I think I can honestly say that was the longest 30 days I've endured. Veganism is hard. It's one thing avoiding meat, fish, dairy and eggs, but it's entirely another to avoid all the cosmetic products and booze that has hidden animal in it. Vegan shampoo made my hair smell of mud and turned it lank. Booze, delicious booze is a minefield. I didn't make it easy for myself either; I went to the launch of a fried chicken restaurant and a burger restaurant. I went to a party where they served suckling pig, deboned and stuffed with sausage. But dammit I wasn't going to miss out on fun just because of my diet.
I learnt a few things during my spate of veganism. When you tell people about it, some are impressed, some are baffled. Some try to catch you out by pulling out facts of things you physically cannot avoid that has animal product in it. It's as if they gleefully want you to fail, even if you're trying to raise money for charity. It also misses the point somewhat, as veganism isn't really about being totally militant about the exclusion of animal products, but rather the attempt to live without exploiting animals.
Others were completely lovely about it, with some offering to cook me dinner, or modify their restaurant dishes for me. Below were the chicken-fried mushrooms from Wishbone - so called chicken-fried because of the coating that is normally used for chicken. Wonderfully almost-meaty and totally vegan, I promise.
Americans are much better at this than us. Blogs I read from over the pond often talk of soy cream, nutritional yeast and other substitutes that are difficult to find here. I also found that things are rarely labelled as vegan, even if they don't appear to have animal products in them (I even checked the E numbers). Most vegetarian options in restaurants are made with cream or cheese. People don't like it much when you suggest dinner at a vegetarian restaurant.
Surprisingly, there were some vegan products I actually enjoyed. Co-Yo, sent to me by their PR was a yoghurt-but-not made of coconut milk. They made a pretty good and filling breakfast or snack, and I particularly liked the pineapple version.
Linda McCartney's rosemary and fennel vegan sausages were actually nice, despite being made of 'rehydrated texture soy protein' (mmmm!). Sainsbury's own brand vegan bean burgers were also pretty good, as long as you don't actually think of them as a burger. Otherwise, I tried to stick with normal foodstuffs that weren't viewed as a meat substitute. I made a lot of noodle soups. I made a fair number of stir fried dishes, and a couple of curries. Noodle salads carried through week day lunches, while weekends had a more leisurely approach of things on toast - mainly mushrooms.
One vegan product that put me off buying any other was Vegusto - a vegan cheese. I bullied those Pizza Pilgrims to put it on a pizza for me. 'It melts!' the label advertised. On first taste, it as ok. Inoffensively bland. Weirdly rich. Oh it's really rich. Oh I feel sick. The rest of the tube was abandoned for the bin.
The question I was most frequently asked was whether I felt any benefits from it, and yes, there were some. It was easier to get out of bed in the morning, mainly down to the GNAWING HUNGER that woke me up every day. I was perhaps a little more energetic i.e. hunger-crazed. My clothes felt like they fit a little better, but I didn't lose as much weight as I thought I might (basically, I imagined myself a waif. No such luck). This could have been down to my excessive consumption of hash browns, curly fries, any potato product with baked beans. It's really difficult to find a vegan savoury breakfast when trying to avoid too much of the sweet.
And the pitfalls? Numerous. Apart from being constantly hungry, there was also a feeling of constant dissatisfaction. After a couple of days I knew that after every meal I would be hungry very soon after. Surprisingly it was eggs I missed most, wibbly wobbly poached ones, fluffy scrambled ones, dippy soldiers. I thought about them almost constantly.
Logistically it was a nightmare. Go out for a skinful of booze and no kebab / fried chicken on the way home. There had to be a constant supply of baked beans in the cupboard lest I come home drunk and ravenous. But even without the booze, everything has to be constantly planned for, nothing can be done on a whim unless you like missing meals, and I really don't. If you go out for dinner with someone, it's probably not much fun for the other person as you quiz the waiter as to what is in what dish and for you to assess whether or not you could eat it. To be fair, anyone I went to dinner with was pretty fine about it, but I found it troublesome and embarrassing. I MAY have got to the end of my tether about it one night and thrown a minor (major) strop. Oops.
I can't imagine being a vegan outside of London - we have it pretty easy here. Sagar Vegetarian we visited twice and was excellent; other restaurants that were 'normal' but had extensive vegan menu items were Koya and Mestizo - at the latter, I had an awesome stew served in a volcanic stone pot (above). Koya's vegan mushroom and walnut miso udon is still one of the finest dishes I've eaten.
Would I do it again? No. Freakin'. Way. I appreciate the sentiment of it, and off the back of it I will make vegetables, already a big part of my diet, even more so but honestly. It was miserable. It made me miserable. I turned into a horrible person. For the sake of the public, it's best I don't attempt that again.
I raised £462 for Macmillan Cancer Support though, so thanks to everyone who donated.