Nearly six months ago I went vegetarian. I didn’t do it for health or ethical reasons. It started as an experiment to see if I could I could last a month meat free. The month completed I decided to just keep going with it, partly because it was saving me nearly £50 a month on my food shopping but mainly because I was really enjoying it. I wasn’t eating healthier or losing weight (my bread and cheese intake went through the roof!) but I was loving trying new dishes and revisiting ones I had previously disliked. This was helped by having recently moved house and having an awesome new kitchen that was a huge upgrade on my previous one making the cooking process much more enjoyable.
I have fallen off the wagon twice. Once when drunk at a late-night takeaway with limited options 10 mins before my train was due to leave and once when I defrosted what I thought was a veggie lasagne only to bite into it and discover it was beef one I had frozen before going veggie (having already had a mouthful and having nothing else prepared to eat that evening I figured I may as well finish it). I have also told myself that I won’t expect any special treatment as a vegetarian, I won’t expect anyone cooking for me to change their recipe plans (no asking for a different dinner when I go home for Christmas) or be “that guy” who insists on going to a place with a full range of veggie options when part of a group deciding where to eat but I will also no longer buy or prepare meat for myself.
Last week I decided to attempt 1 week as a vegan. I began by placing an online shopping order with Tesco. I immediately noticed that the savings I had made by going vegetarian were wiped out by buying vegan speciality items (although the Wicked Kitchen vegan sourdough pizza is absolutely worth it!). Upon arrival I found several of the new items I had ordered had been replaced – particularly the frozen items. It seemed the go to “vegan replacement item” for Tesco online is Birdseye vegetable fingers of which I now have 4 boxes in my freezer as they were used to replace most of the unavailable things I ordered. Despite this setback I found the meals I was preparing were genuinely enjoyable and surprisingly filling. The fact we have been in the middle of a heatwave which usually puts me more in the mood for lighter more refreshing meals has probably helped too. Even items like soy milk and vegan cheese, whilst not as nice as their dairy counterparts were not that bad. One of the main benefits I noticed was how quick and easy to prepare vegan meals were. With raw fruit and veg needling little preparation making up a much larger portion of my diet I found myself with far more free time each evening, something I greatly appreciated whilst working full time and attempting to complete a 20,000-word dissertation.
As the week progressed things became a bit more challenging. It’s easy enough to plan meals from your own kitchen around a vegan diet but grabbing lunch or a snack on the go or just going for drinks with friends can be a bit more challenging, particularly when you are new to veganism. I found myself constantly reading the back of packets to check the ingredients list. Often with spectacularly vague results that offered no clue to whether the item in question was vegan friendly or not. I was regularly frustrated by the absolute lack of vegan lunch options available from major retailers like Tesco and Sainsburys. Even ordering a beer often required a quick “is <beer name> vegan” google search. Luckily, I was already a total beer hipster and as it turned out most of the beers I usually drink happened to be free of weird animal-based preservative and colourings. At one point a colleague offered me some Skittles which I accepted and ate before even considering that they might contain gelatin. Luckily a quick google of “are skittles vegan?” suggested I hadn’t fallen off the wagon.
Finally, tonight being the final night of the experiment I decided to treat myself to a takeaway. Since going vegetarian my go-to takeaway option has been mushroom pizza. Upon logging onto both Pizza Hut and Dominos websites I found that neither offer vegan cheese as a delivery option – Pizza Hut does actually stock vegan cheese, but it is only available as an eat-in option at their restaurants. I took a quick browse on the local restaurants available on Deliveroo – York has some great places to eat but not that many which deliver and even fewer with many attractive vegan options unless you are in the mood for a vegetable curry. Step forward Zizzi who it turns out provide an excellent range of vegan pizzas and were able to deliver a top-notch vegan zucca pizza. Although ordering through Deliveroo rather than them having their own dedicated delivery website like the pizza chains meant the degree which you can customise your pizza is limited (I am still not fully convinced butternut squash belongs on a pizza).
Whilst one week isn’t really long enough to truly judge any impact on my health my initial impressions are very positive. I have found I am sleeping much better and as such am feeling much less lethargic and clearer headed. My mood is mostly improved, and stress is decreased, this at least in part likely down to spending less time preparing meals giving me more time to go outside and enjoy this great weather we have been having.
Overall, I would say that going vegan has been a positive experience for me but not something I can see as a sustainable long-term lifestyle choice. I will continue with my vegetarianism and am considering either having a vegan week once a month or remaining vegan at home whilst allowing myself more flexibility when dining out or on the go – i.e. no more googling whether a new beer I want to sample is vegan friendly and just ordering the damned thing.