It’s all about the marmite.

One thing that has surprised me despite the easy access to fantastic vegan recipes and inspiration online, is the lack of clear signage on supermarket products and take-aways.
Vegan meal idea from Fabal Vegan Lager

Founder Hannah talks us through some of her week two vegan food fails (and wins).

It’s been a week of marmite both literally and figuratively. There were two pretty big food fails and there’s no getting away from them. But there were lots of wins too as I got into the swing of vegan lunch options, I managed to improve the amount of plastic in my bin (a tiny bit…) and the Hiver and Fabal communities shared some great vegan foodhacks, which I in turn will share with you! And so with no further ado, here in a nutshell (badum) is my week two as a vegan.

Apparently, you can’t freeze M&S vegan pizza (say whaaaaat?), which I only realised when I was already starving and upon taking the pizza OUT of the freezer. But fear not I just headed to the pub and…nope. It’s lockdown and I basically stared longingly at the beautiful fresh vegetables in my fridge hoping they’d magically materialise into something tasty all by themselves. They didn’t and I ended up ordering a take-away….more on that later…but I survived only to experience the second food fail of the week a few days later. It is honestly an experience that may haunt my dreams for the rest of my days. I’m not prone to over-reacting and I’m not a fussy eater so even if I don’t LOVE something, I’ll always clear my plate. So, when I say this item was inedible, I’m not exaggerating, it was worse. Beware friends – Tofu sausage – the uncarnated stuff of foodie nightmares.

The evil genius behind this particular horrorshow has made the ‘sausage’ just a bit wider than your normal banger, which when combined with the overpowering fake garlic flavour, means you end up in some sort of bush-tucker speed-eating trial as you try to chomp through the grainy denseness as quickly as possible in order to get rid of the vile flavour that is now pervading your nose as well. After two attempts I picked out the aberration from my tenderly cooked bean stew and clutched a Fabal to my chest while I dry-retched a bit in shock. Not even a delicious, crisp, vegan lager could wash away the horror and I let out a couple of quiet lonesome, lockdown sobs while I analysed the unexpected turn of events. I’d been suckered in by funky branding but all the signs really had been there. There was the reference to Turkey and Tofu while also identifying as both an Italian and a Kielbasa Sausage…talk about an identity crisis. Never again will I try a Tofu sausage.

Despite the worst food experience of my entire life, I’m still enjoying Veganuary! The rest of the food I’ve eaten has been delicious and often quickly prepared too thanks to a little bit of bridging help from the M&S plant-based range and other tips I’d received. The M&S vegan coleslaw meant I could whip up a quick and tasty tofu sandwich and a few falafels came in as a treat snack with shop bought dip one evening too. While I’m still learning, it’s helpful not to have to cook every item from scratch. I have now built up plenty of homecooked portions of vegan chill or curried lentils in the freezer though so I’m sorted for nights when I’m really not in the mood to cook.

At the end of week one I was feeling a little bit desiccated, as I used lots of tinned and dried ingredients which was making me feel dried out! This has really improved and by bringing in more lentils, I’m feeling fuller for longer and getting a better balance of nutrients, ingredients and ‘natural’. It’s actually been a good exercise to refresh on sources of vitamins and nutrients as well as protein. I can see that my ‘normal’ diet has been lacking in sources of iron, as I wasn’t cooking with lentils and I eat red meat rarely. I’m starting to really miss having the odd Hiver now and I’ll often use honey in place of sugar in cooking or to sweeten a tea and so I’m craving sweet things as a result.

One thing that has surprised me despite the easy access to fantastic vegan recipes and inspiration online, is the lack of clear signage on supermarket products and take-aways. I had a great jackfruit burger for my (unexpected) Friday night take-away but it actually took me a while to find it on Deliveroo. The Vegan section that they promoted to me was actually a minefield and several of the options were surprisingly vegetarian rather than vegan. Other dishes outside of the promoted category, seemed to be vegan but weren’t classed as such so I was left unsure and hanging. In the end I had a great meal from a specialist vegan diner and it really hit the spot. I was glad to have tried some vegan junk food, which I’ll happily choose again. The vagaries continued though when I was buying bread. While the ingredients list didn’t seem to include dairy products, the loaves were classed as vegetarian which left me a bit confused.

What little confusion there’s been though has been more than made up for through the fantastic tips people have shared with me. From replies to the newsletter through to linked in and social media comments, it’s helped me make the transition towards more sustainable and simple vegan cooking. Here are the suggestions that have made the biggest difference to my palate and wallet this week.  

  1. Adding marmite to stocks and gravies. This tip really elevated a 5 bean chilli and gave it so much extra depth of flavour. Worcester sauce also seems to give dishes a bit of umami too.
  2. Buying Tofu at a Chinese Supermarket. Another friend suggested I try SeeWoo to get good value Tofu after I was complaining about how much I was spending on tiny blocks from the local store. The difference in price as well as quality and variety was astonishing. I managed to get fresher tofu in packs three times the size for less than a third of the price….that’s some kind of exponential saving.
  3. Lentils. Providing lots of goodness and protein as well as being a versatile and satisfying ‘filler’. I’ve had more energy and been full for longer.
  4. Smoked Tofu. It’s just bloody delicious, try it with red onions, sweet potato and aubergine.

As I head into week 3, I’m still feeling a bit guilty about all the imported and exotic ingredients that I’m using but the experience is making me challenge my normal eating habits too. I can’t help but think it’s really time to ask, what does a sustainable diet look like to me?

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