Veganuary: an honest account of an (almost) meat-free month

Lifestyle writer Sophie Prideaux went vegan for a month, this is what the challenge taught her...

Beetroot hummus and avocado on toast from Circle Cafe
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I’ll get right to it; I didn’t complete Veganuary. If you're measuring it on not consuming any animal products between 00:00 on January 1 and 23:59 on January 31, which, technically, is the premise of the challenge, then I failed. But I’m not going to see it as a failure, not really.

While I officially forfeited four days early – on January 27 (and maybe once before that for a melted cookie dessert that I don’t regret even a little bit) – I’m still going to see it as a win because honestly, most of the time, I barely even noticed I was doing it.

I went into this as a full meat eater, a self-confessed cheese addict, and if I'm honest, slightly vegan-sceptic. Meat and fish had been a central component to my meals for my 28 years, and I expected to pine for the hole it left on my plate. Instead, I found myself researching new recipes, trying new things, and, despite being domestically challenged, start to actually enjoy cooking again.

Vegan fatigue 

I won’t lie and say it was complete plain sailing, though. After the overconsumption of the festive period, I expected a couple of weeks of plant-based eating to leave me feeling energized, lighter on my feet and all-round healthier. And yet, as week three rolled around, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 13: Oreo Cookies are seen May 13, 2003 in San Francisco. Attorney Stephen Joseph filed a lawsuit in the Marin County Superior Court May 1, 2003 seeking a ban on Oreo Cookies in California arguing that the trans fats that make the filling creamy and cookie crunchy are dangerous for children to eat. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***  al30ap-itslit-oreo.jpg

In hindsight, I now know that this is because I failed to ensure I was taking all the supplements you need to as a vegan to ensure you are replacing all the vitamins and nutrients you lose when you cut out animal products. I naively thought if I packed myself with vegetables for four weeks, I’d be okay. I learnt the hard way, I was wrong.

Just getting out of bed in the morning became a struggle, and I found myself, as a non-coffee drinker, turning to caffeine just to get me through the day. But after I panic bought a stash of B12 and iron supplements, I slowly started to feel human again and the lightness started to come.

Shopping became a challenge 

I also was not prepared for just how much time I would spend in the supermarket. What should have been a quick run to buy ingredients for dinner turned into an hour-long label studying session – often leaving me more confused than when I began.

Colorful healthy vegan meal. Salad bowl with abocado rose, grilled corn, tomatoes, black beans, whole grain toasted bread, arugula, red onion and cilantro. Getty Images
It's been four days since the challenge ended, and I haven't eaten meat again  – and who knows, maybe I won't. I don't miss it.

It turns out, a lot of things that are labelled vegetarian are actually vegan – thank goodness for the deep, dark corners of the vegan web that hold all the answers.

With veganism the consistently fastest growing food trend for the past three years and a record 250,000 people joining me in my January challenge, you’d think brands would be capitalising on the things they sell that are vegan, saving me the pain of trying to work out what every single ingredient is and if it’s been in contact with animals.

In my kitchen and my lunchbox, Veganuary felt easy – I found what I liked, I stuck to it and I didn’t let my mind think of anything else. Overnight oats with almond milk, avocado and rye crackers, and vegetable Thai green curry kept me happy most of the time. That’s how I know meat and dairy have no part in those places anymore. But I don’t think I’m ready to say the same for eating out yet – something I do a lot, whether it’s for work, pleasure or laziness.

Vegan Thai Green Curry became a staple meal

Don’t get me wrong, restaurants have come on leaps and bounds in their vegan offerings over the past few years, but there was more than one occasion in January where the only thing for me to order on a menu was chips, and that is just not what I want to be eating on a regular basis because I have no other choice. Also, I can’t describe the pain I felt going to a Mexican restaurant, watching everyone else around me tackling their cheesy nacho mountains, while I ate my flavourless mushroom fajitas – sour cream on the side.

If you’re wondering why I failed, it’s because I went away on a trip in which I was plied with some incredible food that was just too difficult to turn down. I was there to write about the restaurants – Indian, Italian, steak – and I decided to leave my veganism in Abu Dhabi, where I’d pick it back up when I landed. Eating meat again for the first time was odd, I definitely stopped to hesitate before taking my first bite, but the cheese made a very welcome return. Easing yourself back into normality – whatever that may mean for you – after Veganuary is definitely the way to go. I felt sluggish and extremely sick after the four-course lunch I ate to break the challenge, and I only had myself to blame.

Life since Veganuary 

It’s been four days since the challenge ended, and I haven’t eaten meat again back on UAE turf – and who knows, maybe I won’t. I don’t miss it, so maybe this is the start of phasing it out for good. Cheese on the other hand, I can’t break up with just yet, but I’ve learnt that it can be an old friend – the type that you can go weeks without seeing and it feels like nothing’s changed, rather than the kind who hangs around every day, tempting you into making bad life choices.

Yes, I failed, and no, I’m not vegan, but I’ve definitely made some changes for the better that I'm confident will stick. It’s easy to let the totality of veganism stop you from even considering it, but if everyone committed to a few small changes, we’d already be in a much better place.

The highs...

Vegan pizza from Freedom pizza – endless topping choice and doesn't leave you in a pizza-induced coma, even when you accidentally eat it all by yourself.

Wagamama's vegan katsu curry – so delicious and filling, you'll question it's actually vegan.

The lows... 

Vegan mayo – the look, the texture and the taste is just all wrong.

Scrambled tofu - It's bland, it's weird, and frankly, it's just not eggs.