It's funny thinking back to the 11 year old me; I was probably pretty typical of my age, eating meat with two meals a day, and never really giving a thought as to what I was putting in my body, where it was coming from, or how it died. It was only after giggling a bit at a friend who was vegetarian, probably out of naivety, when I finally asked why she was, discovered the methods of producing meat in this country and animal cruelty, and after approval from my Mum, stopped eating meat in my first year of high school.
I attempted to go vegan a few times, but as a big chocolate/cake/jacket potato with cheese fan, I always gave up after a few months, but last year I finally decided it was time to stop putting my 'needs' over those of animals. I've been getting a few questions about my vegan lifestyle, what I eat and products to recommend, so I'm finally putting together a post answering all of them!
I'd like to put a disclaimer out there first. I think it's a little difficult sometimes for vegetarians or vegans to talk about their lifestyle choices without some thinking they're preaching, or that we think they're better than others. By no means do I think I'm better than a meat eater, or even a vegetarian, I believe I'm 100% equal to every living thing on this planet. I don't think that because it's how we've been programmed or how we've been brought up, eating meat, milk and cheese, is any excuse to carry on living the way we do, and to me, animals do not deserve any sort of pain, torture or death for me to have something tasty on my plate. Especially when vegan food is some of the tastiest things I've ever eaten in my life!
01. Take your time. I went vegetarian over night, but it took me another 11 years to finally go vegan, and that was not smooth sailing. When you think of just how much dairy is in the everyday things we eat (even hidden away in unnecessary things like soups, some breads and quorn products), it's very hard to cut it all out. But take your time, take baby steps, you don't need to define who or what you are by what you eat. Don't feel the need to fit into certain categories, but try to slowly cut meat or dairy out of your diet, and see the results and how you feel afterwards. Even starting doing 'meat free monday' or anything similar is a step in the right direction.
02. Check labels. As I just mentioned, dairy is in so many things you wouldn't even believe. The only way to try and avoid this is to check every label of pretty much everything you buy. Obviously things like cheese, milk, cake, eggs, most chocolate, that's a given that you're not allowed. But you'd be surprised by how many things you'd expect to have dairy in and don't! It's mostly junk food and sweet things, but if those are the things you'd miss you don't need to. Oreo's, Bourbon biscuits, all ready salted crisps and some prawn cocktail, Co-operative jam doughnuts, starburst, all these and more are dairy free. Some labels say 'may contain milk', but this is just due to the factory where it is produced handling milk for other products and the likelihood of cross-contamination is low.
03. Buy some cookbooks. One of the first things I did when I decided to completely cut out dairy is to buy some recipe books. Of course there are the standard vegan 'faux meat' products, the best are from Linda McCartney, but they're probably the most expensive way to go vegan. My favourite vegan cookbook is Appetite for Reduction which has lots of fantastic healthy dairy and meat free recipes. Get to the local market, stock up on vegetables, spices and herbs and get cooking. Curries and soups are easy things to make, and I always make 3-4 portions, separate each portion and freeze for convenience.
04. Be prepared. I definitely don't practice what I preach with this one, but I should. If you're going out for the day, it can sometimes be hard to find something to eat that's dairy free. I usually end up with a plain jacket potato and beans if in a cafe, and a veggie delight from Subway with no cheese! They're not the most exciting meals but when you're ravenous, they'll do. Chop up some veggies and pop them in a little pot with some hummous to stick in your bag, or grab a fruit pot with a nak'd bar for a nice snack, just try to make sure you have something on hand if you get a bit peckish and the chocolate bars and crisps from the newsagent are looking very appealing.
05. Don't sweat it! If you do decide to make the change to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, don't beat yourself up if you mess up. The first month or so of being vegan every time I felt stressed or sad, my local pizza place would be rung up and I'd order a big pineapple pizza. After eating it I'd feel awful, but no-one is perfect and we all occasionally mess up sometimes. Just try again the next day.
Breakfast - Breakfast is pretty simple for me, and usually it's just a big bowl of fruit. Either a banana, orange and apple if I'm in a rush, or I'll usually chop up some pineapple, mango, melon and strawberries and make a big bowl of it, then you can pick throughout the day or save it for the rest of the week. Or I'll have porridge or weetabix with almond milk and some fruit on top of that. On weekends I occassionally rustle up a mini vegan fry up, which is just a couple of vegan sausages, toast and beans.
Lunch - There really is a huge amount of things I eat for lunch. Sometimes it can be a simple salad with fruit for afters, but the thing I probably make the most is leek and potato soup. I regularly made this before going vegan and I just love how simple and tasty it is, plus it costs probably less than £2 for 3-4 portions. I also occasionally have some falafel with salad, or a bean burger with salad. Roasted vegetable wraps are delicious too, with a nice filling side salad.
Dinner - The possibilities are endless for dinner! If you fancy something quick and easy, I love making stir fry's (just make sure you use rice noodles and check the ingredients on the sauce packets for no hidden dairy!), or making Linda McCartney sausage rolls or pies with mash (the standard potato, carrot and suede, or sweet potato variety) with a lot of veggies are quick and easy meals. I love soya mince too, so I'll make a big plate of spaghetti bolognese with wholemeal spaghetti or I'll make a pyrex full of cottage pie which usually lasts me 3 portions and I'll add broccoli and cauliflower to make it a bit more substantial.
I also love making curries, my favourite being sweet potato, spinach and chick pea, or a simple vegetable korma is easier than you'd think. Coconut milk is used instead of cream, and again you can make huge portions to save for later on in the week. My boyfriend also makes me amazing bean and vegetable wraps using chick peas, butter beans and kidney beans with homemade salsa. You could even buy vegan cheese to put in!
Dessert - Whilst they may not be the healthiest of things, like most treats, there is a big range of vegan puddings, desserts and chocolate out there that's lovely for an occasional treat. Swedish Glace is vegan ice cream which is seriously so so tasty, and you can get some vegan sauces if you fancy being especially indulgent. Vegan chocolate and sweets can also be found in abundance in places like Holland and Barratt, but my favourite is the orange chocolate dairy free chocolate from Asda, which is only 50p a bar too.
If you fancy something slightly healthier, Nak'd bars are the way to go. They're made from nothing but cashews, dates, nuts and a little cocoa powder and are absolutely delicious.
Skinny Bitch - Although deemed as a diet book, this is really what started it off for me. It is a book to lose weight, but they encourage a vegan and no sugar diet. Of course you don't need to follow it word for word, but they give great advice on what to cut out, great foods to eat, as well as some hard hitting quotes from slaughter house workers in America.
The Kind Life - A fantastic blog by Alicia Silverstone, who went vegan a few years ago and has since been promoting the lifestyle. This blog literally has everything you'd want, fantastic recipes, tips, stories from other vegans, and help on raising children vegan.
Happy Vegan - I didn't want to go into why I'm vegan too much at the risk of sounding too preachy, but this Pinterest has pretty much got it covered for me. If you look at the 'Why I'm Vegan' board, it really is explained in there. I know some don't like watching animal cruelty videos or even reading about this, but if you can't face seeing it you really shouldn't be able to face eating it.
The Vegan Kind - TVK is a monthly subscription box with a difference. It's usually packed with vegan food and treats, but also includes cruelty free household items as well as some recipe cards usually involving some of the products you got in your box. If your local supermarkets don't have vegan things so readily available this is definitely one for you!
The Vegan Forum - This is a great way to talk to other vegans, find out about products you perhaps hadn't heard of, and get some great recipe ideas.
I hope this post has been helpful for some, whether you're simply interested in a vegetarian or vegan diet, or are considering changing your lifestyle to a meat and dairy free one yourself. Essentially I am vegan because I disagree with all types of animal cruelty, and I also believe dairy is wrong for the human body - we are the only living thing on this earth that drinks the milk of another animal, and a huge amount of us are actually allergic to dairy without knowing it. The vegan lifestyle is a lot easier than people think, and I honestly feel better than I ever have done in my life. Even in restaurants I can get vegan options made for me, and it feels fantastic eating such incredibly tasty, healthy meals that no animal for suffered for.
I'm not planning on trying to change anyone's lifestyle, simply opening some minds to the possibility of other foods and options out there. I hope this has been helpful anyway, and I'd love to know your thoughts! If you have any more questions as to why exactly I am vegan, or any other questions feel free leave them in the comments, tweet or email me!