Surviving Veganuary

Four products that got me through lockdown January

Salt, fat, umami: the unholy trinity of guilty pleasures. These three simple chemical focal points present an unassailable argument in the face of logic. Never mind that meat-eating is bad for me, bad for animals, and bad for the planet. My brain is hardwired to crave those three things. I’m a self-confessed meat addict.

The very unimpressed holy cow | Photo by Esteban Castle on Unsplash

With this in mind, how on earth do I approach Veganuary? Despite giving up pork years ago, all other animals have remained firmly on my table. And while I kid myself that “I don’t eat that much meat”, the truth is that some form of flesh turns up on my plate on the daily.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, based on the huge range of vegan products emerging to help people adopt a healthier diet. So, while processed foods are not my normal go-to recommendation, these four products have helped me cut my meat consumption more than any others over the past few weeks. Let’s call them gateway drugs that will hopefully wean me off my daily flesh addiction.

For full disclosure, I have to admit that I am woefully far from practising true veganism. I ate chicken last night and enjoyed a prawn curry last week. In terms of red meat or dairy, though, I’m clean.

On that dairy point, here’s my first surprising discovery: a vegan cheese that doesn’t totally suck!

Applewood smoked cheddar

I have an unrequited relationship with cheese, an ardent lover consistently spurned. This intolerance goes beyond mere lactase deficiency: even goat’s cheese rejects my advances. So while I’d like nothing better than an evening in with a bottle of red and a wedge of Roquefort, the only cheese that will have me comes in compressed coconut form.

This little number took me by surprise, winking at me from a prominent aisle end at our local Asda.

Returning the attention, I took an experimental pack home to try out in various guises: cut straight off the block (ill-advised); grilled on top of chunky bread (enjoyable when paired with strong chutney); grated into a vegan spag bol (delicious!)

This cheese delights the unholy trinity taste buds and is a great way to make any wholesome meal a little bit naughty. Top marks to the Applewood Cheese company.

Vivera Plant Burgers

Asda has gone all-out with its support for veganism, with entire sections across most departments dedicated to meat-free consumption. Galvanised by my smoked ‘cheddar’ adventure, I picked up a packet of plant burgers to replace the American style blood-oozing patties made so lovingly by my partner. Sitting across from each other at the table later that day, I swallowed my misgivings bravely and bit into my Vivera alternative.

Again, there was that satisfying salt, fat and umami combo. Boom! I can totally do this vegan thing! The burger was delicious and had the added benefit of a clean mouthfeel and lack of nausea after the fact. (Does anyone else get a queasy feeling after eating beefburgers or is it just me?) I would genuinely opt for a vegan burger over beef or ham any day now.

Heck vegan sausages

Which brings me to another meaty meal staple: the humble sausage. English breakfasts are built around these, while picnics would never be the same again without them. Yet why do they need to contain meat, when a lot of the fun of eating sausages is slicing through their ridiculous shape, or eating them like a savoury lollipop over gingham and under blue skies?

I gave the Heck brand a trial because of their impressive range of chicken sausages and I wasn’t disappointed… well, not entirely.

If you know that you’re eating a vegan sausage this is an enjoyable experience. You get a fix of the unholy trinity and don’t feel left out of the “Full English” experience.

If, however, you’re caught unawares and expect to be eating chicken or pork… you’re going to feel a little cheated. The issue is texture: there isn’t enough bite.

And this, ultimately, is the problem with all of these products. They’re an attempt to support eating habits built up around the central concept of ‘meat and two veg’, where meat is such a central component you feel cheated without it. To move beyond this and truly adopt veganism, I need to trial, replace, then embrace an entirely new set of meals.

For now, though, fake replacements helped me get through a bitterly cold, lonely, lockdown January.

My final vegan product is a truly triumphant January offering:

Brew Dog Nanny State

Brew Dog has helped me balance my beer cravings while holding down a job in 2020, with a truly diverse range of alcohol-free beers: Punk AF, Lost AF, Lazy Jane and Nanny State are all excellently tasty…. And across all Brew Dog products, vegan is the norm, not the exception.

It feels like this brewery can’t take a step wrong. They understand that there’s an emerging generation of non-drinkers who value their bodies, value the planet and will stick with brands who respect that. Brew Dog became proudly carbon negative in 2020 and have a team of staff looking at how they can double offset the carbon footprint of every team member while they work for the brewery.

The Carbon Negative Crew | Source: Brew Dog

Now that January is behind us, I’m looking at food differently and am excited about phasing in new vegan recipes. One of the biggest habit changes I made last month was just saying no to meaty meal suggestions and having the confidence to make my own thing. Here’s to vegans and vegan wannabes everywhere xxx.

Problem solver. Partial to cake. Passionate about mountains, forests, and the low carbon energy transition