A Beginner’s Guide to Going Vegan: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Turned to the Dark Side

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This blog was originally published on the Huffington Post UK site here.

As a former meat-eater from a family of omnivores (meat and plant eaters) when I first went vegan I was clueless. I’ve written about the early stages of my switch in this post, ‘I could never go vegan: a trial separation’. But in this piece I volunteer myself as your plant-based sensei. If you’re thinking about going vegan or have done so recently, here are 10 helpful insights I wish I knew before I turned to the dark side…

1. You WILL mess up at first

Food labels are confusing. I spent my first month vegan using a lactose-free cheese and boasting about how similar my cheesey pizzas were to the real thing before realising that it had milk products in it… I told myself that it was a genuine mistake, it couldn’t be helped now, and I resolved to not beat myself up over it. ‘Whey’ or ‘whey powder’ is cow’s milk, so before you start jumping with excitement in Tesco clutching a box of would-be vegan biscuits – just double check that there’s no whey hiding in there.

2. Vegan digestion is cray cray…

Without going into any details a plant-based diet does wonders for your insides, especially your digestive system. The fibre in your new diet keeps food moving smoothly through your system, avoiding constipation almost entirely. You’ll notice a huge difference within the first couple of days.

3. Veganism can be alienating

Friends who were supportive of your lifestyle change at first, who may even have said, “if you stick to that vegan thing, I might have a go” are now wary of you because you don’t eat things that they do and that makes them feel uncomfortable. Non-vegans, presumably defensive of their own diet, will become obsessed with the validity of yours and, most notably, where you get your protein from. Over time I learnt that in order to disarm a self-justifying meat-eater, the best way to respond is to keep it simple: You just don’t want to eat animal products anymore. And if they still do, that’s okay too.

4. You WILL get angry and upset

Maybe you’ve watched some documentaries about the food industry, (Vegucated(2010) and Food Inc (2008) being two of my favourites), or maybe you woke up one day and could no longer bear the thought of enslaving animals for your satisfaction or diet. You find yourself getting angry when non-vegans talk about their love of animals, whilst shovelling a bacon sandwich into their mouths… This is because as a new vegan, you feel like you ‘woke up’ – and you can’t understand other people didn’t. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and a few months down the line, when you’ve settled into your new lifestyle, you’ll regret the arguments you had with family members who didn’t want to switch to soya milk and the friends who ‘couldn’t live without meat’ *rolls eyes*.

5. You can still eat out!

Many people labour under the misapprehension that the food-life of a vegan is bland, boring and solitary. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Since I’ve been vegan I’ve eaten more colourful, flavoursome food than before and I didn’t stop eating out with friends and family. While many UK chain restaurants cater to vegans, I suggest letting restaurants know about your dietary requirements when booking to avoid disappointment. Plus, there’s nothing like watching a sad vegan chewing dry brown bread in a restaurant to put other people off plant-based living.

6. Meat-eaters will feel sorry for you

If you were previously vegetarian then the change to veganism won’t’ve been that drastic a transformation for you or the people around you to get used to. But if, like me, you went from full carnivore to vegan overnight then your friends simply won’t believe you when you say you don’t miss any of the foods you stopped consuming, even if the thought of them makes you nauseous now.

7. No two vegans are ever the same

On a vegan diet but not all of your beauty products are vegan? You could practically be lynched online by some vegans for admitting this. ‘May contain traces of milk’ is acceptable to some vegans and sacrilegious to others. But it’s hard to agree 100% with anyone on anything and telling someone they’re ‘not doing veganism right’ could put them off it altogether. Plus, vegan hair products and organic produce can be pricey. So just do what works for YOU.

8. Forums can be great and AWFUL

Online vegan forums can be great when you’re just starting out with your new diet. Personally, I’ve found Liverpool’s ‘Scouseveg’ Facebook group invaluable in terms of support and local restaurant tips. But some forums are a breeding ground for online trolls (vegan and otherwise!) that can be tiresome and annoying: so use them at your own peril.

9. You’re not perfect and that’s okay!

New vegans can feel pressured to conform to an eco-warrior stereotype that, along with not eating animal products, doesn’t take baths, use central heating, drive a car or do anything else that could harm the environment. But why should you hold yourself tirelessly to these stringent standards when your nay-sayers don’t bother? If you’ve made the decision to go vegan, even just diet-wise, you’ve made a really big and positive step to having less of a negative impact on the world and your own body!

10. Tofu scramble is a lie.

I could be letting myself in for a barrage of hate with this one but here goes.

Vegans: Stop trying to make tofu scramble happen, it’s not going to happen.

(If any vegans reading this can honestly make a non-gag-inducing tofu scramble then please, please get in touch and prove me wrong).

For more vegan updates follow me on Twitter @KateMenear and check out my Huff Post Profile.

Header image from Getty Images

‘I could never go Vegan’: A trial separation.

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I’ve said it myself, many times, possibly with a worried look on my face as though some crazed dreadlocked Vegan was poised to rip that whole crispy duck right from my desperate greasy clutches.

‘I’d never go Vegan. I couldn’t.’

The adage ‘I couldn’t’ seems to remove the element of choice for most omnivores, myself included. Saying you ‘couldn’t’ or ‘can’t’ do something without trying, or even thinking about trying, allows you a degree of plausible deniability. For one thing, nobody can prove that you CAN, but nor can you prove that you can’t. This deniability allows many of us to displace the responsibility that comes with choosing to eat animal produce. As a result you place yourself into a skewed reality where an omnivorous diet is normalised to the point of being nigh on compulsory and non-meat diets are somehow weird. It should be ‘I wouldn’t go Vegan’ which emphasises that there IS a choice element at play.

Just so you get the measure of just how much of a voracious carnivore I really am, take a look at this picture of me on my 21st birthday last year.

veganAm I holding a 5kg piece of premium welsh beef you ask? Why, yes I am. Was I deliriously happy in this situation? Undoubtedly. I literally asked for received half a cow for my birthday. I’m that weirdo who actually likes the smell of a butcher’s shop. I carry chicken around with me the way normal people would eat an apple on-the-go. I’ll stop before my admissions get really creepy but I’m just illustrating how much of a ridiculous change the switch to Veganism would be for somebody like me. It’s almost laughable.

So why am I considering Veganism? This all started after a friend of mine recommended I watch the 2011 documentary ‘Vegucated’ on Netflix. In the doc, three omnivores adopt a Vegan diet over a trial period of 6 weeks and (obviously) experience a range of health improvements including lower blood pressure and weight loss. Alongside this experiment, Vegucated explores the secrets of food production exposing; animal cruelty, corporate negligence of worker and animal conditions and the resultant effects on the human population as well as the environment.vegucated

(Image copyright to getvegucated.com)

What struck me – as somebody who enjoys Cat Gifs but is not majorly an animal lover – was not so much the cruelty of it all but the extremes of greed and laziness involved. I’ve been under no illusion for my first 20 years on Earth as a meat-eater – I know you gotta kill a cow if you wanna eat a burger. But cutting serious corners to save cash and valuing money over morals, completely, didn’t sit well with me. It made me reflect…Ugh.

As a writer I am always trying to consciously switch to other points of view. So I started thinking…double-Ugh. I could practically feel my mind rejecting all of the beautifully bloody rare and tender meats that my body had long-craved as sustenance and comfort and replacing it with stupid moral fibre (no, actual moral fibre – like beans ‘n’ legumes ‘n’ shit). What if – rather than the hippified alternate-PEEEAAACE MAAANNN-lifestyle-choice that it is pariah’d as in contemporary culture – what if Veganism was the centre and meat-eating, the choice?

In other words – could I try to be Vegan, see if it was doable, and thus be left with the choice of whether to continue with this morally conscious lifestyle OR cave in and gluttonously eat animal protein to my gut’s content (this time round with complete moral disregard and new-found self-enforced ignorance actively in play…).

In order to succeed I needed to give Veganism a proper shot so that at the end of my 4-6 weeks trial it would actually be a difficult choice, instead of a cut and shut case of ‘Veganism may be good for the environment/the three little pigs but I ate Oreos and gelatin-free Haribo for a month so now I’m fat and pasty’. So I planned for a few weeks before I fully flipped the V’s to animal produce.

And oh yeah, Oreos are famously and mysteriously Vegan friendly

So here goes. I got so wrapped up in the festive period that I’ve only just gotten around to editing this post, although I did write it at the time. I went fully Vegan on 27th December, after two weeks as a vegetarian to ease myself in (yes – except Christmas day…I’m not a complete masochist).

So I’m currently two weeks in and feeling amazing although I’m having crazy skin break outs which are apparently a detoxing effect. I’ve also noticed some, erm, intestinal changes shall we say… in a great way though and I never feel bloated or tired after meals. I’ll update a little more this week including a blog post about my recent spontaneous trip to Bruges and how I navigated Belgium – AKA THE COUNTRY OF CHOCOLATE – as a newly transitioning Vegan.

So for now it’s so far, so good. I guess you could say the WURST is yet to come… Ok I’ll leave, I guess I’ve got sausage on the brain. NO not that sausage! Oh, you guys crack me up…er K bye.

 

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Do yourself a favour and watch the documentaries ‘Vegucated’ and ‘Food, inc’. They’re brilliant and not at all omnivore-shaming but rather they expose the greed and corruption of massive food production companies worldwide.

Contending with the Colonel: Liverpool’s Yardbird reclaims REAL fried chicken

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Fried Chicken is one of those foods that can either envelop you in a warm embrace of salty, crispy home-made goodness or leave you spasming out of disappointed guilt, depending on how it’s cooked. Such fits of despair may have left you indifferent. Apathetic. Maybe numerous sub-par late-night takeaways have caused you to lose faith. If you’re at this tenuous stage in your relationship with fried chicken now, I beg of you to listen. Open your eyes. For Yardbird is the answer you’ve been waiting for.

After flirting with us for a few months offering sneak peeks on twitter and opening at the arse-end of June 2014, the Yardbirds have perched themselves at the corner of Berry and Duke st in Liverpool (in the formerly derelict building where Banksy’s Rat Mural used to be). And I’m so glad they did.

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Yardbird specialises in fried chicken, doughnuts and cocktails. With other surprises thrown into the mix. See their menu here.

Getting right down to it the ‘Fried Chicken with biscuits & gravy’, one of the most humble sounding dishes on the menu, is where you should start if you’re a rookie. I’d say it’s their baseline by which you can measure the vibe of the rest of their food so if you like this, you’ll love Yardbird.

IMG_2695Offering a real taste of old-school southern soul this dish won’t disappoint. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender within but they really smash it on the gravy, which is superior by far to any other chicken joint I’ve visited (yes even the Colonel’s). Probably something to do with it being made on chicken stock, cream, pepper and bourbon… Oh yeah, I asked the man.

The biscuits are savoury by the way, if you’ve had breakfast biscuits in America they’re like those. If not, I’d say they’re kind of close to a savoury scone, but more bready and substantial.

Top Tip: (if you’ve got your head screwed on) when your scran arrives, cut the biscuits open and lay them face down in your gravy to let them soak in. Trust.

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The wings are superb, with a range of sauces and I’d recommend trying both slaws (pictured below). As with the rest of the menu the portion sizes are generous (which is what we like to see), and the salads are fresh and inventive, with fruit and nuts for added textural yumminess.

IMG_2717Another innovative must-try is their ‘Chicken or the egg’, a fried chicken breast fillet in brioche bun with deep fried egg, pancetta, & cheese w/pink sauce… I was confused on reading the menu but there’s actually an egg deep-fried into your burger. You’ve got to see it and taste it to believe it works really.

Next onto their shakes. Again, they’ll beat your mainstream fast food chains hands down. Just try them, how lovely do they look? (see below an Oreo and a Strawb shake). They also do ‘Hard Shakes’, deliciously alcoholic and dangerously moreish. Mother dearest chugged down two of their Pina Coladas in record time.

Defo try some of their Collins cocktails too. Featured below are a raspberry and a blackberry Collins, but they also have four other flavours. Sweet and light, but beware they go down far too easily.

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The only thing I’d have to say about Yardbird that is not-quite-really-almost-negative-at-all is that the burgers are hard to handle without having to pull your sleeves up (unless I’m just being drammy). Other than that the service is swift, staff are friendly and you get a lot of bang for your buck.

It’s also really cool inside: they draw on the windows and tend cactuses (cacti?) but if you’re an Alan Partridge fan beware they ‘like American things’. 

Definitely give them a look and let Yardbird redeem the hallowed art of fried chicken for you. If you’re able to tear yourself from their talons I’ll be surprised because they’re finger lickin’ boss.

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Yardbird is situated at the corner of Berry St and Duke St, opposite the Arch in Liverpool’s Ropewalks district at 60 Berry Street, L1 9DU Liverpool.

They don’t have a phone number, just turn up and they’ll seat your party. If they’re chocker they’ll take your number and ring you when a table is free (as they’re only small inside).

Follow them on twitter for updates and food porn @Yardbirdsrgo.

More updates at @KateMenear

Header image URL here.

All other images are my own.

East Avenue Bakehouse, Liverpool

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There are so many new independent eateries opening up in Liverpool’s Ropewalks district (Bold st/ Seal st area), using lots of locally-sourced produce, that it’s hard to keep up without damaging both my bank balance and the balance I try to maintain between staying in my size 10 skinnies or giving in and filling my face with bread.

But god help me if I won’t valiantly visit them all and write about them for my minuscule online audience. I’m just that noble.

This week I finally went to East Avenue Bakehouse on Bold st after being seduced by their twitter account (https://twitter.com/EABakehouse) where they bait weak cake-lovers like me on a daily basis. I’m onto you, Bakehouse.

East Av Bakehouse is just as delightful and wholesome as I had imagined. Joined by my mother and younger brother, and armed with her debit card, we sampled a few different things from the menu including their small plate ‘Wild Liverpool Bay Sea Bass’ – pan fried and served with broad bean and pea puree and local strawberries and ‘Sam’s Sourdough’ which is a pleasingly thick slice of freshly baked sourdough topped with sautéed mushrooms and pistachio rolled goats cheese finished with a balsamic drizzle (both inexpertly pictured below).

photo 5The Sea bass is cooked to perfection and matched well with the pea and strawberry garnish. All I have to say about the sourdough is that the rolled goats cheese was a little thick and might be improved if the ratio of pistachio to cheese were evened out a little. However, when your only complaint about a place is that there was ‘too much’ goats cheese I think you need to have a word with yourself. (So I will have a stern word with myself).

Now I come to the main event: East Avenue’s Spring Lamb Trencher. According to the menu: “Best lamb rump, green beans, pea shoots, radishes and pink peppercorns, with a mint yoghurt dressing” and served on freshly baked herb bread. Pictured below next to the pretty Sea Bass again.

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As a voracious carnivore I know what I’m talking about when it comes to meat. I especially know a good ‘meat butty’ situation when I see one and I can personally vouch for the lamb trencher as a superior meat (open) sandwich.

Why, you say?

For this simple fact: the tender lamb soaks the bread in meat juice which makes for a moist coalition of meaty/bready yumminess.

And before you start panicking, yes, the East Avenue Bakehouse peeps have got their heads screwed on. The bread is thick enough to withstand the meat juices so you don’t get that fally-aparty ‘me-biscuit’s-fallen-in-me-brew’ Peter Kay flashback to any repressed soggy sarny disasters. Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself, or maybe the trencher was just that good. (I’m telling you right now it was the latter and I can’t wait to have another one).

Their prices were more than reasonable and the staff were friendly. Our short wait on the food was no problem at all as we enjoyed East Av’s clean and fresh interior as well as their cracking playlist (Phil Collins Su-su-suddio-ing along to our lunch specifically made my lovely mum’s day).

If you live in and around Liverpool you should definitely pop in and see what the fuss is about for yourself. And try the Blood-Tonic cordial because it tastes like childhood.

 

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East Avenue Bakehouse is situated at the top of Bold St (opposite Tesco) about a 5 minute walk from Liverpool Central train station.

East Avenue Bakehouse, 112 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HY.

Tel : (0151) 708-6219.

 

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