Veganuary is here, should I take cover?

As a foodie who eats no meat but loves cheese and fish, I’m unsure about abstaining from the food I love for a month, never mind forever.

Some would consider me as a ‘bad vegetarian’ or pedantically label me a pescatarian as I eat fish but no meat. I’m wondering how I fit into one of today’s seemingly expanding food debates.

I genuinely care for the planet and animals. But, can’t we just eat in moderation or shop more mindfully, make smarter use of quality ingredients and get more creative with leftovers?

I was mistaken for a vegan once, exclusively allowed into a circle of ‘vegan friends’. Little did they truly know that I cook a deliciously-mean (and obviously sinful) honey-glazed grilled salmon. I adore Gorgonzola and very openly nibble on mature Cheddar with Branston pickle. Also, I have shamelessly indulged in more than one oven-baked Camembert. As for Brie, the ‘lait cru’ version pour moi… merci beaucoup!

For years, I was called a fussy eater, frequently asked if I would exceptionally eat chicken and most randomly whether I would mind ham and pea soup. To avoid lengthy debates about my eating habits, I decided to simply play the veggie card.

Back then, vegetarians were boring and ate ‘brown food’. Now, it’s clearly looking up for us. No more culinary misunderstandings or friends in a panic about what to serve you for dinner. Steak slices of marinated aubergine, whole roasted cauliflower and courgetti have victoriously replaced the wholesome nut loaf.

According to The Vegan Society, there are 600,000 vegans in Great Britain. An estimated £740 million was spent on meat-free food sales in 2018. Apparently, women are more likely to turn vegan than men. Go online you can read about how to date a vegan, where meat-alternatives should be displayed on the supermarket shelves or which plat-based options secretly contain meat.

The media and celebrity influencers are doing a fantastic job of drawing us further into the trend. You can literally become a better human being with this lifestyle. I’m not entirely convinced…

A healthy equilibrium

It’s about striking a balance. More veg is great, cutting out meat and fish has its consequences. A vegan diet isn’t nutritionally complete. To stay healthy, you need to be more aware of protein sources and not run low on valuable nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. A vegan diet can be high in iron, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less well than iron from meat. It’s only found naturally in foods from animal sources. Sources for vegans are therefore limited which calls for vitamin B12 supplements.

A diet based on banning certain foods cannot be sustainable. Such a change of behaviour requires time, investment and creative thinking. To keep up, you need to learn to vary you what you eat and change how you cook. This includes eating a wider variety of fruit and vegetables, eating more legumes, nuts and seeds.

There are always the plant-based alternatives when you feel like a cheeky burger or a slice of margherita. Junk food is still junk food.

Any processed food contains more salt. Some soya milk contains high levels of sugar. Vegan cheese is made of cashew nuts. You have to replace that pleasure with something. I’m just saying… maybe real homemade mac n’ cheese isn’t such a bad thing.

Healthy (and happy) eating is about moderation and mindfulness. Learning more about where your ingredients come from… just eating less is essentially more effective. Especially, in my case, when you want to avoid feeling ‘hangry’ and frustrated.

Waste not want not

Many wannabe vegans are motivated by the diet’s positive impact on the planet. Food production does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and to global warming. The harmful effects of production, packaging and distributions certainly needs to be factored into the changes we make in our daily lives.

Reshaping your current habits so they fit into your environmental goals is less risky than following an unbalanced diet, which may land you in further trouble. Isn’t it more realistic to get into the habit of wasting less food?

Gradually start cooking from scratch and creatively use what’s left over. Spend time cooking homemade healthy food to freeze rather than reach for processed ready meals. Get more children involved in cooking, encourage them to think about what they eat and teach them how to cook.

And, be mindful about what you spend on a food shop. Buy quality over quantity and try to eat seasonally like before. You don’t actually need that much to create a tasty and balanced dish.

Truly caring about what you eat and how you cook has more resonance. If Veganuary can get everyone to be more realistic, honest and open about their habits, talking and thinking about what’s on their plates then it’s a worthwhile concept.

It will hopefully bring more people around the table with a common love for good food, share recipes and think differently when creating flavours.

Some 30 years ago, when I broke the news to my mum that I wanted to stop eating meat, the compromise was to continue eating dairy, fish and alternative sources of protein. Admittedly, it is one of the few good habits I have stuck to over the years. It has made me the foodie I am today and helped me develop this ever-lasting passion I have for cooking.

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