Hey! My name is Edgar. Some know me by the name of TheFoodGuy, and I am vegan. I wrote this in the summer of 2020 looking to make a bigger positive impact, looking to become a vegan chef and explore the lyricism of food.
My journey began about 2 years ago when I started to hear about vegan products and the movement. At the time I worked in a large-scale food manufacturing plant, developing new products. It was an important part of my job to be aware of food trends and their evolution. When large companies like mine consider committing to the emerging trend they realise that there is money to be made and people need a new type of food. So we started looking into veganism. The climate crisis was undeniable and ever-present. It was time to do steps that can significantly change the human emission history.
I knew about the global problem we are facing and started doing small steps I could: I was cycling, recycling and need for change advertising (Rhyme is totally on purpose). I quit my previous job in the meat factory because I couldn't make money off something that harms us. People working there saw everything as ingredients and numbers. If the silverside falls on the floor it was swept away without a care. It would mean a tiny yield loss. In reality, the death of the pig was for nothing. Life wasted.
I was looking to make some positive impact in the way I knew how - with food.
My first time eating vegan food at home was “an experience”. I and my partner at the time have bought food, found recipes and organized a whole week to be more conscious about the impact of our diet on the environment.
First, we realized that starting a completely new diet is hard. One reason is that it costs a lot of money to simply substitute all the products for vegan ones. That’s what we did with the groceries for that week and it ended up being double the amount for any previous week. Products were novel, so we didn't really know how they were going to taste. Recipes were provided by the supermarket chain with suggestions for products, which made shopping easier. On the other side, new foods were nothing like the things we ate for many years. At the beginning of the week, I was happy to find out that my diet was already packed with easy vegan dishes. Fruit and peanut butter for breakfast, fried rice with plenty of vegetables for lunch and chips for dinner. Replacing meat in the future felt easy because the dishes I cooked were packed with filling veggies.
The new recipes my partner chose were different to our usual diet. It was a jump head-first into the unknown. On the second day of the vegan week we had a celeriac salad. I have never had it before and was really unsure how to eat it. Was it safe raw or did it have to be cooked? And what to expect in terms of flavours? That night didn't eat full meals, the heat was suffocating and the food was too different to enjoy. In a couple of hours, my partner had a paralysing stomach cramp, and eventually, we had to go to the ER. Spending 3 hours in the waiting room and another 3 for the tests. She had massive constipation and her health was fine but our week-long experiment was cut short.
Besides the unexpected consequences of changes in the diet, there were complications of leaving an old life behind. A lot of food that I previously had around the house wasn't vegan. Some of it was perishable. Starting an experiment without making slow, systematic changes puts too much pressure to commit to a new diet long-term. Luckily (?) we came back to the “comfort zone” after just 2 days and one sleepless night.
The message about the significant benefit of the vegan diet for the environment was clear but the execution took another two years. Other benefits of veganism always were - taking care of nature (reducing the agricultural impact of factory farming and deforestation for the expansion of the farms), saving animal lives, and learning to be kind to all kinds and yourself. There are actually even more benefits that are related to health and well-being (I will discuss them in a future article).
I wanted to make changes but I wasn't ready to commit to it full-time.
Next step. Food development.
As the vegan food trend developed, more and more businesses started promoting their food as "made with kindness", "plants-based", and "better for the planet". On one hand, it was a marketing stunt to grab people’s attention to the newly launched products, on the other hand, it was a powerful movement to make food that is better for everyone. Hunger wasn't a goal but a way to execute an ambitious goal.
Seeing new ranges of food popping up in the stores was an exciting part of my job. “Wicked kitchen” and “Strong roots” are the ranges that came to the market with almost no attention. They did really well, they pushed the boundaries falvours and possibilities of convenient plant-based products. Other manufacturers followed. Looking at the brands' positioning, their flavours, and their approach to veganism was a learning experience for me and the business where I worked. Once brands established themselves in well-known supermarkets it was clear to us that there was enough demand and interest from the general public that we should follow.
I started market research, including tastings of the most interesting available products on the market that summer. I and a development chef looked into the size of the vegan sections, most popular products, interesting packaging solutions, flavour combinations, types of products, and supporting promotional material. After our market research, we conducted a tasting session with our colleagues. Overall, we had a nice experience with the new food. Some products were quick, cheap and easy solutions like bean burgers and falafels. Those often mushy patties aren't something a meat eater would choose but are a great option for a veggie - a person who eats more plants, a vegetarian, or a vegan. Some products were carefully crafted to deliver a lot of flavour in the recognisable form, like mac and cheese with a twist, made with butternut squash. Such s type of innovation was groundbreaking. It symbolized a rise of food that would deliver on being 100% plant-based while having new flavours in a familiar form. Other products were more convenient ways to eat - salad bowls, pastries, ready meals, and stews and curries in the cup. We also tasted hot vegetable-based snacks and side dishes. Rarely could we find products with fully substituted vegan alternatives like sausages, fish, mince, meat-like slices, and products that incorporate those - pizzas, curries, chicken wings, paellas, etc (that was the year 2020, things have changed now).
It was the beginning of the revolution. New products and messages came seemingly out of nowhere, made for a tiny fraction of the population. Less than 1% of the UK’s population was vegan at the time. Most people who have been vegan are those who committed to the new way of living a long while ago (10-15 years prior). What I know now is that those products weren't made for the old-school plant eaters. New products were made for the new generation of the young, committed to a better world, and hungry for change, people.
In 2017, a year before my research started, 50,000 people signed up to participate in the Veganuary, an event created in 2014 to challenge people to stay healthy and make better choices for the month of January. Every year since then the number of participants has doubled. 400,000 people have participated in the campaign in 2020. Trying veganism slowly became the movement.
Veganism was popping up everywhere. From how good it is for your health to what a cruel world we live in, the solution is - to go vegan. I kept hearing about it mostly through work. I was invested in making a positive change for the environment. However, my main quest was always flavours and innovation. The most interesting thing I find about the food industry is how businesses could create food products and influence the history of humankind. When I saw what veganism is and what people are making through this movement I quickly realized that it is the force that I have to learn to wield.
At work, I focused on the flavours, products, and claims the industry makes. I kept exploring and tasting. I was hooked.
After the first failed attempt at a vegan diet, I knew I have to try again but on my own terms. I didn't want to use someone else's ideas. I would start brand new, like a baby, learning my way through practice. Luckily I just left my long-lasting relationship, moved to a very nice flat with a huge kitchen, and was hungry for adventures.
On the first of January 2019, I decided to become a vegan for a month. It felt like a good chunk of time for an experiment. My main goal was to incorporate what I already know about the industry, cooking, recipes, and techniques, into my life. I wanted to use that experience to better understand the people for whom I was developing food products, and in the process help people to contribute less to pollution.
My decision to become vegan was made 2-3 days before the New Year. I was planning to have a month of cooking experiments. Most importantly I planned to keep it a secret for the whole duration of the experiment. I didn't want my experience to be altered by other people’s opinions and views. I had to make it through on my own, to fully embrace and understand vegan gastronomy and lifestyle.
The first morning of 2019 I found myself deciding to start running along the changes to my diet, what a great hangover idea. I think the main reason for all these changes was the absence of the internet at my new flat. I went for a killer run and then shopping. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't plan anything (I'm just not that kind of person, my spontaneity is the energy that perpetuates me toward my most desired goals). In the shop, I noticed how much more time I had to spend looking at the back of the packs, reading all the listed ingredients. “If I am going to be vegan I am going to do it right”, I told myself. I spent about two hours on my first visit to the shop as a vegan. There were two reasons, first I wanted to make sure that no food I buy had any animal-derived ingredients, and second, I was curious about foods people like me were eating. Fruits, vegetables, some bread, pulses and grain were clearly vegan, other things not so much. I quickly found out that most of the desserts used dairy milk in one form or the other. Snacks would have lactose or meat powders, loads of bread, desserts, dips and sauces would use egg, gelatin, butter or milk for some reason. My initial thought was that it is such a time-consuming process to read all the labels that I should have prepared better for my weekly shopping, to manage a balanced vegan diet. The steep learning curve and time spent getting familiar with ingredients didn't discourage me from my challenge. In about a week's time, I realised, that once I read most of the labels I knew what I could and cannot have from this particular shop and what categories or products I should shop in. My shopping visits got quicker, the food more diverse and I was getting happier with every new dish I discover. In about two weeks I realised how broad my choices of food were, how many possibilities opened up, and how many possibilitieis for the change were ahead.
END OF PART 1