How hard is it to go vegan? And is it worth it? The Spa Spy gave up her beloved cheese for a month last year with interesting results. This is her story.
Going vegan has never seemed so sexy. J Lo, Alicia Silverstone and Brad Pitt have turned; vegan cookbooks and restaurants are now more hipster than hippie, and you can even get vegan Doc Martins.
So, yes, I am shamelessly jumping on that plant-based bandwagon. Partly because it’s easier now than ever, especially here in the UK where there are at least half a million vegans (in parts of France, they still think ham is vegetarian). But also, for the usual reasons:
One, I watched a Netflix documentary with scenes that capture animal suffering that I cannot un-watch. I wish I could enjoy a guilt-free latte, but there it is.
Two, I’d like to see if giving up dairy improves my energy, digestion and (let’s be honest) makes me thinner. Research has shown that vegans have a lower BMI than meat eaters.
Three, on a less selfish level, going vegan could save the world. The U.N. believes that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to saving the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.
They say you should ease yourself in slowly, but as a pescatarian, I feel I am already there. So, I binge on cheese for a month then go fully vegan.
At first, it all seems ridiculously easy. Avocado on toast is delicious, marmite without butter is fine – and even better with nut butter. You can have baked beans, chips, hummus, Falafel, lots of soups, delicious vegan curries and Oreos. There are thousands of recipes online, all beautiful and delightfully colourful as I scroll through. If I’m feeling lazy, most major supermarkets have vegan labelled meals, too.
On the downside, vegan cheese tastes like rubber; soy and Almond milks taste bitter in coffee (but are OK on cereal and in tea). Supermarkets are doing vegan wines (wine is made with grapes, but animal parts are used in the filtering process. I know, right…). Midweek, I start exploring sites like The Vegan Society and PETA and realise, with horror – I haven’t been strictly vegan. Why? Because I’ve been eating granola with honey (see below).
The food part is surprisingly easy, although eating a plant-based diet, which is very fibrous, has an impact on my digestion – I’ll spare you the details. All vegan websites advise cutting out slowly for this reason.
I’m so impressed with The Vegan Diner in Norwich market, but while queuing for my burrito with fellow vegans, feeling proud and trendy all at once, I become aware that I am wearing leather boots. And have a leather handbag. And a leather belt. Is my cashmere sweater okay? (I check it out on PETA. Apparently not: none of it is.) While online, I am sucked into a vegan black hole, and on the way down, read that silkworms are boiled alive in their silk cocoons. My head starts to explode.
I have lost five pounds. My colleague has just told me that my skin looks ‘luminous’, but I do feel tired. A vegan diet, I learn, is lacking vital nutrients like calcium, iron, B12, Zinc, selenium, magnesium and Vitamin D. Also, protein, Omega 3 and iodine.
Vitamin Supplements are a bit of a minefield: a) they’re not all vegetarian and b) scientists say we can’t absorb them properly. I decide to try and eat my nutrients though foods listed on the vegan society website but also take carefully-researched supplements as back-up. Call me shallow, but I don’t want my teeth to fall out.
I break the vegan diet because my friend cooked me a risotto (with parmesan) and I’m too polite and embarrassed to tell her I’m vegan. That night, my stomach bloats horribly and I can’t sleep.
Slightly concerning for an ageing spa spy, I discover collagen is made from skin, bones and tissues of pigs and cows. There are some fantastic vegan skincare brands out there: it won’t be too hard to change. As a Spa Spy, however, my job is to have treatments with brands that aren’t vegan. Oh dear.
After a month of going vegan – badly – I have a great deal of respect for proper vegans. Sticking to your principals when even your friends treat you like an inconvenient bore takes guts. I feel so much healthier, but on a deeper level, it has raised my awareness of important and urgent issues. I’m going to carry on quitting milk, eggs and meat, occasionally have fish in restaurants, and maybe the odd nibble of cheese… we’ll see.
The Honey Debate
The PETA rule is anything from an animal is off limits to vegans. While bees aren’t animals, they are cute, so I rush out and buy some Agave and maple syrup. Then I discover that some vegans are okay with honey. I do some research, and decide most beekeepers seem to have a respectful relationship with their bees. And if you buy locally, you reduce the carbon footprint.