Vegan Blog – Hummus and mutiny: what happened when my family went vegan

 

The fridge door is on its last hinges, sighing under the weight of three giant containers of milk – blue, green and orange-topped to suit all preferences. Some WD40 wouldn’t go amiss.

As a family of five, we get through around 18 pints of cow’s milk a week, plus a plethora of yoghurt, butter, cheese, eggs and chocolate-coated snacks. At least we’re not lacking in calcium. There’s even an emergency supply of UHT milk in the cupboard – “just in case”.

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My sanity is largely dependent on frequent cups of tea – white, no sugar thanks – a daily latte fix and an unhealthy devotion to chocolate. Frankly I’d rather give up sleep, than dairy. Even my two year old has learnt to shriek ”babycino” every time she spots a Costa.

What’s more, I’ve always harboured a secret view that those who abstain from major food groups, often under the guise of self-diagnosed intolerances, are at best a tiny bit annoying, at worst, neurotic.

Not a fan of ‘special’ milk: Becky Dickinson and her daughter Daisy

Yet veganism is catching on. According to Google Trends, vegan searches have now overtaken vegetarian ones. And Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of The Vegan Society, says: ”The number of people taking The 30 Day Vegan Pledge continues to increase with around 500 people a month trying vegan for a month. Of those completing the survey, 93 per cent say they will remain vegan.”

And if animal welfare isn’t enough to shame you into signing up, there’s also the environment to consider. ”Animal farming is responsible for at least 14 per cent – although some estimates go as high as 51% – of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jasmijn. ”Farming animals takes up to three times more land and fresh water compared to crop farming, while a vegan diet has the lowest carbon footprint of all diets. In order to reverse global warming we urgently need to take action by changing our diet.”

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For me, this is the most compelling reason to give it a go – and that means the rest of the family too. ”We’re going vegan,” I announce over spaghetti carbonara – their favourite.

The news is met with a mixture of horror, indignation and mutiny, as I reassure them it’s only for a week (a month seemed a bit hardcore, at the least for the children aged 8, 5 and 2.)

”What can I have on my breakfast?” baulks Daisy, 5.

”It’s ok, I’ve got special milk,” I tell her. ”I don’t like special milk,” she grimaces, before even trying it.

On a health crusade: Becky Dickinson

The following morning, I dowse her Cheerios in a white almond drink. Amazingly, or possibly because she’s half asleep, she doesn’t notice, until her older brother declares: ”It tastes like when you do a sick burp.” Charming. At which point Daisy downs her spoon. I can’t send them to school on empty stomachs, so I whip out the ‘just in case’ cow’s milk. I also offer toast with jam and vegan margarine. There’s another outcry when they discover honey is forbidden in case we upset any bees.

Lunches too are tricky as they both have school meals. But as there aren’t any vegan choices, I turn a blind eye. On the days when Anya, the youngest, doesn’t go to nursery, she has lunch at home. Normally, I’d whip up an omelette, but even eggs from our own hens (so free range they often inhabit the neighbour’s gardens too) are against the rules. Tim Barford, organiser of vegan lifestyle events, VegfestUK, says: ”There is an ethical stance, chickens are not ours to call our own, and their eggs are not ours either. It’s a moral decision, based on compassion for animals everywhere.”

Struggling for ideas, I stock up on a week’s worth of hummus. But Jasmijn de Boo claims vegan eating doesn’t have to be repetitive. She says: ”Lunches can include any salads, creative sandwiches or soups. Healthy, simple vegan dinners can be created within 15-20 minutes, while the creative cook may experiment for longer to put together a fantastic vegan meal.”

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The problem is, when it comes to cooking I’m just not that creative – or time-rich. It’s not that we live on nuggets and chips; most evenings I cook from scratch: pasta, chicken, fish, home-made pizza and soups, but even the meat-free meals contain cheese, cream, butter or eggs.

I knock up a simple quinoa recipe, hoping the kids will think it’s cous cous. They don’t. ”It looks like worms,” says Daisy, though it’s actually more like frogspawn. Aesthetic details aside, I chivvy them along, Gillian McKeith style, into the powers of this protein packed, illness-zapping superfood. It doesn’t work. They gag over a view forkfuls, then refuse to eat any more.

A pep talk on helping the rainforests doesn’t work either and I crack open some fish fingers. Day one and we’re failing spectacularly. But I don’t want to starve them – or stunt their development.

Tim Barford believes it is perfectly possible to bring up a vegan family. He says: ”Generally, as long as your child is eating a broad range of fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, seeds, nuts and grains, then they are going to be just fine. A quality multi vitamin supplementation is not a bad idea either, especially for vitamin B12.”

All well and good if you have kids who will wolf bowls of dahl, but as most parents know, some children will barely touch a carrot. Mine are somewhere in between; but even for complicit young eaters, nutritionist Dr Eva Detko, has serious qualms about eschewing meat and dairy.

She says: ”Certain essential nutrients are harder to obtain on a vegan diet. It is very important that children’s requirements for energy, good quality protein, iron, calcium, and other essential nutrients are satisfied, otherwise there is a risk that both their physical and mental development may be negatively affected. While vegan diets tend to be low in energy, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega 3s, they also tend to be very high in fibre. Even though we all need to consume fibre, too much of it inhibits absorption of certain minerals, which a vegan diet is already naturally low in. Putting growing children on vegan diets is not the best idea and I certainly wouldn’t do it to my child.”

Becky Dickinson’s husband, Uli, in the kitchen with Daisy. Even eggs from the family’s hens are off the menu

As we’re only seven-day-vegans, I press on (while doling out multi-vitamins.) Falafels and bean stew are tolerated, but they’re not fooled by the lentil Bolognese. It doesn’t help that my partner, Uli, originates from Bologna – in his opinion the “culinary capital of Europe”. This was never going to be a winner.

I appease them by making a vegan chocolate cake. The result is surprisingly good: sweet, moist, and sufficiently cake-like, and leaves me wondering what Mary Berry would make of it.

The kids are further impressed by the Moo Free vegan chocolate; it’s not quite Lindt but it’s definitely passable, proving things have moved on since the days of dreary carob bars.

From Vegusto vegan ‘cheese’ to Booja Booja ice cream, Vegan businesses has never tasted so good. According to retail analysts, Mintel, the UK’s plant-based non-dairy industry is worth £150.6 million. Between 2011 and 2014, it grew by a staggering 155 percent, with growth in 2015 likely to be higher still.

Veganism, it seems, is keen to shake of its lentil past. There are now vegan pizzas, pies, sausage rolls, hotdogs and nuggets. All of which go down well with my quinoa-avoiding children – though it feels somewhat ironic to be eating imitations of foods we usually avoid, rather than just increasing our intake of whole foods. But at least they’re eating.

By the end of the week, normal diets are resumed. Unlike the children, I haven’t missed meat at all and haven’t missed dairy as much as expected thanks to the alternatives available. I may even make some permanent changes – with a few exceptions: I’m gagging for a decent cup of tea.

VegfestUK takes place in Bristol on May 23rd and 24th 2015