Above: preparing plantain patties and crumbles.
Prior to this Lent, I had never given anything up assuming that I would shame myself by breaking the rules and giving into a magnetic piece of chocolate or whatever else I might have attempted to give up. Otherwise, I would tell my excuse making self “What’s the point, life is short, imagine if you were hit by a bus on Good Friday and you had just abstained from eating chocolate/cake/macarons for 40 days!” amidst other such internal dialogues and woolly rationales as to why not to make the attempt.
So, this year my boyfriend and I decided to give something up. I have a mainly vegetarian diet (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” by Michael Pollan was my natural motto even before I read his) but my boyfriend enjoys meat every now and then – being French, and having lived in Mexico City and Barcelona, meat featured in a lot of dishes. But why vegan? To backtrack a little, at the beginning of the year we had met up with some friends and their friends, an Italian couple, who had decided to go vegetarian and told us about all the benefits they felt health wise, energy wise, etc and they were sticking with it. This sparked a little curiosity in my Frenchie and he was keen to try vegetarianism. “Why not do it for Lent?” I asked. But as I am practically a veggie anyway that wouldn’t be forfeiting much for me. So, I took it one step further: “Let’s be vegan for Lent!”
We went for it. I realised that for someone who had always thought she wouldn’t be able to give anything up substantial to the pleasure of eating (see above, cakes, etc) I had now given up about four dozen things! Wow! This was a self back patting moment – if I got through it.
Lent is now over, the long Easter weekend already in the past (sigh) and we made it with “vegan Lent”! Not only did we make it, we loved it! When we told friends about our “vegan Lent” we heard some pretty hilarious comments such as “So, you’re just eating beans really?”, “Well, now you’ll know what punishment feels like”, “But you can eat dairy, right?” and simply “Why?”. Mother Nature provides a bountiful selection of fruit, vegetables and grains for us to enjoy in endless combinations so why the surprise and complaints? Are we still three year olds pounding our clenched fists on tables and turning puce at the sight of a carrot, wailing at the green and daunting broccoli? I hope not and with all the trade in exotic fruit and veg in and out of season we have an even wider range of ingredients to play with. I bet that the people who are flummoxed by veganism and vegetarianism actually eat a pretty limited diet themselves albeit with meat, always going for the steak option at a restaurant for example.
My boyfriend and I love cooking and experimenting with new dishes and limiting the choice of ingredients forced us to be more imaginative. Often for brunch at home we would eat toasted muffins with smoked salmon, a poached egg and spinach. Instead we had a brunch of green lentil dal, rice and plantain patties. It was absolutely delicious and I declared I could eat it every day for a month! We experimented wildly with recipes and by limiting our ingredients (only a bit of course, remember nature’s feast of vegetables!) we forced ourselves to deviate from our “go-to” recipes and vary our meals a lot. We started varying the oils we cooked with such as using coconut oil instead of the obvious olive oil. Just the smell of the coconut oil heating up was enough to make me go doolally! We tried restaurants with vegan options which we really enjoyed such as Mildreds, Wild Food Cafe and Sagar. We ate a lot of Indian inspired food as there are so many scrumptious Indian vegetable dishes to try. I had made vegan meals before for my vegan friends, so was familiar with alternatives to dairy ingredients, and once made biscuits with olive oil spread instead of butter. An Italian friend remarked on how delicious the biscuits were and that he could really taste the butter! I was surprised and so was he to find out that there was no butter in the biscuits! I had thought that his Italian body would have a inbuilt mechanism to recognise which region the olive oil in the spread was from, but no, he was fooled!
Other than enjoying the food during our vegan 40 days, we noticed some great health benefits. My stomach used to gurgle a lot no matter what time of day. I had read that this was just one’s stomach digesting but really, did it need to digest so loudly?!! All my colleagues could hear it! Two weeks into vegan Lent I suddenly realised: the symphony orchestra in my stomach is on sabbatical! I shot up from my desk and declared to my colleagues “My stomach doesn’t rumble anymore!!!”. “You’re right!” they chimed in with joy (and relief). But why? I don’t know. Was the previous rumbling a combination of gluten and dairy, certain grains with certain types of vegetables and fish? I need to look into it and I smile to myself at this silent benefit. Another health improvement was no heartburn for my boyfriend. He used to get heartburn several times a week, and as anyone who has had it knows it is not nice, but during the vegan period the heartburn disappeared. Maybe it eloped with my orchestra! Another difference I noticed was how awake I felt in the morning when my alarm sounded. I used to feel sluggish and press the snooze button several times but the vegan me felt wide awake instantly. Occasionally I felt tired in the morning when my alarm went off and needed to sleep a little longer but I could always directly relate it to a busy extra long working day the day before. I also did not feel hungry between meals – was this because I was eating whole foods and nothing laced with quickly absorbed sugars? When vegan you automatically cannot eat a lot of the manufactured fake food products that are out there which are made with refined industrialised ingredients. As if these benefits weren’t enough, friends even commented that we look younger!
So, will I stay vegan? No, not because it is boring or limiting, as some claim, but because I love food. I love food as a whole. I love eggs in pastry, buttery pain au chocolats and macarons and quiches and so on and so on. I love cheese and a good coffee with whole creamy cow’s milk. I am curious about food and different cuisines and I want to try them. However, I will make most of my meals plant based and eat animal products minimally because I believe it is healthier. I have always had a very healthy diet but I noticed new benefits to my health during my vegan period and I would be silly to ignore them. I am also suspicious of the modern production of food. I can’t grow my own vegetables or milk my own cows but I can at least go to the local farmers’ market and buy organic when possible and only proper food (not food products). I really recommend Michael Pollan’s books if you are interested in eating in the modern world. Furthermore, if you are interested in having more energy, losing a bit of weight and perhaps looking younger, go vegan! At least for a stint.
Here is a selection of the meals we prepared. Recipes on their way!
Curly kale, date, hazelnut and mushroom salad.
Faux spaghetti bolognese with minced quorn and red cabbage.
Rhubarb, forest fruits and apple ready to be topped with crumble.
Dal, plantain and apricot patties and a variation on Aloo Gobi.
Forrest fruit and apple crumble with pumpkin seeds.
Mushroom, sweetcorn, spinach and spring onion soup with grated fresh ginger.
Pearl barley risotto with purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.
Dry toasting pumpkin seeds.
It may look like fusilli with mashed potato but it’s fusilli with celeriac and apple sauce topped with parsley and dry toasted pumpkin seeds.
Rhubarb season. Glorious rhubarb!
A purple chard salad with lightly fried mushrooms, radishes, walnuts, toasted seeds and basil.