I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life and I can honestly say that in all these years I’ve never thought about turning to meat or fish. Some might say it’s because I don’t know what I’m missing but I know it’s because I’ve been surrounded by a family of incredible vegetarian cooks.
As with most Indian families, good food was always at the centre of our gatherings. The nice thing is that my mum and aunts, all being passionate cooks and foodies, loved to experiment with all sorts of cuisines: from Italian to Mexican, Chinese, East African and Indian of course, so it was never just Indian food, though they always managed to add an Indian twist to every cuisine!
In a nutshell, in all these years as a vegetarian when I thought my dietary choice was helping to protect animals, I realised that in actual fact my dairy and egg consumption was contributing to the suffering of farmed animals. So for me, this change had to be made if I wanted to stay true to my morals. And I’m glad I’ve done it.
I think also having gone through pregnancy and breastfed my son for more than 12 months, I feel very sad thinking about what cows go through in order to satisfy the needs of the dairy industry. The fact that they are constantly being impregnated (by artificial insemination and not long after already having given birth) to keep up milk supplies and then being separated from their calves who are being denied their mothers’ milk makes me feel awful. I can only imagine the physical and mental trauma they go through. I don’t want to be a part of that.
There are also so many other compelling reasons to go vegan, from the impact of the dairy and egg farming industry on our environment, to the health benefits of cutting out dairy, meat and eggs, including the wonders I’m seeing it has done for my skin and waist line. You are what you eat after all.
Making the transition
In some ways, as a vegetarian, it was easier to make this change, as I didn’t have to worry about giving up meat or fish. And having grown up on an Indian diet which generally is quite vegan friendly, I already had so many tasty and nutritious recipes up my sleeve.
But in some ways it was harder as I relied more on eggs and dairy to meet some of my nutritional needs and to create many of the dishes I love to eat. Cheese and I especially have shared a very gooey relationship, but that’s over now, there’s no looking back. We are done. There’s a new man in town and his name is VEGAN Cheese!
Here’s how I did it:
Week 1: No more cow’s milk. I immediately made the switch to unsweetened almond milk. It’s fairly neutral in taste and is lower in calories compared to other milks (as long as you get the unsweetened version) and the brand I get is supplemented with calcium as well as vitamin D. I use almond milk so much now. With my bran flakes in the morning, to make creamy white sauces for pastas and pies, to make vegan gravy and in desserts and puddings. There really is no need for cows milk!
Week 2: No more yogurt. I eat a lot of yogurt, especially with my Indian food. I tend to use almond yogurt when I can find it as it’s a perfect sub. I did try coconut yogurt, and although it’s lovely, for eating with my Indian meals I need something more neutral in taste and almond yogurt is just right. When I can’t find plain almond yogurt, soya yogurt is the next best thing.
Week 3: Eggs out the door. I’ve always looked to eggs to get some additional protein in my diet, mainly on the weekend as part of my veggie breakfast fry up. But there are plenty of great plant based sources of protein so there’s no looking back here!
Week 4: Cheese. I thought this was going to be the hardest of the non-vegan foods to give up. But by this point I was so invested in making this change, I was not about to turn back. I’ll admit though that most store bought vegan cheeses aren’t great. I certainly haven’t enjoyed my experience of these. But homemade vegan cashew cheese, well that’s just gorgeous! In my early days I also find myself dining at Pizza Express when I needed a cheesy pizza fix. You can make any pizza you want and top with their vegan cheese. It’s creamy, light and works perfectly on pizza!
One of my main focuses during this transition has been to ensure that I still eat a well-balanced diet which is nutritious and still every bit as mouth-watering as the veggie diet I have enjoyed all these years.
So to help me along the way, I am working on a little vegan nutrition chart to draw on when planning meals and creating recipes to ensure I am eating a well-balanced and nutritionally rich diet. I hope to share this with you soon (it’s taking a little time as I’m trying to make it as comprehensive as possible). In the meantime, the Vegan Society have some really useful information on their website and a fabulous nutritional chart for purchase!