Going vegan isn’t hard, it just takes planning

Andrew Nowell and a selection of some of the foods he and his wife ate during their vegan challenge
Andrew Nowell and a selection of some of the foods he and his wife ate during their vegan challenge

How do you know if there’s a vegan in the room at a party? They’ll always make sure they tell you’.

I am well aware that in writing a piece about a month trying out veganism I am probably conforming to every stereotype of those who decide to avoid animal-based products.

The famous Nowell family barbecue

The famous Nowell family barbecue

And yet, with veganism surging and even more people trying to reduce the amount of meat and dairy in their diet, it is clearly an idea striking a chord right about now.

I signed up for the Summer Vegan Pledge, a month-long toe-in-the-water for the lifestyle organised each June by leading charity Animal Aid.

I had seen friends doing Veganuary a few times and been interested in the challenge of doing so, but with the first month of the year also containing my birthday, I had never gone through with it and signed up myself.

So a mid-summer month trying out veganism seemed perfect.

My motivation was not primarily to do with animal rights, despite having strong convictions that the fellow creatures we share the planet with should be treated humanely and without cruelty.

Far more compelling to me was the environmental case for drastically cutting back on animal products, as part of which we have gradually been decreasing the amount of meat eaten in our house for several years.

So the moment arrived and milk, butter and cheese were replaced in the kitchen by the likes of soya and coconut milk, plant-based spreads and nutritional yeast.

There seems to be a common conception that going vegan is quite difficult, and must involve a good deal of personal sacrifice from anyone forgoing the finer things in life.

In fact, my vegan June was quite straightforward. Admittedly, the one thing that has to be said is there is a fair bit of planning to be done in advance.

A couple of decent-priced recipe books picked up in a sale, a list of appetising meals made and a thorough trip round the supermarket in preparation saved a great deal of time and mental stress trying to come up with things to cook at short notice.

Some of the vegan substitute ingredients sound a bit odd, but unless you have a very unadventurous palate, they turn out to be perfectly reasonable.

Soya milk takes a bit of getting used to on breakfast cereal, but is otherwise unremarkable, while coconut milk is delicious in a cup of coffee.

Nutritional yeast doesn’t sound entirely appetising but actually gives a creamy, nutty taste to sauces.

And many vegan meals are as enjoyable as anything I’ve tasted. A definite highlight of the month was a fully vegan BBQ we had at home, with No Bull Burgers, Linda McCartney sausages and veggie skewers with balsamic glaze over the flames and Camden Town’s selection of beers to wash it down.

With a pile of books and recipes to hand, though, eating at home was never going to be a huge challenge. Eating out, though, is another matter.

A few years ago, being a vegan out and about probably meant looking at menus in despair and trying to pretend some bowls off the sides list made a meal.

Thankfully, things are getting better. A host of big names, including JD Wetherspoon and Brewer’s Fayre, now have perfectly satisfactory vegan options on their menus and the big bowl of risotto at Bella Italia we had in Edinburgh was delicious.

There are, of course, plenty of specialist places with more or less all vegan menus now as well, especially in the cities. I have a list to visit.

Supermarkets are getting in on the act too. Iceland, Tesco and Asda all have a decent number of options in the fridges and freezers and I’ve read in the last couple of weeks more products are on the way this summer. Alpro’s range of dairy-free desserts, milks, shakes and mousses are easy to find.

Clear labelling, though, still leaves much to be desired. Too many products still leave you wasting time reciting ingredient lists under your breath in the middle of the aisles and looking quizzical.

So a round of applause is due to those who do clearly label their vegan products, including Hovis, Blue Dragon, Oreos, Ben and Jerrys and Walls.

An even worse situation affects beer.

Many brews are not vegan-friendly because they contain isinglass, which is usually made from the swim bladders of fish. Dark beers, too, can use lactose to boost their creaminess.

Almost nowhere in pubs and on shelves can you find this information clearly. Without the website Barnivore, which admirably does the legwork for you, many people would be almost ending up as teetotallers.

Overall, though, being vegan – for whatever reason you choose – in 2018 has never been easier, and it is going to keep getting simpler too.

It is undoubtedly public demand driving it.

There are now estimated to be half a million vegans in the UK and more are curious about joining their rannks or taking steps in that direction every day.

My wife and I were just two of a record 3,764 people who signed up to Animal Aid’s pledge.

And, once we’ve used all the dairy which we put in the freezer for the month, our house is probably largely going to be vegan too.