most often by family and friends when you announce for desire to go vegan is: ‘How are you going to get your protein?’
For the newcomer, this question can cause some alarm. How am I going to get my protein? You may ask yourself. The answer is simple: eat a balanced, healthy diet and you will have all the protein you need. There is plenty of protein in a plant-based diet providing you are eating healthily. Let’s take broccoli for example. There are 2.8 grams of protein per 100g of broccoli. Spinach had 2.9 grams and 4.3 grams in the same amount of kale. Legumes have a higher percentage of protein, with peas reaching 5 grams per 100 and boiled chickpeas a whopping 9 grams. Braised tofu, incidentally, had 14.2 grams. It comes in a can and is extremely diverse when it comes to cooking. I get mine from Holland and Barret, and if you are looking for some ideas why not try my Vegan Braised Tofu Thai Cakes. To make good use of peas, try my Spaghetti with Coriander and Pea Pesto, which also contains spinach.
Another initial challenge for the beginning vegan is the store cupboard. It is easy to be put off by the constant reading of labels when shopping at the supermarket, but in truth this only lasts for a short while and is actually a great exercise in making us aware of what we are putting into our bodies on a daily basis. The fact is that we, as human beings, are creatures of habit and that extends to our grocery shopping. Once we’ve got our cupboards stocked up with the things we like we tend to get those things repeatedly, removing the need to constantly read labels.
On the subject of label-reading, vitamin B12 is a serious issue for vegans and is the only vitamin that cannot be consumed within a healthy plant-based diet. Many foods such as milks and cereals are now fortified with B12. Vegan yogurts also contain a small amount. While it is possible to get sufficient B12 in this manner, it is certainly more convenient to take a quality vitamin B12 supplement. According to The Vegan Society a daily dose of at least 10 micrograms is sufficient for our requirements, so one 500 micrograms tablet each day is more than adequate.
For those taking the plunge, there are certainly challenges ahead but none of them are insurmountable. The biggest hurdle is probably eating out, but more and more restaurants are now acknowledging veganism on their menus. If you’ve never been there before, calling your chosen eatery ahead of time is a good way of finding out if you’re going to have a satisfying meal. Some restaurants are prepared for vegans and some are not, but it has been my experience that you can find something to eat at most places. Chefs are nearly always happy to make a more bespoke meal, providing they have the ingredients in stock and you have not turned up at the busiest time. You might find that you can eat some things off the vegetarian menu if certain items, such as cheese or mayonnaise, are excluded. One place I go to has a sweet potato and halloumi burger, where I get them to substitute the halloumi for mushrooms to make it vegan. This kind of eating out gets you by in a whole number of places and will certainly do on an impromptu restaurant visit. Restaurant menus are changing all the time. I was only the other day speaking to a head Chef friend of mine who told me that their new menu now has two vegan options on it. I’ve yet to try them out but will do at the first opportunity.
In the beginning the journey into veganism can seem difficult, the road full of potholes and endless No Entry signs. The good news is that the initial struggles are short-lived. Once veganism becomes your way of life you will not be able to imagine how you could have lived any other way. For your health, for the health of the environment and for all other beings, it is a journey worth taking.