This January, ITF staff decided to stick to a plant-based diet. As an organisation who’s main aim is to conserve, restore and replant forests, we decided to cut down our impact on the environment – and the best way was to change our diets. Miriam, ITF’s Fundraising Assistant, shares her experiences and recipes.
Did I expect Veganuary to be difficult?
Yes, but not hugely. Before starting Veganuary, I already ate a mostly vegetarian diet, and was someone who tried to minimise the impact of my diet on the environment. I had even done a vegan month here and there while at University. This time was probably going to be harder due to working three full days a week and not having the flexibility of time for shopping and cooking that I had had before. Nonetheless I was going in to Veganuary feeling optimistic.
What was the biggest challenge?
Avoiding nibbling on the delicious things my housemate kept cooking… and the endless cakes in the kitchen that our office shares with Earthwatch!
Did I slip up?
Once or twice. An accidental use of vegetarian rather than vegan stock powder (they can contain milk powder apparently) and the odd absent-minded acceptance of a biscuit when out on walks…
Did I make any good discoveries?
I already had quite a few good vegan recipes I was familiar with, so I stuck to those primarily, but these are some pleasant surprises I’ve really enjoyed:
- Linda McCarntney’s vegan sausage rolls: A friend I met for a walk introduced me to these after I initially turned down her suggestion of sausage rolls for our picnic lunch. I don’t usually go for a ‘fake meat’ product but these sausage rolls are really quite convincing, comforting and delicious in their own right. Not something you should probably be eating every day but they were very welcome indeed when we got back to my friend’s flat after our rather cold and soggy walk.
- Prêt à Manger’s Olives & Avocado sandwich: a mini sub filled with sliced avocado, olive tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and parsley. This was a really delicious combination, which I bought while out in Oxford with my family. Prêt offer a great vegetarian range of sandwiches, and my mum got a really good vegan option too: Chana Chaat flatbread with coconut yoghurt (more on which later).
- Three-pea tagine: Mum made this when I was at my parents’ house on the weekend. It was absolutely delicious, filling, warming and refreshing and I will be stealing the recipe! I had it with Mediterranean cous cous and…
- Coconut yoghurt: a bit of a revelation, really! This could probably be used in most places where you would use dairy yoghurt. It has a very similar sharpness with a mild coconut flavour which would make it great for raita or lassi but equally for just mixing with soft fruit and a bit of sugar as a healthy-ish pudding.
- Vegan bruschetta pizza: My own creation, heavily inspired by Naomi’s suggestion of a pizza with avocado instead of cheese. Slices of sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil, grilled, rubbed with garlic and topped with home-made tomato sauce, vegetables and avocado before putting in the oven to just warm up. I served the mini pizzas with a family favourite: coleslaw which uses orange juice in the place of mayonnaise. Honestly, the result really blew me away! I was not expecting it to be so good, the whole lot together was a delicious and satisfying meal – and pretty healthy!
- Vegan shepherd’s pie: Based on a recipe I found online which I changed a fair bit, this was made with a vegetable, mushroom and lentil stew (with a spoonful of Marmite) topped with spiced potato, parsnip and carrot mash. I was very pleasantly surprised – admittedly it has been a long time since I’ve eaten a true shepherd’s pie but I found it just as tasty and satisfying, served with shredded sweetheart cabbage to make a full meal.
Any bad discoveries?
Sainsbury’s ‘Wendsleydale-style’ coconut-based cheese alternative with cranberries really made me want to throw up.
Have I had my perspective changed at all?
Before New Year I was already a believer in eating minimal meat and dairy, largely for the environmental benefits. I have never been an ‘all or nothing’ vegetarian, but something more pragmatic: I can’t see good stock bones go to waste, for example. I still doubt I’ll ever be a super-stickler for the rules, but Veganuary has opened my eyes in other ways. I have realised just how unnecessary it is to have most of the animal products we think of as staples. It is not just possible, but so easy to eat a delicious meal that’s animal-free. My vegan pizza was almost an epiphany – I went to bed feeling quite e-vegan-gelical!
I have also come to fully appreciate just what a huge variety of vegan food there is. Between the ITF staff and volunteers who have taken part in Veganuary, in 31 days we have probably cooked about 200 different recipes between us. Vegan food is imaginative, multicultural, exciting and nutritious. And you don’t have to be a phenomenal cook – I made plenty of lazy things. You can see photos of many of the things I ate at http://hungrysunflower.tumblr.com.
I’m not trying to suggest that you can go from carnivore to vegan overnight. For most it is a slow transition. Many people will naturally resist the idea. Wherever you are on that spectrum, I do think it is worth setting yourself a challenge to make one change – you will find that you rise to the occasion and cook some things you are very proud of.