Isabel ends her pledge with some final thoughts on vegan living

It’s been a whole week trying to keep an eye on what I eat. I usually do it but, as you already know, this time it was different – I was choosing a plant-based diet, with not a single animal product or ingredient on it. That has given me a lot to reflect on…

This week, I have been thinking a lot about where would be the best place in the world to be vegan. I am Spanish and I bet it’d be more difficult to be a vegan in my country — and, especially, in the small town where I come from — than being a vegan in Oxford. Try being a vegan where no one else even knows what that means!

I cannot stop thinking of the blog post written by Tom Owen, from Triodos talking about a colleague offering him some cake. When I first read it, just a couple of days before starting my pledge, my reaction was an “Oh, no! I hadn’t thought about that at all. How am I going to do it in an office where there are always birthday cakes around?”

Although I am used to avoiding cakes, it was obviously more challenging this time. And the same applies to my weekly shopping. I won’t give any names, but there are stores where finding vegan food is much easier. The question that springs to mind is: shouldn’t it be like that all the time? Even if we are not vegan, are we (consumers) not allowed to have transparency and enough information about what we are taking home?

As you’ll see, I have got a lot out of this week, and I have a lot more that I could tell you about it if anyone wants to listen to it, but I think I will leave it here for now.

I don’t know whether I will become a vegan — as I say, I think that must happen gradually — but I am happy that these 7 days have made me more aware of how my lifestyle impacts on the world; and I will continue taking small steps, one at a time, to make my lifestyle more sustainable and healthier.

Isabel Benitez, member and staff of The Phone Co-op.  The Phone Co-op (www.thephone.coop) is a partner of The Vegan Society.  Visit http://www.thephone.coop/vegan to find out how your phone bill can support The Vegan Society.

Text & images copyright: Isabel Benitez.  Views expressed are Isabel’s own and do not necessarily represent Vegan Society policy.

The Phone Co-op’s Isabel Benitez ends her vegan pledge with some advice for pledge takers

The last day of my vegan week

My vegan week is officially over and I am proud to say “I made it!”, though, to be honest, there is nothing heroic about it: it wasn’t that difficult after all.

Not only have I completed my mission, but I have also enjoyed it, so I have come up with some ideas and suggestions for anyone thinking of becoming vegan or slightly changing their eating habits in the future:

  1. Take your time. Spending a week being vegan all of a sudden is not a nightmare at all and can even be fun – especially if you like challenges. However, if you want to do it right, it’s better to change your diet and habits gradually, step-by-step, day-by-day, and giving yourself time to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  2. Give it some thought. Plan in advance – this is something recommended for any healthy diet, anyway! If you decide what you are going to do, you’ll have the opportunity to get it right — make it balanced and delicious — plus you’ll avoid the temptations usually associated with getting home and eating the first thing you find in the fridge. That was the biggest challenge during my vegan week. I had everything planned but life sometimes gets hectic and it’s then when you think: “Alright, I am stressed, I haven’t had a break in 8 hours and now I am hungry – my stomach won’t wait for me to read the labels and cook something nice and vegan!” Even so, I managed to keep my dinner vegan, but next time I will definitely plan my week better.
  3. Wear your vegan hat from the beginning to the end; that is not only when you are cooking or eating but also, and especially, when you are going to the shop – that’s where everything starts and where we can therefore start making a difference. Plus… if there are no animal-based products at home, you can’t obviously eat them —this is especially applicable to temporary pledges, like the one I took.
  4. Get some advice. There are lots of resources out there that can be extremely helpful (http://www.guidetoveganliving.org.uk/); and I am not talking just about websites and leaflets, but also about people that are already vegan and can offer you some guidance on how to make it work. I have to thank The Vegan Society (and especially Amanda!) for their support during my vegan pledge! They’ve made my vegan week much easier and fun.

This is what you, as an individual (and a consumer or a chef) can do.  Those are the elements that depend entirely on each of us. However, I also appreciate there are other “external” factors that have a huge impact on a decision like becoming a vegan.

But maybe that’s something I can tell you on my next post…

Isabel Benitez is a member and staff of The Phone Co-op.  The Phone Co-op is a partner of The Vegan Society.  Visit http://www.thephone.coop/vegan to find out how your phone bill can support The Vegan Society.

Text & images copyright: Isabel Benitez.  Views expressed are Isabel’s own and do not necessarily represent Vegan Society policy.

Tom’s looking forward to an all vegetable Christmas dinner

Hello again.

It’s been a month since starting the pledge, and it’s gone very quickly.  I mentioned earlier in the month that the tough bit was not consciously avoiding animal products (that bit was fairly easy) but rather avoiding accidentally consuming them.  I also found that in an effort to promote ‘quality’ some brands turn to animal products (products being sweetened with

honey being one to really watch out for).

Now, a month later it feels fairly simple to fend for myself, and I’ve gotten used to checking (and double checking) labels when I need to grab food on the run.
Eating out comes with a set of challenges I hadn’t expected, but again, so long as you keep the issue in mind I found most people very patient and accommodating.

Now, at the end of the Pledge I’m left in a strange place.  A few people asked me questions like: “what will you do afterwards?  Order a big steak?”.  Interesting question, and a tough one, though it misses the point a little bit; The Pledge wasn’t a challenge. It wasn’t some kind of endurance trial to see how long I could last before tucking into a sausage.

Rather, it was a fun way to try out something I might not otherwise have done, and to reassess my thinking about the food I eat. To re-examine these decisions mindfully.
It was a way to look at the food that I eat in a controlled way, without having to carry the same weight as someone who is brave enough to say ‘I’m changing to a Vegan lifestyle’. The person who does plunge straight into it needs to be brave; I think if it were me I’d feel that I ran the risk of failure in the eyes of friends or family, or even other Vegans.
I find the thought of trying it, not being able to do it, and then having to tell people that I was going back on the decision, more daunting than any feeling that the diet or lifestyle itself might be tough.

The pledge is different. It was (at least for me) a way to walk a mile in shoes I wouldn’t normally wear. It was a way of exploring another form of consumer activism I might not have tried, and to do so with the support of the society behind me. It took a lot of that pressure off.

The future?

Having been mindful of my food for a month, having kept myself focused on it, has reinforced my feelings that if I can make lifestyle choices and changes that don’t negatively impact me but positively impact other people and non-human animals then it’s right that I go forward with them.

I’ll be continuing to live as a vegetarian from 1st December – so having asked for help with my vegan birthday cake (thanks for the recipes everyone), I’ll now be just in time for an all-vegetable Xmas dinner!

Best wishes everyone, and thanks for all your support through World Vegan Month.

-Tom Owen

Tom Owen is Triodos’s Business Development Manager responsible for forging links with charities.  Triodos will donate £40 to the Vegan Society for every savings account opened: www.triodos.co.uk/vegan

Text & images copyright: Tom Owen.  Views expressed are Tom’s own and do not necessarily represent Vegan Society policy.

 

The Phone Co-op’s Isabel Benitez on her first day of the pledge

25 November

My first Vegan day

Yesterday was the first day of my 7-day Vegan Pledge, and I have to admit I am pretty excited about it!

Making the soup

I have always wanted to learn more about veganism and try it myself, so I cannot wait to see what it is like to be a vegan for a week (or longer than that if it works out for me). Of course, it is too soon to say how it will go, but I have a good feeling about it …

So far so good I must say, and I have already learnt something new: how little we know about what we eat.

Don’t get me wrong; I already knew that, but my Sunday was quite an eye opener.

I consider myself the type of person who cares about what she eats and I am very used to reading labels and checking the ingredient lists.   However, I have to admit there were things passing me by. Sometimes I forget there are loads of things we take for granted.  So just for the experience of going to my usual shop with a “vegan” hat on it’s been worth taking this pledge.

In fact, I would recommend it to everybody: just go to the shops and take some time to put some thought into what you are buying. You’ll quickly realise that even some products that should be entirely plant based (they would be if you prepared them at home) have an ingredient or have been produced in a factory that makes them “unsuitable” for vegans.  And then you wonder: “what type of stuff am I eating everyday if I cannot even trust what I am buying?”

Shopping sorted; it’s time to see if vegan food is actually good.

Courgette and rice soup

My main fear is that I will run out of ideas if I have to use the recipes I know and turn them into vegan dishes if they are not already vegan, but that’s the challenge I guess. Even so I refuse to think being vegan will be boring — and my Vegan: 100 everyday recipes cook book looks amazing!

Today I am having a courgette and rice soup that I cooked yesterday night.  Do you fancy a try?

I will keep you posted.

Isabel Benitez, member and staff of The Phone Co-op.  The Phone Co-op is a partner of The Vegan Society.  Visit http://www.thephone.coop/vegan to find out how your phone bill can support The Vegan Society.

Text & images copyright: Isabel Benitez.  Views expressed are Isabel’s own and do not necessarily represent Vegan Society policy.

 

 

Triodos’s Tom Owen is mindful of the choices

Day 1 of the Vegan Pledge began like any other day. A vegan-friendly bagel on the run and four black coffees over the course of the morning.

Something new in Tom’s coffee

I started telling myself the pledge wasn’t going to be tough, nothing to worry about.  Then a colleague offered me some cake and I reached for it without thinking – only to remember in the nick of time and decline. Sorry everyone, close call!  I’ll need to watch that automatic response over the month.

And now, as I think about it, that’s really the point: being mindful of the automatic decisions, the habitual ones.  I’d like to speak honestly: grabbing food while working on a banking or charity project has often been about convenience for me; it’s about getting food on board so that I can go back to what I’m working on with a minimum of fuss.  When presented with the decision ‘meat’ or ‘not meat’ I’ll normally choose ‘not meat’ for preference (habits from living with and cooking for my vegetarian wife; Lauren), but convenience often wins out when I’m working to deadline.  Perhaps convenience and habit are the biggest barriers – breeding a kind of ‘casual callousness’.

Perhaps being mindful of the choice is the biggest change to be made: I don’t want to sustain a system that causes harm when there is a perfectly good alternative that doesn’t put me at a disadvantage. To succeed at the pledge I need to keep the issue in mind until these new consumer decisions become habit.

Thanks to everyone who sent me recipes for a vegan birthday cake, I’ll be trying one of them out in a few days time.  If anyone has any other tips to make a habit of this, I’d appreciate any help I can get.

Tom Owen is Triodos’s Business Development Manager responsible for forging links with charities.  Triodos will donate £40 to the Vegan Society for every savings account opened: www.triodos.co.uk/vegan

Text & images copyright: Tom Owen.  Views expressed are Tom’s own and do not necessarily represent Vegan Society policy.

The first week of veganism was relatively easy – Lucy signs up for a second!

Friday 8th November.

One week done! I’ve managed seven days of veganism, and I’m pleased to say it’s been relatively easy. Cooking at home has been a pleasure; I’ve eaten way more fresh, frozen and tinned veg than usual. I am now 1% woman, 99% lentil. This has been my most successful recipe: Chestnut Lentil Stew.

Even when I’ve been rushing about for work I’ve coped, largely thanks to Pret’s Super Greens sandwiches, M&S’s butternut and pine nut dip and the Pizza Express Superfood salad (minus mozzarella of course).

I haven’t missed animal milk or yoghurt, but I am a cheese junkie, and weaning myself off has been a bit tough. I have tried a few substitutes, but I found them a bit spongy and/or chalky. I bought a smoked soya cheese from Tesco, as I thought the smoky taste might help, but it just felt like I was chewing on Jeremy Clarkson’s lung, Any suggestions gratefully received.

To celebrate this momentous one-week milestone, I decided to bake a cake. I chose the raspberry chocolate cake recipe from the book Vegan – 100 Everyday Recipes by Love Food, that The Vegan Society had been kind enough to give me. I thought it would be fun to let the kids help me. I was wrong. Cooking with children is one of those things that looks fun on TV but really isn’t.

I couldn’t find my sandwich tin, but I found a muffin pan and decided I’d use the mixture to make fairy cakes instead. I also didn’t have any rapeseed oil, so I used coconut oil instead. Despite the best efforts of my children to sabotage proceedings, the cakes were a triumph, if I do say so myself. I baked three batches of 12, and we’d eaten most of the first batch by the time the second was out of the oven.

We decorated them with a vegan butter cream (margarine, icing sugar, raspberries and a little soya milk) which I found sickly but the children ate by the spoonful when I had my back turned.

I attach pictures of my chestnut stew and a child demolishing a cupcake. Now, bring on that difficult second week.

Text & images copyright: Lucy Porter.
Views expressed are Lucy’s own and do not necessarily represent The Vegan Society policy.

Veganism is easy, says Lucy Porter: Get other people to cook for you!

Saturday 2nd November – ten p.m.

I’ve completed two days of my vegan challenge, and I’m pleased to say that it’s been pretty easy. This is largely because I have been cheating by getting other people to cook my food.

Yesterday I went for lunch at the INCREDIBLE Mary Ward Centre café. I’ve been visiting it for the last few years as I think it’s one of the best vegetarian places in London. They always have at least one vegan option, and I had cous cous with borlotti beans, spinach and other delights. All their main meals are under a fiver, which is great value for central London. You also get to eat in the company of older people who are enrolled on the centre’s courses in photography and music.

Today’s lunch was courtesy of my vegan sister. A generous helping of lentil stew with roasted carrots, parsnips and broccoli, plus some dumplings that you’d swear were made in heaven. She’s promised to give me the recipe when she gets time to write it down.

This has left me with only two family meals to cook all by myself. Yesterday I knocked up some ‘meatballs’ with wholegrain spaghetti, made from Granose Lincolnshire sausage mix. I smothered it all in a sauce of tinned tomatoes and pureed sweet potato. I often make this sauce for the kids to smuggle some vegetables into their otherwise chocolate heavy diet.

Tonight I went for the classic option of Linda McCartney sausages with boiled potatoes, carrots and green beans. In honour of my Irish roots I have potatoes at nearly every meal and always overcook the other veg. My one stab at proper cooking was some red cabbage, adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe omitting the bacon and butter. Or ‘the best bits’ as my husband would say.

So far so good. If this all sounds sickeningly healthy I should point out that I bought a bar of Plamil’s non-dairy chocolate and had hoped it would last all week. I am eating the last square as I type this.

I attach a photograph of my youngest fisting spaghetti into his gaping maw. Bon appétit!

Text & images copyright: Lucy Porter.
Views expressed are Lucy’s own and do not necessarily represent The Vegan Society policy.

Lucy Porter goes vegan for World Vegan Month

Lucy Porter takes the Vegan Pledge with The Vegan Society at London Vegfest 2013Thursday 31st October 2013.

At the stroke of midnight tonight I shall become a vegan. Admittedly it’s not the scariest Halloween transformation ever, but I am nonetheless a bit nervous. In my experience, there are two types of vegan: the ones who emit a glow of physical and psychological wellbeing, and the ones who live on chips and vodka.

I signed up to the vegan pledge a month ago with what may turn out to be hubristic enthusiasm. I figured that geography was on my side. I live in the London Borough of Camden – a place that is to alternative lifestyles what Las Vegas is to gambling. There are specialist Indian, Italian, Japanese and Portuguese vegetarian restaurants within five minute’s walk of my flat. My corner shop sells three different types of fresh tofu.

When I’d had time to reflect however, I realized that I spend a lot of my time away on tour, eating whatever I can find in service stations and train buffets. Even when I’m home I rarely go out to eat, and also I don’t massively like tofu.

I had been additionally buoyed by the fact that I know lots of healthy vegans. As I considered the matter further it dawned on me that they are all a) very organized and b) good at cooking. I am a pathetic scatterbrain who still has to wear her keys around her neck and I regularly leave home having forgotten wallet, phone and at least one of my children. My signature dishes are all cocktails.

Still, I have only committed to this lifestyle for a week, how hard can that be? Ideally, I’d like to try and do a month, and potentially carry on beyond that. I’m going to blog as regularly as I can, mainly to keep me honest. I had toyed with the idea of blogging a food diary, but I thought that would be more crashingly dull than telling you about my dreams and showing you pictures of my children.

So instead, I’ll just post random musings and recipes. The first of which is a signature dish:

Veganised White Russian by Lucy PorterLucy’s Vegan White Russian

This is a White Russian with a twist. Instead of using a coffee liqueur, I’ve replaced it with Frangelico – the hazelnut liqueur reputedly devised by monks. I may be an atheist, but I won’t hear a word against those guys. I’ve also used Finlandia Vodka in protest at Russian human rights abuses. I’ve substituted Alpro hazelnut drink for the original cow’s milk or cream, which intensifies the nuttiness and gives it a pleasing beige colour. So actually, it doesn’t really justify being called a White Russian at all; it’s more of a Taupe Finn.

Mix one measure of vodka with one measure of Frangelico. Top up with Hazelnut Milk to taste. Garnish with a small plastic cow to remind me why I’m doing this. Cheers! Or Kippis! as they say in Finland. Kippis sounds a bit like chips, which coincidentally make the ideal accompaniment to this drink.

Text & images copyright: Lucy Porter.
Views expressed are Lucy’s own and do not necessarily represent The Vegan Society policy.