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“We went vegan and there’s no looking back now”

PUBLISHED: 17:52 14 November 2018

Sarah Johnson and Richard Bland  Picture: Richard Bland

Sarah Johnson and Richard Bland Picture: Richard Bland

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More people than ever are choosing a plant-based diet, For World Vegan Month we found out why Richard Bland chose to make this change to his diet and share his tips for success.

January 1, 2019 won’t just mark the beginning of another new year for myself and my partner, it will also mark the start of our fourth year as vegans. We were both vegetarian for a couple of years before transitioning and whilst ditching meat felt like a noticeable change to our lifestyles (most of our dinners contained meat/fish before this) – the decision to go vegan seemed like an even bigger change.

To not eat meat is one thing – but to do away with dairy and eggs and animal produce all together seemed like a more complicated adjustment. We were both raised on omniviorus diets and our eating habits and favourite foods were all based on a lifetime of eating certain foods – most of them weren’t plants! However our reason for deciding to change, like a lot of people, was an ethical one.

It’s impossible to unsee or unlearn certain things, and once you’ve made the moral decision to make the swtich, there’s no turning back. Not from our perspective anyway. So we made the decision and thought we’d just figure the rest out - what we’d eat, where we’d shop, what would happen when we ate out at restaurants or when friends and family cooked for us. These all felt a little like afterthoughts to tell you the truth. Fortunately, we seemed to be part of the initial wave of a lot of people making the switch to veganism. The result? We’re now better catered for than ever and it’s never been easier to make the change – and as more and more people decide to do it, the more options we will have going forward.

I admit in the infancy of our veganism, we were resigned to the fact that we just wouldn’t get to eat a lot of things that we had enjoyed before. We are both keen foodies and love to cook, so the thought of doing away with some of our favourite meals was a little tough at first. However, the truth is – and this is no lie – in the three years that we have been vegan we have enjoyed our cooking and food more than ever. You are forced to look at food in a new way and to try things you would never have done previously. We were never fans of (or hardly ate) things like broccoli, cauliflower, tofu, chickpeas, mushrooms, aubergine, quinoa, freekah (I could go on and on but I won’t bore you!). But now, we love them. The range of food we now consume has actually broadened quite significantly and we are a lot more adventurous in things we are willing to try.

One of the vegan dishes made by Richard and Sarah  Picture: Sarah JohnsonOne of the vegan dishes made by Richard and Sarah Picture: Sarah Johnson

What’s also great is all those things that we used to love eating and we thought we’d have to give up? Yeah, we can still eat most of it – it just requires a little tweak here and there. There has been a recent focus on the ‘junk food’ side of veganism – probably in an effort to help people realise that veganism isn’t all about kale and chia seeds. You can get vegan pizza, burgers, sausages, nuggets, ice cream, cheese, milk, mock-meats and more. Staple family dishes like roast dinners, lasagne, spaghetti bolognese and shepherd’s pie are not a problem either. Fish is perhaps the only thing that’s a bit more tricky to replicate the taste and texture of but there are places doing vegan fish and chips now – and although I’ve never had it myself, apparently it’s very good!

<crosshead> Shop like a vegan

Pretty much all the main supermarkets have a wide (and ever growing) selection of vegan foods, quite often in dedicated locations in store. However, whilst it’s obvious that these are OK to eat – what about the rest of the food in the supermarket? Fortunately a lot of food is often suitable for vegans anyway (things like bread, pasta, crisps, wine, biscuits), but it’s always best to check – and thankfully food labelling is getting better. Manufacturers are starting to use the ‘vegan’ label a lot more now and in the mean time it just takes a quick scan of the ingredients list to know if it’s ok. At first this kind of thing can feel a little daunting/time-consuming, but once you have done it for a few weeks it kind of becomes second nature and you soon become well-versed in the subject. Plus, it makes you stop and look at what’s actually in your food – something not enough of us do probably!

One of the vegan dishes made by Richard and Sarah  Picture: Sarah JohnsonOne of the vegan dishes made by Richard and Sarah Picture: Sarah Johnson

<crosshead> How to substitute like a vegan

1. Mince: Lentils are a good substitute however if you’re looking to replicate the texture (and look) of mince then soya mince is a great replacement. It’s high in protein and it contains very little fat.

Recommended: Naturli Plant Based Mince. You won’t be able to tell it’s not minced meat.

One of the vegan dishes made by Richard and Sarah  Picture: Sarah JohnsonOne of the vegan dishes made by Richard and Sarah Picture: Sarah Johnson

2. Milk: The choice is plentiful. From almond and rice to soya and hemp, there are so many milk alternatives now. They work in tea, on your cereal or just to drink as is.

Recommended: Sainsbury’s Unsweetened Soya – great in tea and as it’s UHT, it can be stored away for a long time!

3. Cheese: The range of vegan cheeses is now extensive and covers a wide range of bases from cream cheese to Cheddar all the way through to Parmesan.

Recommended: Prosociano Wedge – it literally tastes the same as Parmesan.

4. Ice cream: It seems like every month there is a new ice cream brand jumping on the vegan bandwagon! Cornettos, Magnums and Ben & Jerry’s all come in vegan format now.

Recommended: Swedish Glace – it’s so creamy!

5. Chicken: For stir fries and curries, tofu and seitan (wheat gluten) make great alternatives – however there are several mock meat products that do a great job at mimicking the texture.

Recommended: Fry’s Chicken Style Strips – great texture and taste make this a perfect substitute.

6. Eggs: There are egg substitutes available to buy but also a number of homemade alternatives when using eggs for baking. If you’re after scrambled egg, then scrambed tofu will fill the void.

Recommended: Ground flaxseed mixed with a bit of water – a perfect binding agent for most baking needs.

7. Chocolate: Anything above 70% cocoa content is usually good but there are a number of brands doing white and ‘milk’ chocolate too.

Recommended: Vego bar – an amazing hazelnut chocolate bar.

8. Burgers/Sausages: There are so many options, from veggie sausages and bean burgers to ‘pulled pork’ style quarter pounders. It’s impossible not to find something you’ll like.

Recommended: Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages and Vegetarian ¼ pounder Burgers. Fab in a bun or as part of an oven dinner.

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