<<New Year is a great time to experiment! We're compiling your queries and tips here, with answers from our panel of local vegan experts. There's also lots of background and Useful links.>>
Q: I'd like to reduce dairy consumption but not sure how to choose the best milk alternative. And I find it hard to imagine I can resist traditional cheeseboards and other treats like cream! - are the alternatives ever likely to be as good?
A: The carbon footprints of dairy products are surprisingly high - so it's definitely worth testing easy ways to reduce. Luckily the range and quality of alternatives is increasing rapidly - and competition is beating down prices. Nowhere is this more evident than non-diary milk. We've added a cribsheet (below) of Supporter Tips plus advice from our local expert panel.
For other dairy - if some items are fairly infrequent, it may be less of a priority: one supporter mentioned she could never resist a wonderful cheeseboard at Christmas - but if it's once a year, there's probably other more valuable changes to make! Maybe test out a hard cheese if it's just an ingredient (such as cheesy mashed potato?). But alternatives for creams are easily available and worth a try.
Q: How can I work out which food/drink choices are less harmful for the planet?
A: At least 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from what we eat and drink. So it's worth working out how to reduce their emissions. As a basic rule of thumb, the highest emitters tend to be red meat (by a long way), followed by white meat, then dairy. Here is an example with a league table, and this is a calculator that you might find useful. Don't worry if it seems overwhelming - small steps to reduce emissions gradually add up, and you'll be surprised how easy it becomes to have a far lower carbon footprint.
Q: I feel guilty about food choices but want to prepare healthy food. How do I avoid missing out on nutrition that I and m y family need?
A: There is considerable evidence that plant-based diets are healthier for us - but of course it is important to ensure the right food is prepared to suit each individual's needs. You may find this of use: The Beginner's Guide to Vegan Nutrition. This was launched for Veganuary 2023 by the charity Viva. See also "More Useful Links", below.
Q: I want to try out a more vegan approach to food - are there any mistakes I should try to avoid in the early days?
A: Thanks to supporter Dora for her tips for people going vegan:-
1. Don't do it all at once.
2. Do not buy vegan 'meat ' products - discovering the many, many tastes of vegetables, nuts, fruits, beans, pulses and grains is MUCH more fun and much cheaper.
3. Roast cauliflower scattered with cumin is amazing, as is white cabbage 'steaks' scattered with caraway.
4. Buy olive oil from Middle Eastern shops.
CRIBSHEET: choosing which non-dairy milk works for you
The range of choices now can seem overwhelming! - and it can be hard to keep up with different recommendations and warnings. Here are suggestions from our local experts and supporters for How to make a Start; Factors in our Choices; Sustainability. And don't overlook that is often not mentioned: it doesn't have a short life span like dairy milk and can usually be stored outside a fridge. So no more early trips to the shop when you need milk for breakfast!
How to make a Start:
Early experiments can work better with things like porridge, cereal and hot chocolate
Don't assume it's "all of nothing" - many people mentioned they found it hard to switch from dairy milk for tea - so don't!
Don't agonise over lots of research - just buy the cheapest option in a handy local shop and take it from there. If it's not great, try others, one by one.
Factors in our choices:
Nutrition: each non-diary type offers slightly different mix of nutrients, calories etc. Base choice on what matters to you. Bear in mind a missing element may be possible to gain from a slight adjustment to another part of your diet.
Environmental harm: apart from the obvious damage from greenhouse gas emissions, some types of non-dairy are based on monocultures (which can harm pollinators such as bees, or soil quality). Almonds are often used as an example.
Sustainability: certain types require much more fresh water or are based on crops that can only be grown in more specialised conditions - these factors mean they are unsuitable as part of a longer-term sustainable planet. That's been one reason for oats being particularly popular. Linked to this is packaging - so CAN supporters celebrated when Something Good in Jesmond introduced refill oat milk!
Purpose: barista versions are usually much preferred for coffee-making; coconut can be great in hot chocolate and cereal.
Taste: it matters! We're all different, so keep on sampling, rather than going off recommendations. But do allow time for your palate to develop.
Price: coming down all the time. Some supermarkets have amazing offers during Veganuary, with up to a third off the price. AND do remember it lasts a long time - so you can stock up on bargains.
Animal welfare: research suggests this is a big factor. Once people become aware of the details of milk production, calf treatment, industrial scale, implications for cows, it means they can no loner simply grab a bottle off a supermarket shelf.
"Some non-dairy cheese can be very processed, but the kinda range has simple natural ingredients - it's more expensive so I just get as a treat."
"I find some tofu recipes satisfy cheese cravings! - Clearspring silken tofu is good. You can make a very good version of scrambled egg with it."
"If animal welfare is the concern, then ethical dairy makes cheese without separating calves from mum, and they're pasture fed."
"I find ReRooted the tastiest alternative to milk, it's sustainable."
Veganuary has helped huge numbers of people learn about the wealth of knowledge and options we now have. We're lucky that it can now be easier and cheaper to reduce the carbon footprint of our meal choices. It was much more difficult when it got underway - so what prompted people to urge change? The reasons included:
health: as well as the known risks associated with red meat and dairy, recent years have seen greater understanding of the importance of such factors as fibre and gut health, which can be easier to support by plant-based food.
environment: concerns about climate breakdown have increased awareness of the emissions generated by the food choices that we make, along with interconnected issues of deforestation; fresh water security; extreme weather; biodiversity and so on.
animal welfare: secret filming of cruelty in conditions where animals are reared for profit - and of killing processes - spurred change, but even where conditions are better, campaigners have questioned why humans need (or even have the right) to breed billions of creatures, often for short unfulfilled lives, when this approach is inefficient, harms the planet and is rarely necessary for nutritional purposes.
food justice for people in the developing world: animal agriculture is vastly inefficient, wasting land and water. These resources could be used by people in developing countries. Crops fed to farmed animals are often grown in developing countries, but people living there could have that land to grow plants for themselves. Read more here.
MORE USEFUL LINKS
Science insight into why plant-based protein is healthier for us: a local international athlete recommended this documentary - it transformed his understanding of how the body absorbs protein and totally changed his assumption that meat was the best source - he changed to plant-based sources after watching it. Netflix "The Game Changers"
The Vegan Society's free VeGuide app for anyone wanting to try vegan for 30 days.
Keep your tips, queries and recipe ideas coming!
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