Veganism is more than just a diet du jour – with the number of plant-based Brits constantly on the rise, there’s never been a better time to test out a life free from meat, dairy and even honey.
While some speculate that cutting out these food groups will give you glowing skin and glossy hair, others claim it deprives you of energy, leaving you feeling bloated and run down.
To put this to the test, two of The Independent‘s lifestyle writers, Olivia Petter and Sarah Young, decided to try being vegan for a month, documenting every last animal product-free bite in a weekly diary.
Would we become the glowing unicorns we’d longed to be? Or would we transform into a pair of gassy, fibre-filled humans with a mild addiction to hummus and pitta bread?
Read on to see how we got on.
It’s New Year’s Day, which means I am hungover and thinking mostly about cheese.
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Several tablespoons of peanut butter later, the halloumi craving has thankfully subsided.
For good measure I decide to weigh myself, something I haven’t done in years.
Everyone says you lose weight when you go vegan, but at 5ft 7 and 63kg and as someone who already eats a predominantly plant-based diet (consisting of far too much nut butter), I’m not convinced that will happen to me.
I’ve already eaten my weight in hummus and pitta – this combo will be my saviour.
I am eating a lot more than normal – maybe it’s because my brain is telling me I can get away with it because it’s plant-based, though I’m not sure there’s any logic to that reasoning.
My aunt cooks a delicious roast chicken for a family dinner and I have to eat lentils while my cousins indulge their gluttony. I feel sad and question the meaning of life before remembering there is more peanut butter in the cupboard.
I find a vegan bakery in Brixton that sells ice-cream cookie sandwiches and am baffled as to how this can be plant-based. Put it down to wizardry, or deceit.
After watching several documentaries debating the merits of veganism and arming myself with a handful of cookbooks I was feeling optimistic about the culinary adventure ahead of me.
And, then came the hangover.
A heady mix of Christmas bingeing and New Year festivities means cheese and prosecco make up for around 70 per cent of my body mass at this point, and I’m convinced the only thing that can cure it is more of the same.
However, my standard go-to bacon sarnie isn’t an option. It’s the first morning and I’m already considering quitting.
Within the first few days I realise that convenience is my arch-rival. I had never realised the sheer amount of products that animal produce is in and end up turning to Linda McCartney sausage rolls out of ease.
It’s a trend that continues and I feel like I’m eating anything that’s vegan. I have to remind myself to consume something other than bread, hummus and rice.
The cheese craving has returned with a vengeance – I am tired and sleep deprived and all I want to do is sink into a hole of dairy-laden goodness.
I scan Deliveroo for dinner options and find that Pizza Express does vegan pizza. Hazzah. My spirits lift. It is also delicious and once again, I remain unconvinced that anything about this is vegan.
I get sent some vegan lunch boxes from a delivery service called Pollen + Grace – this makes my life substantially easier as it means I don’t have to prepare sad-looking salads for work. Instead, I have a coconut daal. It’s a bit salty but otherwise satisfying. It probably would have tasted better with a sprinkling of parmesan.
I find vegan chocolate in the supermarket and see it costs £5.99. I leave it at the supermarket.
As a fan of a ‘proper’ cup of tea, I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever taste the same again but I guess it’s not entirely offensive.
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After trying almond and oat milk, I select soya as my non-dairy milk alternative and, while it’s certainly no builder’s brew, I promise to persevere.
My sweet tooth has also kicked in by this point and the leftover Haagen-Dazs is calling me from the syrupy depths of the freezer. Instead, I have a Mini Moos dairy-free chocolate bar and feel surprisingly mollified. Vegan win.
That is until my boyfriend comes home drunk with a KFC. I’m reassessing our relationship.
I’m cooking dinner for a non-vegan friend. I consider the idea of making an aubergine stew with added chicken for him. Then decide buying chicken, cooking it and not eating it is not a very vegan thing to do. So I refrain.
I continue to prepare a salad with my usual dressing: olive oil, lemon, salt, tahini and a dash of honey.
Obviously I have forgotten that honey is vegan and only realise this after said salad has been consumed. Bugger.
I wake up the next day vowing not to make any slip-ups moving forward.
On my way to meet a friend I realise I haven’t had lunch and rush into a nearby Waitrose to pick up some vegan goodness.
I find a box of spinach falafel, it’s delicious and I demolish the entire packet.
I realise I didn’t even check the ingredients list – they contain egg. Darn.
I miss cheese.
A mission that my carnivorous self thought might be culinary torture, I’m pretty impressed that I’ve managed to last this long.
It sure hasn’t been easy and I could definitely have caved in to a big, juicy burger at times but I’m staying strong. I can do it.
I do miss cheese though and learn the hard way that supermarket own-brand alternatives are a lie. If you’re adamant about finding a substitute, trust me, paying that little bit extra is well worth it.
My family get together for a delicious curry and despite my dad repeatedly telling me “one little taste one won’t hurt” I resist the fiery goodness of the chicken jalfrezi.
I make a sweet potato and chickpea option for myself and feel sad as I watch everyone else indulge in dessert.
After raiding my parents’ fridge all I can find is a dismal single pot of jelly. Surely this can’t be vegan? I scan it through the Is It Vegan app which tells me it’s some kind of car mat. I’m confused and eat it anyway.
Go out for tapas with friends – given that Spanish cuisine is practically the mecca of cheese and cured meats, I concur that this will be the ultimate test of my mad fat vegan diary.
Half way through a bottle of Merlot, my outspoken friend tells me that not all red wine is vegan.
I decide that that this particular wine probably is animal-product free and continue to let it wash down my grilled aubergine.
Refusing to be the worst vegan on earth, I resist the manchego, I turn my nose up at the crackling pork belly and when they serve the tortilla, I don’t even flinch, not even a little.
The week is nearly up, which means my four weeks of plant-based goodness is coming to an end.
I have one final group dinner to conquer – and in a cruel twist of fate, it’s at a pizza restaurant.
Unfortunately, said pizza restaurant does not do vegan cheese, which means I will have to eat a cheese-less pizza. I decide this is on par with a hot-dog-less hotdog or a tuna-less tuna mayo salad.
I admit I’m relieved these four weeks are nearly over.
Will I keep it up? Not sure, it was quite a lot harder than I thought and I’m also fairly certain I’ve gained weight – the fact that I’ve been reluctant to weigh myself is enough of an indication.
Will I make any changes to my diet? I resolve to be more mindful of my meat and dairy intake, though I was already pretty mindful before. Watch this space.
I’ve avoided eating out up until now but after a late-night cinema trip I decide it’s time for pizza, but feel dubious considering my experience with vegan cheese thus far.
I order from Pizza Hut which uses Violife and am pleasantly surprised. While it looks nowhere near as appetising as my not-so supportive boyfriend’s deep pan loaded in creamy mozzarella, it tastes pretty good.
As the four weeks come to a close I feel surprisingly less bloated and upon weighing myself find that I’ve even lost five pounds – which I’ll totally take considering my recent dependence on vegan sausage rolls.
Unfortunately though, I don’t think full-time veganism is for me. While it wasn’t as difficult as I first thought it would be, I realised that I never want to deny myself the luxury of eating real cheese ever again.
This article was originally published in January 2018.