One of the reasons that I engaged in this challenge was to refocus on what I eat; to make me think more about the food choices I make. This means that, for the most part, meals have been planned and shopped for in advance. However, real life dictates that sometimes, in a busy week, spontaneity is required.
Let me tell you, food spontaneity is much harder when you are eating a vegan diet. There is no such thing as “grabbing a sandwich” and asking for a vegan pasty in Cornwall on St. Piran’s Day may well have got me lynched.
Over the last two weeks I have been amused, impressed and vaguely irritated when trying to eat on the go.
Last Saturday I was running around before hockey, shopping for dinner and generally getting weekend jobs done and I didn’t take the time to plan lunch. This is not an unusual occurrence but the normal solution would be a coffee and a sandwich from a coffee chain or a pastry from a bakery. Coffee is out because, as well as the vegan challenge, I have given up caffeine for Lent and even if I hadn’t I like my coffee with milk – and lots of it (soya milk really doesn’t do it for me).
I usually like to support local, independent shops but, apart from the greengrocers, this has not proved quite so fruitful for instant food. (My local greengrocers is run by Kim who is a vegan and who stocks yummy snacks as well as gorgeous fruit and veg). The supermarkets do better – just. They are likely to stock Nak’d bars and flavoured rice cakes (my snacks of choice this month) but it is still hard to buy a vegan sandwich. I got very excited when I saw a hummus and roasted vegetable wrap but the wrap itself contained milk powder – what a thoughtless and irritating waste of an opportunity.
I have asked for help in a couple of supermarkets with varying results but the “what does vegan mean?” response wins the unhelpful category hands down. Overall, I found the Co-op to be most helpful. They produce a regularly updated list of their vegan products on-line, the staff in-store at my local branch couldn’t be more helpful and (perhaps most importantly of all) their vegan wines are labelled as suitable for vegetarians/vegans.
I tend to avoid fast food outlets and chain restaurants (with one or two exceptions) even when I am eating meat but apparently some of them are good for vegan food. I have read that Wagamamas has a number of really tasty vegan choices and their website includes a dietary filter so you can search for vegan options easily but, as my nearest branch is 100 miles away, that’s not terribly helpful!
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and I went to the Eden Project along with my mum, one of my daughters and my granddaughter. We had a lovely day exploring the gardens and the biomes and then it was time for lunch. This wasn’t a day for a picnic, I wanted to treat my mum and just had to hope there would be something vegan for me. I was very impressed. I know that Eden has a strong policy on sustainably sourced food and lots, if not most, of it is vegetarian but I didn’t know about vegan. The self service restaurant was very busy and a queue had formed. A young woman was directing the queue so I asked her what vegan options there were. Apparently they had a vegan curry, the soup was vegan and all their bread is vegan, which is great, but actually I was most impressed by the fact that the first person I asked had all the information I needed.
If I go into Truro, the nearest big town which is about 9 miles away, life gets much easier as there is a good health food shop with a fantastic vegetarian café with plenty of tasty vegan options – and they do take away. I guess that most big towns have somewhere like this but it is just a little bit harder out in the sticks and, suffice to say, I have eaten a lot of spontaneous bananas over the last 2 weeks.
Even though I am not really a vegan and this is just an experiment in conscious eating, I have made a point of engaging with shop keepers over the vegan issue. I have asked for information in the hopes of raising awareness of the needs of vegans. I have been told, more than once, that there just isn’t a demand for vegan food. This may be true with only about 1/3 of one percent of the UK population (200,000 people or so) describing themselves as vegan it probably doesn’t make good commercial sense for small shops to make big changes but if one of the supermarket chains decided to target this group they would be likely to see an increase in sales.
I naively thought that vegan food would be clearly labelled and readily available – that has not proved to be the case. Of course it is better to plan your eating and cook from scratch but, sometimes, that just isn’t feasible.
The point that most retailers miss is that a lot of non-vegans would choose a vegan option if it was tasty enough. As a meat eater I often choose foods which are “accidentally” vegan; salads, Innocent Veg Pots, fresh soups etc. and I can’t believe that I am alone in that.
Of course this is not a critical issue, with only a little forethought I can make a sandwich to take with me or fill a flask with soup but, despite eating well when I have time to plan for it, I still have a hankering for that spur of the moment roasted pepper and hummus wrap.