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The student guide to Veganuary: a four-week crash course in saving the planet

Alice Lang talks about her experience giving Veganuary a go this year, offering all the insight about affordable ingredients, local vegan restaurants and how to work veganism into a student lifestyle.

Veganuary is a non-profit campaign encouraging people to ditch animal products and adopt a plant-based diet, in January and beyond. Alice Lang talks about her experience giving Veganuary a go this year, offering all the insight about affordable ingredients, local vegan restaurants and how to work veganism into a student lifestyle.

I’d been courting veganism already for much of 2020. Many of my friends had taken lockdown to make the change, and having too much time with my solitary thoughts, I craved a challenge - to feel as if there would be some reimbursement from a sea of lost time. I found myself creeping more towards the Oat Milk section in Sainsbury’s, raking over the vegan section on Deliveroo, scouring Tabitha Brown’s Tik-Tok for a hit of comfort.

'The dairy alternative aisle in Sainsbury's Clifton Down.' | Epigram / Alice Lang

It followed deep into the trenches of winter - sat in my parent’s living room, alone, drinking espresso martinis and watching Jules Holland at 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve. Then and there I decided to end the teasing and take a stab at Veganuary, the infamous non-profit campaign encouraging people to ditch the animals and adopt a plant-based diet in the coming January and beyond.

Born in 2014 to founders Jane Land and Matthew Glover, the movement saw more than 400,000 take the leap in 2020 alone, for which they estimated saved the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide as would be used for 450,000 flights, without touching on the number of animal lives saved. It has an increasing bank of sponsors, from Beyond Meat to Violife, and online vegan figureheads like Irish Tik-Toker Sophie Gaston (@soapbubz).

Now, keep in mind this was a much smaller bridge for me to cross than it would be for others, having been vegetarian on-and-off since primary school, and having never much been a fan of milk either (yes, I am one of the violent few that take their coffee black).

Nonetheless, I bid a mournful farewell to cheese, as I lavished in baked camembert on that distant December night, and checking packets see ‘milk’ and ‘egg’ in bold became my biggest tremor.

To start, I armed myself with a class of vegan pages on Tik-Tok and Instagram, which had already been trickling into my feed, as a source of quick motivation and useful recipes - namely the masterful Darlene Octavia, Joanne Molinaro (aka The Korean Vegan) and Calum Harris, the brains behind ‘MadebyBlitz’.

To include such characters into my daily online intake was a quiet source of encouragement. As the change became sluggish in the back end of the month, I could remind myself of the millions of others on the same path to liberation, and the impending confidence I could get in vegan cooking.

The first few days passed swimmingly, being in a well-equipped kitchen, under the cushy support of my parent’s Ocado order, where I was able to slip in alluring, rather overpriced, ingredients like tahini and nutritional yeast. The house was still overthrown by Selection Boxes and Hotel Chocolat hampers, which I would have very much demolished had my mission not been in its infancy - a novice’s high still steering the ship.

Even so, upon my return to Bristol to finish exams, I felt a slap in the face by reality. All my simple eating habits, adopted out of a small budget with little time and energy, had to be brought back to the drawing board. No more pesto pasta after a long afternoon on Blackboard Collaborate, no more eggs to soften an ugly hangover – it was deflating, having to donate patiently waiting Peanut Butter Cups I’d left on my shelf.

Nonetheless, through steady persistence, and I was able to navigate the aisles, finding the best (and cheapest!) ingredients to continue my journey with – avocados and olives from Local Garden in Redland, and frozen tempeh at a steal price from 168 Oriental on Park Street. The vegan selection in Sainsbury’s is credible, however slightly overpriced, but it’s definitely the M&S Plant Kitchen if you’re really looking to get treated.

We’re lucky enough to live in a city enlightened by progression, at a time when conscious eating is at an all-time high. I was compensated for my sacrifices with an armoury of local restaurants, specialising in taste sensations and authenticity, namely The Coconut Tree on Gloucester Road, and Seven Lucky Gods down in Wapping Warf. Not forgetting sophisticated drinking holes in Clifton Village, like East Village Café and Eden, both exclusively serving vegan lunch foods and treats having any sweet-tooth weak at the knees.

'East Village Cafe.' | Epigram / Alice Lang

Some moments, naturally, were more glamourous than others. One rainy Sunday I stood on the moral high ground as I ate a burger from Owee Vegan, while the rest of my house munched on McDonalds cheeseburgers, despite having two nights before lost myself to a cheese toastie under the dictation of more gin than I’d care to admit. Even so, many undoable lessons were learnt, and a new perspective on what I eat has unfolded.

I became more skilled in cooking with fruit, veg and other whole foods, economising on their versatility and vigour in a mix of recipes, from curry, to tagine, to enchiladas. I underwent a mindful reset in my attitude towards food, becoming more conscious to eat protein and healthy fats in order to feel full and more sustained. You have to keep an eye on balance, and even if the tofu doesn’t make as much of an appearance in the long run, to pay more considerate attention is a virtue I’ll keep from this rocky endeavour.

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Veganism is proven to be the best thing a single person can do to benefit the environment in their lifetime, second to not having any children, but I’m not here to judge on that. Even so, this is a pretty impressive feat, meaning even the smallest of changes will make a difference, whether it be in boosting endurance, culinary eloquence or lowing CO2 emissions. So next time you’re in Parson’s, maybe ask for oat milk instead, these things tend to have a butterfly effect.

Have you tried to go vegan?

Featured Image: Epigram / Alice Lang