This is the final post of my foray into veganism but I strongly suspect it won’t be my last vegan meal. When I began this journey just a few short weeks ago my main focus was getting to the finishing line so I could dive face first into a celebratory cheeseburger just after midnight on the 31st January. But now that January is almost over, I don’t feel like that anymore. I know I will continue to eat meat but I am going to save eating it for a much more elevated occasion than just abstaining for a month. Rather than just see it as a reward I’d rather apply a bit more gravitas to it. The funny thing is I don’t know when that might be yet – I think most certainly the first meat I eat will be charcuterie. There’s something to be said about choosing to eat meat that is cured, smoked and aged because it is all about a slow, artisan method. It has been a funny week to end up on because by a twist of schedules I had to teach a pig butchery day and a curing and smoking day on the last weekend of January at RCHQ. I came clean to both groups and everyone took the opportunity to ask questions and have a laugh at my expense in equal measures. It didn’t feel odd either way but it took a huge effort not to try the amazing food prepared by my colleague Sam Lomas. I’ve also had the same bout of flu that has gripped the rest of the UK despite just drinking hot lemon and ginger all month! I wonder if I would have had it worse or not at all if I wasn’t a January vegan!? I’ve also got a confession to make – many of my friends have asked whether I have cheated by sneaking a rasher of bacon in one of the dishes I made or sliced a bit of cheddar into a salad? Well, I didn’t do either of those things however whilst I was out running the other day I did swallow a fly.
I’ve begun to really enjoy the effects of eating a vegan diet. Each meal needs a bit of thought and creativity which is a positive thing but you’ve got to make the time to plan. Working out the structure of the week’s meals feels less like a list of abstinence and more of an interesting challenge. There have been some forced happy surprises - I’ve eaten turnips as a main ingredient in a chilli (which was delicious) and haven’t once thought that meat was missing from the meals I’ve had. I have though, thought about my first non-vegan meal when ‘veganuary’ is officially over and in my head it currently contains fish. I’m surprised by this although I am aware that I have started to listen to my internal food voice – the one that really cuts through all of the noise and talks sense rather than greed. I think I have broken some bad habits and become more tuned into flavour. There has even been an opportunity to eat out and test my resolve – granted it was a fantastic Sunday lunch at River Cottage so I was in very safe hands but it was my first official vegan outing. The food was delicious and full of interesting twists. My eyes did wander over to my fellow diners aged beef roast but it was just ‘window shopping’ and I didn’t feel at all short changed. The food was generous, hearty, comforting and celebratory. There was also a lot of technique on show with each dish made of layers of flavour pieced together sympathetically and plated with pleasing aesthetics. As a by-product of my vegan diet but not by design, I have lost weight and unquestionably I have slept better this month than I have in a long time. Sometimes this is because I have felt shattered and others because it would be better to sleep than sit around being tempted by the wrong ingredients. I have also taken to drinking water rather than snacking and feel less sluggish for doing so. I’m not sure that I feel more positive because I can see the finishing line in sight or that my experience so far has been an accumulative health benefit. I do know that I will be carrying on aspects of veganism beyond the end of January and that this last month has been an interesting learning curve.
This second week of being vegan has been enjoyable compared to last week’s seeming deprivation. I have suddenly found a rich vein of energy that has catapulted me through each day and have massive sleepy crashes come early evening. I don’t know whether eating a vegan diet makes you more productive but I’ve got to the bottom of my ‘to do’ list already – I’ve even moved our hens into a new, cleared and prepared part of the garden and took to power pressure hosing the outside of the house, patio and anything else that looked like it needed it. It can only be aligned with my diet and instead of trying to fight off the sleep I just go with it! It feels like a natural balance. Food wise, I started the week feeling like I had forgotten how to cook because my usual reference points were missing. I often cook long and slow but most vegan dishes are ready in a fraction of the time so I have to be better prepared before starting. Hugh’s Much More Veg book has been a real inspiration. I have sometimes struggled with the range of ingredients available at this time of year, January is a pretty barren month for local home grown produce. Breakfast is one of my favourite meals of the day however I’m on the look-out for more variety outside of the world of porridge – any suggestions welcomed. I’ve loved everything I’ve made and eaten this week but have especially enjoyed my favourite new snack of toasted seeds splashed with tamari which have been scoffed by the handful. Ultimately I can see that my diet re-calibration is having a positive effect both in terms of how I personally feel but also in terms of a bigger food production picture and I’ve only dreamed of cheese and charcuterie once….or so.
This January I’m going vegan. There, I’ve said it in writing so it must be true. In a bid to challenge myself and balance the excess of ‘scoffember’, I am attempting to see out the month (and not a minute more!) without eating any animal products. In my current state I might not make it past the next hour. I know full well that eating habits will have to change and I’m a fully signed up flexitarian but I will find it difficult not to reach for the cheese or my beloved charcuterie. Week One, all I have done is miss what I had and apart from a needling competitive urge stopping me from licking the top off a chocolate biscuit and blaming the puppy; I haven’t felt any positive effects. I’m going to be charting my ups and downs throughout the month and try to be objective about how I feel or what changes I’ve noticed both physically and mentally. I’ll keep a list of meals I’ve tried and report back but just to start the ball rolling, I discovered today that honey is not vegan and therefore I have been mostly grumpy. Roll on week 2!
Steve Lamb, River Cottage Smoking and Curing Tutor and Dairy Aficionado