Committed carnivore MARION SAUVEBOIS ropes her boyfriend into an experiment... would veganism make them feel fitter and healthier?
‘VEGANISM is ruining our lives’... so read a text message from my exhausted, famished and increasingly irritable partner as the subject of dinner came up.
Meat, fish, yoghurt, cheese, eggs and even some types of bread were out – all our go-to staples.
Three days into our dairy and meat ‘abstinence week’, as we referred to it, I was inclined to agree. I too was feeling unusually lethargic, ill-tempered and hungry.
On the plus side I could feel my clothes becoming slightly looser around the waist, which I would have been overjoyed about under normal circumstances.
But this left a bitter taste (and I am not only referring to the horrid vegan stock we had had the misfortune of blending into our soup two days before.) If reaching my ideal weight meant giving up a carnivorous diet, I was beginning to feel it wasn’t worth the effort.
Growing up in France and being bred almost exclusively on charcuterie, cheese pate, meat, cheese yoghurts, and did I mention cheese?, I had always been sceptical and openly critical of the vegan diet.
Living without dairy or any form of animal products seemed – still does to some extent – the height of idiocy, although I understand how meat may not appeal to everyone.
An unfortunate experience with vegan parmesan courtesy of one of my flatmates at university only served to confirm that I was unequivocally right.
It is only recently, after falling madly in love with Nakd’s lactose and gluten-free snack bars, that I have mildly warmed up to the idea of a vegan lifestyle. Last month I bought a vegan cookbook out of curiosity and I must admit I was intrigued and even eager to try some of the recipes.
Short of world peace, there seemed no ill veganism could not cure according to the vegan bible. It promised me a healthier life, higher energy levels, certain weight loss; you name it, it was in there.
So this was how this little experiment came about.
I admit a small part of me was hoping to prove a point: that leading a vegan lifestyle is unhealthy and frankly unsustainable. When I mentioned it to my partner, to my surprise, he hopped on board. But if we were to embark on such a drastic diet, he said, we had to plan our meals and plan them properly. There would be no accidental fainting at work.
Vegan shopping list in hand – a rather long list as, except for beans and vegetables, none of the contents of our fridge and cupboards were vegan-friendly – I felt confident as I arrived at the supermarket.
The feeling was short-lived. Forty-five minutes and two puzzled shopping assistants later (they had never heard of vegan stock and were confused when I asked for dairy-free cheese), I only had vegetables, soya milk, more beans and some lentils in my basket. Discouraged, I went home. My partner in all his wisdom decided to start with an easy recipe and a favourite of mine, broccoli soup. You can never go wrong with soup. Well, it turns you can when you replace perfectly good vegetable stock with the vegan alternative – apparently there is lactose in regular vegetarian stock. That’s one thing we realised very quickly: lactose (and eggs) are in absolutely everything.
What we also realised as we sipped the unpalatable concoction and tried to ignore the lingering metallic taste which overpowered the broccoli, you cannot just replace a normal ingredient with the vegan equivalent. You need to rethink the recipe and adjust flavouring. Lesson learned, I suppose.
Needless to say, we didn’t pack leftovers for lunch the next day. Instead I dropped in to Eggelicious on Wood Street and ordered a scrummy vegan wrap (okra and potato), which gave me renewed hope after our first failed attempt.
That night we prepared a vegan nut roast, using corn flour as a binding agent. We had chosen to steer clear of egg substitute. The delectable dish, if a little crumbly, filled us with confidence that our vegan week would go smoothly after all.
The following day we had pasta. It took a while to establish whether dry pasta was actually was suitable for vegans and we are still unsure whether we had the right kind but we tried mac ‘n’ no cheese. In a nutshell, this was pasta slathered in butternut squash and coconut milk sauce. And it was unbelievably delicious. I would make that dish again any day.
Breakfast each day was porridge (cooked in oat juice and water) or toast (the lactose-free kind) with vegan margarine – which tastes just the same as butter.
Bean chilli with brown rice vegan noodles and sweet potato and vegetable shepherd's pie were also winning recipes.
And we ended each meal with Apro soya-based yoghurts, which were surprisingly creamy and tasted the same as the regular dairy kind.
One of my biggest concerns, however, as the week went by was the amount of added sugars in everything we ate – did you know, there was even corn syrup in stock?
Figuring out what we could eat and what was forbidden proved a problem at times; especially when it came to alcohol and snacks. Some beers are vegan, others not. And although we were told Pringles were, it actually depends on the flavour.
I must also admit my energy levels plummeted. I felt hungry all the time and had lunch at 11.15am at the latest every day.
Giving up meat and fish was not as daunting as I expected. But the cheese cravings only got stronger as the week went by and, despite fantastic culinary discoveries, I just could not imagine my life without Roquefort or Camembert. So we decided to take the plunge – something we had both sworn we would never do – and try plant-based cheese. We settled for cheese made from potato.
If it sounds unappetising, I can assure you it is. I can only liken it to Laughing Cow cheese which has been left to harden for weeks, with a faint yet lingering sour taste.
To say that we were counting down the hours until we could to resume our normal diet would be the understatement of the year. I walked straight into M&S the first moment I could, looking for a sandwich packed with as many of the ‘forbidden’ ingredients as I could find. And I enjoyed every bite of the pastrami, turkey and boiled eggs... with cheese for dessert, of course.
As for our experiment? Well, we were awakened to unusual flavours and ingredient combinations we never would have otherwise considered. But the downsides outweighed the benefits for me.
Blame it on my nationality and upbringing but I am an unrepentant carnivore and cheese-addict.
A dietician’s advice
Rebecca Jewell, community dietitian, shares her advice about adopting a vegan diet safely.
“Try to include plenty of vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables), plus fruits (including berries), beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
“Dietary sources of iron include beans, legumes, green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Try to ensure you eat these foods alongside foods rich in vitamin C for optimal absorption, for example a glass of fruit juice alongside a main meal.
“Protein sources include tofu, bean curd, beans, lentils, chick peas, hummus, nuts and nut butter, seeds, avocado and soya ‘meat replacement’.
“As animal foods are the main sources of vitamin B12, vegans can become deficient in this nutrient and therefore should aim to include some of the following foods in their diet: yeast extracts and fortified vegetable stocks, fortified rice and soya milks, breakfast cereals fortified with B12, almonds and fortified tinned spaghetti.
“Vegans are also at an increased risk of calcium deficiency as the main dietary source of this nutrient is dairy foods. Inclusion of the following foods can be helpful: fortified soya or tofu, fortified rice or soya milks, fortified bread, almonds, green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, broad beans, tahini, sesame seeds, dried fruits and white bread and white bread products (if vegan).
“To minimise the imbalance of omega 3 to omega 6, those adopting a vegan diet should use more soya, rapeseed, vegetable product rather than sunflower, safflower or corn oil. Other vegan sources of omega 3 include sweet potatoes, soya beans, walnuts, brazil nuts, tofu pumpkin seeds and green leafy vegetables.
“It might be useful to invest in a good quality vegan cookbook, to support you in having a balanced and varied diet.
“With so many nutrients to consider if people are concerned they should ask to be referred to community dietitian.”
Kimberley Brewser, 31, is a dance teacher from Greenmeadow.
She tell us about her choice to become a vegan... and her decision to raise her son as one too- I’m vegan, and so is my baby boy
When did you become vegan and why?
I was brought up vegetarian and had been ignorant to the reality of how animals are treated in the egg and dairy industry. About three years ago I started to educate myself on animal welfare and these industries. I then became vegan because I no longer wanted to contribute to this suffering. I love animals.
My son Hadley has been vegan from birth. There was no doubt in my mind that bringing up Hadley vegan was what was best for my precious bundle. I wanted him to be brought up to be compassionate, to stand up for what is right.
I never have to lie to him about what he eats and where it comes from. There’s a reason why we take our children apple picking but we don’t take them to a slaughterhouse.
Hadley, now 18 months, continues to thrive on a healthy, varied and colourful vegan diet. He’s a happy, healthy, beautiful little boy.
What is your favourite vegan dish?
I love Mexican food, tacos and chilli, with heaps of vegan cheese and guacamole. Stew and dumplings for comfort food. And I love cake. My cakes have been praised highly by vegans and non-vegans.
What are the health benefits?
Being vegan isn’t just a diet choice. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s about choosing life. There is plenty of reliable evidence that vegans are less likely to develop heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, or high blood pressure than meat-eaters are.
A varied vegan diet provides all our nutritional requirements. I’ve never felt better since going vegan inside and outside. I feel healthy and I have tons of energy.
Do you have useful tips?
There is so much online support. Check out The Vegan Society. Swindon also has a Swindon and Wiltshire vegans group on facebook for support and get-togethers.
Don’t give up after a week or if you fall off the wagon. For some people it can be a gradual process. Remember it’s not that you can’t eat something, it’s that you choose not too.
Did you find becoming vegan challenging?
Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy to start with.
Do I find it hard? Honestly no. Not now.
Whatever may have seemed a challenge at the time just made me realise that it’s nowhere as hard as what the animals are having to go through. So no, it’s not hard. I love it.
Being vegan isn't about being perfect. But it’s about doing what you can to cause the least amount of harm. There are so many vegan food choices available. I eat very well. The only regret I have about becoming vegan is that I didn’t do it sooner.