Veganuary – 6 weeks later

The Veganuary website claims that after Veganuary, almost half of participants will continue eating a vegan diet, do you think I am one of these?

Well actually, I haven’t decided to continue with veganism, because it’s difficult in China and that might sound like an excuse, but it really is hard to eat a vegan diet here. You have to carefully choose dishes and then check that they don’t add any strips of meat, an egg or a meat based sauce to it, which is tricky with the language barrier and because veganism isn’t commonplace in China.

I felt reasonably healthy when eating a vegan diet, and although it made me eat much more fruit, try new vegetables and eat more nuts, I did feel hungry between meals and I missed snacking on biscuits and Chinese sweet bread.

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My fruit bowl

Veganuary has made me change my breakfast habit of guessing in the canteen and usually getting disappointed as I ended up eating something greasy, to eating a healthy bowl of oats, fruit and nuts each morning. This has been a positive change and it’s a great way to start the day, especially as mangoes and strawberries are in season right now.

I would describe my diet now as pescatarian, I eat fish about four days a week, but have cut my meat consumption right down, for a few reasons – food safety, animal cruelty, and environment. I’m currently reading Doing Good Better, and I learnt that in comparison, chickens actually suffer more than other animals, so I’m trying not to eat chicken at the moment. I also read about chemically made eggs being prevalent in China, so am eating less eggs, as I’m afraid they will be the chemical type and unnatural.

There are exceptions though, when I went to Hangzhou I ate a paella with chicken in it, and when I went out to eat with my friends, I also ate a pork dish. I’m surprised how easy it’s been to continue not eating meat, I thought I would crave meat as soon as Feb 1st came around, but I didn’t.

So am I still eating vegan? No, but I have cut down my meat and egg consumption and am eating more tofu than ever before – I really like the Japanese style tofu a nearby restaurant does. I eat fish because I like the taste of it and I think it has great health benefits. There are lots of fish in the canteen, some with bones, some without – it’s a bit tricky to eat with chopsticks but I’m getting there!

Veganuary – Changed my breakfast

I wrote before about how breakfast in China was proving difficult for me as it wasn’t the same as eating breakfast in the UK – toast, muesli, cereals etc just weren’t available for me.

When I started Veganuary, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to find much in the canteen for breakfast, I asked a vegan friend of mine and she suggested oats. Last summer I ate a lot of oats for breakfast, so this seemed like a good idea. I remembered looking for oats in the supermarket before, but they all needed milk and a microwave.

I went to a larger supermarket and found some oats that just needed water. Perfect! I bought a bowl and was excited for breakfast. At the university’s north gate there’s a whole line of fruit stalls, so I stocked up on fruit for my new breakfasts. The fruit sellers are pretty cheap and they often give you a couple of extra pieces of fruit if you’re friendly with them. For convenience, they sell small trays of pre-cut fruit like dragon fruit and different types of melons. These are usually 3 for 10块 (£1).

Since changing to eating oats for breakfast I feel a lot better in the mornings. Sometimes at the canteen I’d eat something greasy, meaty or strange, leaving me with a weird feeling in the morning, or dirty hands. But eating oats I know is good for me and having fresh fruit is a great way to start the day, so I’m going to continue this trend after Veganuary too.

Here are some examples of my new breakfast, it’s so flexible, I can buy whatever fruits are in season and also add melon seeds, peanuts, raisins and my favourite….peanut butter.

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Local strawberries and grapes
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Chinese pear, melon seeds, raisins and peanut butter
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Banana, peanut butter, raisins and peanuts

When buying fruit I always try my best to buy local fruit. The stallholders tell me their fruit is local, but I’m not sure how local is “local”. My meaning of local is that the fruit has come from the surrounding 100km or so, but I have a feeling they think local is the whole of the province and a little further.

I’m also very puzzled at how China can produce strawberries and oranges in such cold weather right now. But that’s another topic altogether.

Veganuary – No meat on that

As I’m studying in China, I’m living in student dormitories, where kitchen facilities are pretty lacking. As it’s cheap and easy, I always eat out, whether it’s in the school canteen, restaurants or get a takeaway delivered (which is the same price, if not cheaper than actually walking to the restaurant myself). This makes eating vegan difficult, as I’m not 100% in control of what I eat. The chefs control the portions, flavours and even if you ask for a vegetable dish like 鱼香茄子 (fish flavoured aubergine, but it doesn’t come with fish), it will still come with shredded bits of pork on it, unless you specifically ask them not to put meat on it.

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It looked harmless, but there were bits of pork inside

At first, when I asked them for dishes without meat in, people are shocked – who orders a meat dish and asks for no meat to be put it in it? It sounds silly, but a lot of meals in China will contain meat, whether it says it in the description or not. But after the initial shock, they are usually more than willing to make something a little different for me, they lower the price and will answer my request not to put meat in it.

Let’s look at some more pictures:

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Biangbiang mian

These noodles originate from Xi’an and the character for them is the most complicated, it’s not even on a standard keyboard. The noodles are long, thin strips, and there is a vinegary sauce at the bottom. It’s topped with beansprouts, leaves and spices, which you mix together before eating. Really yummy.

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The wonton shop served pork and veg or prawn and veg wontons, neither of which I was prepared to eat. But I asked them if they could make me a set that was only vegetables and they agreed. The sauces were a sweet apple sauce and a sweet and sour sauce too. Very tasty indeed.

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煲仔饭

This is rice in a hot dish (which keeps it fluffy and warm) and all of the menu had different types of meat in – pork, beef etc. But I told the lady I didn’t eat meat and she put this together for me, green beans, leaves, pickled veg and peas. It was really really tasty.

So if you explain nicely to chefs in small and quiet establishments, you can get vegan/veggie friendly options.

Veganuary – Oreos

As part of Veganuary, me and my friends who are also trying it out are discovering loads of brands and foods that are Vegan-friendly. One of those is Oreos…even Chinese Oreos! As I had a 27 hour train journey from Jinhua to Chongqing, and I saw individually wrapped packs of Oreos, I decided to do an experiment and see which flavour was the best.

I’d already tried the Tiramisu ones the week before and thought they weren’t bad. I picked five flavours, although China has many more, just not individually wrapped. Unfortunately, the birthday cake flavoured ones had milk in them. I ate them throughout the train journey and here are the results.

5 Vegan Friendly Chinese Oreos

1. Raspberry and blueberry 

These tasted pretty sweet and sickly, but I finished the pack of two. The blueberry half just tasted really artificial and like an awful blueberry milk tea I bought one time that was also just too sweet for me.

2. Mango and orange

Another sweet flavour, but not as sickly as the first one, still I wouldn’t buy a whole packet willingly. They were a bit tangy, maybe the orange, but the combination didn’t work well with the Oreo chocolate.

3. Peach and grape

I was actually looking forward to this one the most out of all the ‘double flavoured’ ones, because grape and peach juice is pretty nice. But these were absolutely awful, like I had a toothpastey kinda taste in my mouth and I only ate one of the biscuits. I gave the other to a young boy on the train.

4. Chocolate

This flavour is fine, but after all the other Oreos, I just wasn’t really in the mood for biscuits if I’m honest. This is probably the best of the bunch, but still isn’t something I’m mad about.

5. Original

Some people are mad about Oreos, but I don’t see the big fuss to be honest. I ate the final original flavour, knowing what to expect, no surprises or anticipating an awful taste, and it was ok. Nothing special, as usual.

So after all that, what have I concluded? Well actually, I think I don’t actually like Oreos all that much after all, apart from when they’re in a milkshake or a McFlurry (both non-vegan). So I won’t be running back to a supermarket to get any more, nor will I try any of the other flavours – green tea, banana milk, ice cream or white strawberry.

Veganuary – Cheat Days

So here are a couple of pictures to show what vegan things I have managed to find in the canteen, this was my lunch on day 5: garlic pumpkin, simple cabbage/tofu/leaves and broccoli/carrots. The second picture is just to show you how much rice I can and do eat. Yes this is a meal for one, haha.

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It cost me 4.4 yuan (44p)

I’m treating Veganuary as a type of Lent (the 40 days before Easter where I usually give up eating chocolate). And as with Lent, I am finding there are cheat days. During Lent, some people say that Sundays and Saints Days don’t count, so you can do/eat the things you pledged to give up on those days.

The Veganuary cheats I’ve had have happened during the last three days, where I ate in different situations:

  • a KitKat chunky
  • Boiled pork
  • Spaghetti carbonara

Day 3: The boiled pork was something more difficult for me. I went to a restaurant with a friend for a catch up after not seeing each other for a few weeks, and when we ordered, I told him I wasn’t eating meat during January. When we’ve eaten out before, we’ve shared 2 meat and one veg dish. We chose 2 veg dishes, but he kept looking at the meat and I knew that was what he wanted to order. He chose this boiled pork in a spicy sauce as it was lighter and not fried. I felt like I couldn’t persuade him not to order it and I was obliged to share it with him.

Did I know it wasn’t vegan? Yes.
Did I enjoy it? No.

I wasn’t really in the mood to eat meat, but ate a bit to be polite, I mainly picked out the cabbage from underneath the meat.

Day 4: The KitKat chunky was not an accident, I came back to Jinhua after a few weeks away and found some Christmas presents that I didn’t take away with me to India as I knew what they were. I opened the KitKat chunkys [which are my favourite chocolate bar] and knew I was going to eat one. I had one earlier last year, but didn’t enjoy it, as it had been contaminated by the mint Aero (the only downfall of a variety pack of chocolates).

Did I know it wasn’t vegan? Yes.
Did I enjoy it? Yes.

I think the difference between the pork and the chocolate was that the pork was definitely and clearly meat – the texture, taste, smell, name. Nothing mislead me and I felt a bit bad. But with the Kitkat, it’s not like I could taste the milk in it.

Day 6: The carbonara was a translation miscommunication. I went to a Halal/Arabic restaurant and noticed there was a lot of meat on the menu, so asked the waitress what dishes she could make without meat, she said ‘noodles with mushrooms’, which sounded great. Then when it came out, it was carbonara, which was made from cream. I’m not the type of person to turn food away or send it back to the kitchen to be thrown in a bin, so I ate it.

Did I know it wasn’t vegan? No.
Did I enjoy it? Yes.

It was nice to have a good vegetarian pasta dish, ok it wasn’t vegan, but it was a nice meal that wasn’t Chinese – sometimes Chinese food can get a bit samey.

As predicted, it is hard to eat vegan in a country where it’s not understood or accepted by society. Today I also went to a cafe and asked the waitress to recommend something without dairy in it, she suggested a ‘milk tea’.

 

Veganuary – Day 2

It’s really surprising when you start looking at the ingredients list of everyday foods and seeing what’s in them. I was going to buy a packet of crisps today, but each flavour I looked it still contained some type of milk powder, so I didn’t eat any in the end.

Then I was going to have a cup of coffee, I have some of those nescafe sachets where you just pour and mix, it’s a mixture of coffee, milk and sugar. So I couldn’t have one of those. I’m not a fan at all of black coffee, so will have to look for some coffee creamer that isn’t dairy based, if I’m going to do this properly. If I can’t find any, I will just continue using my usual sachets as coffee is something I can’t give up. Although now I’m drinking more green tea than ever before (I found a brand I really like and it’s convenient to keep leaves in my flask and reuse them several times), I often need a coffee when I’m working until late in the evenings.

There are things like biscuits and chocolate, that I don’t mind giving up, since I’ll be eating more fruit, I’ll get a lot of my sugars naturally and we’ve all read about how harmful sugar is in our diet.

I’m currently really excited about eating naturally, but it is an issue when deciding on what to eat, as Chinese chefs often but meat into dishes that shouldn’t have meat. I’m also a huge fan of noodles and am sure most of the noodles are fresh egg noodles. I’m going to making sure to eat plenty of rice and there are dishes like 麻辣烫,麻辣香锅, which won’t have meat or dairy in them.

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麻辣香锅

麻辣香锅 is a Sichuan dish, the shop will have a cabinet full of veg, noodles, meat etc for you to choose. You put what you want in a bowl and you pay by weight. They then just stir fry it all up and add some spices.

Veganuary – Starting off

I decided to go vegan this January, as part of the Veganuary campaign to stop cruelty to animals and raise awareness of veganism.

I chose to do this for a few reasons. In India, I ate a lot, like so much I felt my stomach expanding and really didn’t like feeling that way, so I knew I wanted to eat healthier in the new year and have a detox period after eating so much. When I was in India, I was staying and travelling with a vegan friend Melissa, and being around her and being in India in general, where a large percentage of the population is vegetarian, made me think about vegetarianism and veganism. Then I saw a friend of mine make the pledge, so it just seemed like something I could do too.

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I’ve taken the pledge, have you?

Before starting, I was a little nervous, I only decided to do it on 31st December, so didn’t have time to go on a huge meat and dairy binge before starting, but I knew I’d miss eggs for breakfast and some of the Chinese food I’d missed when in India 番茄炒鸡蛋,饺子,糖酥里脊 etc.

I had lots of questions about it, and still do, but just 2 days in and I’m actually finding answers to things that before puzzled me. For my whole life, I’ve never known why some vegetarians don’t eat eggs, thinking that eggs aren’t living animals and the hens are kept alive, many of which (especially in the UK) are free range. But I never had the confidence to ask a vegetarian why they eat the way they do, but now I realise that it’s the fact that we are keeping animals outside of their natural environment to fuel the demand for humans. And especially in China, I know free range isn’t a thing, I’ve seen cages the same size that our cockatiel at home lives in, housing 3 chickens, just on the street, surrounded by motorbike fumes, oil on the floor and all other gross things.

I know aswell there are many different reasons why people go vegetarian or vegan, there are health and diet reasons, some people are against animal cruelty, some don’t like the texture or taste of meat so I’ll be really interested in reading other people’s stories.

I still have my doubts about veganism, of course. I’m very anti food waste and it’s been proven that most of domestic food waste is fruit and vegetables, which raises concerns about the sustainability of a vegan diet. As an athletic woman, I also like to consume a high protein diet, and the easiest way to get that protein for me is through meat. But we’ll see how it goes and if my opinion changes by the end of the month. I hope you can join me on this journey.

Image source: http://www.veganuary.com/