The campaign to encourage people to try vegan in January is now in its fifth year, and is all set to be bigger than ever with Veganuary predicting more than 150,000 people will go vegan for the month. Last year, there were 60,000 registered participants from 172 countries, and one of them was Edinburgh resident, Michelle Cuninghame.
‘I’ve always loved animals,’ she says, ‘but the term ‘vegan’ wasn’t something I was familiar with having grown up in Hong Kong. But then a friend of mine said she was transitioning from vegetarian to vegan and suggested I watch the film Earthlings to help me understand. I watched it, and was horrified by the amount of pain and suffering animals endure in the animal agriculture business. It opened my eyes and was vegetarian for two-and-a-half years before eating meat again. When a close friend went vegan a few years ago, I was prompted to examine my own diet again. I found Veganuary and signed up.’
Michelle credits that month with changing her life and says it was one of the most important and assured decisions of her life. ‘Becoming vegan has changed me for the better in so many ways, both physically and mentally. I had a quick vital stats health check at work three months after going vegan and in that time I had lost 10lbs, my LDL (bad) cholesterol levels had improved and the health specialist was pleased that my HDL (good, the higher the better!) cholesterol levels were double the minimum recommended levels! I also noticed a loss of unnecessary fat and was more energised and less fatigued during the day. I also now I truly understand what it means to respect all living beings and their right to live.’
Michelle has found that a plant-based diet that is so good for her, for animals and the planet, tastes pretty good too. She has named her favourite Edinburgh restaurants to help anyone else thinking of taking part in Veganuary, or simply wanting to eat more plant-based foods.
Holy Cow, Elder Street
‘A fully vegan café that has great burgers as well as tasty yet colourful dishes, like their Savoury and Sweet salad and rainbow summer rolls, to tempt your taste buds. The cafe is so homey and the food is great. They make vegan versions of easily recognisable comfort foods – this goes to show that eating plant-based doesn’t mean eating salads all the time. You can still enjoy your burger as a vegan! They’ve also got plenty of beautiful cakes on display, if you’ve still got room for dessert after that burger. The winner for me has to be their vegan red velvet cake, my favourite cake before going vegan!’
Novapizza Vegetarian Kitchen, Howe Street
‘Offers a vegetarian and vegan menu with plenty of choices for pizza and pasta dishes. Cheese, eggs, milk and cream are ingredients used a lot in pizza and pasta dishes, but this restaurant shows you it’s not impossible to create tasty dishes using vegan ingredients. My favourite has to be the vegan four cheese and mushroom gnocchi, you wouldn’t even believe it’s vegan it’s so full of flavour. They also have plenty of desserts, but you can’t beat their vegan crême brulée!’
Filmhouse Café Bar, Lothian Road
‘This might not seem a likely choice, but they have clearly marked vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. Some of the dishes can be easily made vegan, like the chickpea curry with cracked wheat and vegan naan by skipping the yoghurt. I like that the curry is a bit spicy without burning my tongue and the cracked (or bulgar) wheat is a welcome substitute for rice. The naan is also lovely and soft and you’re guaranteed a filling meal with this one!’
Casa Angelina, London Street
‘They make all their cakes, traybakes, bread and salads on site and regularly have vegan options readily available. It is for this reason they are able to cater to a fully vegan afternoon tea as long as you book at least a day in advance. What I like most about their afternoon tea is, you don’t just get the usual finger sandwiches on sliced bread, the team at Casa Angelina really go all out to give you a variety of savoury sandwiches, amazing cakes and even a massive scone with vegan soy butter and homemade jam!’
Vietnam House, Grove Street
‘The beauty of Asian cuisine is that elements of Buddhism are already prevalent so finding vegan dishes (or adapting dishes for vegans) isn’t hard. I love Vietnamese food and Vietnam House are happy to cater to dietary requirements if you let them know in advance. A lot of the vegetarian dishes are already suitable for vegans. My favourite dishes are the fresh spring rolls with tofu, pho chay or vegetarian pho noodles in soup (with vegetable stock, all other options are served with beef broth) and Vietnam House special fried noodles with tofu.’
It is free to take part in Veganuary, and everyone who does so receives daily support emails that offer shopping lists, an eating out guide, nutrition advice, recipes, meal plans, and answers to common questions. They also receive social media support in a closed Facebook group where they can connect with other participants, and a free celebrity e-cookbook. There are competitions with great prizes and special offers throughout the month.
Michelle has decided to stay vegan and her message to people thinking about taking part in Veganuary 2018 is to give it a go: ‘Being vegan isn’t an end result, it isn’t about being perfect; it is a journey. Veganuary offers a lot of useful information to help you get started. You receive regular useful e-mails from how to scan ingredient lists in your local supermarket, what to eat for a balanced diet and which products you know well and love are accidentally vegan! The Facebook group is also a very supportive community if you have any questions or are looking for advice.’