The plant power of veganuary
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The plant power of veganuary

Whether it’s a decision for life or just for January, going vegan doesn’t mean missing out

Redefine Meat
Redefine Meat

Are you one of more than half a million people worldwide (according to last year’s figures) who have committed to eating only vegan food for the whole of January? Veganuary is a non-profit organisation helping people to make these changes and is heavily supported by food retailers and restaurants.

Famous vegans include Christofu Columbus, Tiny Tempeh, Quinoa Reeves Sean Bean, Tahina Turner, Nut King Cole*. I’m joking, obviously, but in 2018, John Cleese made an irritable jibe on Twitter:

Question: How can you tell whether someone is vegan?

Answer: Because they tell you… again, and again, and again.

Comedian Romesh Ranganathan, himself a vegan since 2013, says the reason people have a go at vegans is “because they know it is the right choice”.

 

Indeed, even without people signing up in droves to Veganuary, there are reportedly more than 500,000 vegans in the UK who are having the last laugh. They are enjoying numerous health benefits, a wide and tasty range of products, fantastic restaurants and the knowledge that their efforts are helping to save the planet.

But you don’t have to go the whole hog (forgive the pun) – some people choose to do their bit by embracing flexitarianism, a mainly plant-based diet with animal products occasionally being thrown in. Whether it’s Meat Free Monday, Veganuary or making the change for life, we can all have a go. With Burger King having launched vegan chicken nuggets this week, there really is a plant-based option to suit every palate and to work with all budgets.

Burger King has launched vegan nuggets

A vegan diet fits in very well when observing kashrut. In fact, you’ve got to hand it to the Israelis that their national dish, falafel, is vegan without even trying.

My other favourite cuisine, Indian, also has plenty of vegan dishes. Is the world telling me something? I buy and cook a lot of vegan food as my husband decided he wanted to follow the regime four days a week. This has lowered his cholesterol, though he can’t resist the 10 Maltesers he has for a bedtime treat.

On vegan days, we all tuck into curries, ramen, bakes and stir fries (all made by me) – and I confess that one of our freezers (so Jewish) has two drawers full of vegan products. If the non-vegans want to throw some cheese on the vegan shepherd’s pie we can, for – as ‘Malteser man’ constantly reminds me – it’s not a religion.

The UK’s Jewish Vegetarian Society (JVS) was founded in the 1960s, opening a vegetarian restaurant and enjoying an extremely active calendar of events. More recently, it has created the world’s first Jewish vegan centre, running cookery classes, hosting seders, growing food and educating the community on the vegan way of life.

Redefine meat

JVS director Lara Balsam says the team has been working hard to demonstrate that there is no tension between being Jewish and being vegan. Indeed, one example of its popularity is the increase in the number of vegan meals being ordered at Limmud events.

The JVS educates on how to veganise meals and Lara will probably be very jealous to learn that I was invited to dine at Tofuvegan in Islington. Chao Zhang, its executive director, asserts that his restaurant will delight vegans and carnivores alike. I was indeed delighted. The wontons, Peking ‘duck’ and twice-cooked ‘fish’ were so flavoursome that it really didn’t feel as if we were missing anything. No wonder there’s a three-week waiting list. Chao goes where the customers are and, happily, he is opening another branch in Golders Green this March.

Tofuvegan in Islington

Fake meat products have come a long way in terms of taste and texture, but an Israeli company, Redefine Meat, is going one giant step further and making 3D vegan meat. This is big business; such big business that three-Michelin-starred chef Marco Pierre White will soon put its 3D printed plant-based steaks on his restaurant menus.

How do they do it? Using cutting-edge technology to replace the need for animals, starting with natural plant-based ingredients crafted and optimised using artificial intelligence and machine learning, brought to life with advanced manufacturing and 3D printing. Redefine Meat says it is on a journey to become the world’s largest ‘meat’ company.

Redefine

Israeli ingenuity doesn’t end there. Wanting to grow and provide grocery products to supermarkets without it accumulating ‘food miles’, three Israelis came up with the idea of growing fresh produce inside supermarkets. Infarm, as the company was named, now has substantial financial backing and, by 2025, its farming fridge network is expected to reach more than five million square feet across the world.

As I see it, the only problem with eating at a vegan restaurant is that even those with dietary restrictions can pretty much order anything off the menu and so have too much choice. My husband struggled to decide what to have at Comptoir V, a cute Moroccan restaurant in Kensal Rise, because the choice was so great.

Moroccan restaurant Comptoir V in Kensal Rise specialises in vegan and vegetarian cuisine

Owner Saeed Kazmi is “making veganism normal by providing healthy, wholesome cuisine that nourishes the body and feeds the soul… that just happens to be vegan”. I left my earnest flexitarian to study the menu while I quaffed the excellent cocktails. Two hearty courses of innovative and tasty dishes later – jackfruit nuggets, dynamite ‘shrimp’, Moroccan ‘ghife’ bread and Spiced Island curry (sweet potato, coconut and spinach) – among them meant that we could only manage to share the pancakes and caramel ice cream. Vegantastic.

* Benedict Cucumberbatch is actually a vegan

 

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