Veganism and Veganuary

Stuart Forster looks at veganism and Veganuary during an interview with Day Radley, a vegan chef.

Veganuary is a charity that promotes veganism as a mainstream living choice. More than 100,000 people signed up to go vegan in January 2018. Many of those participants are likely to remain vegan into February and beyond.

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Some estimates suggest that as many as 60 per cent of the participants in the 2017 Veganuary continued living a vegan lifestyle.

The popularity of veganism has grown markedly in recent years. The first Veganuary, held in 2014, attracted just 3,300 participants.

Veganism and Veganuary

As a person who loves good food and travels regularly, I’ve often wondered about the pros and cons of life as a vegan. After all, tasting local cuisine in the places that I visit is, for me, one of the great joys of travel. At the back of my mind, there’s that niggling doubt that committing to veganism would mean missing out on some wonderful flavours and textures.

While living in India I spent several weeks at a time eating a vegetarian diet. The range of choice and flavours of the vegetarian food made it a viable and enjoyable option. Still, I continued to consume dairy products.

Veganism and vegetarianism are now part of the mainstream in the United Kingdom.

People attending a Veggie World event.
People attending a Veggie World event.

Interview with Day Radley

To find out more about veganism, I conducted an interview with Day Radley, who took a break from work as a personal chef to answer my questions.

Day became a vegan during the 1990s for animal welfare reasons: “When I was 17 I went to a protest at Coventry Airport. That was the protest against the live export of veal calves. I was vegetarian at the time and had been for six months. An old lady gave a flyer which showed an image of a dairy cow with engorged udders and detailed what happened to the male calves in the veal crates. At that point, I went vegan.”

“About 10 years after that I became a lot more interested in health and how eating could change the way that I felt. I’d always felt pain when I ate. Doctors just give me tablets and stuff like that. Then I gave up gluten and found out that I was severely allergic to it,” she revealed.

Veganism and healthy cooking

Her response was to turn the situation to her advantage. “From there I decided to explore more about what we could do with cooking and how you could have a healthy diet,” said Day, who was a speaker at two sessions of the 2017 Veggie World event held in London.

Day has travelled widely, working in places as far afield as Malaysia and South Africa. She pointed to the best-selling book How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Michael Greger, as evidence of veganism’s growing popularity:

Cover of the book 'How Not To Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease' by Michael Greger.
Cover of the book ‘How Not To Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease’ by Michael Greger.

That work also inspired The How Not to Die Cookbook:


Cover of The How Not to Die Cookbook by Michael Greger
Cover of The How Not to Die Cookbook by Michael Greger.

“I think people need to explore it. You will see there is an abundance of food,” said Day, when I asked how people should go about becoming vegan.

Exploring vegan food

“Being inspired to start exploring vegan food was like the moment in the Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to colour. When you’re stuck in a rut with your diet you do the same thing again and again. When you become vegan you explore and you do become creative,” said the personal chef.

“Nowadays there are so many free resources to people for people. There are blogs where you can access loads of different types of recipes. There’s lots on Instagram as well. I encourage people to play and to really enjoy being creative,” she added.

So, how valid are my concerns about travelling and veganism?

“It depends on the country. There are some countries that are better for vegans than others. But we have resources, such as the Happy Cow app. Happy Cow is a website that was set up about 10 or 15 years ago. The app will shows local vegan and vegetarian places, wherever you are in the world,” answered Day.

Day suggested that people adopting a vegan diet start with recipes that mimic the foods they know. That’s because habit plays a key role in our acceptance of food.

“The majority of people like to have what they are used to — the things that we had as a kid. You have to take it step-by-step. If you are used to spaghetti Bolognese then try it with vegan mince instead of beef. I use chopped-up mushrooms,” said Day.

Vegetables being chopped on a wooden chopping board.
Vegetables being chopped on a wooden chopping board.

Tips for new vegans

Day was happy to draw upon her experience and offer tips that might be useful to people who have just adopted veganism: “I would say use free resources and bring it in slowly. I completely understand why people want to make a big change, particularly if they’re doing it for moral reasons. But that can sometimes be a bit too much, particularly if people are busy. So do it in a manageable way then you are more likely to stick to it.”

Making the switch to veganism does bring challenges.

“Be aware it’s always going to take a bit more thinking. You need to spend more time in the supermarket initially. But you get used to it pretty quickly. Nowadays, with the Free From section we are quite supported,” said Day.

“I would get online support. There are Facebook groups out there…you can ask for advice. You can talk to people who are in a similar situation. The Veganuary one is particularly good for that. People will say things like ‘I fell off the wagon’ and it’s good for things like that. It provides moral support,” she suggested, including at times when vegans are faced with unsupportive people around them.

It’s a switch in lifestyle that I’m not yet prepared to make, though I’m happy to eat occasional vegan meals.

If you’ve signed up for Veganuary why not leave a comment below about the challenges you’ve faced. Alternatively, feel free to make suggestions about the best places for vegans to dine in your locality.

Further information

Find a range of vegan recipes by Day Radley on The Vegan Chef School website.

Take a look at the Veganuary website to discover more about the charity promoting veganism.

The photos above illustrating this post are of Veggie World and were supplied courtesy of Excellart.

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