It has been some time since I last posted, but get ready for a lot more from The Standard in the next month, and a bit of a change in format. I am setting myself the challenge of eating entirely vegan for 30 days, starting this Monday. So, in addition to posting recipes, I’ll be writing about my progress.
I’m currently a pesco-vegetarian, meaning I eat seafood (mostly – I try to avoid things like octopuses, that are extremely intelligent, and fish like swordfish, which are a threatened species), as well as eggs and dairy products, but I do not eat any other meat. The decision to become pesco-vegetarian, made when I was a young child, was made on ethical grounds, and I still firmly believe that the ethically superior diet is one that avoids meat. In fact, I think that it is very likely that the ethically best diet is one that avoids all animal products – not just eating meat, but eggs and dairy, and certainly not eating most seafood, as I do. If an individual owns their own chickens that they take good care of, and from whom they get fresh eggs, I can’t imagine there would be an ethical objection to this that would convince me, but this certainly not the position I am in – I am in the position of consuming animal products that are the result of mass farming practices, even if organic and local, and I understand that avoiding the products of such farming practices is more ethical than not.
But I don’t want to get into an ethical debate here – nor is my aim to convince people to become vegetarian or vegan. Even if I think that veganism is more ethical than pesco-vegetarianism, I am only going to be doing it for a month. There are lots of ways in which I could ethically improve my behaviour – I could give more money to charity, I could become more active in political lobbying for the positions I support, I could help out at soup kitchens, or volunteer teaching philosophy to high school children. I am not as good as I could be, but sometimes it is worth trying to be a little better, even if only for a month. The truth is, if I ever do become vegan (or just a full vegetarian), the change will be driven by ethical considerations. Doing it for a month, however, is driven by a whole range of other reasons:
1. You can eat really well on a vegan diet.
I know you can. And the main motivation for going vegan for a month is to prove this to myself, and to anyone who reads this blog. The aim behind the whole thing is to be pushed into discovering great new recipes that I may otherwise have overlooked, as well as to come to know new dishes and restaurants. I am not going to eat fries and soy hotdogs (though they are delicious) for the entire month – it is not a punishment or an ordeal I want to inflict on myself. The challenge is to eat great food that I have been previously unfamiliar with. As someone who loves food, this really excites me.
2. It is always useful to be able to cook at least a few good vegan meals.
Being a vegetarian used to be a lot harder than it is now – it wasn’t just that it used to be difficult to find restaurants with good vegetarian options (which I am sure is still the case in some cities), or that there weren’t so many great vegetarian products readily available in supermarkets like there are now (Sanitarium, Amy’s and Quorn are brands that come to mind). One of the big difficulties was that most people didn’t know how to cook anything vegetarian (at least nothing that they would want to serve to guests), so being a vegetarian guest of a non-vegetarian household could make you feel like a burden. (I remember as a child my grandparents in Oldham, England had no idea what to serve me the times I visited them other than sweets and fish from a can).
One thing that tends to happen if you are invited round to dinner by people who are not used to cooking for people with your dietary restrictions (whatever they are) is that you get a different meal to everyone else. Of course, at something like a barbecue where there are lots of different dishes that people are eating from, this is fine, or even if you are staying with people for a long period of time then it is completely understandable. But at a dinner party it is odd, and can be a bit uncomfortable for everyone there. It seems to suggest that the food you are being served is not good enough for the other guests to eat, nor would the hosts want to eat it themselves. It is such a nice gesture on the part of the hosts of a dinner party to make something you can eat, but how much nicer for you (and easier for them) if they knew a couple of diet-specific recipes that everyone would genuinely enjoy.
I have a few vegan friends, and if I have them over for a meal, I try hard to make it a vegan meal that rivals any other meal I would make for guests. But it is tough, because I very rarely eat vegan so I have just not tried that many vegan recipes. For social reasons alone, this month will give me a great store of new recipes I will be able to use for just such moments. (What if Brad Pitt or Alec Baldwin happened to come over for dinner – I want to be as prepared as possible for such an eventuality.) And this applies not just to the vegans in my life – if you are a vegetarian and have someone over to dinner who is lactose intolerant, knowing a few good vegan recipes is extremely useful if you want everyone to be able to share the same meal.
Guiseppe Arcimboldo represents what it would be like to have a head made of animals vs a head made of vegetables…
3. Switching to a vegan diet will (hopefully) have health benefits.
There are many well-documented health benefits to not eating red meat, but you don’t generally get healthier merely by cutting something out of your diet. A vegan diet is not going to be a healthy diet if all you eat is vege-burgers and fries. In making this shift, however, for the short time I am, I am going to be extremely conscious of the food I am eating – I want to eat good food, not just limit my diet to the few vegan things I currently enjoy eating.
What I am hoping will make the difference in making this shift will be that I will not just be able to get take away or snack on things from the fridge without giving much thought to what I am eating. That, and I won’t be able to eat milk chocolate and whole egg mayonaise, which, sadly, I really should take a break from.
We have been eating out far too much recently (one contributor to the dearth of recent blog posts), and I can only assume that the change will also encourage me to cook at home a lot more. That, plus the fact that I won’t be buying some expensive ingredients such as fresh fish or fancy cheeses, means I also envision saving a bit of money this month.
Other than these reasons, it will give me something new and exciting to blog about, I will hopefully encourage people to try adding the occasional vegan (or just vegetarian) dish to their cooking repertoire, and I just rather like a good challenge.
The 30 days of veganism begin Monday. If anyone else wants to join me, I would love to hear about your progress.