A First Attempt at Veganism
For the launch of WILD Magazine, our brave friend Emily took on the challenge of eating vegan for the week! Read on to find out how it went.
The Weekend Before: Meal Planning
To prepare for my vegan challenge I created a list of meals from recipes I’d either found on the internet or had heard of from friends. I tried to organise them into lunches and evening meals, so I’d know what I was going to be eating each day. Thankfully, my housemate Rosie agreed to join me on this adventure which made the experience a lot easier!
On Sunday night, we made a large batch of minestrone soup which we’d be able to enjoy throughout the week. It was so simple; cutting up onions, celery, potatoes and carrots, then boiling them with vegan pasta in tomato sauce and vegetable stock. It was delicious!
The first thing I did on Monday morning was to make myself a cup of tea. Following my normal routine I threw the teabag in the mug, boiled the kettle and poured the hot water on top of the teabag. I then drank it.
My decision to not replace milk with a dairy-free alternative was mostly a financial one. As a student, I didn’t want to spend money on substitute products I would probably try, use for the following few days, and then throw away. In doing this I wouldn’t just have been wasting money, I would have contributed to the unfortunate amount of usable food products that get thrown in the bin.
To my surprise, the black tea was actually alright. Drinking it reminded me of camping; when you drink hot drinks just to warm you, not paying attention to how it tastes but appreciating the warm mug sitting neatly in your hands. I purposely made the tea weaker than usual so I could enjoy the way it warmed my morning without being interrupted by a bitter taste. However, after a few days I decided to stopped drinking tea for the duration of my vegan challenge. It bored me, and I didn’t want to ruin the taste of tea for myself.
Monday’s lunch of minestrone soup was great. I was trying a new food, full of nutritious veggies. Compared to my usual lunch of a bacon sandwich this made my insides feel very healthy and clean, and preparing the big batch on Sunday meant I wouldn’t skip lunches because of having no time to prepare a meal. From day one, the challenge made me think about my diet as I questioned what and how often I should be eating.
I went to bed on Monday night very hungry after a long shift at work which didn’t finish until 2:30am. I rewarded myself the next day with another a bowl of my pre-prepared minestrone soup, which seemed to be even nicer the second time around – perhaps because I was so desperate to eat.
They say you’re not doing veganism correctly if you’re hungry. I, therefore, certainly wasn’t doing veganism correctly.
Tuesday’s dinner was a stir fry, laden with red onions, peppers, mushrooms and broccoli. It had a lot going for it! While it was cooking I thought about the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of vegetables, especially if they are the focus of the meal, but I was happy to give this meal a go anyway. I stirred the noodles into the veg with a hoisin and garlic sauce.
I’d rate the finished meal a 5/10. It did the job, but I don’t think I’ll be making it again in a hurry. I couldn’t finish it and it diminished my confidence in the week ahead.
Wednesday went by. I tried vegan pesto with pasta for lunch and while the texture was different, it tasted pretty much the same as the regular pesto I normally have a few times a week. A success.
For dinner, I prepared vegetarian sausages and mash. I just had to add this meal to the list when I realized my gravy granules contained soya, and no trace of meat or dairy. The sausages were actually OK! The texture was a slight issue, as they seemed to crumble in my mouth, but their rosemary and red onion flavour was pleasant enough. I boiled the potatoes for a touch longer than usual, to make them as soft as possible before Rosie began to mash. I was nervous to attempt making mashed potato without butter and milk, in case it left the mash lumpy and hard. To my surprise, this wasn’t the case. It came out so creamy and soft, despite salt and pepper being the only two additions. This meal was a HUGE success!
Thursday was a tough day. I woke up late, leaving myself 10 minutes for lunch before heading off to university. This was when I realised where I’d gone wrong in my attempt at a vegan diet; I hadn’t prepared enough for it to be compatible with my hectic student lifestyle. I had nothing prepared for lunch. Nothing vegan in the fridge to eat. I settled for two slices of plain bread and an apple. A very boring ‘lunch’ (if you can call it that) but I wasn’t going into uni for 3 hours on an empty stomach. I came home and had a large bowl of my minestrone soup before heading off again. This was when Rosie made the insightful point that veganism is a lifestyle that requires more planning than we originally thought – you wont wake up on day one with the artsy dishes you see on Instagram, and not all the recipes we found were as quick and easy as we’d have liked them to be.
In the evening I made a spaghetti bolognese using Quorn mince. It wasn’t until I started cooking that I realised certain Quorn products contain egg whites. This was my only slip up in the week so far, so I let myself off. I felt disappointed plating up my meal, not being allowed to grate far more cheese than is healthy on top of it.
At this point in the week I was really craving sugar. Not just the occasional party ring I’d been munching on, or the odd ginger nut biscuit; I wanted pastries, cakes and chocolates galore. Of course, I resisted the urge to run down to the newly opened Gregg’s (a 2 minute walk away from my house), but oh my, the temptation was strong.
The last day! I had my last portion of minestrone soup for lunch, and prepared for our evening meal at Zizzi’s – an Italian restaurant known for its vegan menu. We ordered vegan garlic bread as a starter – a flatbread with crushed garlic on top. The garlic itself was quite strong but overall the flatbread was tasty.
Then, the vegan margarita pizza. This pizza arrived, with ‘cheese’ made from coconut oil. It looked just like a regular pizza except the cheese was sort of transparent and a little more wet than I’d expected. Upon eating the pizza, we realised it was easier to cut and eat it with a knife and fork instead of picking up the slices, as the cheese would begin to run off the sides as soon as we did this. It tasted just like regular pizza, but I couldn’t get over the texture of the cheese!
Mine and Rosie’s opinions on eating vegan ended up being very similar. We all know that going vegan can be great for many reasons. It’s beneficial for the planet, the animals and our personal health, and I really appreciated how cleansed it made me feel. However…
It’s not really sustainable for a fussy eater like myself. I personally found it difficult to prepare a variety of tasty meals, as I’m not keen on vegetables and wasn’t prepared to purchase dairy alternatives that I’d only use for a few days.
It also didn’t work well with my busy lifestyle, as I hadn’t researched or bought foods that could be prepared quickly, so everything I ate had to be prepared in advance or took a while to cook. I learned that if you are serious about eating vegan, you need to take the necessary steps and make sure you know of enough vegan meals that you’re willing to eat. If you’re a student with a low budget, it’s important to do some research and planning to sustain a vegan lifestyle. It might be worth trying some dairy alternatives too, to avoid potentially feeling unhappy about the absence of dairy products in your diet – you may even find that you like the new product better.
Even though I won’t be continuing with a vegan diet, my experience was a valuable one and I’d recommend people trying it out for themselves!
Emily Ellerby-Hunt is first-year student at the University of York.