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  • Emma Hawkes

Veganuary: A Beginner's Guide

With Veganuary being well and truly underway, staff blogger Emma Hawkes explains the popular phenomenon and shares her own experiences of veganism, plus a few of her go-to recipes (skip to end to see those). If you’ve already missed Veganuary, don’t worry! You can download The Climate App to take part in one of our many vegan challenges complete with simple steps and tips (launch date TBC!).


What is Veganism?


Veganism as a term was first coined in 1944 by a group of vegetarians who went on to found the Vegan Society. As a vegan, you stop consuming, wearing or using any and all forms of animal products, and in doing so you ensure no animals are exploited or made to suffer as a result of your lifestyle choices. This ranges from food, clothing, health and beauty products to tourism and much more depending on individual circumstances.


What is Veganuary?


Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that challenges participants to try out a vegan lifestyle for 31 days every January, hopefully encouraging people to continue these new habits into the new year and beyond. Once a person has signed up to Veganuary, they are supported with helpful tips, access to new recipes and meal plans to follow. Veganuary offers this support to individuals and businesses in their move to a plant-based diet in a bid to benefit the environment, individual health and prevent the suffering of animals.


Since its start in 2014, the number of people that have signed up to Veganuary has grown year on year: over 1 million people from 192 countries have completed the challenge so far, and it’s only set to get bigger! In 2019 over 250,000 people took part and almost half of those people chose to stay vegan. The main reasons behind the campaign’s success and increased participation have been for personal health and animal welfare concerns, but it also has a substantial environmental impact too.


While people may try Veganuary for a variety of different reasons, great numbers of people are transitioning into this lifestyle for good each year. Figures like this highlight the appetite for a collective move towards more sustainable food choices all over the world.


Why Do People Choose to Become Vegan?:


There are a number of reasons why people choose to transition to a vegan lifestyle.


For many, veganism is an ethical decision. They believe that animals and all creatures should have the right to “life and freedom”. Many choose to substitute animal products out of their lives with other available alternatives. For example, swapping cows milk for almond, soya or oat milk; ditching meat products and opting for tofu or seitan instead are great ways to start moving towards a vegan lifestyle. Substitutes don’t have to start and end with food - for instance, buying health and beauty products that are both vegan and not tested on animals is also seen as taking a stand against the exploitation and suffering of animals. Those who consider themselves ‘ethical vegans’ may also make their views known by protesting to raise awareness about what goes on in modern animal farming practices.


Some people choose veganism for its health benefits in an attempt to reduce their risk of certain diseases or long-term health complications. While there is positive/mixed scientific research as to the benefits of a vegan diet, whether veganism is the healthier option is ultimately down to individual preference and based on experience. Research has shown that plant-based diets can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, type two diabetes and cancer. Also, with the frequent use of antibiotics and hormones in modern farming practices, many consumers are looking for more natural alternatives with fewer potential side effects.


Finally, veganism is often taken up because of the environmental benefits the lifestyle brings. In 2010, the United Nations reported that animal farming produces much higher greenhouse gas emissions than equivalent plant-based products. Indeed, animal farming is found to contribute 65% of global nitrous oxide emissions and between 35-40% of methane emissions.


My Top Tips:


From personal experience, I completely understand that the thought of moving to a plant-based and vegan lifestyle is extremely daunting. Speaking to others that have taken part in Veganuary or chosen to change their lifestyle at another point in the year, they all say the same thing: changes cannot and do not happen overnight. While we might like to change our lifestyles overnight, becoming a vegan involves hard work, research and dedication. I personally have not taken part in Veganuary but have chosen to transition to a vegan lifestyle by changing my purchases and habits one at a time. It has been challenging at times, and although I am very nearly there with cutting all animal products out of my life, it is an ongoing process and has not happened overnight!


Top tip number one is: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to change instantaneously. Even making one or two vegan choices can benefit the environment, your health and prevent the suffering of animals too. It is better to be an ‘imperfect vegan’ than not at all. With this in mind, be kind to yourself and trust that the process may take time.


What many people transitioning to veganism may experience is a lot of questions from family, friends and work colleagues like: “Why are you transitioning to veganism?” “Where are you going to get your protein from?” “Are you not worried about your health?” These are just some of the many questions I have heard over the last couple of years. In my experience, questions like these have never been directed at me in a negative way, and have actually opened up interesting discussions about veganism and its benefits. Some of my family and friends have chosen to make their own changes and some have not and that’s okay! You may not have the power to change everyone’s minds, but it is so rewarding and worthwhile to just make an impact on a few.


Another tip from me to deal with these questions is: do as much research around veganism and its benefits as possible. While changing my own lifestyle habits, I have worked really hard to try and open up conversations with people around me about why I believe plant-based diets are so beneficial - the same way that many of my loved ones have expressed why they continue with their chosen diets and lifestyles. Doing your research will not only mean you are making the right choices for yourself, but will put you in the best position to educate people on why you have made the choices you have, and will make it more likely they will consider changing too.


When making the transition to veganism, one thing I was really worried about was the food and missing the dishes I used to eat. What I’ve found in reality is it is so easy these days to make your old favourites into vegan dishes and easily swap to substitute animal-based products.


Top tip number three when it comes to cooking and trying new foods is: don’t look back too much on what you have eaten in the past, look forward to experimenting with new recipes! A positive and curious mindset will give you a new level of dedication to really get your favourite dishes right.



My Go To Recipes:


In light of my top tips, something I really wanted to include in this new blog post is some easy, cheap and quick vegan recipes that I have loved cooking and, more importantly, eating. One of the amazing things about converting to veganism is learning about new ways of eating, as well as how rewarding it can be cooking new recipes from scratch.


One cook book I have been loving recently is one my best friend got me called ‘The Hungry Student Vegan Cookbook’. This is such a handy book as it is created with students in mind or those who don’t want to spend a lot on new recipes. As a student myself, it has been amazing being able to slowly move towards veganism without having to spend out a lot of money trying things out! So, here are some of my favourites...


Top Vegan Go To Recipes:


Vegan and Gluten Free Lasagne


What you'll need...

  • 4 tablespoons of dairy-free spread

  • 2 onions, chopped

  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped

  • 625g mushrooms, roughly chopped

  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed

  • 2 teaspoons of dried thyme or oregano

  • 150ml of vegan red wine

  • 3 tablespoons of sun-dried tomato puree

  • 450g spinach

  • 4 tablespoons of plain flour (gluten free optional)

  • 600ml of almond milk (or any dairy-alternative milk)

  • 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast (optional)

  • 200g of lasagne (gluten free ones optional)

  • 100g cheddar-style vegan cheese, grated

  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the dairy-free spread in a large frying pan or wide-based saucepan and fry the onions and celery for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and fry for a further 10 minutes until the mushrooms are lightly browned and all the liquid has evaporated.

  2. Stir in the garlic, herbs, red wine and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Gradually add the spinach, turning it in the hot sauce until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  3. Melt the remaining dairy-free spread in a saucepan, add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually blend in the milk, stirring well to remove any lumps. Cook for 3-4 minutes until thickened. Stir in the nutritional yeast, if using, or season with salt and pepper.

  4. To assemble, spoon a quarter of the mushroom sauce in a shallow oven-proof dish and spread level. Arrange a single layer of lasagne sheets on top. Drizzle about a third of the white sauce. Spoon another quarter of the mushroom sauce into the dish and arrange more lasagne sheets on top.

  5. Repeat with another later of mushroom sauce and lasagne sheets and then spread the remaining white sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese.

  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees celsius, gas mark 4 for 50-60 minutes, until the surface is bubbling and golden. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.


Vegan Meatball Cassoulet with Rice:


What you'll need...

  • 25g of dried porcini mushrooms

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

  • 300g of vegan meatballs, ready made

  • 400g of soffritto mix (carrots, onion and celery)

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed plus extra to garnish

  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

  • 400g tinned butter beans, drained and rinsed

  • 115g pack baby spinach

  • Crusty bread to serve (optional)

Method:

  1. Put the dried mushrooms into a small bowl, cover with 150ml of boiling water and set aside to soak.

  2. Meanwhile, put the oil into a large, deep frying pan set over a medium to high heat. Add the vegan meatballs and cook for 5-8 minutes, turning occasionally, until cooked through. Remove to a plate with a spoon and set aside.

  3. Keeping the pan over a low to medium heat, add the soffritto mix in the pan and fry for 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and thyme leaves and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the porcini mushrooms with the soaking liquid, the chopped tomatoes and some seasoning. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Return the vegan meatballs to the pan and continue cooking for around 5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.

  4. Stir in the beans and spinach and cook the stew for another 5 minutes to thicken a little more. Sprinkle over some extra fresh time and serve with crusty bread, if you wish.





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