Ugh, I am suffering major green-smoothie-barre-regime overkill already and it's only the first day of the year. They never bode well with me- so I've always tried to do something else for Guac. Last year I put together a few introduction-style recipes I think are great starters to getting used to cooking without animal products, but I wanted to move even further away from fad and 'detox' vibes for 2015.
It's relatively easy to find recipes online for anything you fancy making- you can try the recipe section on Guac, or Pinterest is also great for more unusual ideas from global cuisines. As for supermarkets, I've found Sainsbury's is the clearest for labelling, but Tesco also has a pretty good selection of vegan food- a lot of their own-brand products are palm oil free too, which I try to avoid whenever it's possible for me to. With all of THAT in mind (you will get very good at Googling in supermarket aisles), I wanted to provide something a bit different for any new vegans. I've put together 31 ideas for helping you to stay vegan- whether it's for the whole of January or beyond, the main thing I hear from friends that have tried out veganism is it gets a little samey, it's hard to eat out, their friends aren't up for catering for them or cheese just gets too tempting. So here's a collection of hints, tips, recipes, facts and resources to help you through probably the worst month of the year to try and do anything new in. Use these as you like- day by day, all in one chunk or catching up when you need a bit of motivation- think of it this way- if you manage January, the rest should be a doddle, right?
31 Tips for Staying Vegan
1. Beetroot hummus is a great way to use up beetroot and add colour to your lunch- it’s also a very cheap snack for friends.
2. Coconut Thai broths are delicious and filling for January- add in plenty of ginger, coriander and chillies for an immune-boosting dinner.
3. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is the book I turn back to again and again if I ever need any motivation for staying vegan.
4. It's tricky finding product lists for supermarkets - and you're better just learning what to look out for on the ingredients list as a lot of places don't even both to label the actual packet, but to try and obtain a vegan product list from the big four, here's some pointers: Sainsbury’s is available online, Tesco's you need to email firstname.lastname@example.org (as they seem to update it every month), Asda don't have one, so pester them here. Morrisons also need some help learning that vegans would actually like the food they can eat to at least be listed somewhere.
5. But Ocado is the one I would recommend for a truly impressive vegan selection- especially if you don’t live anywhere near a Whole Foods or Planet Organic.
6. The best vegan-alternative to Mac n Cheese I’ve found is Amy’s. Get a few stashed in the freezer.
7. Amy’s is also great for vegan bean burritos- I buy these in bulk for the week before pay day- they’re also fab as drunken munchie snacks when everyone is headed to the chicken shop- I’ve even been known to bring them out with me on a night out! Shove 'em in the microwave for 2 minutes and you’re done.
8. Instagram is an awesome place to get inspired for cooking vegan- use the #vegan and #veganuary hashtag, as well as the #meatfreemonday hashtag for recipe inspiration.
9. My fave other plant-based focused Instagrammers are @yesitsallvegan and @kitsunetsukiki, but also check out @we_are_food and @iamohlivia, as well as @midnightbakes and @wrappedinpaper .
10. As for vegan-friendly food blogs, my go-to fellas are The First Mess, My Darling Lemon Thyme and My New Roots - they're not all entirely vegan but if the recipes aren't straight-up animal free, it's usually possible to veganise them, or add your own twist, which I find more inspiring than only following a few very strictly vegan blogs for visual and culinary creations. I also have to mention Rachel Eats- one of my favourite food writers who has a book coming out this year (eee!). Rachel doesn't focus on vegan food, but quality, sustenance, and eating seasonally whilst living in a city- all things I can also appreciate.
11. Vegannaise is great to pick up when you can- it makes wraps, salads and sweet potato wedges 100% tastier.
12. Olive oil is a really good replacement for goose fat or butter when roasting vegetables- coconut oil is very rich and high in fat (as well as quite expensive), but is good for baking when you want something to behave in a similar way as butter, as it is solid at room temperature.
13. Off to a friend’s for the first time as a vegan? Bring your own dish, and make enough for everyone to try- next time they can make that one and you can bring something else- before long you’ll both have a bit of a repertoire going!
14. Quorn isn’t vegan, but some supermarkets still do own-brand soy products that are, such as Morrisons, whose soy mince is vegan and a great alternative for lasagne and bolognaise sauce. Very finely chopped mushrooms also work really well.
15. Tofu is quite tricky to get right- I wouldn’t expect to work any miracles with it- but it can be tasty- I’d try a type that’s already been smoked for added flavour. These are great in burgers, stir fries or wraps.
16. Takeaways don’t need to be as daunting as you’d think, but I would try to call ahead at a quiet time if you can to make sure it's possible to veganise some items (this is also usually the best way to help out a restaurant- the chef will always appreciate the extra few days' notice). A lot of Indian restaurants now cook with vegetable oil instead of ghee, and some Chinese takeaways do tofu versions of things like duck pancakes.
17. However… with pizza chains and franchises, it’s a pretty sketchy business. Domino's and Pizza Hut are no longer vegan due to milk powder in their bases. I would try an independent place, like Sodo or Voodoo Ray’s in Hackney, (if you’re in London) that already offer a vegan topping- or bear this in mind outside of London- the indies will probably have more patience answering your queries too, in my experience!
18. As a general rule, the less your food has been messed about with, the easier it is to ensure it’s vegan- you will probably find yourself starting from scratch a whole lot more- but it’s also a great way to gain back control over processed food. I found I had so much more enthusiasm to cook, and a clearer, better feeling of control over what I was eating after turning vegan. If you find that empowering then you’re defo on the right tracks.
19. Ellen DeGeneres, every day.
20. Blackfish is a great film to watch to start looking into the wider connotations of animal exploitation, and the ethics of keeping creatures in activity for the supposed benefit of humans.
21. Forks Over Knives is a brilliant film for looking into a plant-based diet and its health benefits. You could also try out Food Inc and Earthlings, but I haven’t been able to watch more than a few minutes of either of these as I find them too upsetting.
22. A bit lost of what to do for office lunches? In winter I buy a few lentil or tomato and basil soups (if I don't have time to make my own and have to grab something on the go) and bring in chunks of bread, and in summer this turns into a few different salad components, some nuts like pine nuts or walnuts, and a bag of couscous you can steam cook using boiling water or a microwave. You can even steam stir fry vegetables in a microwave on hangover days- it doesn’t have to be impossible!
23. Equally, a lot of boxes of porridge and muesli are vegan, which is a great way to start a day with some added nuts, soy milk or yoghurt, and chopped fruit. (n.b. Obviously it's far better and cheaper to buy porridge oats in bulk and make your own, but from a purely convenient point of view, this is a good option for making a warm, filling vegan breakfast a whole lot easier).
24. Whether you’re pretty set on the vegan way or ready to head back to ominvoretown by February, it’s also a great reason to look into how much palm oil you’re consuming. A lot of vegan meat-replacement foods use palm oil to substitute butter, but the rate we use this fat is destroying the planet, and when you see it popping up in the ingredients list for Kingsmill and Hovis bread, you have to question how and why it needs to be there in the first place- butter isn’t even a traditional ingredient in a lot of breads!
25. No doubt you’re using a lot more vegetables and fruit to fill your plate with this month- so it might be an idea to look into getting a vegetable bag, like the one I’ve used for nearly three years- Growing Communities. I’ve written plenty about them here, but I’m still chuffed as ever to pick up an entirely organic bag full of gorgeous produce from the season every week.
26. Some of the most traditionally 'meaty' meals are actually very easy to veganise! Roast dinners and fry ups have plenty of options for vegan recipes- stuffing, roast potatoes, nut roast and gravy are all very easy to make vegan, and baked beans, potato smiles, hash browns, waffles and lots of vegetarian sausages are already vegan, so there’s no reason to miss out as much as you might think.
27. It’s not nice when an ingredient takes you by surprise- some traditionally vegan foods that seem to get a lot of animal products snuck in include supermarket falafel, lentil dahls, breads and burger buns, margarine, salad dressings that may have honey in them (if that’s an issue for you) and vegetable soups. If you do get halfway through eating something only to realise it’s not as vegan as you hoped- you haven’t failed, and it’s no big deal! It’s about gradually learning what does and doesn’t work for you, and no one has the right to judge you for this!
28. In this vein, I feel like I can’t do this list without touching on negative reactions to veganism- but in all honesty it is totally up to you how you deal with criticism- whether you want to memorise statistics to help your argument or just say it’s a personal choice- the world needs more people that care about where there food comes from, and I’ve found that point of view has helped quell many potential rows I’ve been on the verge of with people I didn’t think I’d ever have common ground on. Some people won’t ever be converted to veganism, but you can still help break the stereotype that we’re all angry pedants! There are certainly some battles worth fighting- but they'll be different from every single sarcy off-hand comment made over pints on a Friday night.
29. Some fun, non-detox things to make in January that are also vegan: onion bahjis, chipotle mushroom tacos and poached rhubarb.
30. Other places online that I also love for a wider look at a vegan lifestyle: The Perennial Plate for stunning videos exploring world cuisines in the most unlikely of places, and then how to recreate these at home. Some of my favourites include A Tale of Two Rooftops and Where the Water Settles. There's also Chickpea magazine, an entirely vegan lifestyle and food magazine based in New York. You can pick up copies in the UK from Foyles and Wardour News, or order online.
31. Finally? I don’t mean for this to sound cheesy (puuun) but have fun! When I turned vegan back in January 2012, I did so in a very tentative way- I thought I’d still eat Quorn and maybe even eat as a vegetarian at friends’ houses and with family. But I stuck to my guns, the people around me saw how important a decision it was for me, and many of them have told me they enjoy the challenge (I’d also make sure to bring along something to make this challenge easier, whether that’s your host’s favourite beer, veganised dessert or just a specific Thank You note)! I hope you enjoy trying veganism in this darkest of dark months- and do let me know how you get on via Instagram or Twitter.