How I Turned Vegan

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'Macaro-no-cheese' - Photograph: Esther Jewitt

Being Vegan is a piece of cake… once you’ve learned how to bake it without eggs or butter.

So I’ve turned vegan for New Year. People keep asking me how it’s going, with looks ranging from sceptical to sympathetic. Instantly feeling defensive, I respond nonchalantly with ‘I’ve barely noticed’ and change the subject. But in reality, it’s very, very different.

I’ve been vegetarian since I was six, and at the time would eat little other than pasta and cheese. I’ve always been notorious for my passion for macaroni cheese. I have a specialist cookbook and everything. My boyfriend and I would create each macaroni cheese masterpiece (serves 4-6) and devour the lot in an evening. And then there was chocolate. I could never have imagined getting through an essay without a substantial tower of chocolate to represent the words I had left to write, gradually decreasing as the hours wore on. And that’s only the beginning. What about scrambled eggs, pancakes, ice cream, milkshakes, pizza, CAKE?

So why in God’s name did I give it all up? It’s the mass production of our meat that bothers me. Factory farming is far more concerned with the potential for profit than the wellbeing of the animal. It’s a little different if the creature has had a free and happy life in a field. However, the sheer demand for meat across the globe means that we cannot cater for our entire meat-loving population this way. The unimaginable scale of this demand is what causes animal agriculture to be the leading cause of global warming, contributing 51% of global greenhouse gases. It is also the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the devastating effects this industry has on the planet. And I realised that being vegetarian was not the best I could do to help, seeing as the production of dairy and eggs is a substantial part of this industry, and the two are closely linked.

Somehow the prospect of veganism seemed bleak. It’s easy to imagine malnourished hippies eating nothing but salad. And I was afraid I would feel like I was missing out. But eventually, I decided to stop putting it off and take some responsibility. Anyway, what better time for a lifestyle change than New Year? So far, I have been vegan for a whole month. And it’s absolutely blooming brilliant.

I’ll admit, the first few days were miserable, having to watch my family eat all the foods I was no longer allowed. But then I ordered an online shop to arrive the day I got back to Lancaster. Sainsbury’s allows you to filter the vegan foods, and there are whole sections full of vegan-friendly essentials. Suddenly everything changed and I became really excited. I found delicious millionaire shortbreads, rocky roads, coconut ice cream, chocolate spread – alternatives to all the junk I had resigned to give up! Miraculously, it turns out Cadbury Bournville is suitable for vegans, so I can still get my chocolate dose from just about anywhere. And then there were new things to try: coconut milk yoghurt, tofu, hazelnut milk, cashew cheese, Moroccan style burgers, Indian style burgers and a zillion more things I haven’t had a chance to try yet.

And honestly, I’ve been eating like a queen these past few weeks. It turns out vanilla soya milk tastes exactly like custard, and turns boring cereal into pudding-breakfast. For lunch I’ve had creamy avocados on toast with spicy tomatoes and hummus, or falafel wraps with coconut yoghurt and garlic mushrooms. For dinner, gingery stir-fries and beany chillies. I’ve begun using herbs and spices far more frequently in my cooking and it’s transformed my meals for the better. I made the most fantastic Thai curry for dinner with crispy tofu, which is often assumed to be difficult to cook effectively, but after a couple of attempts I think I’ve nailed it. And my boyfriend and I attempted to cook macaro-no-cheese, using butternut squash, which actually wasn’t too bad.

What’s more, there is endless help online. Once you’re a part of the vegan community you wonder how on earth you failed to notice it before. The Internet holds an enormous thriving mass of vegan recipes, tips, advice, and alternative products. I’ve joined a Facebook group entitled What Fat Vegans Eat on which vegans post pictures and recipes of dishes that completely defy the stereotype that we exist solely on salad.

Despite popular belief, it’s possible to get pretty much all the proteins and vitamins you need to thrive from plant based sources. Cows milk is designed to turn baby cows into big cows, and is certainly not essential in a human diet. But, mainly to reassure my mother, I am taking vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement tablets just in case.

Yes, it’s a little more effort, but this lifestyle change has made me more creative with cooking, and I’ve taken pride in my meals like never before. But even better than that, I feel lighter and freer, and I no longer feel guilty about my impact on the animal kingdom and the environment. The hardest part was making the decision to change, and it’s actually been pretty easy since.

It seems the vegan diet gets a bad press sometimes, but having taken the plunge, I am now pretty confident it’s going to be no problem at all for me.