It’s not easy being… vegan
I’ve been vegan on and off for around five years. I don’t see anything wrong with humans using animals as a source of food per se, but it’s the way we do it that I don’t agree with. The environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry is something to which I don’t wish to contribute:
“…from crops and water required to feed the animals, to the transport and other processes involved … The vast amount of grain feed required for meat production is a significant contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction… This land contributes to developing world malnutrition by driving impoverished populations to grow cash crops for animal feed, rather than food for themselves” (from the vegan society)
I spent a few years being ‘mostly’ vegan, but I would eat meat and dairy if I couldn’t find anything vegan to eat. But after a while I decided it’s not just about the consumption (surely by cutting down I was doing my bit?), it’s the concept. I would profess to be vegan then go out and eat a pizza. It was easier to just eat what was on the menu – I didn’t want to make a fuss. People didn’t take my diet or my beliefs seriously so I decided to go the whole hog (so to speak).
I’ve now been 100% vegan for almost two years, and I love it. Most of the time, it’s easy. I have a diet rich in beans and vegetables, I feel healthy, happy and energised, and I’m rarely hungry. I feel satisfied to be doing something I believe in. I tend not to eat tofu or soy; if I’m not going to eat meat, then I don’t want to eat something that’s pretending to be meat.
Now, when I go out, I’ll ask what can be adapted from the menu to be vegan. Most of the time, the chef is happy to make something. Sometimes there is even a separate vegan menu. I’m increasing awareness of veganism by asking, rather than taking the easy option and eating something I’d rather not eat. And pizza without the cheese can be really delicious!
But it’s much harder being vegan on the road. When I cycled around Britain I didn’t restrict my diet at all; when you are relying on people’s hospitality, you eat what you’re given, and I didn’t know if I’d reliably be able to source enough food to keep my energy levels up. This time, however, I really wanted to try sticking to my vegan diet. I thought it would be fine – I’d get by on bread and hummous if necessary. But it’s much harder than I thought. Veganism isn’t always catered for in the far reaches of the UK. I am restricted by what I can find – which sometimes isn’t much.
For breakfast I can have beans on toast, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, tattie scones now I’m in Scotland, and veggie sausages – whatever combination I can eat from the Full English menu. Or porridge made with water (yuk). Lunch tends to be soup, or salad with bread and hummous, or jacket potato with hummous, or anything with hummous – I try to eat as much hummous as I can, as it’s full of fat, carbs and protein, and it’s delicious. I’ve found some fantastic cafes, some of them dedicated vegetarian or vegan cafes, that have fed me richly. For dinner I’ve been eating curry or burrito or beany stew or veggie burger or chips.
The trouble on this tour has not been finding food to eat. There’s lots I can eat. It’s been finding enough food to eat, and eating enough variety. On the road I need to eat roughly twice as much as usual, and while in the past that has meant popping into a bakery or shop every couple of hours, those places typically don’t stock much of a range for vegans. Sometimes I can’t find a breakfast stop for the first 20 miles or so, by which time I’m exhausted. Sometimes I’ve gone without dinner, because the evenings are focussed on the talks, and by the time I’ve finished all the food places are shut. As I’ve been riding, I’ve been steadily using up my reserves, such that it came to the point last week when I couldn’t ride; I was too fatigued. I was feeling hungry all the time and no amount of eating would fill me up. I desperately didn’t want to give up my vegan diet, but I started to seriously worry about my health.
So, I took the train for leg 16 – Manchester to Lancaster – and made a concerted effort to eat as much as I possibly could that day. Since then I’ve been making sure that I stop every hour or two and eat something substantial (yesterday I ate three breakfasts before I’d even gone anywhere!) and I am starting to feel better. I have a lot to thank Riverbank Bakery for; they supplied me with a huge pile of flapjacks and cakes before I left (they are my favourite vegan cake-maker) which have been a real life-saver when I’ve not been able to find my next food stop. My bags are getting noticeably lighter as I go through the stash!
I’m going to stay vegan, but make more of an effort to eat properly at each stage.Today I had two breakfasts and a big lunch, and I’m about to have my second dinner, then maybe something else after the talk. It’s not easy being vegan… but I’m doing it.