Friday 7 December 2012

The Vegan Round-Up

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. 


G said...

Well done Lizzie, you are a star! Thanks for doing this so we don't have to (thank god there weren't many benefits to make us feel guilty for never trying).
ps I matched my donation as promised...

Blonde said...

Seriously impressed you managed it. I don't eat meat, but there's no way on earth I could go without animal products. Nicely done.

The Shed said...

Hooray, well done! You missed the bit about how ruinously expensive vegan products can be. 8 POUNDS FOR 500ML OF ICE "CREAM" (in hindsight, why didn't we just get sorbet?).

Enjoy your meat-ergration back into normality. I hear you have a few things planned :-)


Fed Up and Drunk said...

Love the blog! Our deputy Emma has just gone vegan and having lots of interesting culinary adventures...

Eatsruns said...

Sorbet usually has egg white in it!

stevie said...

WELL DONE! thank you on behalf of macmillan and thank you for doing it with me :)

ps Tesco Lemon Sorbet doesnt have egg white in it. Just FYI.

Explody Full said...

I am impressed you stuck with it for the whole 30 days, sounds like it was pretty hard. Congratulation on making it.

I didn't realise you were going vegan on non-food products too wow.

Thanks for sharing - it was really interesting to hear your thoughts on it.

Now the question is do you feel sorry for the trouble vegans go through to find food or do you think it's self inflicted?

Dan said...

I once heard a chef say that 'vegans hate food', your description of Vegusto appears to bear this opinion out. Bloody well done for putting yourself through that for charity Lizzie. Rather you than me!

Anonymous said...

This is the most pathetic blog entry I have read! You poor poor girl, how terrible that you couldn't have a kebab or fried chicken when drunk! Being a vegan is hard but it gets easier with time and research. I have no problem going out for dinner with non vegan friends without having to quiz waiting staff for lengthy periods of time! I would also like to add that it has been proven that eating meat and other animal products CAUSES CANCER! so instead of raising a small amount of money for a cancer support charity why don't you start positively advertising a lifestyle that will help prevent cancer!

Viva Sossige said...

Erm..... Life causes cancer, sunlight causes cancer, old age causes cancer, skiing leads to head injuries and death....point? You can be a vegan without being a self riteous, hectoring knobber with a shaky grip of science.

Anyway lizzie, well done. More importantly did it give you spectacular and extensive wind?

Malcolm said...

If you take out the first and last sentence of your post it may be taken seriously.

... said...

this is very cool. but it does throw up a few questions about how and why we're so bad at dealing with vegans and vegetarians in this country. i was in Portland, OR a few months ago and nearly every single place we ate had well structured menus that allowed vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters completely free reign, not tying them into the single option of a goats cheese/ puff pastry combo like we do here. with anything up to 10% of the adult population at least vegetarian its crazy that options are so limited.

there is no doubting that we're ALL going to have to curb out meat eating habits if we don't want the world to eventually collapse in on itself. it would be cool if restaurants could offer more of an option- i say this as someone who loves food and eats meat.

Hollow Legs said...

G - thanks so much! Hugely appreciated.

Blonde - Thanks! If I wasn't allowed meat anymore I wouldn't be happy, but as long as there was eggs...

Shed - OH YEAH! I forgot about the most expensive ice 'cream' ever. Appreciated though, it was freakin' delicious.

Fed up - Good luck to Emma...

Sarah - Not all.

Stevie - Well done YOU for doing it for 5 weeks!

Explody - Thanks! I do feel sorry for the trouble vegans go through. But then after a while I lost interest in food entirely, it was more a fuel.

Dan - I would concur.

Anon - Big opinions for someone who won't put their name to them. Whether or not meat causes cancer, I won't 'positively advertise' a diet that made me utterly miserable.

Viva - Spectacular it was indeed!

.... - Perhaps it's just not a very common thing, vegans in this country. I think we're pretty good with vegetarians at least. I agree about the meat habit, as our resources are stretched. This bout of veganism has at least taught me one thing, and that's to appreciate meat & animal products more. My diet will be more vegetable based with the occasional meat treat and I think it'll be all the better for it.

Helen said...

WELL DONE YOU! I'm very impressed you made and it raised so much money.

Anon - you really should learn about research before making claims about it. As an academic researcher I find your comment ridiculous. You have no idea about the quality of the evidence base for the link between meat and cancer, that is quite evident. This was something that someone did for charity, don't use it as a place to spread your own shonky views. Also, a small amount of money?!

Amy said...

I actually found this whole experiment (maybe not the right word) very interesting and I think it does highlight the lack of choices for those who permanently decide to eat vegan, especially if you like to eat out a lot rather than cook at home. It's hard enough to plan ahead when you're trying to eat healthy and cut some calories so when your options are as limited as they are when you're not eating any animal product it's definitely a challenge especially when you are not an experienced vegan. Well done Lizzie and I hope that first taste of meat / cheese / non-vegan booze was as good was you expected.

Oh and Anonymous, eating meat is a personal choice as is being a vegetarian / pescetarian / vegan. I'm sure you would take offence to carnivores preaching against a non-meat diet so don't do the same to us. Especially when you're not brave enough to voice your opinions under any other name than 'Anonymous'.

Suzanne Edmonds said...

Wow I'm impressed! I tried veganism for a couple of days and it killed me! All respect for those that are vegans, I dont know how you do it! Your morals are much stronger than mine. The temptation of a lamb curry or perfectly poached eggs is too much for me to handle!

Terd said...

Well done. Must've been tough.

Can't think of anything worse really. (well, I probably can)

Anyway you've done it so now I don't have to.

Food Urchin said...

Nothing beats a browbeating from a vegan eh! Totally convinces me that a path of veganism leads one's head directly up one's arsehole (though suppose that's the best place to be really, to keep an eye out for those cancerous polyps)

Vegan twats aside, well done Lizzie and well done for raising the money.

tori said...

Yes to koya udon, but a life without soft centred eggs? Not one I'd like to live. Am a little in awe that you made it through.

Emma said...

Anonymous was harsh, but this blog post is a bit... insanely first world problems?

Your diet made you miserable - yet you never had a shortage of food. You had choice about what you ate. You had a hard time deciding what to eat in restaurants, when too many people in the UK can barely afford to feed their families let alone think about eating out.

All that said you raised money for charity which is great, but think how much more you could give if you ate out a little less and donated the difference.

Also, let's not give Anon too hard a time about the red meat/cancer link...

Bacon sarnie said...

So what? Chips can lead to diabetes, all those evil carbs converting to sugar. You're assuming that the post is saying that a non vegan diet is better. It isn't. It's saying that the author preferred not to follow one, it makes no claim about the health or otherwise. As for "1st world problems" I doubt anyone in sub Saharan Africa would give a monkeys about lizzie or your opinion. If they had an energy rich source of food available (meat say?) they would eat it. Vegetarianism, veganism, ethical eating as a lifestyle choice is an affectation that we can afford.

Vapiano said...

Well done Lizzie - totally impressed you made it through and whilst you have no use (or desire) for our Spelt Pasta, our offer still stands so go get a hangover then come in and we'll sort you right out :-)

Hollow Legs said...

Helen - Thanks mate!

Amy - Thanks for your comments. I do enjoy cooking at home a lot but for social occasions, it really was difficult.

Suzanne - thanks! The memory of poached eggs was killer.

Terd - I suggest you never do it. Terrible.

Danny - Hah - thanks dude.

Tori - thank god for Koya. I am a little in awe myself to be honest.

Emma - It is a first world problem, yes. This, like many other food blog are very 'first world', such is the indulgence of writing about restaurants and writing about food.

My diet did make me miserable and no there wasn't a shortage of food, just choice. I see your point; yes there are people starving, but does that mean this experiment was any less worthwhile, or the money I raised any less important?

I find it rather sanctimonious of you to suggest that I should eat out less and donate more money. Think how much more you could give if you spent less time browsing food blogs, and more time out there raising money for the needy. I do try and balance out what some see as an indulgent lifestyle (by, er, eating out) by doing things for charity, and that's how I reconcile it.

bacon sarnie - Hear hear.

Vapiano - thanks so much!

Emma said...

Bacon sarnie, I wouldn't personally make any claims about the health benefits or otherwise of a vegan diet nor would I expect Lizzie to.
Furthermore I wasn't saying that eating meat is wrong or that anyone who was starving would refuse to eat it or indeed give two shits about my opinion (of course they wouldn't!)
I do eat meat, though not very often for price reasons - what my comment was about was purely the fact that, although it is brilliant that money has been raised for charity, this experiment was, in reality, not a very difficult one.

Lizzie, no, of course it doesn't make the money you raised any less important. I suppose there was just something that didn't sit very well with me about the entry, perhaps because I work with people (in Britain) who can't afford three meals a day.

And as for spending less time browsing food blogs and more time raising money for the needy - I do work (voluntarily) with the needy and donate to charity weekly. So I think I'm allowed the odd browse of a food blog!

Hollow Legs said...

Emma - I'm sorry that something didn't sit very well with it, but unfortunately I suspect most food blogs (especially restaurant blogs) might give you the same unease.

As for it 'not being a very difficult' experiment... go vegan for a month and then let me know how you get on. :)

Mark said...

No such thing as a "small amount of money" where cancer charities are concerned every penny is a bonus & in this case the amount raised is more then significant for this marvelous charity, which I may add helped me when I had a blood cancer not related to diet but a common virus associated with glandular fever and mumps.

Mark said...

I found this really compelling to read and have followed your vegan journey on twitter. I have friends who tried go vegan but just didn't feel right and reverted to vegetarianism. As a Pastry chef I am often asked to provide vegan baked products, I have to really search for fats that are not highly processed or full of additives & salt & do not taste ...well vile. And when I do find something I feel I can use it is often not cheap at all & this cost has to be past on to the customer who often feels i am taking the piss. I think food manufacturers need to do better.
Well done for raising a marvelous amount for a worthy charity too :)

Tiff said...

Impressed by your efforts with this project. I also went vegan for a month once and found it very difficult. I was young at the time and didn't realise how many unexpected items include animal products so I didn't go quite as far as you. Plus I didn't live in London with delicious food and restaurant openings around every corner. However, I still, 10 years later, have a greater appreciation for vegetables and how much variety you can get from them and I value the meat (and with you there) that I do eat. My feeling toward vegetarianism and veganism is that it works for some people and that's great, but for those of us who want/need to eat meat it's OK (it's natural) but a greater awareness about it would help a lot. We can eat meat in moderation and spend money in ways that support the ethical treatment of animals and the sustainability of the planet.

I think it's great that you did this for Cancer research. I work in Cancer Research and most definitely every little bit helps. I think the few negative comments you received were really unnecessary. Of course we can always do more, but if everyone did this much the world would be a much better place.

Emma said...

Lizzie, you're probably right about the eating out element of food blogs, I do love your recipes though - ironically enough cook your (vegan) aubergine dahl all the time.

Sorry, I didn't mean to offend. And maybe I will try out the vegan experiment for the month of in a small city where the main food groups are haggis and steak it would definitely prevent me from eating out at all :)

Hollow Legs said...

Mark - Thanks. I hope you're recovered now. I didn't try any vegan baked products; luckily I haven't much of a sweet tooth so I didn't feel the need!

Tiff - I imagine veganism would be very hard outside of London, not just for eating out but for products I came to rely on, like various types of tofu.

Well, I suppose you can't have everyone agree to everything all the time, huh? Thanks for your kind words.

Emma - Don't worry, you didn't offend. It's good to have a differing pont of view. Have fun with your vegan experiment...!

Shu Han said...

I missed this post earlier. I know it's since been weeks but still, well done lizzie! when you first announced you were going vegan, for a MONTH, I was mostly really amused, but you did it! weight/health-wise, I don't think being vegan is necessarily healthier actually, because all these substitutes use quite disgusting replacements that come straight out of a science horror movie. that said, we can all do with more veggies I'd say, and hats off to vegan chefs who manage to do their thing and rock their dishes while using wholesome ingredients. anyway, yah, super late, but better late than never. merry xmas and happy eating that turkey and potatoes roasted in proper fat! (: