THE 3 BIGGEST LESSONS I LEARNT DURING MY FIRST YEAR AS A VEGAN
When I decided to become vegan, I didn’t really know anything – I didn’t know what I should be eating and what to make sure I was consuming enough of. Actually, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure what I would eat at all!
For the previous year I had been using plant-milk and reducing the amount of meat I was eating, but I was still eating animal products on a regular basis. So, even though I was eating more vegetarian meals, I essentially went from a ‘normal’ animal-based diet to a plant-based diet overnight.
The week before changing to a vegan lifestyle, I had watched a few programmes and documentaries, which gave me the push to make the change. These gave me an understanding of what I was doing, but not what to do. So once I made the change, I was learning as I went.
So, here are the 3 biggest lessons I learnt during my first year as a vegan.
1. DON’T OVER-DO THE VEG!
Oddly enough, not using loads of veg in a dish was something I learnt very early on. I know that probably sounds strange, but I soon realised that replacing the meat element of a dish with more veg, actually isn’t always the answer. Of course with some meals this can be done, like using diced veg and mushrooms as mince for a bolognese for example. However, my family and I were doing this with most of our meals. Not only was this making some meals feel repetitive, but we weren’t getting much variation – we must vary the veg!
At the beginning, we were not only just using veg, but the same veg; the same veg (and lots of it!) most nights. Now I like my veg, but I will admit, it had to change. I found that I also couldn’t taste much of the veg, as we were getting the combinations wrong! Some vegetables, like carrots for example, can have a really strong flavour. This just masks all the softer flavours.
It was at this point that we decided to reach out to tofu, one of the best vegan staples there is. I’ve tried a lot of varying meat-free meal alternatives, but tofu is so much more and is something that is always in the fridge; and it’s so versatile, it really can do anything – chicken or cheesecake.
2. SPICES ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND!
Looking back, I now realise how much we rely on the taste of meat and fish to carry a meal. When creating vegan meals, if not using processed food, we need spices! Back when I was eating meat, I would use oregano quite frequently, but I didn’t really use any others on a regular basis. Maybe I just wasn’t very adventurous in my cooking, but if that was the case, then I definitely am now!
There is a lot I have learnt to respect about spices, mainly how they can completely change the overall taste of a meal, just by adding them to one element. We are always making flatbreads in my house, they can be eaten with so many meals, not to mention they are cheap! Through experimenting, we have found that paprika and rosemary compliment each other really nicely in a flatbread. I can say for sure that I would not have put these together, or even thought about it, before switching lifestyles.
It’s not just the flavour either, there are health benefits to some spices – like a natural remedy. For example, turmeric is something you should always have in your cupboard; it has anti-inflammatory and stiffness properties, as well as reducing pain, so it’s a perfect way to help treat arthritis. A member of my family actually has arthritis and was using chemical medicines to reduce its effects. However, now (as turmeric isn’t an overpowering flavour) we put turmeric in most meals and he’s no longer using that medication. We had no idea about what spices can actually do before the change and now, I can’t imagine not knowing!
3. IT’S NOWHERE NEAR AS HARD AS YOU THINK (OR EXPENSIVE)!
Once over the initial ‘ahhh there’s veg everywhere’ stage which to be honest, was only a couple of weeks, my family and I started to understand what to change from our previous animal-based diet to our new plant-based diet… Nothing. Ok, obviously the animal derived ingredients were switched with plant-based ones, but other than that and the addition of more herbs and spices, everything else was the same. By that, I mean the meals. You can make your favourite meals but vegan, very easily. In most cases, you don’t need any extra fancy ingredients!
When looking at one of your favourite meals, we didn’t think about flavour to start with, we looked at texture. We found that, if we got the texture right then we could use herbs, spices and sauces to achieve the taste we wanted. Actually, with all the meals we like the best, it’s where we like the texture of the main part of the meal. Using a plant based mince, pre-seasoned is great, as that’s the only element you would need to change in a bolognese; dried soya mince also gives a meat texture and is cheaper than a shop bought ‘meaty’ mince alternative. Freeze-thawed tofu is great for the texture of chicken and again, is cheaper than shop bought ready-made chicken alternatives. Oat milk is another switch that is easy, as it thickens like cow’s milk, meaning that in a lasagne for example, our roux sauce seems the same as before. My family and I have learnt that it’s more fun cooking as we are now; we’re being more adventurous!
So, going back to my original worry of ‘I wasn’t sure what I would eat at all!’ when initially turned vegan, I really didn’t need to worry as much. I know that’s easy to say now that I’m through the experimental stage, but I want to share that actually by looking at someone else’s journey and what they learnt, you can skip that step! You can go straight into the fun; straight into making better choices for yourself and the Earth; and straight into your new knowledge base!