See what happened when we challenged this country bumpkin, no stranger to a Sunday Roast, to go veggie for 30 days. Turns out mushroom ragu with polenta could give beef bourguignon a run for its money any day…
I don’t know whether it was just me, but by the end of 2017 veganism seemed to be absolutely everywhere. I couldn’t scroll through Instagram without being confronted by another fitness blogger’s account of having converted to a plant-based diet, and I couldn’t stroll down the street without spotting a café advertising its new vegan menu.
Over time, I couldn’t avoid the thought popping into my head increasingly often that maybe I too should give it a go. By way of background, I have always been a meat eater through and through. I grew up in the rural countryside in a household where the Sunday roast was something no family member ever dared miss – and the rest of the week was usually spent finishing off leftovers in varying forms of pie, stew, sandwich filling, and so on. If you didn’t eat meat, you were pretty scuppered.
So when, over Christmas dinner with my entire family, I decided to bring up the subject of considering Veganuary, I was greeted with looks of disbelief that were almost as incredulous as the time Mum forgot to cook the pigs in blankets.
My ever-supportive father was quick to bring up the memory of that time I decided to become a yoga teacher and vowed never to eat meat again, only to succumb to a fry-up after a particularly exhausting Jivamukti session.
But those fickle days were behind me, I was quite certain – this time it felt like all the signs were pointing me towards going plant-based: my heightened consciousness of all things vegan around me seemed like a subliminal message that I needed to give it another go – and this time, I was going to do it properly.
That meant re-educating myself on how to eat a balanced meal without meat, given that cutting meat out of most of my current meals would essentially leave me with just potatoes and veg – hardly a nourishing diet.
I did a great deal of googling and consulted my veggie friends – noting how this group seemed to have grown rapidly over the past few years – and felt armed with enough knowledge to give it a good go this time around, easing myself in by aiming to go vegetarian rather than entirely plant-based to begin with.
It didn’t get off to a cracking start, when my boyfriend surprised me with a birthday weekend in France, where every single restaurant menu was divided in two sections: ‘Viandes’ and ‘Poissons’. I wouldn’t have even noticed this in my former carnivorous days, but now I seemed to have no option but to choose an extra-large version of the fromage selection as a main course. Quel dommage…
After a diet of bread, cheese and pastries for four days, I came back home feeling in need of a detox to kickstart my vegetarian regime. So I got in touch with Spring Green to try out their ‘Botanical Superfood Radiance Programme’ – with a name like that, I had high hopes that I too would soon exude a glow like all those vegan Instagram models.
Glowing aside, all the additional vegetables I was eating started to have an – ahem – interesting effect on my insides. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say regularity was certainly not an issue. It was a great feeling though – I felt thoroughly clean inside and out, full of energy, and much lighter.
One of my biggest concerns with the change in diet was how it would affect my training. As a very active person, the question I always faced was, ‘But how will you get all your protein?’ It shouldn’t come as a shock to most people that plant-based protein sources do exist, and there are plenty of them too.
I discovered a new love for Form Nutrition protein – having tried a lot of different brands, including both whey and plant-based options, this was by far the best-tasting I’d ever had. Their supplements also helped top up my energy levels throughout the day.
Having learnt from my experience in France, I became more strategic about choosing meals out at vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and discovered a whole new dining scene in London I’d never heard about.
A trip to Peckham Levels’ Wildflower for a casual dinner and drinks convinced even my steak-addicted boyfriend that mushrooms and tofu can be pretty damn special when cooked properly – their smoked tofu dish with ssamjang sauce, bok choi, carrot kimchi, sesame and almond is to die for, and the mushroom ragu with polenta would give a beef bourguignon a run for its money any day.
If you’re pushing the boat out, Gauthier Soho offer an entire vegan tasting menu alongside their meat and fish options, with highlights that include a black truffle risotto and poached rhubarb with sorbet, both of which burst with flavour.
I expected I’d be counting down the days until I could eat meat again, but the end of January arrived and – to my amazement – the Five Guys rampage I thought would ensue could not have been less appealing.
My overall energy levels were the best they’d ever been, my skin was glowing, and I felt lighter and more free in my body. I was expecting a euphoric reaction to my first taste of meat in over a month, but in fact it was utterly anticlimactic and a real disappointment.
In just 30 days I felt like my taste buds had reset and I no longer craved the juicy cuts of meat I would previously have salivated over. I’ve begun to integrate meat in my diet again, but it’s no longer the main event – most of my meals are now plant-based and even if I add meat, the veggies take centre stage.
I probably could have converted to vegetarianism entirely – and trust me, that surprises me more than anyone else – and maybe I will someday. For now though, my vegetarian month was an invaluable lesson in learning the virtues of veg and has altered what I had considered immovable eating habits for the better.
If I can do it, you most certainly can too – and you may just surprise yourself with the changes you’ll see.
Use the code DOSE25 to get £25 off any Spring Green food programme until the end of March.