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
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 (Sainsbury’s labels all its 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 health food shops such as larger Holland & Barretts or Fresh & Wild (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; Goodness Direct stock a wide range of vegan produce including chilled, frozen and fresh organic goods (see below for more on this).
Another option you may want to consider are the organic delivery services that have become very popular. 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 [intlink id="127" type="category"]Growing Veg[/intlink] 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. A recent trip to Budgens uncovered some Dutch strawberry and chocolate ‘cream’ filled biscuits that were not only delicious but animal free too!
For recipe ideas check out the [intlink id="54" type="category"]Recipe[/intlink] section.
Things to be aware of when shopping for food:
Quorn is not vegan!! It does contain egg and some of the ready meals contain milk too. Look out for own supermarket brand veggie mince that may be suitable.
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 [intlink id="86" type="category"]Food & Drink[/intlink] section.
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.
Most supermarkets or sandwich shops will stock the token vegan houmus/falafel sandwich although beware as sometimes these are not even vegan. 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 instead but make sure you ask for 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.
- 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.
Please refer to the [intlink id="17" type="category"]Eating Out[/intlink] section for a more comprehensive list of restaurants that can cater or serve only vegan food.
All the major coffee houses (as well as some independent ones) will offer soya milk. And why not do the planet a favour and use a travel mug? We became obsessed with getting a biodegradable plastic one but sadly there currently does not appear to be a UK supplier. I’m Organic a company in the US makes them from corn, meaning they will break down on your compost heap when you are done with them. It was a case of weighing up carbon foot print of shipment versus hundreds of unrecyclable disposable coffee cups sitting in a land fill. As a financial incentive a certain coffee chain 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.