I’m one of the least likely people to go vegan. I love meat – I’ve tried rattlesnake, bone marrow and even alligator. I always assumed giving up meat would make you feel weak and tired, plus I could never imagine voluntarily eating tofu. But then my 12-year-old daughter, Nancy, discovered climate activist Greta Thunberg
Greta is a real inspiration to Nancy and her friends. She taught them how – by eating meat and contributing to global warming – adults are destroying the planet that Nancy’s generation will be living on. Greta is vegan, too, and persuaded her parents to give up meat (her mum does admit to being only 90% vegan, but that seems more than enough to me).
In our house, my partner is vegetarian and Nancy avoids red meat, so it’s just me and my son William, 10, who devour sausages and burgers. We’ve talked before about doing meat-free Mondays to help protect the environment and reduce cruelty to animals, but Nancy wanted to go one step further: “I bet you couldn’t even go vegan for one day,” she said. And so the challenge was on.
Day one: I went to make breakfast and instantly realised that my usual options – muesli with milk, toast with butter, and tea with more milk – were out of the question. I headed to the shops in search of some dairy-free alternatives, taking three times longer than usual while I made sure what I picked was vegan-friendly.
But the choice of foods I could eat was pretty impressive. Egg-free mushroom ravioli, cheese-less pizzas, oat drinks, hummus, Quorn slices. Some of the tastes were new to me, but so much better than I’d expected.
Best of all was the vegan snack selection. I cycle a lot and eat wine gums and flapjacks to keep me going. The gelatine, butter and honey meant they were out, but Nakd snack bars made from dates, nuts and fruit kept my energy levels up and tasted great.
By day three, the vegan experiment was going well but I was getting tired of processed food. A vegan friend told me that the key to going plant-based was home cooking “with bucketfuls of herbs and spices” to make it tasty. She sent me a few recipes and I got to work. Minimalist Baker’s easy vegan ramen was delicious, filling and helped me get over my fear of tofu; Bosh!’s portobello mushroom burger was an instant winner; and I made up a vegetable curry with coconut milk that was perfect.
Home cooking takes effort, though, so I allowed myself a cheat day and ordered in from a vegan restaurant called Miranda Cafe, in Crouch End, north London. I can’t say I fell in love with plantain, but jackfruit was impressive: the texture of pulled pork with a rich, smoky taste. A courgette and aubergine lasagne was a big hit with the children, who then dived into vegan desserts: Oreo cake and salted caramel cheesecake (which tasted amazing even without “real” cheese).
After five vegan days, I was ready to go back to meat and dairy. At the start of the challenge I wasn’t sure I could last even a day without them, but everything I’d been worried about – feeling tired, eating boring food, missing meat – turned out to be wrong. I felt more energetic than normal, the food was genuinely tasty and it felt good to be doing something to help the planet.
It wasn’t easy. I had to totally rethink my diet, but it has opened my eyes to a kinder way to eat.
Maybe I’m not ready to be a full-time vegan, but I am thinking more deeply about how what we eat affects the future of our children. I’ve cut down the amount of meat I eat, I’ve adopted date-based snacks, I’m enjoying oat drinks, and I’m carrying on with the vegan cooking.
As for Nancy, she was impressed with my efforts (and wants to have the vegan Oreo cake again). We’re planning to go on the next climate crisis march together.