Since its official conception in 2014, Veganuary has attracted nearly 500,000 official participants in over 160 countries worldwide. As stated above it is about challenging and encouraging people to follow a vegan diet for one month. No doubt originally chosen as the first month of the year as the word vegan fits quite nicely with the word January. Vebruary, doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?
The reasons behind taking on this challenge are numerous and very individual for each participant, however the challenge remains the same – cutting out all meat and dairy for 31 days. This may sound like a walk in the park for some but for others this can be a very daunting challenge. Currently our society isn’t designed to favour those that choose to follow a vegan diet, although this is rapidly changing, so taking on veganuary may feel like a looming mountain before you. However, this is where I come in. Hopefully this article will provide some tidbits of information from someone who has walked down this road ahead of you and has made most of the mistakes in the book!
First off, it is important to say that don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake. This happens far more frequently than you might think, pesky milk powder seems to pop up on ingredients lists in the most unusual of places. It might take a little longer to browse through the shelves on your weekly shop to find what is vegan and what is not, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll breeze through your shopping list in no time. There are lots of good Instagram accounts to follow that make it easier to know which of your favourite products are vegan; @accidentallyveganuk and @vegan_food_uk are great pages to start with.
My next tip is to utilize your spice cupboard. Relatively inexpensive and readily available in most supermarkets, dried herbs and spices are a staple in my kitchen. Anything tastes infinitely better with a sprinkle of cumin or a dash of paprika. My favourite spice at the moment is dried zataar. A combination of oregano, marjoram, cumin, sesame seeds and sumac, it is a fragrant Middle Eastern spice that is delicious when combined with salt, crushed garlic and olive oil and spoon over a head of cauliflower before baking. That being said, fresh herbs are also a game changer. I use herbs like spinach leaves and chuck a huge handful into just about anything. Roughly chopping some dill and coriander and stirring it through cooked bulgar wheat or cous cous with a decent amount of lime juice and salt will revolutionize your grains game.
Protein. The buzz word of veganuary. There is a common misconception that those that follow a vegan or plant based diet do not get enough protein without the inclusion of meat. However, when eating a well balanced plant based diet it is unlikely for this to be the case, as many plants and pulses contain adequate protein to reach daily requirements. However, of course consult a medical professional if you are concerned about your dietary and protein intakes.
A great source of vegan protein is tofu. A lot of people have a love hate relationship with tofu and I can totally understand why. It looks unappetising, often bland when cooked and soggy due to it being stored in water. Making it taste delicious is all in the marinating and cooking of the tofu. As tofu is often quite soft and spongy, it can absorb a fair amount of flavour so don’t be afraid to give it some strong flavours; garlic, soy sauce, hoisin, chilli or ginger all work a treat. I even cooked mine in some butter and marmite the other day and it was pretty tasty! As cooking methods go, I would recommend either pan frying cubes or slices of tofu or roasting it in the oven on a high heat for 15-20 mins until golden. If you are looking to make it extra crispy toss the cubes of tofu in some polenta or cornflour before frying in sunflower oil.
It might take a little more time and effort at first to plan your meals if you are unused to eating a vegetarian or plant based diet. The traditional ‘meat and two veg’ doesn’t really fit within the bounds of a vegan diet. It takes a little more thinking outside the box with a little bit of ‘making it up as you go along’. There are literally hundreds of vegan and plant based recipe creators and food writers with amazing recipes to get you started. I would personally, pick a handful to get you through the first week, making list and heading to the shops armed with an ingredients list.
January is the best time to give veganism a go as large food manufacturers gear up all year to release their newest products in January, filling the supermarket aisles with the most innovative products on the market. Having said this, it can also be quite overwhelming seeing the volume of choice on offer with regards to what milk to buy or which brand of yoghurt is best. So here are a few of my favourites and why I choose to buy them.
- For milk I go for Oatly, although not the cheapest on the market, for me the taste and texture and the fact that it is fortified with vitamins and minerals makes it a winner. I also always have a carton of supermarket own brand unsweetened soya milk in the fridge for baking and cooking as it is a lot cheaper than branded products and tastes pretty much the same.
- Alpro is my favourite yoghurt brand as it is cheaper than most and the flavour and texture is great. It isn’t grainy which a lot of nut based yoghurts can be and it also again is fortified. I usually buy the Alpro coconut yoghurt, however if I can get my mitts on the Greek style yoghurt I buy it immediately as it is the thickest, creamiest vegan yoghurt on the market.
- Cheese is a contentious topic, although it has come a long way from the early vegan cheese days, it still isn’t quite there. Don’t get me wrong there is some lovely vegan cheese on the market from artisan producers that are predominantly made from nuts and even some supermarket brands are good too. My favourite commonly found supermarket brands are Violife, Bute Island Foods and Applewood Smoky vegan cheese.
The best part about veganuary is that it allows you to be creative and experimental, changing up your daily routine and allowing you to explore new cuisines, ingredients and recipes. Even if you don’t keep it up for more than a month, there might be aspects of eating more vegetables that stick with you, a certain dish that you really enjoyed or a new method of cooking that you’ll continue to do. If there is one piece of advice that you’ll take away from this, is that flavour is everything. To get the most of your veggies, they need flavour added to them, don’t under estimate the power of adding lime zest to a creamy mushroom pasta or crushed garlic, ginger and miso paste to a roasted baked aubergine.
I hope this helps you traverse through your veganuary experience and as always my email and Instagram DMs are always open if you have any more questions or want some recipe ideas!