Editor's Letter

What I’ve learnt in 15 years of being vegan

At the end of August I celebrated my 15 year veganniversary. When I made the leap I knew I wouldn’t look back, but I did wonder what would change over the years. If I’m honest, I thought it would always be hard. I thought we’d never find chocolate or cheese or meat replacement products that matched the ‘real’ stuff. I thought eating out would always be a bit awkward, and often disappointing. I didn’t think people would ever really ‘get it’, that it wouldn’t really make a big difference, but I was playing my part nonetheless and that was the main thing. I’m so happy I was proved wrong.

In 2019 the UK was reported to host 600,000 vegans, and by 2021 the UK meat-free food market is estimated to be worth £658m. In 2017 Sainsbury’s sales of its vegan cheeses surpassed the company’s predictions by 300% (anyone remember their ‘Gary’ campaign?) and in 2018 Waitrose increased its vegetarian and vegan range by 60%. Let’s not forget Greggs’ vegan sausage roll. Launched in 2019 it was their fastest selling new product in five years, leading them to top sales over £1bn. Plus their PR campaign was outstanding. When it comes to eating out, if we’re booking a restaurant and they don’t have a dedicated vegan menu – or at least a couple of vegan options – it’s probably not going to get our business. It’s 2020! Almost every chain restaurant will have vegan cheese and meat replacement on their menu. They’ll (generally) have well-thought out dishes, and have considered and consulted their vegan diners. The days of chips and salad are (hopefully!) behind us.

I still have ‘pinch me’ moments when I go to the supermarket and see tubs and tubs of vegan butter (15 years ago you could only buy Pure) sitting next to tubes of vegan croissants and pain au chocolat. I have conversations with friends where we critique restaurant menus, and realise how lucky we are to be fussy. We’ve got vegan versions of almost every product you can imagine (except yorkshire puddings – what’s up with that?) and new items are hitting the shelves every week. So what have I learnt after 15 years?

  • There’s never a ‘right’ time to go vegan. Just go for it. You’ll figure it out along the way. Follow people on social media, do some research, make sure you know why you’re going vegan and enjoy the ride!
  • You won’t miss cheese and chocolate as much as you think you will. In fact, you probably won’t miss it at all. The reasons why you’re going vegan will outweigh your cravings.
  • You’ll make mistakes – I still make them – but don’t feel bad about it!
  • Every single choice makes a difference. Seriously. Every time you choose a vegan dish over a non-vegan dish you’re saving lives, every time you buy a cruelty-free and vegan cosmetic over one that’s been tested on animals, you’re making a statement that says there is a market for vegan products. Even if you’re not ready to make the change yet, every pound that’s spent on the vegan market and lost on non-vegan products, makes a difference.
  • We’re all constantly learning and making decisions about how we spend our money. When I first went vegan I still shopped fast fashion, bought beauty products that had been tested on animals and had no idea which beers were vegan. Over time I did more research and made adjustments that made me happy. It’s not an ethical race!
  • The vegan community is one of the most supportive you’ll find. We get more excited about a new product than you can ever imagine. We’re basically a marketing department’s dream and a PR rep’s worst nightmare. Nothing gets past us, and things move QUICKLY. If you launch a new product, believe me – we’ve heard about it within a matter of minutes. I’m talking before it’s even hit the shelves it’s all over Instagram, Facebook groups are buzzing, forums are sharing the news, people are sending screenshots to their friends. If you slip-up though, you fall just as quickly – just ask Oatly

Another thing I’ve learnt over the years is that people have a lot of questions when they find out I’ve been vegan for so long. The question I get asked most is always – what was it like when you first went vegan?

Honestly, how you probably imagine it to be. Eating out was tricky, the food shop took longer and there wasn’t as much ‘fun stuff’. As the years went by it got easier though – and the excitement you felt when a new product was released or a new cafe opened cannot be described. It was harder, and duller, being vegetarian 20+ years ago. Quorn had three products on the market (I can’t look at their ‘chicken’ fillets without a hint of nausea) and Morrisons didn’t even label their food as vegetarian.

Other questions I often get asked?

Don’t you miss cheese or chocolate? No, because the reasons I went vegan are more important. You can get pretty decent chocolate now (far better than 15 years ago!) and whilst vegan cheese will never match the real thing, you can buy so many different varieties, you’ll soon find one you like. Personally I tend to avoid it, although I LOVE Papa Johns’ vegan cheese pizza.
Have you ever accidentally eaten anything non-vegan? YES! Many times. A rumour went round the vegan grapevine a few years ago that Tesco had switched their donut recipe, and I ate MANY bags in joyful excitement before realising I was buying the wrong ones. Oops. You won’t meet a vegan who hasn’t made a mistake along the way!
Is it hard to eat out? For the most part, no. Almost every chain restaurant has a vegan menu, which makes eating out much easier. Most cuisines lend themselves quite easily – Indian, Chinese, Turkish, Thai and Italian menus all have naturally vegan options, with just a few adjustments needed. If you’re worried, call ahead to chat through your dietary requirements.
Where do you get your calcium/protein from/are you vitamin deficient…? These are honestly the most irritating questions, and I can guarantee the person asking is in no way a qualified nutritionalist with a perfect diet. They will also have no idea where their own calcium/protein etc. comes from. Or what eating meat does to their digestive system. And please don’t tell a vegan that you don’t eat meat/cheese/eggs very often, they aren’t interested. Sorry! We have heard this 100000 times. End of rant.
What made you decide to go vegan? I spoke to friends who were vegan and researched the egg and dairy industry. Once I understood the cruelty involved, I’m the kind of person who can’t forget these things, and I realised the reasons why I had gone vegetarian were the same reasons why I should be vegan.
What’s the difference between plant-based and vegan? A plant-based diet is essentially that – a dietary choice whereas being vegan is an ethical choice that impacts beyond your diet, from the clothes you buy to the make-up you wear to the cleaning products you use.
Favourite chocolate bar? NOMO.
Favourite cheese? Daiya, Violife, Sainsbury’s garlic & herb cream cheese and Tesco’s smoked cheese.
Favourite takeaway? I’m not fussy 😉 Normally it’s curry, and I rarely stray from my usual vegetable madras with saag aloo, rice, chapatis, onion bajhis and poppadoms. I go ALL IN. If not, it’s Papa Johns with 50 garlic dips, cauliflower wings and marmite scrolls. If I’m with my family we always get a Chinese takeaway, so I’ll get veggies in black bean sauce, tofu and cashews in kung po sauce with vermicelli rice noodles (no egg) and veggie spring rolls.
Best city to be vegan in? Brighton’s my favourite city in the UK, so my heart says there – we have Terre a Terre, Food for Friends, Purezza, Beelzebab, What The Pitta, Infinity Foods, Loving Hut, The Vurger Co, Moshimo, Pizzaface and The Pond to name a few – plus countless pubs serving vegan roasts on a Sunday.

It’s never been a better time to be vegan, and I’m so excited to see what the next 15 years will bring. It feels like every week a new product is announced, as each company tries to out-vegan the next. Whether you’ve been vegan for a week, a year, a decade or more – let me know how long you’ve been vegan for and what you get asked the most.

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