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Laura’s first 31 days

Co-Pig Laura talks about changing her perceptions, surviving on Mexican food and finally finding the perfect vegan cheesecake in her first 31 days.

We figured it’s about time one of us goofballs shared our journey into veganism with you – so here I am. My name is Laura and when I’m not doing Pig Out, I work for Sheffield Hallam University, practise yoga, and look for dogs to befriend. I’m going to talk about changing my perceptions, surviving on Mexican food and finally finding the perfect vegan cheesecake. Enjoy!

How long have you been vegan?

It’s been around two years but it was a slightly bumpy start with a few accidental and a few purposeful slip ups, so I never know when to count it from. I started my journey in January, but didn’t manage to become fully vegan until April.

What was your diet like before, and how long did you follow that lifestyle for?

I toyed with vegetarianism a few times during my late teens/early twenties. I have always had an on-and-off relationship with meat and was really fussy as a child, so I have always preferred vegetable-focussed dishes and often chose vegetarian dishes in restaurants. The last time I went vegetarian was for a year and a half. Then I switched to veganism and haven’t looked back.

What was the tipping point that made you go vegan?

I thought being a vegetarian was enough. A few friends had gone vegetarian around the same time and it felt like we were all making the move together and doing something great. A year later, Sam and I were cooking dinner one day and he said he was thinking about going vegan. I planned to support him, but I thought that vegans were weak and pale. I was a bit of a dick about it, but the more Sam wanted to do it, I started to question why and found some answers for myself.

One week without milk turned into two and it just kept rolling. I still sometimes fancy a burger or hotdog, but now I can have all that in vegan-form, it’s not the meat that I crave.

Did you do much research beforehand? If so, can you remember where?

I spent a lot of time online looking veganism up, but it was more about how to be vegan than why. I looked up recipe ideas and followed some vegans promoting the health benefits on Instagram. Once I began eating a vegan diet, I gradually learnt about the horrors of animal agriculture. It was like I’d woken up, but I was truly saddened. So I started watching more documentaries like Forks over Knives, Cowspiracy and Earthlings and that really changed my reasoning.

Did you have a supportive network of family and friends around you? Are any of them vegan?

I had Sam and my best friend, Hannah, but they were just starting out too. I found the Sheffield Vegans and Vegetarians group on Facebook very helpful and I started to learn from this big community of wonderful people who often shared other helpful groups and websites to learn from.

I found the Sheffield Vegans and Vegetarians group on Facebook very helpful and I started to learn from this big community of wonderful people who often shared other helpful groups and websites to learn from.

What did you think you’d miss the most, if anything?

Cheesecake. I could buy a full New York style cheesecake and eat it all in one sitting. I never got sick. It was always amazing. When I went vegan, I was so sad that I might never taste another New York style cheesecake ever again and instantly went on a mission to find the perfect vegan version. I am happy to say that A Unless Vegan Hardcore Catering have nailed it and now I live happy.

Did you have any accidental or purposeful slip ups in your first month?

Yes. I had a few accidental and purposeful slip ups. There were a few days where the temptations were high and I flaked, but I felt so guilty afterwards. Other times, family members would forget to put soy milk in my tea or would put cheese in my food. Because Sam and I went vegan together, we trusted each other to buy vegan food but sometimes we’d slip up by not reading the labels properly. You’ve just got to take it as a one-off and move on.

What was your go-to recipe or meal for the first month?

I think at first we focused on batch dishes like chilli and simple vegetable curries. Fajitas were a great meal because you could throw whatever veg you had in the cupboards into a wrap. Basically we ate a lot of Mexican food. It’s one of the easiest cuisines to veganise. Sam is a great cook, too, so I have it very lucky.

How did you find the first month? Did you notice any changes at all?

It’s difficult to say because I had a lifestyle change at the same time, where I started trying to drink more water and eating more fruit, I signed up to the gym and switched from black tea to green tea. So I started to feel much better really quickly. I’m not too sure what I have to thank for that, but it must have had a decent effect.

What were the vegan options like eating out then? Did you find it difficult? And how did you cope?

We stuck to Mexican places mainly, and a great Vietnamese restaurant that has a whole page of vegetarian dishes including crispy ‘duck’ pancakes and battered sweet and sour ‘chicken’. It’s great. We still go all the time.

Shopping was quite difficult at first. We have a vegan shop just round the corner from us, but if we were at work or away from home, none of the supermarkets or local shops had anything vegan in there. So we had to plan really well to make sure we had enough food and snacks when we were out. Now, supermarkets are stocking more and more plant-based options so it’s getting easier.

What’s the vegan scene like where you are now? What’s changed?

It has changed a lot in the past six months. Our neighbourhood has recently become known as the vegan quarter of Sheffield. The local vegan shop is thriving and is providing more and more vegan foods that we can’t get anywhere else. There is a vegan cafe, burger emporium and Italian restaurant that serves a four-page vegan menu. We’ve got a pub run by a vegan guy and a Mexican restaurant that has great vegan options. It’s coming on loads.

Was there anything that you learned was vegan that you didn’t think would be?

At first, it was the usual items like Oreos, Party Rings and Walkers prawn cocktail crisps but I still find lots of accidentally vegan items all the time, like the M&S spiced and iced buns, the little gold praline chocolates in Caffe Nero and Fry’s chocolate creams. You know, all the healthy stuff. I have a really big sweet tooth and love to bake cakes.

What did you wish you’d known then that you know now?

You won’t be alone. There’s so much help and support from people around the world so enjoy the buzz of knowing thousands of other people are in this with you.

Everyone is on their own journey, making their own way and their own mistakes. Embrace it, it’s all part of the lifestyle. Learn from as many people as you can, but don’t think that their methods will definitely fit your lifestyle.

What would be your advice to anyone thinking of going vegan?

Nobody is perfect. Everyone is on their own journey, making their own way and their own mistakes. Embrace it, it’s all part of the lifestyle. Learn from as many people as you can, but don’t think that their methods will definitely fit your lifestyle. Experiment, play with different foods and cosmetics etc. and accept that doing it all in one go might be stressful. It’s OK to take it slow.

Follow me on Instagram @pigoutzine and @laurakatethompson

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