‘What I learnt living as a vegan for a week – and how much it cost’

Veganism is gaining in popularity across the UK, with over half a million Britons claiming to follow plant-based diets.

The dramatic growth has seen a 350 per cent increase of self-professed vegans in the last 10 years, according to the Vegan Society.

While vegans were once the butt of jokes, preconceptions have changed about those that swear off meat, dairy, and animal products, with more and more changing diet in a bid to improve our health as well as being kinder to the planet.

Switching to veganism can see 200 fewer animals slaughtered yearly for meat, and there's also plenty of evidence to show that a meat-free diet is the single biggest way to reduce our impact on the earth.

HullLive reporter Anna Riley decided to give the vegan diet a go for a week – here's how she got on.

It was tough at first

The whole premise of  veganism  is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

This means eating a plant-based diet, avoiding all foods such as meat, fish and shellfish, dairy, eggs and even honey as well as animal-derived materials and products tested on animals.

As commendable as this lifestyle is, for a life-long meat eater, as well as often eating eggs and a LOVER of cheese, the challenge to go cold (and meatless) turkey was certainly a tough one.

It was difficult at first to think of tasty vegan recipes to make for my meals that would be tasty compared to the meat and fish that were staples in much of the food I was used to eating. 

Luckily, my almost vegan friend (she still eats eggs) helped me out when I asked for advice on what to shop for, and advised me to eat fruit for snacks, as well as stocking up on vegetables, nuts, beans and pulses to make a variety of meals that she sent over, including stews, curries, salads, stir fry and more.

She also signposted me to plenty of vegan inspired recipes to look at online for inspiration.

It was more expensive and took time to shop

Because I needed to replace all the dairy items that I normally had with vegan alternatives, my shop cost me nearly £16 just for staples and snacks, much more than it normally would if I was buying ordinary milk, cheese, butter, yoghurts, crisps and chocolate.

Along with spending more on these items, there was also a much more limited selection on offer. I could only find two varieties of vegan cheese in the Tesco extra store in Hull St Stephen's Centre, which I was surprised by, and there was only a small selection of dairy free yoghurts.

I went to Aldi for my main fruit and veg shop and was happily surprised to find a vegan section there, which included curry pots, sweet potato and beetroot burgers and red pepper and butternut squash sausages, as well as low calorie vegan pea snap crisps, so I snapped all of these up along with the lentils, beans, tinned tomatoes and spices in my trolley.

As I wasn't buying meat or fresh fish, which can add up, and instead bulking up on veg, I'd say that in the end I spent roughly as much as normal on my shop, if not a little more for the vegan alternatives and ready meals.

It also took me more time than normal to shop, as not many products are already labelled 'vegan', so I had to scour the back of many packets to check that they contained no animal product at all, and even accidentally ended up getting cereal bars that weren't vegan, as they had honey in them.

One evening on my late shift I also had to grab something at Tesco for tea on my break but there were no vegan sandwiches in sight, as egg and cheese were the only meatless options, so I ended up shelling out £4 for a tofu ready meal that was granted very tasty, but also very costly.

Tea rounds and office snacks were a no go

Not wanting to bring a large carton of dairy free milk to work just for hot drinks for myself, I didn't join in with the tea rounds other than to have a black coffee, and even then my colleagues would forget that I was 'off milk' and accidentally add it to my drink when they were making me one.

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I also had to dodge the snacks that my kind colleagues brought into the office such as chocolate doughnuts and cakes, as they were also made with dairy products.

Clearly, dairy is a lot more prominent in our everyday lives than I once thought.

The food was tasty

I thought that I would be hankering for meat throughout the week, being used to eating it on a regular basis, but the food I made and ate was actually delicious – and the vegan cheese was even palatable, but of course not as good as the original version.

There was plenty of variety in what I had and I didn't feel like I was missing out with the vegan diet. The only thing that I did yearn for towards the end of the week was eggs, as I do enjoy them now and again for breakfast or in a fritatta or quiche.

The vegan ready meals from the supermarket are definitely something I'd eat again, and I'd make some of the same recipes again, including the butternut squash bangers and mash, veggie stir fry, lentil stew, ratatouille, and curry, with plenty also for leftovers the next day.

I also didn't miss milk or yoghurt, with the dairy free alternatives tasting just as good and if not better in my porridge, tea, coffee and smoothies, and the dairy free butter even being nice on toast.

The vegan chocolate also went down well, and I couldn't get enough of the pea snack crisps.

Other than the taste, another thing I noticed about the vegan meals was that I was not as full as I normally would be when eating a non-plant based meal, and felt hungrier than normal, perhaps because I wasn't getting enough protein or eating enough carbs.

Eating out was difficult


Despite their being places in Hull that cater for vegans (including Thieving Harry's where I had the most delicious vegan almond slice), it was difficult to find a variety of choice when eating out at restaurants which cater to mainly meat eaters.

I felt very picky when I went out for dinner to a 'non-vegan' eatery, and was disappointed at the menu choice for my needs.

Luckily there are places near me like Zoo Café which have a wide variety of veggie and vegan meals and don't serve meat, but it would be nicer to see more vegan options on the menu at other restaurants around the city.

I avoided wine and beer

Much to my dismay, and previously unbeknown to me, I found buying beer and wine a faff, as it can be processed using animal products such as isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes), egg whites, casein (milk protein) and even bone marrow, making it non-vegan if processed in this way.

There are several common fining agents that are animal-friendly and used to make vegan wine and beer like limestone and silica gel as suitable alternatives, but it takes time to look for this on the back of a bottle, and is often more expensive, so I just gave booze and the pub a swerve for the week.

But fortunately, virtually every brand of hard liquor like bourbon, whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum is vegan, so I took heart in this should I have wanted a drink.

I felt better for it

Throughout the challenge, I actually had more energy through following the vegan diet, which gave me the boost to exercise more, and by the end of the week I'd actually lost weight and felt much better in general.

My skin was also clearer, perhaps because I was eating healthier, and sorry if it's oversharing, but I also noticed that I went to the toilet a lot more because I was consuming more fibre through all the veg, which may have also contributed to the weight loss.

I also felt better morally that I was doing my bit for the planet and animals through the diet.

Final thoughts?

Even though I found the concept of going vegan for a week quite daunting, and found it difficult at first, I actually really benefited from the experience and would recommend everyone to at least give it a try to see how they get on.

I'm certainly not saying that I'm going to turn my nose up to a crispy bacon sandwich from now on, or demand a nut roast instead of traditional old chicken, nor will I refuse a sausage and a beef burger at a barbecue, or shun a pizza topped with all the cheese.

But living off a purely plant based diet has made me think just how much we rely on animal products, and how ingrained they are in our daily lives, which can be at times unhealthy.

I'll happily give up milk, yoghurts and butter from now on, as I felt much better for consuming the non-dairy alternatives, and I'm going to make more of an effort to make more vegan meals as they taste great, and are better for the environment.

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