Fake bacon that tastes like shoes insoles. Meat-free hagggis and
turkey made from tofu. When a devoted carnivore agreed to live as a
vegan for a month, he was deeply apprehensive. But the effect on his
health was simply astonishing
One day I was bemoaning to a female friend that I felt a bit run down
and in need of a change of eating habits, while unhelpfully refusing
to be drawn into any discussions on faddy diets that she proposed.
Maybe out of desperation, maybe revenge, she suggested I become vegan.
I laughed, thought about it, and laughed again.
My decision to go vegan elicited a variety of responses, but not one
Meat eaters thought it ludicrous, even vegetarians weren't convinced
it was possible, and one person told me he'd rather eat his arm.
With ill-disguised glee they ran through lists of things I wouldn't be
able to eat.
It was a depressing list - basically vegetarianism without the eggs,
milk, cheese, butter or cream. And for a man whose culinary art could
be summed up by 'pierce film and microwave for three minutes, stirring
once', how would I deal with ingredients that actually required
The doctor was deeply sceptical that four weeks as a vegan would be
enough to see a difference and said he wouldn't recommend veganism as
the body needed meat to function.
However, he wished me well and I left, vegan for a month.
My first week of being vegan was depressing. I would open the fridge
to find nothing worth picking at, nothing to give you that little
Vegan food often does itself no favours with naming. I found a
Tofurkey in the freezer and a strange yogurt alternative called
Soyage, which conjures up several images, none of which verge on
And then there was tofu: this is a form of soya and a critical staple
of veganism. It comes in many formats, most of which are disgustingly
sloppy, but the smoked and herbed variety is much sturdier and tastes
Soya has been of some concern recently due to its phytoestrogens (aka
feminising plant qualities) but frankly I was too hungry to care.
I had to become far more imaginative and resourceful to acquire taste,
using rosemary, soy sauce, coriander, chillies, garlic, cinnamon,
ginger and mustard in an attempt to recreate the elusive feeling of
'bite' you get with meat.
It takes a while to adapt but after a few weeks you get used to the
limited parameters, and learn how to find pleasure within them.
I felt lighter, too, as one's bowels move into increased regularity.
Despite the fact that I hadn't cut down on the amount of food - and
alcohol - I consumed, I could feel I was losing weight.
So why do otherwise perfectly sane people become tofu-powered vegans
when vegetarianism already covers the killing of animals?
The answer is multifold. First, egg and dairy production requires only
the female of the species, so the surplus males are killed at birth or
when very young.
There is also the view that the treatment of farmed animals is cruel
(and this includes bees).
It is an uncomfortable fact that, as a meat eater, I am very happily
complicit in being removed from the knowledge of how my meat gets to
be on my plate, but vegans do not believe in burying their heads in
Other arguments are religion or health-driven. Carl Lewis, winner of
nine Olympic golds and the International Olympic Committee's
'sportsman of the century', adopted a vegan diet, stating that his
best performances were achieved while on this.
I imagine Carl had the ear of some very good nutritionists to guide
him and I am not convinced my diet was good enough.
Before, I used to struggle to eat those elusive five fruit and veg a
day, but now as a vegan I was recommended to eat seven - a truly
By the end of the month I was also sleeping better than as a carnivore.
It's not so bad, this vegan thing. And I seem to have lost that
desperate urge for dairy produce, which surprises me.
It's now two weeks since my month was up and I allow myself more
leeway when eating out - an occasional bite of cake or not refusing
accidentally poured milk in coffee.
However, I am managing to maintain much of what I have learnt - I've
not had a bite of meat, and am still keeping at bay the image of steak
and chips that occasionally flicks through my mind. Maybe a fakon
sandwich might help.