My family and other vegans

By - Tuesday 4th November, 2014

Liz Sheppard-Jones finds out how to survive World Vegan Day without setting foot outside Croydon

Breakfast on World Vegan Day.
Photo author’s own.

It was World Vegan Day on Saturday 1st November – Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. My household joined in. Why?

Well, I’m fascinated by diet and well-being, I hold qualifications in nutrition, and I worked in the field for several years. As a teenager I was briefly vegetarian (more to annoy my parents than from concerns about animal rights, but my interest in food culture originates there). I also want my children to be fit and well, which is not a given in a society that’s totally lost the plot around eating: while millions lack basic food and clean water, the developed world binges its way to disease and premature death. Leaving aside health problems caused by excessive salt and sugar, we consume far too much meat and treat animals horribly to keep it cheap – yet cheap food sickens us and shortens many lives. It’s a mess.

Is veganism the answer? The Croydon Vegan and Vegetarian Society says yes, and promoted World Vegan Day with a display in Croydon Visitor Centre.

Phew – one phone call and I’ve located vegan wine

Avoiding all animal-derived produce is a way of life – you fill your cupboards with stuff you can eat. One-day veganism takes shopping and Googling but still, it’s easier than I thought. One phone call to Sainsbury’s Purley Way locates vegan milk and wine (phew – several choices and specially labelled). I also visit Holland and Barrett in the Whitgift Centre.

Breakfast goes well, with a selection of plant milks. Alpro coconut milk (£1.59 for 1 litre) is a little watery but pleasant-tasting and just makes muesli nuttier. I put almond milk (£1 for 1 litre) on my sons’ cereal without comment and they both start eating. Towards the bottom of the bowl my thirteen-year-old asks “What’s this?” and I tell them, but he finishes it, unconcerned. My younger son immediately leaves the rest.

Why is the sports centre full of sugary junk?

After swimming: easy. We take fruit, same as always. (OK – sometimes we take crisps). Waddon Leisure Centre naturally offers children lots of sugary junk after their, erm, healthy exercise, and I’m with the health foodies on this one. Why don’t they clear that stuff out?*

(* I know why. That stuff makes money, and it’s not as if there’s an obesity cris– oh. Wait.)

Beydagi Turkish Food Centre, London Road – highly recommended.
Photo author’s own.

Lunch is easy too – lots of what we’d normally eat is vegan. We love the brilliant Beydagi Turkish Food Centre (83-85 London Road) where pide bread costs 75p, so with houmous, olives and salad we’re sorted. I add in Supreme Sos Rolls (£1.19 per roll) and slices of Cheezly (white cheddar style, £2.15 per pack), to test my theory that ready-made vegan stuff won’t be so great.

I’m half-right, half-wrong, as it turns out – the sos rolls go down well. The same is not true of Cheezly: billed as “animal and dairy-free, lactose-free, gluten-free”, it resembles those soaps from Lush, the cosmetics-and-bathtime-fun emporium, that come packaged in tissue paper – and had there been tissue paper to hand I would have eaten it at once to remove the taste, which is (the only printable comment made) “like raw potato”. It’s now in our freezer because my partner keeps an eye out for experimental fish bait. Sorry, vegans.

Afternoon: my kids are allowed sweets only at weekends (though they travel to school independently these days so I’m probably kidding myself). As today is Saturday, I’ve done research: Starburst turns out to be vegan, as are most TicTacs (and in the US you can, apparently, obtain vegan Haribos). That’ll do nicely, although longer term such limited choice wouldn’t really be enforceable.

Adults’ treats: late Saturday afternoon finds us all watching Netflix and sipping our vegan wine – Sainsbury’s So Organic Shiraz, just £5. It’s okay.

And finally, dinner.

Asked to cook vegan, my partner looks like he’s swallowed a wasp

I do little cooking in my house, which makes me a fortunate and unusual woman. When I mention World Vegan Day, my partner looks like he’s swallowed a wasp, but the man can step out of his comfort zone and proves it, with almond milk in his coffee (which he quite likes) and a lengthy hunt for vegan pesto. But online searches for ‘quick, easy vegan meals’ don’t come up with many actual meals, just puddings, cakes and slices, which I find rather odd.

My ancient, bashed-up Cranks cookbook rides to the rescue. Lentil and tomato curry: deliciously warming and you don’t even notice how healthy (or vegan) it is, which is surely how good food ought to be.

One day is easy – committed veganism isn’t

One-day veganism leads to thoughtful conversations in our household. The vegans I’ve spoken to about World Vegan Day are clearly committed – one day is easy, what they are doing isn’t. You’d get familiar with food labels, of course, but the checking is a real grind and reduces spontaneity, which is something I value. To stick with this out of principle is admirable. Why am I still wary?

  • I’m cautious about lifestyles that add to the burden of domestic labour. Guess whose labour? For millions of multi-tasking women convenience food is a friend, and increasing the burden of shopping, cooking and meal-planning would be most unwelcome
  • Many raw foods are cheap (a giant 5kg bag of lentils costs just £5.99 in our corner shop) and healthy, but there are hidden costs here: time to chop, boil and bake, the equipment needed, storage space, bigger fuel bills. Not everyone has such resources, practical or psychological

There’s one more ‘but’, though, and it’s the biggest one of all. The rich world’s way of life is unsustainable, and I’m certain that eating more vegan food is the right thing to do environmentally, ethically and for health reasons.

Since when did ‘right’ mean ‘easy’? Pass the chickpeas, please.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

More Posts - LinkedIn

  • Jim Corcoran

    Delicious vegan food is one reason why the number of vegans has doubled in less than 3 years. Here’s a video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice:

    Join the revolution!

  • Evelyn

    Just to point out – Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday is on the 2 October. Not the 1 November as pointed out in this article. Also Gandi was a vegetarian but not a vegan.

  • Liana Cavalcanti

    You’ve got the wrong vegan cheese at Holland and Barrett. Cheezly is awful, you should have got Violife slices, they do original, mozzarella and cheddar at H&B, I like the cheddar a lot, you don’t say is vegan cheese. I’ve done the test with my work colleagues and they didn’t think it was vegan and asked for more :-)