My Vegan journey

Just after the first lockdown we decided as a family to see if we could become vegan in terms of our diet.

We are a family business and it was my daughter that put the idea forward; she’d watched a documentary about the link between cancer and meat intake, and it made her stop and think that she wanted to make a change. She suggested we watch the film, so we did, and agreed that we should see if we could do without meat and dairy in our diet as well.

We found it quite easy to live without meat, but changing dairy to plant- based products more difficult to do. We went through a learning curve, trying various milks to find one we liked. However, between the four of us, we use three different milks!

Cheese was also a challenge. I think that with some vegan alternatives things like cheese are an acquired taste - at first, we didn’t like them, they seemed to have an odd taste - but after trying a few we found one we liked. This was fine until it was discontinued by the only place we could get them in our town. So we had to revert to another brand, which now doesn’t seem to be so odd, so I guess we have acquired the taste.

My wife makes a soft cheese with cashew nuts which we really like. I must admit that at first I struggled with the idea of giving up dairy products. I’ve always loved cheese and eggs and so I continued eating these and having skimmed milk. I have felt better in myself since giving up meat, but by continuing to have dairy in my diet, obviously I couldn’t claim to be vegan - but I felt that I was making a difference to myself and to the planet by cutting out meat.

However, for a while I have suffered with Rosacea, a skin condition that causes the facial skin to flush sometimes, in particular my nose. It can also cause lumpy skin on the nose and when this began to happen I researched the causes. It can be made worse by having spicy food, alcohol, caffeine and - cheese. So I decided to try cutting out caffeine, milk and cheese (giving up alcohol is a step too far!) and it does seem to help. So, whilst I still don’t claim to be totally vegan, I’m pretty much there.

My Mum was a fantastic cook and loved to feed us all. She liked nothing better than to have the family sat round the table sharing the mountain of food she’d prepared. Roast dinners, Moussaka, Lasagne, Chicken Parmigiana - we used to love all the flavours that went into making them.

I used to love her cooking and these meals were epic, but my mind wouldn’t let me eat them, now it seems wrong but somehow the thought of those flavours still seem appealing, Really odd.

Eating out is difficult and can be unimaginative. Previously, when we went out for a meal, we had a wide choice but now, we might be able to get a risotto, a curry, burger or a pasta dish – but they seem to be very expensive and what we cook for ourselves anyway. It’s no longer a treat – yet – to go out for dinner.

I’m not overly fond of garlic, in fact it doesn’t really agree with me, so we leave it out of our cooking, but trying to find on the odd occasion a ready meal or sauce without garlic has always been a challenge, and it seems that any Vegan product has garlic in, so the only things we buy that isn’t a natural ingredient is things like vegan sausages or pies. If garlic is at the bottom of the ingredients list we’ll buy it as it’s not really noticeable. (if anyone can tell me why, when we holidayed in Italy, we knew there was garlic in a lot of what we ate but it didn’t affect me at all and left no after taste or garlic breath – the opposite of garlic in England – I’d be very grateful).

I’m amazed by the number of ingredients on packets, some of which I have no idea what they are. Someone recently said “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”, which I agree with.

There is a small added difficulty when choosing vegan recipes to make, and that is that my son has a nut allergy. Quite a few recipes have nuts in, as they are a good source of protein, but we obviously have to avoid them. We do eat them as snacks instead so that it doesn’t affect him.

I think for me the only thing I really miss about meat is the texture. Meat substitutes aren’t really the same and sometimes I look at my plate and there’s no difference in the textures, but it is still a learning curve and we’re always on the look-out for new recipes that give us something different.

I’ve always been slim and have never had to worry about being overweight, and when I stopped eating meat I lost weight. Obviously my calorie intake had reduced considerably, so it was noticeable that I’d lost weight and I did feel uncomfortable in my appearance. I don’t expect much sympathy when I say that I find it difficult to put weight on; trying to eat more of the right sort of calories in the amount needed is very hard! I struggle to take on more food. I guess I need to exercise a bit more to try and build muscle, maybe supplement with protein shakes in an effort to put the right sort of weight on. This will take some commitment I know, but I really should make the effort.

I take a daily multivitamin to be on the safe side just to supplement the diet.

One of my biggest bugbears is that the cost of any foodstuff with the word “Vegan” on it seems to double the price. I can see that at the moment anything that’s made is probably made in smaller quantities as there’s less demand for it, but surely some of the prices don’t need to be where they are. Hopefully as more people become interested in vegan food and the manufacturers scale up production, the prices will come down. The sooner the better!

I will say that becoming vegan has encouraged us to use some ingredients and spices we had never used before. We are more adventurous in experimenting with herbs and spices and my wife wouldn’t entertain a curry before, but now enjoys them. We aren’t keen on really spicy food but we use the same ingredients to our own taste. We have expanded our family recipe book considerably by using these spices.

My son Jordan started going to the gym about a year ago, and at the same time employed a fitness coach who could advise not only on the exercises he needed to do, but also the diet he needed to follow.

The coach was very good, he knew the challenges of getting enough protein and calories to build muscle when on a vegan diet and advised accordingly.

What it did do was educate us all about where to get more protein from. We thought we had a fair idea but doing more research and using the advice from the coach gave us more variation in our meals. Preparing high protein meals for Jordan gave my wife and I the same protein boost, and although Jordan doesn’t need the coach anymore, we are all getting enough protein without having to think about it due to our increased knowledge.

So overall my vegan journey has been successful so far but it is a journey I’m still on. I’m sure we will adapt to the lifestyle even more and that we will discover more recipes and ingredients to use.

Every journey starts with a step and we are still taking steps on our journey which currently has no end in sight, which is interesting!

So being vegan isn’t always easy, but in my view is always the better option.

As I said, we are a family workwear business, and when we decided to create a website to somehow showcase our products, we read that we should choose a subject that we are passionate about. It didn’t take very long to choose vegan products with vegan messages for the site. We can print any design with any message on virtually any garment – but so can any other garment business. Our passion had become our way of life and so it was an easy decision to make to choose what we did – and so Reverse Conscious Clothing was born.

It's not just about selling as much as we can to as many people as possible, it’s more about being ethical in the way that we trade, from the garments to the messages, from the inks used to the packaging the goods are sent out in. And we give back to environmental projects and wellbeing charities.

I hope you can relate to some of this and may have gone through the same learning curve as me; it would be great to know how you overcame the challenges that you’ve faced.

I don’t preach to anyone about becoming vegan, it’s a choice for those that want to do it, but if asked about, I will tell them that I feel healthier and better about the fact that I’ve reduced my impact on the planet. As I always say, if we all make a small change, they will add up to a big difference.