Why you should try veganism

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 April 2018

Photo: Martin Poole/Thinkstock

Photo: Martin Poole/Thinkstock

(c) Martin Poole

Veganism is the food trend of the moment, but for some people it’s a lifestyle, as Clea Grady explains

Clea GradyClea Grady

Food trends come and food trends go; recent years have seen fads for porridge, quinoa and even charcoal, but the vegan movement shows no signs of slowing down. Figures vary, but reports show that demand for vegan food rose by several hundred per cent last year and the market is growing exponentially.

More than a quarter of evening meals eaten in the UK now contains no meat or fish, vegan cafes and restaurants are springing up in fashionable town and city centres, more traditional eateries are adding extra vegetarian and vegan meals to their menus and there are more vegan options on the supermarket shelves than we’ve seen ever before.

Whether it’s for reasons of ethics or health, more and more people are cutting out meat and dairy products from their diets and it is predicted that the vegan market will grow by a further 25% in the next four years. One study even suggested that people who identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan on dating sites are more likely to find love.

So why has veganism seen such a spike? In my case, I was well into my thirties when I decided to stop eating animal products altogether. Up until then veganism was not something I’d ever really thought about. So why did I think of it and, more to the point, why did I decide to make the switch?

This may come as a surprise, but the main reason I dipped my toe in at all was because of people. In the space of a few months I discovered that some friends, both new and long-term, had gone vegan and this intrigued me. I suppose I held many of the misconceptions that I encounter now that I’m fully herbivore: that we’re all militant, angry, preachy and boring. But these friends were not like this at all, far from it in fact. They were fun and interesting, easy to talk to, great to drink wine and have dinner with, funny and kind. And it’s because of them that I wanted to know more.

When I found out more, it was a no-brainer. Being vegan clicked with me on several intrinsic levels and although it was an ethical decision first and foremost I was also motivated by concerns for the environment and for my health. Then there was the food! Like the people, vegan food is another area where an opinion has been formed that’s based on little fact and virtually no experience. Because I can honestly say – hand on heart – I eat better today than I’ve ever eaten. As a lifelong foodie, who has always been a little boastful about her adventurous palate, this is a big statement to make. I’m lucky to have eaten all sorts of food, in all sorts of places and there was no one more surprised than me when I discovered this vast, dynamic cuisine that I’d never tasted before.

When you remove animals from a meal completely, the rest of the ingredients really have to do the talking. It’s the opportunity for those normally destined for sides, or accompaniments, or (let’s be honest) an afterthought, to shine. And shine they do. We’re so used to adding herbs, spices and marinades to meat and dairy that we forget that we can actually add them to everything else. Vegan cooks and chefs pride themselves on food that bursts with flavour and explodes in your mouth. It’s not a case of simply removing the fundamental ingredients of a dish and hoping it still tastes okay (which is the perception of many non-vegans); it’s about creating meals that were supposed to be vegan in the first place. And what you encounter is mind-blowing and truly delicious.

Did you know that you can make thick, rich and totally creamy sauces using cashew nuts? (Think mac ‘n cheese, a rustic carbonara or cream of tomato soup.) Or that mushrooms and aubergine, when cooked with the right combination of smoky sweetness and fat, make an indulgent and moreish alternative to bacon? (After all, that ‘bacon taste’ doesn’t come from the meat – it’s added during the curing process and comes from plants).

Similarly, tofu is not the bland revoltingness that most people believe it to be, for it sucks up flavour and marinades better than meat and can be cooked in about 997 different ways. A fan of scrambled eggs? I’ll whip you up a tofu scramble and you’ll never consider them again. What’s more, you’ll get all the protein you crave (and then some) but with none of the stuff that’s bad for your heart or ramps up your cholesterol levels.

Yorkshire is a foodie place and Yorkshire folk are foodie people. I’ve been lucky enough to call this historic county home for the past seven years and one of the things that has struck me is how adaptable, vibrant, determined and brilliant you people really are. Therefore it’s of no surprise to me that much of the plant-based food revolution taking place today is happening right on our doorstep. From pop-up cafes to independent retailers, pubs and swish eateries, there’s home-grown vegan food in our neck of the woods and it’s genuinely amazing. If you don’t believe me, type ‘vegan restaurants Yorkshire’ into Google and have a gander through the nearly two million results that pop up.

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