VEGAN ALTERNATIVES YOU THOUGHT WERE GOOD FOR YOU
You could say that it was never going to be easy, and yes, veganism is certainly a lot more complicated than being an omnivore – or even vegetarian – but making a drastic lifestyle shift, in my mind, is only as complicated as you let it be. Easy for me to say (I didn’t fully convert to a plant-based diet, after all) but to feel like you’ve actually made a difference to your diet – to look at yourself in the mirror and think, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved today (and mean it) – is a lot harder than it seems. By the same token, though, why does it have to be any more complicated than, “Well, I don’t want to eat that anymore, but what about all this other stuff I can eat… and that are actually good for me?” What makes any lifestyle choice challenging is all the hot air around it. Veganism, in particular, is a minefield. And as much as I hate shooting holes in something before I’ve figured it out, eliminating (some of) the nonsense goes a long way towards finding your happy place within that change. These were (some of) my insights.
Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that vegans vary in intensity. While for some the prospect of ingesting (or even using) anything involving an animal in any way is a no-go. For others, like me, it’s about your impact on the planet. In both cases, there’s a lot of education involved, and my suggestion would be not to be too hard on yourself while you figure out what works for you and what you’re comfortable with. For me, when honey is ethically produced, locally sourced, and with a minimum of industrialisation – like the honey we source for Klein JAN – I don’t have a problem with eating it. The same goes for game meat. For others, the idea that bees have had to part with their hard-earned nectar to sweeten our coffee is cruel. It all depends on what you’re able to stomach… but more so, what you’re not.
ALTERNATIVE OFTEN JUST MEANS “SOMETHING ELSE”
Take almond milk, for instance. It’s the most popular non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk given how versatile it is – plus, it tastes great sweetened or unsweetened – but it’s hard to get past the fact that it takes 60 litres of water to produce one glass of almond milk.
Apart from just not being that into it, I found tofu as a cheese alternative to be similarly disappointing. Soy (the key ingredient in tofu) has a bad rep already, owing to the fact that it’s quite high in oestrogen (although you’d have to ingest so much for it to matter), but what I have trouble getting my head around is soy’s environmental impact. It’s been linked to staggering deforestation rates, and like almond milk, requires a lot of water to be processed into anything other than a bean.
For the moment, it seems like oat or potato milk are far better dairy alternatives (both require very little water by comparison and are super versatile) if you watch the sugar content. And there’s very little you can say about beans and lentils that would disqualify them from the meat alternative race. They’re incredibly nutritious and easy to dress up or down.
GOOD CHEMISTRY, BAD CHEMISTRY
One of the first things you learn when your knowledge of food goes a step beyond farm-to-fork is that it’s all chemical. That’s not to say that all food is pumped full of chemicals (although some of them are), but all organic matter is made up of some combination of chemicals, like water is made of hydrogen and oxygen H2O. It’s just science.
The problem comes in when a glance at the ingredients list on the back label causes your brow to furrow and you get the sudden urge to scratch your head. Too many commercially-produced, plant-based foods go through endless processes to get them to taste like bacon, beef or even seafood; in other words, the stuff we decided not to eat when we switched (or partly switched) to a plant-based diet.
Don’t let the green, leafy logos fool you. Often, the word “plant” has more in common with a production plant than anything you’ll find in nature. Artificial flavourants might not (always) come from animals, but that doesn’t make them good either.
BEWARE SNEAKY IMPOSTERS
One particular “say-what?” moment for me was salted peanuts. What about salt or peanuts could possibly contain anything that came from an animal? Well, some brands roast their peanuts in gelatine (made from animal collagen) to get the salt to stick to the peanut better. The same goes for a lot of fried foods, like chips. Depending on where you get your greasy-spoon fix, they’re often cooked in animal fat and not in a vegetable-based oil.
Some sweets and candies also contain gelatine, but often, the red colourant is derived from cochineal insects (the scaled kind), particularly those produced in the Americas. So, choose your sweet fix wisely. It’s not a given that your sugar hit necessarily only comes from plants.
On that sweet note, it’s often assumed that dark chocolate is vegan friendly… until you read the back label. Sometimes you’ll find obvious, not-so-plant-based ingredients on the list, but there are plenty of other, less pronounceable ingredients like lecithin (from animal tissues, egg yolks and only sometimes soy beans) on that list too.