Veganuary Class of 2017: Cat O’Connor

Hey gang. Today we’re featuring another interview with a participant of Veganuary 2017. Are you excited? I am! We’ll be hearing from my mate Cat who I have known for… *counts on fingers*… yikes, yonks, and is someone I lived with back in the day. She is completely lovely and INCREDIBLE at cooking, trust me.

She says: “I live in Brixton with my super husband Danny, who has joined in with a lot of Veganuary (despite a lifelong loathing of his personal nemesis – the humble mushroom).  I am a huge fan of books and reading therefore being a School Librarian in central London is the ideal job for me!

I’m in a constant state of anxiety about the environment, which is why reducing my consumption of meat and dairy seems like such a good idea, but am otherwise generally chipper.  Favourite pursuits include dining out at fancy restaurants, European city breaks, binge-watching procedural dramas on Netflix and exploring London and its myriad museums, galleries and speakeasies.  Also currently nurturing a slightly bonkers passion for birds of prey and would secretly like to quit my job to work with eagles, owls and hawks, that is unless Danny manages to persuade me to put my apparent skills as a Super-Recogniser to good use!”

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Here’s how Cat’s Veganuary went down:

1/ Did you enjoy Veganuary?

Absolutely! I loved experimenting with new recipes, cooking loads of meals from scratch and discovering unfamiliar ingredients.  I was also amazed at how much more energy I had and how positive it made me feel. My skin is clearer, I look leaner and I feel healthier.  Very enthusiastic thumbs up!

2/ What made you give it a go?

Sycophancy Alert: It was actually your blog! I read about Veganuary on AGAV and it sounded like a fun and interesting challenge.  I was also curious to learn how a friend formally passionate about ALL food (in the nicest possible way!) could find so much joy in a plant based diet.

I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions, that way failure and misery lies, but I do enjoy a project, especially after a festive period of excess!

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3/ Was it harder/easier than you’d expected?

It was actually much easier.  I had already been experimenting with a lot of vegan recipes and we have lots of cookbooks at home with brilliant recipes easily “veganised”. Living in London is a bonus because, whatever your diet, you’re generally well catered for and supermarkets tend to have a decent range of free-from products.  Plus the Vegan Community is super supportive and there are loads of fantastic blogs to look to for inspiration!

4/ Was there any non-vegan food you really missed?

I expected to miss cheese the most, but actually it was eggs.  I’m a huge fan of brunch (yup, I’m that guy), which is easy to make meat-free but more of a challenge without eggs. I made a vegan Full English one weekend and admit I really missed having scrambled eggs on the side (although smashed avocado was a tasty compromise).  That said, vegan waffles are the lightest, fluffiest, crispiest waffles ever, and you don’t need eggs for a wicked stack of pancakes!

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5/ What was your fave vegan discovery?

Pretty much everything by Oatly! Their foamable oat milk makes better lattes than cow’s milk (also a dreamy hot chocolate if you add cocoa powder and your sweetener of choice) and their cream is incredibly versatile – I used it to make cream of tomato soup, AMAZING potato dauphinoise and to make lovely, creamy curry sauces; it’s one of those products that can genuinely claim to be as good as the real thing.

I also have to give a shout out to nutritional yeast, which tended to be the ingredient that most savoury dishes needed to take them from tasty to delicious!

Oh, and Booja Booja truffles! SO. GOOD.

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6/ Was there anything you tried & really didn’t like?

Plamil Egg Free Mayo can bite me.  It just tasted like vinegar emulsion to me, and every time I went back for another taste it made me sad because I LOVE mayonnaise and that stuff was an affront to my taste-buds.

7/ Did you have any slip-ups?

I got through half a packet of fancy salt and vinegar crisps before spotting that the ingredients included milk powder (which baffled me – why ON EARTH would salt and vinegar require any assistance from dairy?!)

In terms of conscious slip-ups, I confess I didn’t go out of my way to source vegan wine, especially if I was out with friends and invited to share a bottle.

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8/ How did friends, family & colleagues react?

Friends have been lovely, although there has been some gentle teasing – the standard “Don’t you wish you were eating what I’m eating?!” *winkwinknudgenudge* – but nothing unkind or upsetting.  All of my buddies went out of their way to make sure I would be catered for at social gatherings, which I really appreciated.

My family are pretty old school when it comes to food so my choice of diet is a bit mystifying to them!

My colleagues have actually been the most supportive (a couple of them are already vegan so were on hand to offer top tips) and have been really interested in how Veganuary has made me feel.  I work in a school so I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m surrounded by naturally curious people; I’ve been asked lots of questions and have even inspired a couple of people to give vegan a go!

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9/ Was there anything you expected to be vegan that you were surprised to find actually isn’t?

The aforementioned salt and vinegar crisps! Also, honey.  Obviously I’m aware it’s an animal product, but I always thought of beekeeping as a form of conservation and didn’t think any animals necessarily suffered and/or died in its production so figured it would be OK.

10/ Was there anything you expected not to be vegan that you were surprised to find actually is?

Lots of other crisps (including meat flavoured snacks!), biscuit butter, Oreos, most dried pasta, noodles…

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11/ Did you learn anything new as a result of Veganuary?

I learnt that a reliance on dairy – especially cheese – can make your taste-buds a bit lazy and we’re missing out on a riot of flavours from ingredients that usually play a supporting role.  I ate a fair few pizzas during Veganuary and decided against vegan cheese, instead loading up on lots of yummy veggies and making a simple balsamic and extra virgin olive oil dip for the crusts.  I ate every last bit of those pizzas and was blown away by how well olives, artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms and the like can more than hold their own.  As an added bonus, I didn’t feel anywhere near as yucky as I usually do when I’ve snarfed down a whole pizza!

12/ Did you eat any amazing meals out & about?

Have you been to Banana Tree? It’s brilliant! I went there on the recommendation of my work buddy and was not disappointed.  They have a whole separate vegetarian menu, with all of the vegan dishes clearly marked, and everything I ate was out-of-this-world delicious! It was great to actually have more than one option to choose from.  Their peanut satay is immense and I had a gorgeous, sticky, flavourful aubergine curry I would happily eat time and time again.

I was also impressed with the Grazing Goat.  They only really have one vegan option (although offered to make the starter as a main if I fancied it) but were incredibly attentive and the food was really tasty.  I had a quinoa burger that I would dearly like the recipe for as the spice combo was really good.

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13/ Will you be changing your lifestyle at all as a result of Veganuary?

Absolutely! Feeling bouncy and cheerful is addictive, and I love knowing I’m doing my bit for the planet.

I have really come to appreciate the importance of knowing exactly what’s in my food.  I also believe Veganuary has helped me with my self-control issues.  When you can’t just fill your shopping trolley with any old thing it’s amazing how many “treats” you realise you were buying or eating out of habit, rather than need (or even genuine enjoyment!).  I also appreciate how the removal of “the tyranny of choice” can be beneficial.  The usual anxiety I get whenever I’m dining out – “What do I want to eat?!” “Which dish sounds tastiest?” “Am I going to get serious food envy?” – was blissfully absent when there were only a handful of options on the menu I could eat (although I understand how some folk might see this as a bad thing) and whenever I ate with friends I’d end up being the smug diner who didn’t end the meal with that horrible sluggish, heavy post-binge feeling!

The plan is to do at least 4-5 days a week on a vegan diet and then have a couple of flexible days to indulge some of my vices! I’m pretty much giving up milky coffees and plan to stick exclusively to Oatly flat whites and hot chocolates.  I’m also now on a mission to create more vegan versions of some of my favourite recipes – I might even attempt a blog!

14/ Anything you’d like to add?

We should all be a bit kinder to our friends with dietary requirements! I’m definitely going to aim to be more thoughtful when it comes to selecting venues for meet-ups including vegan, veggie and gluten-free friends; I now know exactly how it feels to have to coyly ask “Will there be anything I can eat at this shindig?”

Veganuary hasn’t been without its frustrations – for every vegan-friendly shop, cafe or restaurant there are several other establishments where people look at you with a “say, what?” expression when you politely ask for advice and recommendations when it comes to their vegan options (at one particular pizza place the waitress recommended the meat pizzas, arguing that they would work best without cheese… And a Starbucks barista seemed baffled when I asked which of their myriad signature drinks would work with coconut milk – which is currently their only non-dairy alternative to soy).  However, it has been heartwarming interacting with other vegans, or vegan sympathisers, who are prepared to go the extra mile to meet your specific dietary needs, and encouraging to find an ever expanding range of good quality vegan products on the high street.  Yay!

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Thank you Cat! I love this all so much. I am obviously ridiculously heartened by research which has found that there are three and half times as many vegans in Great Britain as there were in 2006 but I’m also bowled over by how many non-vegans are embracing more and more veggie options. The more of us who eat consciously – taking account of how our food arrives on our plates and the impact this has on our planet – the better for everyone. I love that Veganuary gives people a chance, even if they’re not ready to adopt a fully vegan diet, to experiment and try new stuff out. It demystifies the concept and encourages businesses to provide more options for us lot – winner winner seitan dinner! Also if you’re reading this and worried about vegan mayonnaise get yer hands on Follow Your Heart’s Vegenaise and you will never look back, I promise!

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