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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Going Vegan

Going Vegan

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. Going vegan – what can be so hard about that?

I’ve seen so much over the last year depicting the cruelty we inflict on animals (including fish and birds) in the name of food that I became overwhelmed and so deeply saddened I decided I no longer wanted to be part of that kind of society. So, what’s the answer? After all, I still need to eat. I eventually came to the realisation that the obvious answer is to go vegan. There we are then, decision made. This should be easy – all I have to do is avoid animal products and eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Good. I like fruit and vegetables and they say they’re very healthy – maybe I’ll even lose weight now. So off I go. Time to shop.

The problem is I actually like the taste of meat and cheese and milk and cream and eggs (yes, eggs and cheese were 2 of my favourite foods).

Never mind, let’s just get on with it. Think vegan from now on.

At the same time I decided to do my best to avoid palm oil because it’s impossible to know how it’s harvested, whether or not it comes from a sustainable source, and I worry about the orangutangs. Yes, I know that’s very sad but it’s how I feel. To make life even more difficult, palm oil sometimes hides behind the ‘vegetable oil’ label!

The fruit and vegetable shopping was easy. Or, rather, as easy as it gets in this sleepy little backwater of a town known as El Quseir. Nothing is fresh and nice here. To get fruit and vegetables that are fresh and nice with daily deliveries from the farms you have to go to Hurghada but that’s at least 1½ hours away and I don’t have a car so I have to buy locally. Fresh fruit and vegetables come in twice a week and once delivered tend to be left outside in the sun the whole time. No-one here seems to have heard of enclosed shops with air conditioning for fresh produce, let alone chillers. So, if you want anything even resembling fresh you have to shop on the days when the produce arrives and don’t leave it too late to go to the shop. Here it’s Thursdays and Mondays. Thursdays is when there is a bulk delivery throughout the town and Mondays seems to be a sort of “top up” delivery. Therefore, I delayed the start of “going vegan” until the next Thursday.

Visiting one of the better vegetable stalls in the town with a little more variety I was able to buy enough salad, vegetables and fresh fruit to sink a small battleship and to start my new lifestyle.

Next was normal grocery shopping. Forget eggs and cheese – these are now off the menu. I concentrated on general grocery so bought rice, pasta, and something we have here called Foul (made from fava beans) plus some bread and jam. I think the bread here is OK because I believe it’s made just with flour and water. I also picked up some packet soup. I made sure to avoid the beef and chicken soups and stuck to lentil, vegetable and mushroom.

Great – I have everything I need for my first week as a vegan.

WRONG!!! I checked a few facts on the internet and was then moved to check the packaging on the goods I had bought. It seems my soups – all of them – contain whey powder and sodium caseinate which comes from milk.

Then it dawned on me just how careful I have to be shopping. I realised that honey is now off the menu because it’s made by bees which count as animals. Cake is also off because it contains butter and egg. Filo pastry, a favourite of mine sold here laced with lots of sugar as a sweet bread, is also off because it has butter in it. Then pizza becomes a no-go zone unless you can have pizza without cheese (and whoever heard of that one) and I realise there isn’t anything I can safely order in McDonald’s or Burger King. Gladly, McDonald’s and Burger King are no great loss because I don’t really frequent them anyway. I occasionally buy an ice cream in McDonald’s when I visit Hurghada (certainly we don’t have anything even resembling McDonald’s or Burger King in Quseir) but missing this little treat will be no loss.

Then there are the sweets and treats. Many of these are now off the menu because they contain gelatine.

There are household products to avoid. For example, I always believed that glycerine soap was better for my skin. It certainly feels better but that is now something to avoid because the glycerine may be made from animal fats.

I can no longer drink wine because at the end of the fermentation process it is cleared down with something called isinglass which is made from fish bladders. I have to be careful about the shampoo I use in case it contains keratin (from hooves, hair, feathers etc). Then there are all the animal-origin E numbers to look out for; E120, E422, E920, E322, E161(b), E904, E570 not to mention D3 and anything that says it’s casein or **** caseinate (such as the sodium caseinate in the vegetable, lentil and mushroom soups I unknowingly bought).

There are very many sites on the internet offering help and advice on how to go vegan healthily and I found what seems to be a comprehensive list of what I need to avoid on this link,

So, it seems it’s not so easy after all.

I’ve been trying to be a vegan for about 5 weeks now. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is the easy part. Getting used to reading and UNDERSTANDING the labels on household and packaged products is not so easy but I think I just have to keep a list with me and persevere until I get the hang of it.

What has been difficult, however, is telling other people. I work as a diving instructor and our dive centre has regular guests. By that, I mean that they are guests who come at least once a year, sometimes two or three times a year. They are very nice people and always bring us a little something they know we can’t get locally. For instance, our regular German guests are kind enough to bring me different types of German sausage. In the past this has been very gratefully received but I am now having to explain that I no longer eat these products. Another regular gift has been large bags of Haribo – also now to be declined because of the gelatine.

Disappointing is that in the last 5 weeks I have not lost any weight. I think this is my fault because it’s obviously possible to eat badly on a vegan diet, just as it is on a normal diet. I’m very fond of something sold here called “simsim”. This is a sweet made from sugar and sesame seeds and tastes really yummy. I have also managed to find a chocolate spread that I can use. It’s a mixture of chocolate and “Helawa” (a paste made from sesame seeds). It seems the ingredients are as easy as sesame seed paste , sugar, cocoa and hazelnut.

I have learnt to use a lot more beans and pulses – foods I never really thought of before. In the past one of my favourite dishes was chilli con carne. Now I make the same dish but replace the carne (meat) with a selection of beans typically including white haricot beans, black eyed beans, chickpeas and brown lentils in addition to the red kidney beans that I have always used. If I want the chilli to be a little thicker I add some orange lentils – they cook down very nicely and I have found them to be a wonderful thickening agent in many dishes.

So, I am now cooking more and learning how to make vegan dishes only to find out that in some cases, like the chilli, the end result tastes very much like the non-vegan version and is just as satisfying.

I am looking forward to a very vegan future and also to learning how to control this vegan diet to lose some weight. I just hope it gets easier with time and that I begin to understand those product labels. Really, I swear the manufacturers make them complicated on purpose just so that we don’t understand what we’re eating.

Perseverance is the name of the game and THE FUTURE IS VEGAN.