environment Food Green Week 2021

Away with the dairy: Going vegan for Green Week

Meat and dairy industries pack some of the heaviest eco punches, Niamh Alexander tries a vegan diet in the name of being greener
This vegan stir-fry is so full of flavour, you won’t notice the lack of meat. Photo by Niamh Alexander

It has become widely accepted that when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, going vegan is one of the most impactful things we as individuals can do.

It is a little bit surprising then that just under 1% of the world’s population is vegan.

Numerous studies have proven that the food production industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change, with livestock production alone contributing around 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions (higher even than the transport sector). While some meat industries are more sustainable than others, even the most eco-friendly meat products are more harmful than the ‘worst’ vegetables.

Further studies have shown that a global reduction in our meat and dairy intake by 2050 would cause a reduction in emissions of over 72%.

You do not realise how many food products contain dairy until you’re not allowed to eat it

Faced with facts like these, it’s hard to argue against adopting a vegan diet, especially when our planet is steadily approaching the point of no return. 

With this in mind, I decided to try and switch to veganism for a (brief) period of time to see how difficult it can be. (Answer: very.)

I knew going into this challenge that it wouldn’t be cutting out meat that would be the most difficult part, but the lack of dairy.

I definitely found that it was dairy products like milk and cheese that I missed the most. You do not realise how many food products contain dairy until you’re not allowed to eat it.

My first challenge was finding something to eat for breakfast that wasn’t just a quick and easy bowl of cereal.

A quick google search told me that most cereals are not actually vegan because of the added vitamin D that apparently comes from sheep (who knew?), which ruled out my foolproof plan of simply substituting my usual milk with a soy or almond alternative.

I found that smoothies made with almond milk and dairy-free yoghurt were a good way to start the day, and tasted amazing. I used frozen fruit, which is a good way to reduce food waste by ensuring the fruit doesn’t go bad before you get through it, and it’s cost effective. 

Lunch was also a bit tricky, as I struggled to come up with something that wasn’t just a sandwich or wrap with a meat filling and copious amounts of cheese. 

I may have cheated a little bit here by making a large pot of butternut squash soup with enough to last me several days. Served with a slice of soda bread, this is a really simple and filling lunch option. 

I did switch things up at the end of the challenge and tried out this sweet potato salad recipe, which tasted amazing and was so easy to make.

Butternut squash soup, photo by Niamh Alexander

I opted for a vegan burrito instead – and honestly, it was hard to tell the difference

Surprisingly, dinner was probably the easiest meal to find vegan alternatives for.

One of my favourites was a vegetable stir-fry with cashew nuts added in as a protein-rich substitute for meat. For the sauce I used this maple syrup and ginger recipe – which tasted just as good as it sounds.

I definitely found my willpower being tested when my housemate suggested a takeaway towards the end of the week, and I wanted nothing more than a cheesey pizza.  Thankfully, I resisted and opted for a vegan burrito instead – and honestly, it was hard to tell the difference. 

I am a self-confessed picky eater, so going into this I was unsure if I would be able to stick it out. I found I was putting a lot more thought into what I was eating, which had the knock-on effect of making me eat a lot healthier. 

I do have a lot of admiration for people who stick to a vegan diet full time – it takes a lot of effort to make sure everything you are eating is definitely vegan, but that is probably something that gets easier over time. 

I don’t think I had long enough to notice most of the benefits I’ve read about, but I did feel more energised throughout the day – probably because I was making healthier choices (and chocolate had been ruled out).

While I probably won’t be switching to a full-time vegan diet any time soon, I will definitely be putting more effort into reducing my meat intake and doing what I can to source sustainable products.

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