I'll admit it - I'm a sufferer of FOMO (that's 'fear or missing out'). It's in my nature to constantly seek out new experiences, to be fascinated by other people's passions and lifestyles, and wonder how my life would be if I could just do more or less of a certain activity.
So in order to practically satisfy some of my ponderings without completely overhauling my life permanently, I've decided to try out a few things within a limited time-frame. A week, to be precise.
First on my list: how easy would I find a week of eating a vegan diet? The rules: No animal products in my food (that includes meat, dairy, eggs and honey)
Breakfast: Porridge made with oats and water, cooked with raspberries and topped with strawberries and almonds. Black coffee.
Lunch: Avocado and chili flakes on toast, with tomatoes and an apple.
Dinner: Falafel burgers (recipe here), humus, harissa-spiced couscous, flatbread, roast vegetable skewers. Cocoa-peanut butter "ice-cream".
Snacks: Pear. Peanut butter (eaten off a spoon, obvs). Iced coffee with almond milk. Tea with almond milk..
Yesterday I was super excited about starting my vegan adventure. Fast-forward to 8am on Sunday and it's a different story when I add unsweetened almond milk to my coffee for the first time and promptly pour it down the sink and declare "Life without milk is miserable!". Possible a little premature/ridiculous a response, likely born out of nerves. At 10.30am I have a six-mile race - the first time I've taken part in a Leicestershire Road Running League event.
Lunch is a much better, much calmer affair. I'm always happy when there's avocado involved - even if I'm missing the additional, perfectly-poached eggs topping my boyfriend's serving. The successes continue - I discover that the almond milk works much better in iced coffee (or perhaps I'm just getting used to the taste).
It's a hot day and the smell of barbecues drifts into my garden all afternoon. I get searching online and come across a simple recipe on the Minimalist Baker for baked falafel burgers - which are tasty, if a little dry (I've never been able to get falafels right). Afterwards while Paul, the boyfriend, munches on triple-chocolate cookies, I whizz up a frozen banana with cocoa powder and peanut butter - which tastes excellent.
Breakfast: Overnight oats made with almond milk, grated pear and cinnamon, topped with coconut "yoghurt" and strawberries. Black coffee.
Lunch: Seaweed hummus, tomatoes and peppers in a sourdough cob from Modern Baker. Carrot sticks and a banana.
Dinner: Vegetable and bean chilli, with rice and nachos, plus an undressed side salad at The Plough. Mint tea.
Snacks: Almonds. Rice cakes. Tea with almond milk.
It's an easy start to the morning, having prepared our breakfasts last night. I'm actually putting a lot more thought and effort into making my food than usual - unlike Elle, I am not an enthusiastic cook and too easily fall into the trap of cooking the same meals over and over without thought for alternatives. We eat breakfast while discussing the ethics of being a consumer - deep stuff for the morning.
This is the first day I have to ask a stranger, "Is this vegan?". I'm working in Oxford today and grab a takeaway lunch from Modern Baker when I arrive. Their sourdough cobs (that's rolls for non-East Midlanders) are just so good - last week I went their two days in a row for exactly the same lunch - an aubergine, tomato and brazil pesto combo. Unfortunately this turns out not to be vegan... so I instead opt for the seaweed hummus. Not such a fan, but the bread is still incredible.
For dinner my team decide to head to The Plough - from their website I see they cater for vegetarians, but how about vegans? I give them a call... "We can do veggie chilli without cheese... wait... is olive oil okay?" Yes it is. Later at the pub after placing our orders, the pub chef comes out to the beer garden to double-check if I'm happy with undressed salad. He also refers to me as a "food terrorist" - although his friendly manner means I don't take massive offence, especially when he follows it up with "It's up to you what choices you make". This sparks another deep conversation, exploring the various ethical and environmental factors that may influence a switch to veganism - which makes me realise how complicated the world is. I sleep very well.
Breakfast: Porridge made with water, fresh and dried fruit. Black coffee.
Lunch: Mix of veggie bits from a salad bar - including avocado, roasted carrot and freekeh. A banana.
Dinner: A selection of vegan food from Tibits buffet. Peanut butter ice-cream and chocolate and beetroot ice-cream from Yorica!
Snacks: Almonds. Coffee with almond milk. Fresh mint tea.
Buffet breakfast in your standard hotel is not a vegan dream - animal products seem to be slipped into the most simple seeming dishes. On the upside, it's stopping me falling into the usual trap of overindulging. I'd hoped to grab lunch between two meetings, but it wasn't to be. Luckily the second was in the BBC Media Cafe, who had an excellent salad spread.
After work I headed straight out for coffee with my friend JT, who was keen to take me to try out a slightly unusual cafe - a former underground men's loo called The Attendant. The brilliance of the location made up for my sad-vegan moment of the day - for some reason the almond milk curdled in my Americano. Luckily the fresh mint tea which followed was much more appetising.
Dinner was with another friend, Bindi, who was well up for visiting the vegetarian restaurant Tibits who just so happened to have Vegan Tuesdays. It's a buffet style restaurant, where the price you pay is based on the weight of your plate. After a few days of studying ingredient lists for anything I put in my mouth, it was refreshing to just choose whatever I wanted from a large selection of dishes, without worry. Our slightly cautious response to not emptying our bank accounts at the plate weigh-in had an upside - space for pudding! After a quick online search, Bindi pulled up a winner - a "free-from" ice-cream parlor, with an entirely vegan menu. Tucking into "peanut butter" (actually toasted soy) and "chocolate" and beetroot "ice-cream" with fake Oreos on top, we both couldn't get over we weren't experiencing the real thing. London - probably unsurprisingly - is the place to be if you want to eat out as a vegan.
Breakfast: Porridge made with water. Fresh and dried fruit and seeds. Black coffee.
Lunch: Avocado, carrot and harissa hummus wrap from Benugo. Carrot and cucumber sticks. Grapes and blueberries.
Dinner: Hip, Humble & Healthy salad box from Itsu. Muesli with raspberries and almond milk.
Snacks: Tea with soya or almond milk. Banana. Almonds.
It's become clearly apparent I'm a creature of habit when it comes to my breakfast routines as a vegan (to be fair, this is probably true when I'm not on a plant-based diet too - I'm already thinking a future 'A Week Of...' will involve trying out new recipes to start the day). Wednesday consisted of an inspiring but tiring training course, in a windowless basement room - so imagine my delight, when in the first break I discovered the canteen at Broadcasting House had soya milk for my tea!
Lunch was on a tight schedule, so I nipped out and grabbed a takeaway wrap - very tasty, and supplemented by extra veg and fruit. My dinner was a bit of a shambles. Whenever I'm in London for work it's pretty inevitable I'll end up at Itsu where I'll always buy the same meal. Luckily this meal turns out to be, in the words of the guy who served me, "super vegan". It wasn't however, super filling. By the time I travelled from London Paddington to New Street Birmingham, I was in need of something to stop my stomach grumbles. My solution? Buying a box of muesli and a carton of almond milk, which I ate in my hotel room, out of a cup, in my PJs. The luxury of hotel living. I'm not proud.
Breakfast: Porridge made with water topped with berries and nuts. Fresh fruit. Black coffee.
Lunch: Jacket potato and a salad bar mix.
Dinner: Mushroom, puy lentil and butterbean burger in wholemeal cob, with onions. Sweet potato wedges, corn on the cob, salad. Chocolate covered strawberry ice-cream.
Snacks: Coffee and tea with almond/soya milk. Mixed fruit pot. An apple. Almonds.
No surprises about hotel breakfast - although the berries were a bonus. I was hoping to head out into Birmingham to one of the vegan-friendly cafes I'd researched, but time-constraints we were restricted to another BBC canteen. Jacket potato and a mix of salad - nothing to write home about.
I'm at Paul's for dinner, and after some unfocused wandering around the supermarket (as per usual) we decide to test out some pre-made "processed" vegan offerings in the shape of mushroom and bean burgers, and vegan ice-creams. The main meal is a success, especially the sweet potato chips, but I'm not a fan of the ice-creams which just taste a bit fake. At least this prevents me eating two. It's probably at this point in the week I start to get increasingly grumpy about not having "a proper cup of tea".
Breakfast: Porridge made with water topped with blueberries, almonds and a sprinkling of muesli. Coffee with soya milk.
Lunch: A brown cob. Salted popcorn. A banana and apple.
Dinner: Sweet potato and spinach dhal (recipe here) with a wholemeal pitta. Strawberries, mixed nuts and a Nakd Cocoa Delight bar.
Snacks: Strawberries and almonds. Coffee and tea with almond milk.
Sorry for the slightly disgusting photo of my morning coffee, but I want to bring you some of the realities of my week - one of the mysteries of this week is why milk-substitutes occasionally do this to hot drinks, but the rest of the time mix quite easily. Odd.
My lunch is probably the least interesting of the week - I'm on the move when I suddenly get a bit light-headed and decide I need some food pronto. Unfortunately, after circling it three times, I realise the small-supermarket I'm passing doesn't have any vegan-friendly grab and go food. So I literally just eat a bread roll - followed slightly later by fruit and popcorn. Determined to make up for this let-down, I research a super-tasty recipe for dinner. I will absolutely be making this dhal recipe from BBC Good Food again!
Breakfast: Cinnamon porridge made with water topped with pear, strawberries and blueberries. Coffee with rice milk. Then black.
Lunch: Leftover dhal with a pitta bread. Black coffee.
Dinner: Tagliatelle Pepe E Zucchini (with gluten-free pasta) at Don Leone
Of all the milk substitutes I've tried this week, rice milk is right at the bottom of the list. After my first taste, my hot drinks for the rest of the day are drank black. Lunch is simply the last of the dhal from last night (Paul has scrambled eggs and I genuinely feel like I've got the better deal).
In the evening we head to Leicestershire Cricket Ground to see Elton John in concert, along with my mum - but before that we go out for dinner. I ring ahead to Don Leone's to check they cater for vegans, yet there's still a little confusion over what I can eat when we arrive. Watching mum and Paul tuck into incredible looking goats cheese pizzas, I can't help but feel a little hard done by with my gluten-free pasta. It provides decent fuel to Crocodile Rock dancing, at least.
It's been a mixed week of meal successes, but on the whole it's been a positive experience. Apart from a few jokes at my expense from family and friends (which I expected, largely due to the faddy nature of my experiment!), I found people pretty receptive to my dietry requirements - even if they were occasionally a little confused about what a vegan diet actually consists of (see Bindi's question below for my favorite example of this!). It's really made me appreciate how much of my "flexitarian" diet actually includes animal products, but also how removing them doesn't necessarily mean a healthier, cleaner lifestyle. I fully appreciate it's been my choice, but I definitely think I've consumed more processed foods this week than usual - largely through milk substitutes. In fact, milk was the only thing I can say I genuinely missed and couldn't wait to have again.
Meal of the week: Spinach and sweet potato dhal
Pudding of the week: Ice-cream from Yorica!
Vegan-friendly location of the week: London
Question of the week: "Is kosher salt vegan?"