Veganism has never been trendier, with the rise of wellness bloggers such as Deliciously Ella and Raw Vegan Blonde, the hype of a plant-based diet is nothing if not smugly alluring. Beyonce herself preaches the virtues of a 22 day vegan diet, based on the thinking that it takes 21 days to break a habit. In June of this year, she teased fans with a forthcoming announcement, which somewhat disappointingly was a new commitment to almond milk rather than a new album. Spurred on by my desire to be one step closer to Beyonce and the recent news from the World Heath Organisation that processed meat is as bad for you as smoking, I embarked on a journey into veganism. How hard can it be to cut meat, dairy and all other animal associated products from your diet? Day 1 After a weekend of over indulgence that consisted of not one but two black pudding based meals, a beef wellington and at least four milky lattes, I feel ready for a fresh start of clean eating. I begin with fruit, Coyo and a soy milk coffee, an easy enough switch. Lunch is a lentil and chickpea soup from a local café, at this point I would normally choose either bread or brown rice accompaniment, today I have both for fear that I will starve without. For dinner I make a cashew nut and mange-tout stir-fry, I try to liven it up with a few chilli flakes and render my meal inedible as the entire jar cascades over my first home cooked vegan meal. I pick around it sadly, have a mint tea and an early night. Day 3
During days 1 and 2, I eat exactly the same thing, afraid of deviating from the small pool of ‘safe’ food. Feeling a little more adventurous by Wednesday, I pick up an almond milk and berry smoothie on my way into work from a spin class and halfway through drinking I read the ingredients more carefully – honey. Uh oh. I feel disappointed in myself and reluctantly stop drinking. After another lunch of a lentil-based soup, my stomach is enormous. The increase of fibre in my diet has made my stomach as round, hard and as uncomfortable as if I’d eaten a watermelon. I poke it in the mirror of my work bathroom, wondering if Beyonce ever feels this way. Tonight I venture out for dinner, feeling quite nervous about the options available. I try to convince my boyfriend to eat somewhere specialist, but he’s not for turning, so we head to a local bistro where I eat all of the bread and very little else. There are vegetarian options galore but to turn a vegetarian courgetti dish into a vegan meal means the sacrifice of a pesto and parmesan topping and despite my request it still arrives with a cheesy scattering, and without, it’s a pretty joyless plate. I look at my boyfriend eating his buttery mash and feel a genuine prickle of tears in my eyes. Feeling deeply unhappy I start to google ‘vegan junk food’ that I can gorge on when we leave. I am told by the boy that I must ‘emotionally detach myself from food’, which is easy enough for him whilst eating his pork chop. I buy a Cadbury’s Bourneville bar on the walk home and eat it before we’re even through the door with all the satisfaction of Augustus Gloop. Day 5 I feel good. The bloat has gone, my skin is clearer and I’m realising that to eat vegan just means making smarter choices, preparing your food at home and probably never going out for a nice meal with friends again. But then, Mildreds. Thank god for Mildreds. Soho’s most popular vegetarian restaurant also makes for the best vegan dinner, no deprivation here – just beautiful, wholesome plant based deliciousness. I have a polish beetroot burger, sweet potato fries, vegan mayonnaise (how?!), a peanut butter brownie and a bottle of organic wine to myself to celebrate. Hurrah.
Day 6 After the joy of Mildreds, I feel buoyed and have a very wholesome day of pilates, green juices and associated smugness, but then dinner approaches. I’m meeting my family for a meal at The Savoy Grill. Not exactly the best choice but it’s been booked forever. A wise friend advises that I eat beforehand to avoid misery so I scoff a salad and head to the grill, which gives top billing to steak and pies. Sad face. Despite being the most supportive person in my life, my mum cannot hide her bitter disappointment that I’m not going be sharing a chateaubriand with her, and can’t even have ‘a little bit of pate’?! I stick to my guns and ask if their mushroom risotto can be made without dairy, and it can, but honestly there’s a difference between what can and what should be done. Day 7 A busy week at work has left me feeling rundown, a stress rash that had started appearing on my eyelids worsens and spreads across my face and all I want to do is eat some butter. I go out for lunch and fall at the first hurdle, I take comfort in an onion soup with a hot cheesy crouton, quickly followed by a roast chicken with all the trimmings. I eat this as quickly as a condemned man and immediately feel full and full of guilt. Agreeing with my tablemates that veganism is not for me, I decide to move forward with a measure of moderation. From now on I will be much more aware of where my food comes from. I will choose more vegetarian options and be mindful of the origins of the meat I’m eating. But for me, the glow of a vegan diet could never replace the happiness I feel eating a fuss free meal with my friends.