Anna Dusseau | 1st March 2020
No meat? No dairy? No problem! At the conclusion of a vegan trial week, Anna Dusseau sips soy latte and contemplates the pros and cons of plant-based living.
It seemed like only a matter of time before I would have to try this vegan thing for myself. Our diet is – and has been for a long time – heavily plant-based thanks to my pathological fear of handling raw meat, a character trait which still has my steak-loving French husband sporadically questioning why he married me. So Monday to Friday is typically very ‘kidney-bean-stir-fry’ in our house and dairy is a present, but by no means dominant, part of our diet. We drink black coffee, eat toast for breakfast, and curl our lip at anything less than 85% chocolate. The general vibe, therefore, on the eve of vegan week was: smug (me), resigned (French man-child), inexplicably and rather gratingly over-enthusiastic (assorted offspring). Wait, what? Yep, kids too. Including the baby. Because although this made things rather more tricky, when faced with the wrath of my home-schooled eco-warrior eldest daughter (‘this is our planet too, mummy!’) I was, quite naturally, too scared to say no.
Of course, it isn’t entirely in the spirit of the vegan adventure to chuck all offensive perishables in the bin on day one, so we had spent the previous week dutifully finishing up the eggs, baking a French gateau au yaourt to dispose of the barrel of probiotic yoghurt which always glares at me from the depths of the fridge, and adding chorizo to anything and everything, regardless of its September 2021 expiry date. It was a fun project and I was convinced that vegan cooking would be an equally interesting and rewarding task. Sadly, the addition of the children meant that my original plan to binge eat cashew nuts and subsist mostly on tofu and vegan wine, was firmly binned along with the non-vegan Waitrose falafel. Now, thanks to the recently weaned bambino and my cheese-addicted middle son, I was having to actually research and balance our menu for the week, considering vegan sources of calcium, iron and Vitamin B12 which would be both readily available and palatable for these fussy customers. We would have to try kale chips, after all.
But, to my surprise, it went rather well. Sorry to disappoint. After a few rookie errors (’Tesco doesn’t do almond yoghurt? Say whaaat?’) and one mid-week wobble involving a lack of Maltesers, a jar of cocoa powder and a dessert spoon, we gradually found our vegan groove, swapped the bitter kick of unsweetened soya for creamy oat milk and began to feel okay with cashew-based parmesan. With genius vegan food bloggers like Lauren Toyota and Gemma Davis, it’s hard not to enjoy vegan cuisine. We even managed to pull off nachos night thanks to a genius recipe involving carrots and potatoes, which gave a silky feel to the faux-cheese topping and was nicely offset by an extremely punchy guacamole blend. And here’s where you have to be careful. It does seem that vegan living, even with a young family, can be more than achievable if you do your homework and know your zinc from your iodine. However, beware the flavour-boosting dose of salt added to many vegan shop-bought products and online recipes alike. My advice here is simply to cook from scratch whenever possible and have a stash of tongue-tingling alternatives to hand, such as lemon juice, garlic powder and chilli.
My vegan experiment took our weekly shop from £120 to around £160. This was, in part, due to our giddy purchasing of vegan novelty foods (Alpro chocolate ganache was about as satisfying as swallowing slugs) but also the necessary initial outlay of stocking up on vegan cupboard essentials like coconut milk, tahini and industrial-size packs of brazil nuts. I would estimate that, once vegan living is established and the party phase is over, you could look at a saving of at least £15 per week on your food shop, as you swap expensive meat and fish items for tinned beans and frozen tofu. Clearly, as with the salt issue, your wallet is also going to be hit harder if you are searching for ready-made meat and dairy alternatives, rather than buying raw ingredients. More tricky to manage, however, is the adoption of the full vegan lifestyle, including vegan and cruelty-free soap, toothpaste and domestic cleaning products. There is undoubtedly a price tag attached here and conscious living can, at this point, feel more like affluent eccentricity. Fear not, though, as there are now a host of ethical DIY bath and beauty bloggers such as Ela Vegan (my fave) teaching you how to make lavender shampoo from olive oil and clay. Again, the initial outlay will set you back financially, but the long-term benefits to your body, your bank balance and, importantly, your planet, are overwhelming.
At the end of my mini voyage into veganism, I found myself feeling noticeably healthier, more energised and more ecologically engaged. The children too were enjoying themselves, googling raw cacao and cashew nut cookie recipes in a bid to satisfy the sweet craving following Friday afternoon swim lessons. Even the permanent, unpaid French au pair finally admitted that vegan wine tastes ‘pretty good’ and took his natural skepticism of all things vegan to its natural conclusion; getting more involved in the kitchen. So yes, jack fruit really does give a meaty taste to traditional dishes, a baked camembert texture can be achieved with potato starch, and you too can be an eco warrior when writing your shopping list. Tonight, we are finishing off that chorizo with spaghetti and clams – and I’m looking forward to it – but I’m also looking forward to an after-dinner slice of the devilish vegan brownie the kids baked at the weekend. It is, most definitely, a start.
Don’t be a stranger! Click here to subscribe to my FREE weekly newsletter, including FREE video tutorials on homeschool topics!