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The voyage of Veganuary

Despite looking like regular mac and cheese, this Daiya Cheddar Mac & Cheeze is not only vegan, but also gluten-free --- and delicious!
Despite looking like regular mac and cheese, this Daiya Cheddar Mac & Cheeze is not only vegan, but also gluten-free --- and delicious!

I have been a vegetarian for twelve years, but I had always sworn up and down I would never go vegan. 

“I can’t give up cheese and ice cream,” I’d say, or: “I love Pulley omelets way too much.”

But plant-based foods have been steadily on the rise since I first decided to give up meat in 2010. So when a friend of mine first brought up going vegan for January back in the fall exam week, I decided to take the plunge and say yes.

Little did I know that going vegan for the first month of the year is actually a widespread social media challenge and charity based out of the UK, not just an idea from a vegetarian college student. 

Veganuary started in 2014 and raises awareness about the environmental impact of animal production; the organization aims to help support a more sustainable manner of food production — a plant-based one. According to its 5-year plan, Veganuary’s impact worldwide has assisted in the immense growth of the plant-based food market in recent years. That’s a 76% increase in global sales of plant-based meat from 2018 to 2021, according to the Global Food Institute’s 2021 Plant-Based State of the Industry report.

It’s true that in recent years, I’ve discovered that my anti-vegan excuse of needing to keep cheese, ice cream and eggs in my diet has become ineffective as more plant-based products hit the market. There are plant-based versions of everything nowadays, from dinosaur nuggets to alfredo sauce. 

In going vegan for January, I tried a great many of these products. Here are some of my favorites:

JUST Egg: When I spent a week at my aunt’s Seattle apartment this J-term, she stocked a bottle of this product in her fridge just for me. This creamy, plant-based liquid cooks to perfect scrambled “eggs” or omelets, and I stretched just one bottle to five portions. As soon as I got back to Oxford, I started keeping a bottle of this in my own fridge — it’s definitely my new go-to product.

Daiya Cheddar Mac & Cheeze: Not only is this deliciously cheesy pasta plant-based, it’s also gluten-free, making it a great option for those with multiple dietary restrictions. It was easy to make, provided three full portions and tasted vaguely like Cheetos — a flavor I miss as a longtime vegetarian. (Spoiler alert: Cheetos aren’t vegetarian. If you didn’t know, now you know.)

Immaculate Flaky Biscuits: I am a huge fan of biscuits and gravy, which I can usually make with any biscuit recipe and a packet of mushroom gravy. While most biscuits have some form of milk in them, these do not! Their unfortunate downside is that they aren’t stocked at Kroger, so you will have to go to Jungle Jim’s International Market in Greater Cincinnati to find them — but it’s worth the drive.

SO Delicious Dairy-Free Frozen Dessert: I cheated a little with this one, because I’d tried it before Veganuary. My mom is lactose intolerant and we have spent years trying different brands of plant-based ice creams, and this one (specifically, the Salted Caramel Cluster flavor) is easily the best ice “cream” I have ever tasted. Notice how I didn’t say the best plant-based ice cream. This stuff is fantastic and addicting. I might not be making the journey back to milk-based ice creams ever again.

As for vegan eating outside of my own kitchen, that is where I met most of my struggles with Veganuary. 

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There are certainly more options for vegans than I thought there would be Uptown. Ramen Hachi’s mini curry (one of my personal favorites) is vegan, and they also stock a mouthwatering plant-based miso ramen bowl. Fridge & Pantry, Moon Co-Op and Krishna both have plenty of vegan options, as does Bagel & Deli. And, of course, many build-your-own chains — like Chipotle, Subway and Rapid Fired Pizza — are easily accessible to plant-based customers. 

But there are definitely more restaurants here in Oxford that are not vegan-friendly, and it’s always a struggle to ask a waiter: “Is this vegan?”

Additionally, I can’t speak for the dining halls, as I didn’t visit any during Veganuary, but other on-campus locations did not live up to the vegan hype. 

In Armstrong there are only nine main entree options: Red Zone’s pulled oats BBQ sandwich; Pulley Diner’s vegan chicken sandwich, vegan black bean burger and vegan chicken tenders; Kabar’s tofu stir-fry bowl and made-to-order sushi; and build-your-own bowls at Field to Fork and Evergrains at Haines (which also has gyros). 

Photo by Ames Radwan | The Miami Student
The vegan chicken tenders served at Pulley Diner are Food editor Ames Radwan's favorite of the Pulley's vegan options.

That’s nine vegan entrees to exactly 50 non-vegan entrees in Armstrong, and those numbers completely exclude breakfast options, which contain even fewer vegan dishes. 

I know that the vegan population on campus is small compared to the non-vegan population, and maybe those numbers are proportional — I have no idea. But whereas non-vegan eaters can (and do) eat vegan food, it doesn’t work the other way around. Even in the past week and a half, I have already seen three different vegan options in Armstrong run out before dinnertime.

But in the end, I enjoyed eating vegan for a month. It was far easier than I thought, and I have decided that my New Year’s resolution (a month late – sue me) will be to eat at least one completely plant-based meal every day for the rest of 2023. 

The ingenuity of the plant-based food industry never ceases to amaze me, and I want to keep trying new things.

The best part of Veganuary, though, was discovering that foods I already enjoyed were vegan. Next time you eat something without meat in it, take a look at the ingredients — because you may already be on your way to a plant-based lifestyle.