A regular traveler once told me how, though not a vegetarian, he always requested the vegetarian meal option whilst flying. His reasoning, 1) you always get your meal served first and, 2) it tended to be fresher and of better quality.
I tested this advice on a trip to Qatar visiting friends a few years back. I made my request with Emirates Airlines and on the flight it duly arrived first. I smugly rubbed my hands with glee but then saw the label with my name on it, ‘Strict Vegetarian – Vegan‘. As I opened the package what greeted me made my much better half and daughter collapse in a fit of laughter. A banana, an apple and a bottle of water. My fellow travellers tucked in to Danish Pastries, Greek yogurts and cheese sandwiches whilst I felt like Gavin’s mum in that Gavin and Stacey scene when she pretends to be a content vegetarian upon meeting Stacey’s family for the first time. I quickly decided that if this was veganism then I wanted no part of it.
Yet scroll on a few years and I decided to try out veganism for a month. It was mainly off the back of listening to a Marathon Talk interview back in July with Ben Wickham, a vegan runner. The ethical arguments that he put forward and his practical approach interested me. The Happy Eggs parkrun sponsorship furore in Autumn also brought it into focus. Previously I had been a ravenous carnivore but I’d grown steadily more concerned about the amount of meat we consume, the quality of that which is consumed and the land and resource given over for those animals to consume that we ultimately consume. The drive for choice and ease of access it seemed was inevitably driving welfare and quality downward.
Even with my Emirates vegan meal experience, it has entered family folklore (‘Dad, Dad! Remember your Emirates vegan meal? Ha ha ha), I didn’t think it was going to be too hard. At home we eat mainly vegetable based meals during the week and my much better half is lactose intolerant so we also stay clear of dairy. Snacking was going to be my major problem though. I bloody love chocolate bars, cakey buns and ice cream. I only have to pass within 250 metres of a shop and somehow a Twix Xtra or a double chocolate muffin magically appears in my grasp. This was going to be the hard part.
‘Ah you’re doing Veganuary?’
This was the reaction when I told people. If truth be told I didn’t even know about it. I usually avoid that kind of carry on. I’ve given up Lent (ironic eh?), never done RED or Dry January nor gone all Magnum P.I. for Movember. Finding out ‘it was a thing’ almost made me quit before I’d even started but I quickly caught myself on. I’d committed so Veganuary it was to be and on New Years Day my monthlong dip into veganism started.
The first couple of days were difficult particularly when in convenience stores or bakeries. I nearly folded on a few occasions, particularly at Oxford Services at 0645 on New Years Day morning en route to Bushy parkrun when a big bag of Maltesers were calling out to me Siren-like but thankfully I resisted and remained strong. After this it just glided by.
I was mindful of the minerals and nutrients that I was potentially missing out on so increasing my intake of nuts, chia seeds, beans, quinoa, lentils/pulses and dark green vegetables helped particularly with protein and iron. It wasn’t a bane though as they’re all ingredients we normally use anyhow so it was just a case of bunging a bit more in. I did not miss meat whatsoever. The pain in the arse is the ingredient checking. Who would’ve thought they put milk in salt and vinegar crisps and fish bladders in some wine and beer? Maybe the reader, but not the writer.
In terms of my famous sweet teeth I found out that Bourbon Creams are vegan so whenever I fancied a biscuit (or two) with a brew they held the fort. Some friends came in for me also. Guirganator produced a bonkers but tasty vegan Bakewell Tart effort for our mid-month ill-fated trip to Bakewell parkrun that didn’t get further than Heaton due to weather issues. Rebecca made her famous flapjacks also. The winner hands down though was the vegan Chocolate Cake that my fellow Run Together Run Leader Lynn baked me. Mother of God! It was the best cake that I’ve ever eaten. It was beyond delicious.
I’ve definitely enjoyed Veganuary rather than endured it. I’ve had great support from my much better half. I’ve buzzed off the discipline of it and delighted in knowing that practically everything I’ve stuck in my gob is good stuff. My digestive system has behaved itself, I’ve dipped below 13st for the first time since I was a teenager, I’ve felt less uncomfortably full and more energised. The running has thankfully remained unchanged although I guess one month is not long enough a period to gauge performance.
In terms of going full vegan I think that’s a stretch. I love my brown leather brogues and woolly jumpers too much and I don’t think I could completely eliminate animal products from my diet due to my love for fish and seafood. Having said all that the lifestyle has suited me and there is so much I will carry forward from it.
I celebrated the end of Veganuary by heading to my favourite chippy, Chips @ No. 8, for haddock and chips cooked in beef dripping together with mushy peas and tartare sauce. It did taste great, as always, but there was a part of me that wished I’d been able to carry on.
Back on it tomorrow then, maybe.
Favourite meals and treats