Veganuary challenge full of nice surprises

YOU join me at the end of Veganuary, writes our reporter Sharon Harris.

I say end and when I began the whole-of-January challenge, it was most definitely going to be the end.

Come February 1, I was going to go on a dairy high. It never quite worked out that way and now I am one of those infuriating vegetarians with a vegan leaning. All that vegetarian-minded scoffing I once did when carnivores said they were vegetarian apart from eating fish and white meat, well that’s me only on the other end of the scale. I am now eating my hat - obviously a vegan-friendly hat at that!

I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 30 years, having given up eating fish (I only ate fish fingers – can you call that fish?) when I was six after my school head teacher decided an image of cod having their heads chopped off on board a North Sea trawler wasn't a certificate PG for children in their formative years.

And meat I dispensed with, aged 12, after not eating beef burgers (can you call that meat?) for four days; feeling very chipper and just not going back there ever again. Concerns about animal welfare entered the fray after my initial health decision kicked in. The only thing that I missed about my new dietary lifestyle was wine gums, but since then advances in food science have produced confectionary with a similar consistency and even jelly and the foodie God that is Linda McCartney arrived on the scene to solve a protein source back in the day.

Veganism was something that I believed may be a step too far. I had visions of Pot Noodles for breakfast, dinner and tea and had heard all sorts of scare stories surrounding vital vitamins such as iron and B12. But also, I like to travel and I am restricted for time so maybe variety would not be the spice of life?

As the month began I developed label paranoia. The vegetarian logo evidently remains supreme, but I found great joy in some unexpected quarters. Lidl (Germany I always thought of as a carnivorous country) was a label haven with vegan listed on some tasty and economical products. And Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Tesco seem to be further embracing the concept. There were also some surprises – Oreos are vegan as are McVities Light Digestives, but the full-fat ones are not. And crisps – many contain milk, what’s that all about?

It goes without saying that I raided the fruit and veg supermarket sections wherever I went and I think my diaphragm had its own workout. My abdomen was exhausted in the early days and a fog in my head cleared by the end of the third day.

What I did find was that rather than being vegan being an idea that would limit my choices, it’s actually opened up new worlds. I have rediscovered food and gone back to basics. There is more of eating a potato as it comes out of the ground and if Channel 4’s Gogglebox ever came knocking there would be endless footage of me watching EastEnders peeling and dicing butternut squash. I’ve gone back to basics and am enjoying food in its original form.

Likewise, I have discovered that convenience products do exist and there are some new brands and products that I have ventured to and tried. And in many instances, I have relished the new items having prior to January been stuck in a vegetarian Quorn rut. Linda McCartney and her vegan/vegetarian sausages are all back in my life.

I am convinced that a move from processed could assist in fighting the obesity cause and there is definitely room in supermarkets for an 'ugly' fruit and veg aisle - bringing back all those favourites who once achieved glory on Esther Rantzen's BBC consumer programme That's Life!

While I did revert to vegetarianism, I certainly will be further exploring the vegan option and taking advantage – especially with any offers – of the foodstuffs I have begun to explore. My blood pressure dropped, from pre-challenge, to the extent my GP made the remark “that’s good for you” and I found a community of people on Facebook and Twitter fresh with enthusiasm, friendliness and support - and you can’t say better than that.

There will be vegan days and vegan weeks and for now this die-hard vegetarian has her eyes on vegan goods.

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