Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Jessica Vs Loi: The Vegan Challenge

A vegan feat of falafel and flatbreads. Credit:
A vegan feast of falafel and flatbreads.

The first term is well underway and everyone is beginning to settle back into a routine; the gym membership you bought and used twice, the short-lived attempt to eat your five-a-day, both are becoming distant memories. It’s easy to think that it’s too late to change your lifestyle for the better (because, come on, vegetables are more expensive than pot noodles and why go to the gym when Netflix and chill exists?!).

But there are still many ways to improve your lifestyle, and one of those is…going VEGAN. Just the word is enough to make a shiver run down any bacon-lover’s spine. How do you live on vegetables? What about pizza? And chocolate?! … but is it really all that bad?

Now I can’t promise you that going vegan will give you Todd the Vegan style powers (Google ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’), but once you get past the shocking realization about just how many of your favourite snacks contain animal products (and how many actually don’t), it’s worth considering the health benefits of going vegan, even if you don’t make the change permanently.

What does it mean to be vegan?

The Vegan Society define veganism as ‘a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’

Veganism therefore not only affects your diet, but the clothes you wear, the toiletries you use, your cleaning products and pretty much every other aspect of your life. However, as there are currently no known health benefits of wearing a polyester jumper as opposed to a woollen one, or wearing pleather rather than leather shoes, this article discusses the benefits of a ‘plant-based diet’, but lets not get too tangled up in terminology.

What can’t I eat?

When it comes to a vegan diet, there are a few things that are obvious no-go zones: meat goes without saying, and you can bid farewell to fried eggs and milkshakes! However, there are many foods that people often don’t consider when first embarking on the thrilling adventure we call veganism; for example, strict vegans will not consume honey as it is produced by bees. You’ll also find that products you may use on a regular basis, such as bread, noodles and fresh pasta will contain eggs and/or milk too.

What CAN I eat?

Luckily, with the increased popularity of vegetarian and veganism, and the unfortunate existence of conditions such as lactose intolerance, there are often great alternatives to all of these products.

Demand for meat substitutes has risen rapidly in recent years, but to the horror of many vegetarians attempting to go vegan – a vast majority of Quorn products contain both milk and eggs. Thankfully, British brand Linda McCartney provides healthier, less processed, predominantly vegan meat alternatives, which are high in protein and fibre and low in saturated fat (personally I’d recommend the red onion and rosemary sausages).

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat, the less likely you are to suffer from protein deficiency (the original was more catchy, I know). Not everything has to be about imitating meat: by stocking up your cupboards with tinned beans and lentils, you provide yourself with a cheap and easy way of substituting meat in anything from bolognaise to curries to home made bean burgers (who am I kidding, Linda McCartney make good bean burgers too).

There are also lots of vegan alternatives to milk based products (not to be confused with lacto-free products, they’re just milk without the lacto). There is a range of ‘milks’ widely available, from almond (which I’d recommend), to soya (which I wouldn’t), to rice and oat based substitutes. All have their own advantages and disadvantages but it’s definitely worth trying a few. Somewhat surprisingly, all of these milk substitutes can be enjoyed with Oreos, as they don’t actually contain milk (though strict vegans may be deterred by the ‘may contain milk’ warning, but after being told you cannot eat chocolate ‘may’ means EAT).

It is important to realize that if you’re going to make this change long term, you’re going to miss out on some nutrients, especially vitamin B12. While it can be found in small quantities in many fortified foods, vegans often have to take supplements to ensure they don’t risk deficiency. Similarly, many new vegans may struggle to ensure that they consume enough iron, which is usually found in meat and fish, so unless you’re eating a lot of dark green vegetables and raisins, you may want to look into iron substitutes too.

More importantly than all the above points – going vegan shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your favourite baked goodies! Eggs can be substituted with a variety of ingredients from mashed bananas and applesauce, to white wine vinegar and sometimes even water, depending on the recipe. A quick Google search should find you an alternative that won’t compromise taste or texture!

Whether you’re looking to change your lifestyle, or fancy challenging yourself for a week, adopting a vegan diet will inevitably encourage you to look at what goes into your food, and think about how (or whether) your diet contains all of the necessary nutrients. So what are you waiting for? Don’t wait for it to become another New Years resolution that will never happen, challenge yourself to go vegan for a week – you might even find it fun!

So we took Jess’ advice and challenged our carnivore Loi Ianari to take on the Vegan diet. It wasn’t “easy as pie” to say the least!

Meet Loi: our brave carnivore who took on the vegan challenge.

Anybody that spends more than, lets say half an hour, with me can tell you that I am the definition of a carnivore. I have to have meat every single day, that is just so. When I was approached (more like threatened) to do a vegan experiment for an article by my editor/housemate I was very hesitant, but I’m always up for a challenge.

It. Was. So. Hard.

I mean I don’t think anybody who’s not a vegan truly realizes how about 90% of food has had something to do with an animal at some point e.g. Biscuits- they have butter in them, which derives from milk, which derives from a cow therefore it’s a big no no. When I went to do my shopping for this weeklong experiment I found that I was not allowed to roam through the majority of my beloveds Tesco’s aisles- it was pure agony. Walking past the chicken drumsticks was the worst, I could almost hear them rumbling a drum roll of doom, or perhaps that was just my stomach.

I think the hardest part was giving up anything that resembled junk food (cake, chocolate, cookies, anything that derives from KFC) but I did some research and there are some vegan equivalents, however they are so expensive! Everything that is vegan is actually quite expensive- erm, hello I’m trying to save the planet why are you making it so hard?!

The first day I basically survived on carrots, I didn’t try to make a proper meal because in my mind it was virtually impossible to do so. However by the second-ish (dinner) day I decided to pull my inner vegan together and try and spice up a bit my plate. I tried something that I never ever thought I would try: meatless chicken. Seems a bit of a contradiction doesn’t it?

Not going to lie it was pretty good! It was so good that it was quite worrying and I thought it was best not to examine too deeply what it actually consisted of (too many big scientific words on the label, meant I gave up within 5 seconds). I paired that lovely fraud of a chicken with some zucchini and chopped tomatoes and I managed to convince myself that I was eating meat. It was a week filled with deadlines, endless readings and countless breakdowns so I am not going to lie I basically repeated the same dish over and over- I was in pure survival mode. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many apples and carrots in a week.

All in all I managed to survive it. Did I feel a difference in my body? Nope not really, but did feel a bit less bloated. Would I consider taking on this lifestyle? Quite honestly, to me becoming a vegan would be quite the missed-steak! But who am I to judge? I had a loaded carrot pointed at my head and my digestives dissolved into a sour substance posing as milk, it was like being in prison.

So it all comes down to this: which one would you rather have?

Almost famous Fruit and nut