Hail Seitan: What happens when you become a vegan for a fortnight

PUBLISHED: 16:50 11 October 2017

A picnic attended by the author which was not vegan

A picnic attended by the author which was not vegan


When I say I enjoy a varied diet, this includes once eating a bag of deep fried chicken feet on the streets of Bangkok.

Vegan food at The Temple of Seitan in HackneyVegan food at The Temple of Seitan in Hackney

I will always splurge for a cheese plate at the end of dinner and my last meal before turning to a plant based diet included roast beef.

But it’s hard to ignore the argument for turning vegan, especially when you learn that agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

So with that in mind, when Karin Ridgers, the founder of VeggieVision TV, approached me ahead of VegFest, I agree to turn vegan for a fortnight.

According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has risen by 350per cent in the past decade and two weeks ago, I joined the ranks.

Vegan food at The Temple of Seitan in HackneyVegan food at The Temple of Seitan in Hackney

I stock up on lentils, dairy free alternatives to milk and butter and begin scrutinising ingredient lists in shops with an intensity bordering on overzealous.

I’m looking forward to a fortnight of eating roasted vegetables and curries but I also ask for recommendations on Twitter as I don’t want to miss out on anything.

My followers advise me to check out blogs, trendy sounding street markets, Linda McCartney’s vast frozen range and Mr Singh’s pizza shop in Gants Hill.

Prepared for anything, I turn vegan on September 25 and begin my day like usual with my standard porridge and add coconut milk instead.

I start eating “grain bowls” at work which are delicious but make me sound like I only eat food that I see advertised on Instagram.

After a late night at work, when I can’t bring myself to cook, I grill Linda McCartney sausages and find that whilst they have a texture I’m not used to, they are good and go well with mash, gravy and a side of spinach.

I also venture to The Temple of Seitan in Hackney, a “vegan fried chicken shop”, offering faux-fried chicken made from wheat protein.

On my first appraisal, it looks like chicken, feels like chicken and tastes...not exactly chicken, but it’s definitely pleasant.

Served up with a side of chipotle “mayo”, vegan mac and cheese and fries, I enjoy eating it all and importantly don’t have to worry about the cruel treatment that most chickens endure.

At a low point, when I try Sainsbury’s vegan free cheese on nachos, which smells like vomit and doesn’t improve on taste, I start calculating how many meals I have left.

But my spirits are restored when I’m sent a tofu press.

I already have tofu in stir-fries, but the press makes it a lot firmer and it soaks up my teriyaki marinade before I cook it like a sponge.

At the weekends, I almost exclusively eat avocado toast for breakfast anyway, like a true millennial, and I barely notice a difference when I substitute vegan spread.

After six days, I’m feeling healthy and not missing meat at all but am struggling to imagine a life where I never eat cheese again.

I also realise that I never stopped drinking non vegan wine or beer so technically I’ve failed the challenge from the beginning but decide to carry on.

But catastrophe strikes on Saturday night, when thwarted dinner plans mean I don’t eat until 9pm.

I find myself at a restaurant with no vegan options besides a side of grilled vegetables, which frankly doesn’t cut when I’m verging on turning “hangry” (an amalgam of hungry and angry).

I order a ham and mushroom pizza and whilst it’s delicious, It doesn’t fill me with happiness and I realise that I haven’t missed meat in my diet at all.

After I ring Karin on Monday morning, filled with shame, she says she’s pleased I suffered a setback as it highlights the lack of vegan options available at restaurants.

I venture on, remembering to ask for soy milk in coffee shops and refusing lunch invitations at work.

At the end of my vegan(ish) fortnight, I reflect on what I’ve enjoyed, disliked and whether the vegan life is for me. Truthfully, I am ready to resume eating cheese again but I haven’t missed dairy as much as I expected thanks to the alternatives available.

The challenge hasn’t been as hard as I expected and I can see myself making permanent changes to my diet.

I don’t feel like I’m glowing with health but I have got out of a cooking rut and I’m ready to convince friends that tofu really can be delicious.

I’m planning to attend VegFest so I’m keeping my mind open, but I’m sorry, I’ll never be convinced that vegan Stilton is in my future.

To learn more about the festival, click here.

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