When I woke up on the 1st of January 2020 I had no intention of going vegan. In fact, my year began with an unsuccessful attempt to procure eggnog, which as a product is pretty much the antithesis of the vegan lifestyle.
Over Christmas, I got it in my head that I wanted to taste this brandy enriched egg and milk treat. I tried everywhere, even driving to Cupar on a tip that a shop there sold it (they didn't).
Then my friend messaged me that Starbucks were doing a seasonal egg nog latte.
When I got there, despite being confronted with a massive poster emblazoned with noggy options, there was no eggnog. Disappointed, I ordered a flat white.
When my coffee arrived it was full to the brim, so I took a sip to prevent it spilling. "Is this coconut milk?" I asked the Barista. He had misheard my order, but rather than wait for a fresh coffee I decided to just drink it. It tasted pretty good.
I turned on the car radio and was greeted by a Radio 4 documentary on Veganuary. It was actually a pretty interesting listen with lots of helpful tips. Arriving at my brother's house for lunch, I logged on to Facebook and saw a post By 5pm I was sitting with my friend Scott in Brewdog, tucking into a vegan pizza and sipping on an ice-cold beer. My Veganuary had begun. saying Brewdog was offering half-price vegan food during the month of January. By 5pm I was sitting with my friend Scott in Brewdog, tucking into a vegan pizza and sipping on an ice-cold beer. My Veganuary had begun.
At the beginning of the month, I didn't really much of an idea what Veganuary was about, beyond that it means not consuming animal products.
Since then I have learned that Veganuary is basically a non-profit organisation that challenges people to try vegan for January and beyond.
During their 2019 campaign, more than a quarter of a million people took the pledge to try a plant-based diet. Last year 500 brands, restaurants and supermarkets promoted the campaign and launched more than 200 new vegan products and menus in the UK market alone.
The reasons that people are turning to a plant-based diet are actually pretty diverse. Some do it to help tackle climate change or for concerns over animal welfare, whereas others do it for health reasons or even to save money.
My aim isn't to take a deep dive into the arguments for veganism, but rather to share the experience of one man (a man who once had a tantrum because he couldn't have a bacon roll, no less) and his attempt to go one month without consuming animal products of any kind.
The first week or so of Veganuary was actually much easier than I expected. I was experiencing that post Christmas feeling of never wanting to see another chocolate or mince pie ever again, so cooking healthy nutritious food from scratch and not overindulging actually came as something of a relief.
I also found that friends and family were enormously supportive. Friends joined me for vegan meals out and one day when I went round to my mum's house she had prepared a sumptuous plant-based buffet for everyone, including delicious vegan churro's and with a chocolate dip. "Marks and Spencer?" I asked. "Nothing but the best", she replied.
She had prepared a plate of traditional party food for my autistic brother Ewan but he seemed rather taken with the vegan goodies, particularly the faux duck spring rolls. He offered me the last one with a look that said, "I'm only doing this to be polite, don't you dare take me up on it."
I thought that shopping would be a bit of a pain, having to check every label for traces of milk or eggs but it actually wasn't that much of a hassle. It felt good to be mindful of what ingredients I was consuming.
When you are speed reading nearly everything you put in your basket, slip-ups are bound to happen. At least they did for me. Despite scanning the label on some licuorice allsorts I somehow managed to miss that they contained beef gelatin. I was also a bit shocked to find out that Quorn products often contain milk and eggs. To be honest, I hadn't even checked their labels and just assumed they would be on the safe list.
Things were ticking along nicely until about a fortnight in when I suddenly found myself very busy. I had a tax return to contend with and I was spending a depressing amount of time speaking to the woeful customer service department of my mortgage provider. I won't tell you who they are but they are a named after a Spanish seaside town and their television ads feature a pound shop Vic n' Bob.
Suddenly I had no time to do a proper shop or do any cooking. For a four day period, I survived on a diet of vegan co-op sandwiches, chicken-style KFC burgers and vegan sausage rolls and steak bakes. By the end of the week, I was more pastry than man, but I still hadn't intentionally consumed an animal product.
I really managed to pull it together again for the last couple of weeks. I started cooking again and I discovered lentil pasta made a great high protein alternative to the regular stuff and helped to keep hunger at bay. It's delicious served with a homemade beetroot sauce (just cooked beetroot, chilli, garlic and olive oil whooshed in a blender) and a dribble of balsamic glaze. I even found that Sunday roasts were a possibility, I just substituted the meat for vegan haggis.
When I did eat out, for the most part, I stayed away from meat alternatives. I had delicious lentil dahl at The Twa Tams and I enjoyed dropping into Vegan 269 for a Thai vegetable green curry or just a turmeric latte and a slice of cheesecake.
One of the things that surprised me the most about Veganuary was finding out how well my own wee village of Abernethy catered to a plant-based diet. I had arranged to do a restaurant review of The Berryfields Tearoom before I went vegan and I was slightly worried that there wouldn't be any options for me. A quick Facebook message set my mind at rest and soon I was enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal (you can read my review here).
I was also pleased to hear that the owner of The Crees, Grant, has recently started a plant-based diet and is looking to expand his vegan menu. If that wasn't enough, Clootie McToot, the clootie dumpling shop, also make a mouth-watering animal product free dumpling. Abernethy is really doing vegans proud!
As I type this it is the first of February and I don't feel in any particular hurry to abandon my new lifestyle. I'm around five to six pounds lighter than I started the year and, my foray into vegan junk food aside, I've generally feltAbernethy is really doing vegans proud! a bit healthier. Also, I found the meals that I cooked at home were quite a bit cheaper than normal.
Everyone is different though, and if you are planning on going plant-based you may find it useful to discuss it with your GP.
Long before I considered going vegan, or even vegetarian, Vegan 269 has been one of my favourite places in Perth to grab a coffee or something to eat. I caught up with owner Judit Bartok with some questions I had about Veganuary and plant-based eating in general.
I know January is a traditionally quiet time for businesses but do you think Veganuary has increased business for you at all?
I wouldn't say so. I have definitely chatted to a few people who said they have been trying to do Veganuary, but they have already been our customers (like yourself). It's not been a very busy month but yes, it's traditionally a quiet month for businesses. With so many vegan products now in the supermarket shelves/fridges, it's so much easier to make yourself a vegan meal.
I noticed when I was doing Veganuary I felt better when I was cooking from scratch and avoiding processed foods. Is it a conscious choice that, for the most part, Vegan 269 doesn't serve processed, 'fake' meats?
Oh yes, absolutely. We make a fair amount of our ingredients from scratch (e.g. chocolate sauce, hollandaise sauce, waffle, orange syrup, scrambled tofu, soup and many more). When I come up with a new dish I always try to look at the whole menu and make sure there is a variety of dishes that are free from soya/nuts/gluten so people with food intolerances are also included.
We chose grilling/steaming/cooking/roasting cooking methods and don`t deep fry. We try to be very inclusive and non-judgemental. Food shaming is a no-no at Vegan 269. There are so many places now catering for vegans and they are all different, this is us. Aiming to find the balance between the so-called clean eating and eating junk food.
I struggled in the early part of January to find good Vegan sweeties and puddings. What are your favourite Vegan sweeties?
Highland Healthfood on St. John Street is a dangerous place for vegan treats! I love Ombar chocolates if you are after something milky. Vego is crazy good Highland Healthfood on St. John Street is a dangerous place for vegan treats! I love Ombar chocolates if you are after something milky.and the new Galaxy bars are ace too.
I also like to support our Scottish chocolatiers, Considerit Chocolate in Edinburgh and Ailey Mae's in North Berwick. We stock them both in the cafe.
But since I can remember, I`ve always loved cakes and pastries. So yeah, chocolate cake, orange cake, lemon cake, cheesecake, anything with peanut butter, raw cakes, scones, you name it. Any cake. Haha. Quality is important though!
If you eat a balanced Vegan diet is there any need to take food supplements?
I take a B complex, iron and vitamin D. Vegans must watch their B12 intake but I'm not really qualified to give advice. You can research on a trusted site like the NHS or NICE. I don't think my diet is particularly well balanced so I take supplements. You can also request a blood test at your surgery to check your B12 levels.
Do you have any other tips for people thinking of making the switch to a plant-based diet?
Aplenty! Be kind and patient with yourself. Don't be militant or judgemental. I definitely slipped a couple of times in the beginning and had a bit of croissant here and there but it's faded away. Obviously affordability and availability will dictate your food choices, but it's so much easier to adapt to a vegan lifestyle than it was even 3 years ago.
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