I am a self-confessed carnivore. I knew going vegetarian for a month would be outrageously difficult for me so when I was persuaded to go one step further and go vegan instead (with respect to Sascha Camilli at PETA) I really thought I might die.
I didn't go whole hog (excuse the pun) and continued to drink wine and beer as normal (a minority of wines and beers are made with animal products) and I also continued to wear leather/wool, but in terms of food consumption I was entirely vegan.
What I noticed the most about taking on a plant-based diet wasn't what I couldn't eat, but trying to find what I could. This was mainly the case when finding food on my lunchbreak or going out for dinner in the evenings. Several times I would find myself getting to the very bottom of a menu and realising there wasn't a single thing I could eat. (Also, did you know that quite a lot of crisps are made with milk? True story.)
However, that's not to say restaurants weren't accommodating. One that really stood out for me was The Phoenix - a gastro pub in Victoria. I emailed them in advance of a dinner reservation I had that evening to enquire whether their vegetarian option was vegan-friendly. After being informed that it was unfortunately not, they asked if I would be happy to have a roasted vegetable salad or perhaps a vegan hot pot. Very surprised by this turn of events I replied that I would be more than happy with either to which the response was "but what would you prefer, as we will pop out and buy the ingredients to prepare it for you now" … Absolutely incredible – I voted for the hot pot, and it was delicious. They even asked what I might like for dessert! I like you, restaurant. I like you a lot.
This is the delicious feast I speak of from The Phoenix.
There are actually quite a few fantastic vegan / vegan-friendly restaurants in London – my favourites were:
Tibits – an all-day buffet based in Soho with over 40 homemade vegetarian and vegan salads, hot dishes, soups and desserts where you pay by weight, and which offers entirely vegan food on Tuesdays - it was so liberating not having to think about what I could eat / check any labels, and I certainly went to town for lunch that day…
Ethos – one of the best meals I ate during my vegan month. Situated just off Oxford Street this restaurant specialises in vegetarian, vegan (at least 50%) and gluten-free dishes. Like Tibits, it's a buffet where you pay by weight and I certainly got my money's worth. I even had a black bean brownie for dessert, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
See what I mean.
Mildreds – a staple Soho lunch choice of mine even before my vegan month, either as a food-to-go option or to sit in, it serves internationally inspired vegetarian cuisine with several vegan options on the menu (including burgers and burritos, with vegan cheese, which are delicious - I obviously tried them both).
Nama – a raw food restaurant in Notting Hill where you can try a unique array of pizzas and pastas, as well as other delectable dishes (the blueberry cheesecake was out of control) – all dishes are gluten free as well.
And there are many more restaurants I am yet to try.
I'm not going to pretend that the entire month was perfect. One occasion of note was an evening where my boyfriend and I bought a different soup each for dinner; I dished them up, had a mouthful and as I went to take my next mouthful I noticed something peculiar on my spoon. Something that looked a little bit like chicken. Oh my God! It was chicken! I had accidentally given him my soup and I had his. It had lentils in it so I had assumed it was mine. We swapped back immediately but there is a good chance I ate a shred of chicken. There was also a questionable 'bun' situation with a McDonald's bean burger… but I cannot confirm or deny if this did actually have milk in it. I wasn't to know – they told me it was vegan!
If you do want to try going vegan for 30-days there are things that can make it easier, including PETA's list of vegan-friendly options at UK restaurant chains. Also, GIVE Kitchen is a food delivery service that offers a range of fresh, natural, whole food plant-based lunches and main meals (and luxury truffles) that come pre-prepared direct to your door. Really useful when first starting out to get an idea of the kinds of meals that you can eat (as well as not having to make them yourself!) plus they're tasty. The best part, however, is that GIVE is a one for one giving company – for every one of their meals that you buy they feed someone who is hungry.
To summarise my vegan experience, I really did feel good for it. I lost weight, my skin was clearer (niftily timed ahead of my make-up free challenge) and I simply felt healthier. You don't need to entirely change your diet, just adapt it. I've actually grown to love coffee with almond milk and avocado on toast without butter (it's simply not necessary) and I didn't drink tea for a month (I kept forgetting to buy almond or soy milk for the office / home and black tea just isn't an option for me, neither is herbal). I won't lie – I ate like a beast on my first day post-vegan challenge (ironically, 'National Vegan Day') and for a good week after. It was strange, I hadn't really missed meat much at all but the second I knew I could eat it again I went wild for it. However, the challenge has positively influenced my diet for the future. Why not give it a try?
Next challenge: No Make-up