During lockdown many of us spent more time in the kitchen than usual, baking the ever popular banana bread or even nurturing a sourdough starter. It also seems that more people were trying their hand at plant–based recipes. According to research carried out by The Vegan Society in May 2021, one in four Brits have actively cut down on the animal products that they have been eating, with one in five eating less meat. Many have also reduced the amount of dairy and eggs that they are consuming. Moreover, of those that said that they had reduced their meat consumption, 80% indicated that they planned to continue the change. More people than ever took part in the Veganuary 2021 challenge, with 582,000 people signing up.
We recently chatted to Alison Johnson, a relatively new vegan, to hear about her vegan journey. Alison is 57 years old and lives in a remote area of the Scottish Highlands, after moving up from Bristol in 2016. She runs a small arts and crafts gift shop showcasing a diverse range of handmade items from talented individuals living in the Highlands.
Both Alison and her husband Kevin did Veganuary in 2020, after watching the documentary ‘The Game Changers’. The 2018 film showcases success stories of athletes that have become vegan, highlights scientific studies, and champions what the film makers argue are benefits of plant-based diets for both athletes and non-athletes.
Alison said: “The film completely blew me away and we both made our decision there and then to give it a try. I wish I'd seen it long before we did.”
Alison's oldest son and his partner are also vegan, and her other children have been supportive of her lifestyle change.
“Most of my friends are supportive too – they thought I was 'quirky' or a hippie before I became vegan, and this decision just reinforces what they thought before”, laughs Alison.
She continued: “Not everyone understands what a vegan is and may view it as being alternative. My mum is 90 and finds it hard to grasp.” However, figures from The Vegan Society indicate that between 2014 and 2019 the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled, with up to 600,000 now following a plant-based diet.
Like many new vegans, Alison likes to cook from fresh: “We have a vegetable area and poly–tunnel in our garden, which is just under an acre in total. I don’t grow enough to be self–sufficient yet, but I’m hoping in the future I will have more time to concentrate on getting more from the garden.”
Nevertheless, Alison did find it difficult navigating food labels: “I struggled food shopping for the first few weeks after becoming vegan, checking all the ingredients in everything and trying to work out if I could use items that had 'may contain' on the label. Once I understood allergen labelling that made it easier to check if things were dairy-free.
“I absolutely adore a good nut roast. Before becoming vegan I had never tried one, let alone made one”.
Why not try VfL’s easy nut roast recipe?
“My go to ingredient is Henderson's Relish. It’s like Worcester Sauce but without the anchovies. I can’t find it in any of the shops here in the Highlands, but it’s made in Yorkshire, so when I go down to visit my Mum, I stock up on loads of bottles. It’s absolutely delicious and I use it in loads of things, from Bolognese, cottage pie, stews, curries, chilli and non-sausage roll. It’s even great mixed into vegan mayo on a salad.”
VfL Chef Alex agrees: “Henderson's Relish makes everything better! One of my favourite recipes is stuffed cabbage. The relish gives it wonderful savoury notes.” When starting your vegan journey, eating out might be a bit of a challenge. Though there are more options now than there have ever been for vegans, it can still be hard to eat out on a vegan diet without finding the whole situation stressful. Alison agreed: “Where we live there are very few places that have any vegan items of interest on their menu. I get so fed up with being told places are vegan friendly, only to find one choice of mains on a menu.
"Saying that though, when you do stumble across a café or restaurant that really is vegan friendly, it’s an absolute delight to be able to ponder a menu and have several choices to make. I was amazed at the number of choices of vegan friendly restaurants on a recent visit to Bristol – some were even vegan only!"
We’ve come on leaps and bounds with food in this country, not just for vegans but our cuisine has improved in general. Through the popularity of annual events like Veganuary, the vegan movement is growing and restaurants have woken up to the fact that they need to offer vegan options.
Alison enthused: “Tarvies – a road–side café on the road between Garve and Contin is great. This unassuming little takeaway is one of my favourites. It has changed from the best bacon buttie venue to the best vegan takeaway breakfast. They are constantly adding more and more vegan choices to their main menu; they’ve even started doing fishless 'fish' and chips, and they have a selection of delicious home-baked vegan cakes.”
If you like the sound of fishless 'fish' and chips, why not try VfL Chef Ollie's tofu-based recipe?
Tips for eating out
If you are interested in beginning your vegan journey or would simply like to increase the plant–based options in your diet, why not sign up for Veganuary 2022 yourself? https://veganuary.com/
We also have a range of VfL publications to help you take the first steps, including our vegan rescue pack, which is packed full of recipes, handy tips and menu planners. Our vegan baking guide will help you discover how to create a range of tasty vegan bakes, from light, airy sponges, to traditional puddings, and eggless meringue. And to ensure that you can achieve a healthy, well balanced vegan diet there’s our nutrition guide. Last but not least, Veg*nism: More than just a diet will help you identify hidden animal products and explain more about what to consider when shopping.
Happy Veganuary 2022!