Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
My First Vegan Experience
I feel a bit of a fraud with the title of this piece. After posting over a dozen articles that extol the virtues of a plant-based diet, was I suddenly throwing in the towel? Not a chance: I’m in this for the long haul. The title refers to my failed attempt at veganism way back in my younger days, when it was a much more difficult road to travel, particularly alone. Here is an account of how I set off on, and then abandoned, my vegan journey.
I Take the Further Step
I’d been a vegetarian for about three years, when I befriended a group of people who shared a house in the west end of Newcastle. Theirs was a fully, or at least predominantly, vegan household. They bought food in bulk via a local co-operative which they helped to run, and they dined communally. I sat and ate at their table many times.
There was a rota for cooking, but everyone who took on that duty had mastered the signature dish of the house, a spicy red lentil stew that went by the rather unappetizing name of orange stuff. Served with rice, this was ideal food for young people sharing a house, it being filling, tasty, nutritious and, importantly, cheap. I never did get the recipe for that dish, which I have since tried to replicate, but without success.
But I’d seen enough of this lifestyle to make the change myself. I pictured myself ladling out orange stuff to my wife and (then) two kids. They were all omnivores, but always happy to try my meat-free dishes. It didn’t take long for me to realise though, that going it alone as a vegan would be a far more challenging prospect than a communal effort. Nevertheless, I felt my enthusiasm would see me through.
My First Setback
The first setback I came across was the scant availability of some vegan staples. I could only obtain soya milk and dairy-free margarine from a delicatessen some three miles, and a half-hour’s bus ride away, yet I could get dairy milk at the shop across the street. In those days, very few commercially made biscuits didn’t list milk or animal fat, or both in their ingredients. One of the few that didn’t was Co-op ginger snaps, and, thus restricted, I munched my way through several packets during my fleeting vegan adventure. These days it would be difficult to find a brand that still uses animal fat.
Then there were domestic difficulties. My aforementioned friends lived and worked in a busy city, where all manner of exotic foods were readily available. Retailers on my council estate in Shankhouse were somewhat more hard-nosed about, and even unaware of veganism. I kept it up for a couple of months, but it was just too difficult to sustain. I reluctantly took dairy milk in a coffee one day, not having the wherewithal for a bus ride to the deli, and my vegan journey was at an end.
Was it a cop-out? Possibly, but the overriding feeling I had at the time was that I just wasn’t enjoying the experience. I couldn’t replicate those communal feasts at Newcastle for which I yearned. Instead, my tofu had to share a fridge with bacon. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and veganism has undergone a complete transformation.
Vegan for a Second Time
In 2017, I was still a vegetarian, but I’d never been tempted back onto the path of veganism. Then one day, right out of the blue, my omnivorous girlfriend said she was switching straight over to a vegan diet. I was somewhat taken aback by this news, but after a moment’s consideration I decided to tag along on this new venture. I soon discovered how much easier it is to be vegan in the 21st century.
Before I move on to improved product availability, I must mention how much easier this strict dietary regime was with a partner on board who would share the experience with me; together we would delve into the domain of dairy-free. We looked through online lists of celebrity vegans, shared nuggets of nutritional information, and laughed as we scraped culinary catastrophes (there were several) from our plates into the bin. For me, veganism was, to borrow a song lyric, lovelier the second time around.
For where there had once been scarcity, there is now abundance. You want vegan mayonnaise? Aisle seven. Meat-free sausages? Try the freezer section. Non-leather shoes? Choose your style. This was a world away from those Spartan days of my first attempt. My local shop now sells soya milk and hummus, and vegan foods such as burgers, sausages, ice-cream and cupcakes are widely available.
Then there came the high street coffee shop revolution. All of the big players now offer a variety of non-dairy additions to their beverages, as do many smaller independent outlets. Most of the big fast food chains have embraced plant-based, offering all manner of burgers, shakes and ice-cream that are free of animal products.
Advice From Doctors
There is also a wealth of nutritional information out there. When I made my first attempt at veganism, many people had only negative comments to offer; I wouldn’t get enough protein, I’d waste away, and I’d end up with rickets. At that time I didn't have sufficient knowledge on the subject to offer much by way of rebuttal. My gran, who was absolutely aghast at my decision to ditch meat and dairy, and who insisted that those foods are essential for 'cleaning the blood', tried to give me a surreptitious protein boost by lacing my coffee with a teaspoon of Bovril beef stock. It didn’t go unnoticed.
These days information is much more accessible. When I embarked on this second journey, I checked out videos online. I was pleased to see that there was a lot of guidance out there, but even more heartened when I saw that many of those offering advice were vegan doctors, and that some gave entire lectures on the health benefits of a plant-based diet. By following their advice, I was able to turn my own health around, but that story is for another day.
In the meantime, here are some vegan doctors talking about their favourite snacks.
Second Time Around Playlist
After the so-called punk explosion, there came a level of confusion as to which bands fell into the punk category. Were the Motors punk? New wave? Post-punk? Pub rock? I don’t think categories matter when the music is as good as this. I certainly put it on the jukebox a lot, and if it was this extended version, then I got my money’s worth.