I have always been slightly suspicious of vegans, as I couldn’t fathom how any rational human could live without the culinary delight that is post-night-out ham and pineapple pizza.
With Sober October a dim and distant memory, I awoke last week with a dry mouth and pounding head wanting nothing more than to neck a pint of tea and a bacon sandwich. On stumbling into the kitchen I remembered that in a temporary moment of insanity, I had accepted the challenge of going vegan for a week, and opened the fridge to see which elements of my pre-challenge Sainsbury’s shop I would still be able to eat, in the confines of my new diet. Staring back at me were 3 varieties of grated cheese, 8 yoghurts, half a pint of milk, 2 fillets of fish, 6 eggs, and a packet of bacon. Slowly decaying in the bottom drawer of the fridge were a two week old broccoli and half a packet of mushrooms.
I was going to be very, very hungry.
One of the earliest struggles I faced was on the first day of the challenge when I went out for a meal with my housemates. Having never been a fussy eater, and being lucky enough to have never suffered from food allergies, I’ve never paid much attention to what goes into restaurant food. This time, when presented with vague descriptions that gloss over ingredients with no information about whether or not the vegetarian options contain dairy products, I realised how much I usually take for granted.
Day Two introduced me to the impressive selection of vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, wraps, and calzones available on campus in Spar, which made up for the decaying mushrooms I was resigned to eat for dinner. Despite my loud and hyperbolic complaints that I may in fact starve to death, I secretly enjoyed blowing my student loan on olives and hummus at the market on Saturday.
I started to lose the will to carry on, however, after a failed attempt to make cheese-free pizza. On scouring the supermarket’s Quorn selection, I discovered that even the lurid pink meat substitutes contain milk and egg extracts, and so was left with a homemade pizza base constructed from chickpeas, rice flour, and cauliflower topped with tomato and vegetables. This could well have been a culinary triumph were I not the world’s most impatient chef. After addressing my ‘pizza’ with expletives that could make Gordon Ramsay blush, I settled for eating it half raw with a spoon, all washed down with the tears of my inner carnivore. The week’s low point came in the form of two friends coming around to my house, eating the most delicious looking carrot cake off my plates, and then leaving me empty-stomached with the washing up.
While a week is perhaps not long enough to fully reap the benefits of this drastic diet change, I did notice my jeans feeling distinctly looser (though whether or not this was a result of my inability to correctly use a tumble-dryer, I’m not sure). I found it a constant struggle to consciously find sources of protein in foods such as lentils and peanuts, and I often binged on carbs as an accompaniment to the inordinate number of vegetables I was consuming. The week did, however, introduce me to the InfoLab’s fantastic Cafe 21, whose cheap vegan and vegetarian food I can highly recommend if you ever stray further down the Spine than George Fox!
Being vegan for a week has really made me reass my relationship with food. Even when eating vegetarian meals I usually compensate with dairy or eggs, and I have realised that these aren’t always integral to an enjoyable meal. As two of my closest friends bake cakes as a form of therapy, however, I can’t see this becoming a permanent lifestyle choice, and if anyone tries to tell you that herbal tea and a banana are an acceptable substitute for a full English Breakfast when it comes to Thursday morning hangovers, I give you my full permission to finally put Tofu to good use and beat them senseless with a packet of it.