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How going vegan is the Marmite of diets

By Charlotte Callear | In-depth | Published: | Last Updated:

Find out whether Express & Star reporter Charlotte Callear could make it through Veganuary

Is it vegan? Or is there some dairy lurking under that lettuce?

Within the first couple of hours of Veganuary, or vegan January, I enjoyed two small chocolates from a Celebrations box at a New Year’s party and therefore, failed.

It was not just a failure though, it was a miserable one.

Thousands of people have taken on the challenge to be vegan, which means meat and dairy are off the table, literally. But it is time to be frank – it is not as easy as it is made out to be.

Everything was set up to ensure I succeeded with this.

I was already a vegetarian so how hard could it be to cut out a little more by avoiding dairy?

And the Veganuary campaign, where participants attempt the strict diet for a month, has seen such a massive increase that popular supermarkets, Sainsbury’s and Aldi, even released new lines on the first day of the year.

In four years, the amount of people taking part rose from 1,500 in 2014 to 52,000 this year.

Yet the ‘more options’ for vegans included the notorious cauliflower ‘steak’ from Marks and Spencer for a cost of £2.

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Look, the company knows a slice of cauliflower covered in herbs is not a steak and vegans know too – no one is being fooled here.

But I cannot blame the supermarkets entirely, there are many reasons for my failure.

Firstly, mushrooms are my kryptonite.

Food fit for a vegan diet

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But during the planning phases I realised to a vegan they are essentially the go-to food of choice..

On the second day I got over confident about what I thought was vegan – after all, I had gone a whole day (almost) managing to stick to the new diet.

I confidently pottered around the supermarket, throwing the fruit and vegetable in my shopping trolley with conviction but being extra careful with other products by checking the labels.

After packing it all away at home, I enjoyed a pot of porridge which I poured water into rather than milk only to realise it already has powdered milk in it. Therefore, day two was also a failure.

On the third day I ate a vegan sausage butty but despite all the efforts to find vegan sausages, the bread had egg in it.

On the fourth day, I had plain rich tea biscuits that ‘may have milk’ in them.

This whole process is causing me to have trust issues. It is a limiting life to lead which is something I should have expected but nonetheless completely underestimated.

Eating out used to be a luxury but has quickly turned into a chore.

It was mission impossible as I hopped from two cafes to a supermarket just to find the one option I had as a vegan – a frankly pathetic pot of tomato pasta.

You struggle to know what is vegan or not.

Simply take a look at Laura Goodman, the former head chef and co-owner of Carlini restaurant, which has sites in Shifnal and Albrighton.

She was in the headlines recently after an ill-advised internet post about one vegan’s pizza meal, saying: “Pious, judgmental vegan (who I spent all day cooking for) has gone to bed, still believing she’s a vegan.”

With food for a vegan lunch, Express and Star reporter Charlotte Callear

So I was almost too shy to ask for vegan options in restaurants because it was met with a sneer or an eye roll the few times I did mention it.

But my personal incompetence aside, I can see the attraction for the increasingly popular diet. Being vegan is meant to be better for your health, helps the environment and avoids cruelty to animals.

Sales for vegan products have seen a rise on Amazon including organic coconut spread which went up 153 per cent, tofu which went up 140 per cent and sales of vegan deodorant have increased 900 per cent because veganism does not simply mean cutting certain foods from your shopping list.

Things got increasingly better as I learned I can tuck into bourbon biscuits which used to be the last choice for me in a selection box but is now the best thing since...well, I realised Oreos were vegan too.

In fact, as Veganuary reminds us, many of the things we already eat are vegan such as Pringles, Sainsbury’s Chicken Flavour Instant Noodles, and Skittles.

Importantly, Heineken, Carlsberg, Amstel and Peroni have all been given the green light too.

Plus I had to admit, I had a smug sense of satisfaction when my friends complained about how greasy they felt the day after ordering a take-out – which I turned down because I was not sure what I could have.

Then again, as they lost themselves in chicken tikka masalas, my host did not want me to go hungry so cut up an entire carrot, pepper, and cucumber then piled them onto a plate with spinach.

I wish this was a joke – the most exciting thing was the grapes – but by all accounts rabbit food.

Veganism itself is very much like Marmite, which is itself indeed vegan. It is either appealing to people or it is not.

For those it appeals to, it can either be done with ease or with a great struggle, which is what I have experienced.

Despite the increase in options, I personally do not think the diet is my cup of tea – with not a drop of almond milk in sight.

Charlotte Callear

By Charlotte Callear
@CCallear_Star

Reporter based at the Express & Star's Wolverhampton head office

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