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Finding a love for a vegan way of life

Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to feel gooood!
Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to feel gooood!

Nobody is actually as surprised as I am that I find myself today, a whole year on from Veganuary 2018, still an actual, bona fide vegan.

After many years of vegetarianism, the appeal of taking the next step – for animal welfare, health and environmental reasons – had been there for some time. In fact, I even gave Veganuary a try once before, in January 2014. And I barely made it to the end of the month.

Even though it was just a few short years ago, I found, back then, that the challenges of sticking to a plant-based diet (no cheese, no milk, no cream, no eggs, no honey) were really quite hard to overcome. Like the restaurant that I went to for a family birthday in early January where the waiter was unable to confirm whether or not my menu item of choice was OK for me to eat. Like the paucity of options when looking for a plant-based milk in my local supermarket. Like the look of incomprehension (or was it more often disdain?) when cautiously admitting how I was trying to change my diet. I was vegetarian in the 1980s when studying in France for a year, and this felt like a flashback to those days. January 2014 drew to a close, I breathed a sigh of relief, cooked myself a massive mac ‘n’ cheese and consigned the experiment, I thought, to history.

But… but… all those reasons that motivated me to give veganism a try in the first place didn’t go away. And over the next few years it seemed to me that plant-based diets were becoming increasingly popular, which also probably meant accessible and therefore easy to follow (hey, I’m trying to be better, but I’m still pretty lazy). Then in November last year one of the co-founders of the Veganuary charity – Matthew Glover – came to give a lunchtime talk at my workplace.

I loved the non-mental, pragmatic, upbeat and can-do way that he presented making the choice to try a vegan diet (side note: although vegans are still often characterised as self-righteous and preachy, I’ve literally never experienced that myself, the only hostility I’ve seen having come from non-vegans trying to “catch me out” for not being sufficiently pure in my cruelty-free aspirations). He made it sound easy, ethical and definitely worth another try, explaining how even he might sometimes have to compromise, or accidentally get it wrong, but how the benefits (personal, ethical, environmental) made it worth giving it your best shot. I was convinced.

So I signed up again at the beginning of 2018 and was immediately surprised and delighted by how much easier it all seemed to be this time round. No 1980s-style looks of incomprehension à la Française, a whole raft of restaurants in Cambridge offering not just a reluctant one but several vegan choices, a dazzling array (well, OK, maybe two or three) of different plant-based milks to choose from in the Co-op down the road…

Making vegan whipped topping with aquafaba - for when substitutes actually become improvements...
Making vegan whipped topping with aquafaba - for when substitutes actually become improvements...

So January passed in a flash, and when it got to the end I realised that I was actually just about getting into the rhythm of this new way of eating, rather than counting down the days until I could start gorging on cheese again. Physically, I was eating more without putting on any weight (the holy grail!); I waved goodbye to that painful bloated feeling you get when overeating; I was relishing the challenge of experimenting with new things to eat and new ways of eating them and I was feeling very fit and well. In short, I was loving it.

So here I am, about to celebrate my first anniversary as a vegan. Have there been lapses? Surprisingly few. There was that time, in the first few weeks, when my other half accidentally bought a sliced brown loaf made with honey. And the more recent time when I grabbed some celeriac “remoulade” from a salad bar not realising that it was mayonnaise-based (my 1980s French failing me, there).

Temptations have actually been few and far between too. If you approach it less as a diet where you are “giving things up” and more as a new way of eating that opens the doors to new and creative recipes, ingredients and textures, then you may find, as I did, that far from feeling deprived, you actually feel energised, enthused and excited about cooking and eating again.

So on the first of January 2019, I celebrated with smashed avocado on toast for breakfast, and raised my mug of tea (with delicious, creamy oat milk) as a toast to everyone else starting out on their vegan journey on that day.

Give it a go and you might very well find, like me, that you’re surprised by how easy and satisfying it becomes to call yourself a vegan.

Jude Clarke: Finally vegan!
Jude Clarke: Finally vegan!

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