What is a vegan?

What is a vegan?

A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who avoids using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs, as well as fur, leather, wool, and cosmetics or chemical products tested on animals.

Food & Shopping

Vegan dairy alternatives
Vegan dairy alternatives

Becoming vegan in one step needn’t be difficult, for example you can switch straight to soya milk (or milk made from almonds, oats or rice) from cow’s milk and the same with yoghurts, cream and custard, all of which are now readily available from all health shops and big supermarkets.

The majority of your food supplies will still be obtainable from your local supermarket or market. Read the ingredients of your usual purchases – some of these may already be vegan and if you are in any doubt contact the manufacturer and ask them (most supermarkets these days labels their own brand vegetarian and vegan products). In cases where items are suitable for vegetarians only, this may be due to them being produced or handled in the same factory where eggs or milk are also used. It is then up to you to decide if possible cross contamination is an issue for you.

If you are just starting out and still require the comfort of familiar foods like cheese and meat, substitutes can be bought from any independent health food shop or larger ones such as Holland & Barretts, Planet Organic and Whole Foods Market (although you may find over time as we have that you no longer appreciate the meaty texture of meat substitutes). It’s a good idea to experiment with different brands and try everything! If you live in a more remote area there are online stores that will deliver and this area of vegan retail has come along in leaps and bounds since THV first turned vegan. The internet is literally your vegan oyster, not only can you have your basics delivered to your door from online specialist retailers, you can get pretty much the whole vegan shebang (if you have the budget). Want a vegan subscription box? The Vegan Kind will send you a box of beauty or edible treats EVERY month (they also have an online supermarket for everything else you might need). Want someone to provide recipes and ingredients? Hello Fresh will send everything you need to make vegan meals to your door. Maybe cooking isn’t actually your thing? Don’t worry All Plants will send ready made vegan meals to your door. WE KNOW!

But hey if you are like us and you do actually like to get down and dirty in that kitchen, you may want to consider an organic delivery services . The basic premise behind such websites being to supply local seasonal fruit and vegetables, so better for the environment and also supporting local farmers. You could also go to the local farmers direct, check Local Food Advisor or Farmers’ Markets to see if there are any farmers’ markets in your area.

Even better still grow your own! Check out the Growing Veg page for more information.

A vegan diet is no where as limiting as people may think initially. It encourages you to be more adventurous with your cooking, exploring the flavours of the world – many Indian and Oriental dishes are already vegan friendly or very easily converted. Take a trip down the ethnic aisles of your supermarket, you may come across some items that just happen to be vegan.

For recipe ideas check out the Recipe section.

Things to be aware of when shopping for food:

  • Pasta and noodles do sometimes contain egg but this will more often then not have ‘egg’ written within plain sight on the face of the packet – check the ingredients if in doubt.

  • Certain e-numbers are animal derived this website tells you which ones are.

  • Lactose is a sugar derived from milk and is a common ingredient in crisps. Whey and casein (some soy cheese actually contain this so check ingredients!) are also  milk derivatives. With most products containing these there will normally be allergy labelling which is sometimes a quicker way to check whether something is vegan or not, although egg is not normally listed as a potential allergen so watch out! Lactic acid can generally be assumed to be from a non dairy source.

  • Egg whites are also called albumin.

  • Gelatin is made from animal bones and used in sweets.

  • Some white sugars may have been refined using animal bones.

  • Also watch out for alcohol some beer, wine and spirits may have animal derivatives used either in the processing or filtration. There is more information on this in the Food & Drink section.

Everything else

By changing to a vegan way of life there is no need to give up on beauty products, fashion, going out for dinner and all other lifestyle choices.  You simply need to be aware of what you are buying and where ingredients are from.

We have put together information on beauty products, alternatives to leather for shoes and bags and all other areas to help make the switch over as easy as possible for you.  Explore the pages of this site for more detail.

Surviving in a non vegan environment

Being vegan is great, for you, animals and the environment.  Be proud and loud of it!  When going out with friends for dinner phone ahead and ask restaurants what they can provide for you.  You will be surprised how accommodating establishments will be.

These days most supermarkets or sandwich shops will stock the token vegan sandwich including seasonal options. Independent sandwich shops are good, where they make sandwiches fresh as you can make sure they don’t use spread etc. Should you be really stuck even McDonalds has some vegan options.

Some things to be aware of with particular cuisines when eating out:

  • Indian – although these restaurants can have a great choice of vegetable and lentil dishes it is traditional for ghee to be used in the preparation, however many places use vegetable oil so be sure to ask. Naan bread also contains dairy, try chapatis or paratha instead but make sure you ask for these without butter which is sometimes added before serving.
  • Thai – fish sauce may be added to vegetable dishes (and still listed under vegetarian on the menu!)
  • Italian – in some cases the pizza bases will be vegan in which case you can order without the cheese, check the pasta is egg free. In London chains like Pizza Express, Zizzi’s, Ask and Village Pizza all have vegan cheese options, it is not uncommon now for independent pizza restaurants to also have vegan cheese (this brings tears to the eye of THV from 10 years ago).
  • Chinese – noodle dishes may be made with egg noodles so ask for rice noodles (vermicelli) instead. Also you may see vegetables with oyster sauce listed under vegetarian dishes (!), although a veggie alternative made from mushrooms is available it’s unlikely this will be used in a restaurant so check.

We recommend Vegan London for a more comprehensive list of restaurants that serve only vegan food or try following vegansofldn on Instagram (and their hashtag) to see what the latest places the kids are eating at these days.

All the major coffee houses (as well as some independent ones) will offer plant milks. Why not do the planet a favour and use a travel mug? We like Keep Cups who have a glass option if you prefer not to use plastic. As a financial incentive a certain coffee chains will also give you money off if you bring in your own cup, so the cup will eventually pay for itself, but I guess that’s if you drink as much coffee as us!

Everywhere that you contact and ask about their vegan produce will help promote veganism and encourage companies to provide for us.  When writing or phoning it is best to actually define what being vegan is to ensure that the person really understands your requirements and there are no misunderstandings!

The Vegan Society, founded in 1944,  provides more definitions, information and FAQ about being vegan.

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