Welcome to a brand new feature – 31 Vegans’ First 31 Days. Over the next month, we’ll be talking to 31 people about their first month of veganism.
To kick off we’re talking to Clea Grady, Marketing Manager for Veganuary. Veganuary is a UK-based charity that encourages people to try veganism for the month of January (as if you didn’t already know). It’s a helping hand that gives participants a wealth of hints and tips and recipes – we’ve signed up for the recipes!
Tell us a little about your yourself.
I’ve been a part of the Veganuary team since April 2014. I took part in the very first Veganuary – and it completely changed my life in every way. I felt so utterly inspired. I’d been in corporate marketing my whole career and I’d been getting itchy feet for a while.
When I went vegan through Veganuary I knew this was what I wanted to tell the world about. I found out who Matthew and Jane were on Facebook and sent them a message saying that they’d made me vegan and I wanted to see if there was a way we could work together. They said that’d be great but we live in York so it might be difficult for me. I live in York, so the rest is history.
I wish I’d known how much fun being vegan is.
What advice do you give to people doing Veganuary?
We really advise them to sign up on our website. They get completely free support. We’re here to help you make the transition to veganism, be it for a month or as a lifestyle option.
In the lead up to January we tell you how to stock your cupboards, give you label reading guides, tell you about accidentally vegan food, practical things and guides to help you.
In January you get all the information you need so you know you’re ticking off the important things. We start with nutrition and basics like B12 and protein and the rest, so hopefully by the end of the first week you feel really confident in how to eat. It’s about making sure you’re eating the right kind of foods.
Later on we talk about the environmental impacts of the diet and then we talk about animal cruelty towards the end of the month so you’re never overwhelmed with information. You’re just given information to make it as easy as possible.
We want you to have fun doing it. We take feedback from each year and improve all the information we provide so no two years are ever the same, they’re always better than the last. You get at least three recipes a day, and we recommend links and films. It’s everything you need to go vegan.
What was your diet like before you went vegan?
I’ve been vegetarian since I was 12. At that point my family was living in the UK so it was really quite easy – Linda McCartney products had just hit the market. Vegetarianism then was like veganism is now, I think. It was possible and was always getting easier. It put me in good stead for veganism because I’ve always been asking for menu items to be tweaked, or if they have a suitable option.
When I went back to New Zealand in 2002 it was a very different story to living in the UK. It was very unusual to be vegetarian in New Zealand at that point. It was very hard to get hold of food and people were always aghast when you turned up at their house for dinner and told them you didn’t eat meat! Although I identified as vegetarian I know there must have been many times when I ate things that had animal rennet in them.
Do you have a supportive network of people around you now?
I’m extremely lucky. A huge amount of my social life involves vegans. That’s a knock on effect of me working for Veganuary, I guess. I’ve met a lot of people over the years and many of my close friends are now vegan.
My husband became vegan six months after I did. He went from meat eater to vegan. He didn’t have a vegetarian time. He saw what was happening to me and was eating vegan at home. One day he asked me not to put cheese in his sandwich and his transition started there.
When I go out there are other vegans there. I know lots of people don’t have that luxury and that they are the one vegan at the dinner table. That can be difficult.
Did you have any slip ups in your first month?
No, I think because I learned a lot about the dairy industry and the egg industry just before I took part in Veganuary. Before that, I had no idea about what happens in the dairy industry and I genuinely thought that eating free-range eggs was a good thing to do. I remember that first week in Veganuary, reading through the information I’d been sent and just crying about what I was finding out. Once that happened, it just became very easy for me. The best way I can describe it is that it stopped feeling like food.
I do know that’s quite unusual. My best friend went vegan through Veganuary and she still finds it difficult. Her husband is an omnivore and she has had slip ups. My home makes it easier for me, and so does my job. I’m constantly talking about it and helping others. I’m always in a positive environment. I know that’s a perk that not everyone has.
The best way I can describe it is that it stopped feeling like food.
What was your go-to recipe for the first month?
Rather than trying to replace what I ate with vegan versions I changed the way I cooked and tried to make vegan food – rather than veggie food with stuff missing. Someone gave me the cookbook ‘Isa Does it’, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz – her cashew cheese sauces changed my life!
Discovering these amazing sauces made from nuts, and then discovering nutritional yeast blew my mind. I made her mac n cheese recipe about a billion times in my first six months.
Did you notice any changes in yourself?
I lost a little bit of weight. But that was never something that I intended, or expected. When you remove all that saturated fat from your diet it’s inevitable that you’ll drop some weight. Then I put some on. I think that was the excitement and wanting to eat everything.
We get a lot of feedback from Veganuary participants and a lot of people find it difficult to put into words but I personally felt lighter. And I don’t mean that in terms of my weight. It was like an internal lightness. I felt like a lot of guilt had gone, guilt that I didn’t know I’d been carrying around with me.
I felt more content with how I saw myself. It felt right, like this was what I’d been waiting for. It was an oddly indescribable feeling of contentment. Then that lead me to change wider aspects of my life – what I did for work, for a start.
I felt more content with how I saw myself. It felt right, like this was what I’d been waiting for.
What was York like, as a vegan? How did you cope?
Again, I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve only had one uncomfortable experience eating out, and I remember it well because I felt really embarrassed. That was at an Indian restaurant, I was in the middle of the table surrounded by my husband’s work colleagues. I hadn’t long been vegan and I asked the waiter if they used ghee or butter. He didn’t understand and the whole table was listening. I could feel my face getting redder. It turned out they used vegetable oil and that’s why he was confused.
Other than that, it’s been great. I’ve had chefs come out the kitchen and make specific meals for me. We’ve had stuff in really unusual places. Typically, if I haven’t been to a place before I’ll phone them up or send them an email. There are lots of places in York that are so accommodating.
We have one vegan restaurant which is called El Piano, there’s a veggie/vegan cafe called Goji which has great vegan cake. We have a huge range of places that have options. There’s a Yo Sushi!, a Zizzi, a Las Iguanas, a Pret and a Wagamamas. They’re all easy to eat at.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I’d known about the dairy and egg industry a lot earlier in my life. And I guess I wish I’d known how much fun being vegan is. There are so many misconceptions about veganism, still. With new food and products and restaurants all the time things are changing. I still think the wider public thinks being vegan is about deprivation and giving up stuff.
For me personally, the way I eat is more enjoyable and more exciting and more interesting than it’s ever been in my whole life. I love cooking vegan food. I love eating it and I love talking about it. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself – in fact I feel like the polar opposite is true.
There’s a lot less guilt surrounding eating. As a female I think we’re conditioned to feel guilty about eating in various ways, which is appalling. I don’t feel the overwhelming ‘uh, I shouldn’t have eaten that’ feeling like I used to.
If you’re thinking about adopting a vegan diet, or just want to top up your knowledge, you can sign up for Veganuary at veganuary.com.
And check out the rest of our 31 Vegans’ First 31 Days stories here.