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Plant Power – Embracing Veganuary with insideKENT

Once dismissed as a passing trend and undermined as a diet exclusive to ‘hippies’, in a society that is slowly becoming more planet and health conscious, today the rise of veganism has established itself firmly as a popular and sustainable lifestyle choice. 

Back in the early 2000s, when Jamie Oliver was making his mark on the world of cookery but yet to introduce his healthy school dinners to turkey-twizzler loving teens, I sat in my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen to hear her announce that a vegan family had moved into a house nearby. My grandmother, a true character of the Silent Generation, who had lived through rationing, loved Italian cooking, Delia Smith, hearty Sunday roasts and full English breakfasts, had never met such people before. The concept bemused her. As the 80s and 90s came and went, she has met vegetarians aplenty, and even had one in the family. But vegans she was yet to encounter. A woman who relished a cookery challenge, she would scour recipe books and magazines for veggie inspirations ahead of my vegetarian aunt’s attendance at Christmas and Easter meals. Secretly, I think she loved the extra preparation and creativity that this required, although she would bemoan it to my mother. OK, I’m going to let you in on one of her darkest secrets: she did tell a ‘white lie’ that some Christmas potatoes were roasted in olive oil and not goose fat one year – but cut her some slack – she had over 12 hungry Italians to feed and not enough room in the AGA for another roasting tray. 

Upon my next visit, the vegans were brought up again in conversation, but this time she told me she had convinced them to take some eggs from her hens and apparently they had loved them. Looking rather pleased with herself, I wondered not only if they had really eaten them and if they were just being polite, but also why we as human beings are so infatuated with our own diets and justifying them to other people. Every time my vegan friend Bella clears her throat and asks a waiter “Excuse me, is this vegan?” I feel a tiny stab of annoyance, but why? Perhaps it is my anxiety-induced Millennial subconscious telling me I should be vegan too; that meat-eating is cruel to animals, toxic for the planet and bad for my skin; maybe I am envious of her willpower, or perhaps flexitarianism simply just suits me more. When it comes to that all-important question: ‘to eat animal products or to not eat animal products’, there is one thing we can do when confused. Read, research, stay open-minded and make well-informed decisions. 

So is veganism really better for our health? According to research undergone by the BBC and published on their GoodFood (www.bbcgoodfood.com) website, a vegan diet can have a myriad of different benefits on our health. Findings found that veganism may support healthy weight loss through intake of fibre and being naturally low in calories; wholegrains, legumes, fruit and vegetables support our heart health and cholesterol; avoiding smoked and processed red meat may reduce the risk of some cancers; and eating a varied plant-based diet can make positive and rapid changes to our gut microbiome, encouraging excellent gut health.

The Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com) suggests that if the entire world went vegan, it could save eight million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by two-thirds and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoid climate damages of $1.5 trillion. The organisation focuses on four key factors that veganism can benefit: animals, the environment, our health and socio-economic/living conditions for humans themselves. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s critically acclaimed book first published in 2009, Eating Animals, he claimed back then that ‘approximately 800 million chickens, turkeys and pigs are factory farmed in the United Kingdom every year – more than 10 animals for every human. (If this number were to include cows and fish, for reasons difficult to qualify it would be dramatically larger.)’ Fast-forward over a decade after Eating Animals was published and ‘There are more than 1,000 US-style mega-farms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including some holding as many as a million animals’, according to a new investigation by Philip Lymbery author of Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future. Although exact numbers are difficult to pin down, one thing can be certain: veganism is very much on the rise, as are the number of free-range and more animal-welfare focused farms. But The Vegan Society argues that vegetarianism is simply ‘not enough’, with the calves of milk producing cows and surplus chickens from laying hens still being used for meat.

But where did it all begin? Although the term ‘veganism’ wasn’t used until the 1940s, the concept can be traced back to ancient Indian and eastern Mediterranean societies. According to The Vegan Society, evidence of people choosing to avoid the consumption and use of animal products can be traced back over 2,000 years, but the phrase was coined sometime in the mid 1940s when the first modern day vegans began to meet and discuss their lifestyles. Since then, especially in the last five years, veganism has come on leaps and bounds. I have already touched on the generational thing. According to research carried out by Frontier Economics (www.frontier-economics.com) this rise in veganism has been unsurprisingly down to avocado-on-toast loving millennials and TikTok fanatic Gen Z’ers, with the latter generation making the biggest difference by ‘reducing their outlays on meat quite substantially since 2013. In 2017, they spent less than 2% of their income on meat – the lowest proportion of any age group this century.’ And with the future in their hands, it can be assumed that veganism and vegan substitutes will be the future too.

So, how can we embrace veganism, even if we don’t go completely vegan forever?

Even my grandmother, who would stoically serve up Linda McCartney sausages to my vegetarian aunt, has heard of Veganuary, and even she, the ever-creative cook embraces the variety that vegan meals bring to her table as well as the benefits they bring to her health. Veganuary is a great time to do just this and add some variety to your own diet. Whether for health reasons, ethical reasons or simply just to embrace a different way of living, as a marketing campaign Veganuary has made finding vegan alternatives and exciting plant-based foods even more easy for those not used to it. For those looking to get more creative, January is also great for some motivational cooking and experimenting with vegan recipes. Veganuary itself began in 2014 and participation since then has increased each year. 400,000 people signed up to the 2020 campaign and it is estimated that this number represented the carbon dioxide equivalent of 450,000 flights and the lives of more than a million animals. 

As with everything food based, it comes as no surprise that Kent is at the forefront of vegan foods and dining experiences, but being home to so many orchards and fields of vegetables, that’s hardly a surprise. Today’s veganism goes far beyond just fruit and veg, however. Vegans no longer have to forfeit treats as changes are being made to the things they were once expected to give up because of their diets and this way of life that confectioners and food producers previously ignored – veganism is thankfully now being embraced as an alternative new normal. 

Goupie Chocolate (www.goupiechocolate.com) is a prime Kentish example of this: devilishly moreish, dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free, this handmade confectionery is just one example of what was once a treat only available with dairy, but that has become perfectly fine for vegans to consume and just as delicious. Kentish wines, Balfour (www.balfourwinery.com) and Folc (www.drinkfolc.com), were two of the first English wine brands to jump on the vegan wine bandwagon choosing to either leave the particles to sink naturally to the bottom of the wine, or use non-animal fining products in the process. Other plant-based alternatives come in the form of faux-meat too, with products such as TiNDLE (www.tindle.com) ‘chicken’ taking the high-end dining scene by storm, in addition to chain eateries such as as Greggs and McDonalds releasing their own vegan substitutes: the much loved vegan roll and highly anticipated McPlant burger. 

Remember, it is not all about food either, ‘vegan’ comes in all shapes and sizes – from vegan footwear to vegan cosmetics – there are plenty of ways to get involved. With research and development, leather is being outdone in lots of areas of fashion with better materials created for purpose-made items such as running and hiking shoes, which now use more durable and animal friendly materials. If this is all feeling like too much to think about, don’t be put off. Although Veganuary is a great time to go vegan, it is not the only time to be or not to be vegan. Dipping in and out of a diet and lifestyle is a great way to begin more dramatic changes, or simply just embrace something new you might enjoy – if my grandmother can do it, so can anyone.

insideKENT’s seven easy steps for embracing veganism

  • Take it slow. Things don’t happen overnight, so take it in manageable steps by doing things such as replacing a meal with a plant-based meal or being vegan for a week.

  • No pressure. Don’t think about the things you can’t eat, think about all the things you can eat and perhaps some you haven’t tried before. Don’t berate yourself if you slip up or accidentally order a coffee with dairy milk instead of oat.

  • Don’t just eat vegan junk food and ready meals. Focus on eating mainly whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and grains to ensure you’re getting plenty of nutrients.

  • Meal prep. Changing your diet can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be with organisation. Plan your meals ahead of time, use recipes for inspiration and shop for them with a list of ingredients.

  • Supplement. An important part of making big changes to the diet is knowing what vitamins or minerals you may need to supplement. Holland and Barrett are great for nutrient advice, so check in with them to ensure you’re not missing out. 

  • Experiment with recipes and cook for others. This is a great way to stay motivated, share your experience and inspire others while getting the most fun out of your diet. 

  • Try new restaurants. Whether it’s inspiration or just a really good meal you’re looking for, every city and town is sure to have a brilliant vegan restaurant – or at least one with a vegan menu. Kent is no stranger to a plant-based foodie paradise, so make sure you check out our round up of favourites in insideKENT’s Top Spots for Vegan Dining.

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