Most of you will know by now that, throughout March 2013, I committed to following a vegan diet. I researched the health benefits and possible nutritional drawbacks, scoured vegan blogs for inspiration, cooked up some amazing food and created one or two disasters.
During that month I blogged about why I took up this vegan challenge in the first place, my experiences with vegan bloggers (who sometimes made me feel inadequate), the financial cost of being vegan (is it cheaper than eating meat?), the joys and perils of unplanned eating (it’s not easy to eat vegan on the run) and what happens when you invite 10 carnivores for dinner and serve them vegan food.
But now, March is over, so where does that leave me? Am I now a convert?
The short answer is – not entirely.
Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed the challenge. In the beginning I described it as a thought experiment but it became so much more. I loved the food and so did Martin. As a family we enjoyed some meals so much that they have become firm family favourites – the Portabello mushrooms and hummus sandwich, pictured above, being just one of them.
Apart from enjoying what I ate, I also have to tell you that I got a real energy boost from this diet; after the first week I felt like I was emerging from a long hibernation, I slept well and woke up feeling refreshed each morning. The biggest surprise for me was that, despite eating whatever I wanted (I baked cakes, made puddings, used olive oil etc.) I lost 8lb in weight over the course of the month. Hmmm how did that happen?
Most people that I spoke to talked about my experiment in terms of deprivation. That’s not how I saw it. I also gave up coffee for Lent this year – now THAT was deprivation! Eating vegan was more of an adventure and I never missed meat at all. When I woke up on 1st April I actually felt a little sad that it was over.
So far so good, so why am I not now a vegan?
Well, there are a few reasons really:
I did not enter this challenge for ethical reasons. I don’t want to offend any vegans in writing this, especially not the ones who have been so supportive over the course of the last month, but I don’t have an ethical problem with eating meat, fish or dairy. I live in an area that is both rural and coastal, we have friends who farm and friends who fish and the local economy depends on both of these industries. For me, the ethical issues are how the animals are cared for and how they are dispatched: I take care to know where my meat comes from and how my fish was caught, I care about sustainability and I care about welfare.
This brings me to the next reason. Part of my ethical approach to eating is to buy as much local produce as I can. This usually works out at around 80% local in the summer but less in the winter. I do regularly buy some foods that have travelled (spices, rice, sugar, bananas etc.) but I try to make the bulk of my shopping local. In order to have a varied vegan diet I found that the food miles increased significantly.
For example, locally grown veg is pretty limited in Cornwall in the winter (mostly brassicas and root veg) but that’s ok when the variety in our meals comes from changes in meat / fish etc. When the veg is the centrepiece then the potential for boredom is very high (there is only so much you can do with a cabbage)and I have found myself buying much more imported and out of season vegetables than I am comfortable with.
Whilst I found a company in Devon that makes organic soya products (tofu and tempeh etc) most of the soya used in the UK is imported. Likewise with quinoa, another vegan staple; not only is this imported from Peru but the price has been so inflated by export demand that ordinary Peruvians can’t afford to buy it and this is causing real hardship in traditional communities. I don’t believe that the wholesale importation of food staples is sustainable and the potential for a joint food/fuel crisis is very high.
The third reason for not becoming vegan (and I realise that this is a little trite) is that no one has invited me out for dinner over the last month. The idea of vegan food scares people (although I hope I have done my bit to make it less scary) and who wants to have to cook a separate meal for one of their guests?
So, the final reason for my decision, and I need to tread carefully here, is that I don’t identify myself as a vegan. “Being vegan” means something; it is not just a decision about what to eat (or not eat) it is a whole way of life, a sense of belonging to something, a shared set of values. As soon as you belong to something you necessarily exclude others who do not and there is a strong risk of becoming judgemental about people who make different choices in life. Of course there are vegans out there who are tolerant and non-judgemental – and I count some of them amongst my friends – but there are a significant number for whom being vegan is almost a religious experience and with that comes a need to convert. I wish them well but that is not for me.
So all in all my choice is to continue to be an omnivore but I am changing my default setting to plant based foods. I am aiming for 70% plat based but I am quite relaxed about where I end up. I want to be full of energy and to continue losing weight but I also want to eat out with friends in places where we are all relaxed and can make the choices we want to make. I want to continue to support local farmers and fishermen but will also be hanging out at the allotment a lot more.
I have loved this experiment, it made me think about what I eat and that can only be a good thing, it made me experiment and it made me feel better. I hope it also encouraged bun scuffle readers to think about maybe incorporating some vegan food ideas into their diet.
In the future, bun scuffle will continue to feature a range of recipes including meat and fish based dishes but you can definitely expect to see more vegan and vegetarian ideas too. I hope you have enjoyed this series of articles / recipes over the last month – I have certainly enjoyed creating them.