The vegan challenge- my month long stint as a vegan in Hong Kong

I am not someone who believes in limiting themselves with food and live by the motto of saying YES! Why on earth did I then decide to make February my vegan month?

After a fabulous trip to Kerala in India (the home of ayurvedic medicine), I was advised by an Ayurvedic doctor that in conjunction with some medicines she was to give me for my skin, meat, fish, eggs and dairy needed to be cut out of my diet. My jaw dropped as I thought how much torture the next month was going to be. How on earth could I do this?! Would I just be eating salads? Eating like a bird? Will I lose all my energy?

When I returned to Hong Kong, I vowed to prove that I could not only find many vegan options in the city, but also remain nourished and more importantly satisfied.

Firstly, I had to fully understand what veganism is. Vegans prefer to abstain from any animal product or bi-product. To give you a clearer picture, the following foods are off the table:

  • Meat and seafood
  • Dairy and eggs- milk, yoghurt, cheese, cream, mayonnaise, butter, ice cream, lard etc.
  • Animal derived ingredients- gelatin, honey, whey protein, chewing gum, white sugar etc.

What could possibly motivate someone to cut out all these yummy foods from their diet?

Animal welfare

Probably the biggest motivator to convert to veganism is the protection and welfare of animals. Although, we do not like to think about it most animals are kept in terrible conditions and this does strike a chord with people, enough to motivate them to cut even animal bi-products from their diets as mass farming in most cases involves the exploitation and bad treatment of animals.

Health concerns

If like me you are concerned about the state of your skin or if you are having a bad reaction to dairy and/or meat, it is probably about time to reduce your intake of these food groups.

For years, we have been preached to that milk is the best source of protein and calcium. In actual fact, we hardly absorb the calcium in cow’s milk (especially if pasteurised) and moreover it actually increases calcium loss in our bones! Cow’s milk is naturally designed for a calf’s consumption, not human consumption. Our bodies struggle to digest it and with more research, it has now been linked to arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, acne, kidney stones and breast cancer.

From hormones to antibiotics, meat can also contain some very harmful substances that go into our bodies too.

The environment

Animal industries are one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world combined. Quite scary when you think about it! As a vegan or vegetarian, you dramatically reduce your carbon footprint.

People

A plant based diet requires only one third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet. Inefficient food and water systems disproportionately affect the poorest people all over the world and by becoming vegan, you are contributing to a sustainable environment.

To begin my vegan journey, I needed to do a bit of shopping:

20170214_110236
Red rawnola with goji berries, coffee alternative Dandecinno, Pulsin’s pea protein to mix with soups or in smoothies
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Quinoa, chia and hemp bread mix, Uggs chocolate and chia muffin mix, soy wrappers, acai powder, Cashew butter, Nama shoyu (unpasteurised soy sauce), kidney beans, avocado, chik peas, tofu, coconut sugar, mixed nuts, chia seeds, dried mangoes

My Cravings

  • Cheese (of all kinds!)
  • Yoghurt for breakfast
  • Chicken phơ when I was sick with the flu
  • Ramen- the broth is made of pork bones
  • Thick salmon sashimi when I went for Japanese food in Wan chai
  • Chocolate…..
  • Eggs benedict with a huge dollop of hollandaise sauce
  • Char siu bao when we went for Yum cha

My challenges

We all have our accidental slip ups and during this month I was constantly thinking about what actually goes into the food I am eating. I had happy hour with some friends at the Pawn in Wan Chai where we got some complimentary popcorn. After one mouthful, I realised that popcorn is cooked in butter! First fail.

Being vegan, you do turn into a bit of a social pariah. People have to work around your diet or you have very limited options in the places they pick. Either way, it can be difficult to find a happy medium. It’s useful to have some restaurants in your back pocket that you know you can eat at and that your carnivorous friends won’t necessarily mind going to.

The first week into the diet, I was trying ever so hard to fight the worst flu I have had in my life. While sounding like what I thought was James Earl Jones, my throat was truly suffering. Alas, honey is not an option as it is not vegan!

Also, if like me you have a sweet tooth, being vegan is extremely limiting. People bring in sweets, cakes, biscuits into the office and at parties, all of which I could not touch during my vegan month. My saviours have been fruit, dried mango, dates, vegan desserts, coconut yoghurt and Happy cow ice cream.

Finally, my biggest challenge came when I had nothing pre-prepared or cooked in the house and had to run to an event that I was late for. It was approaching 3pm and I had not eaten a morsel of food. Starving and with limited options for a quick takeaway, I grabbed some cucumber sushi at Citysuper. You really have to think about where your next meal is going to be.

My top tips

Cooking

  • When baking, put some chia seeds (either white or black) into a food processor until they become meal. Mix with warm water and use as an egg substitute (1 tbsp to 3 tbsps water makes one egg substitute). Make sure to blend in with your mixture well otherwise it will turn out clumpy!
  • Use oil instead of butter when cooking and baking
  • Almond milk or even coconut milk are the best for making pancakes- yum!
  • If you ever feel peckish, nuts and dried fruits are your friends
  • Switch refined sugar or honey for maple syrup, jaggery or coconut sugar
  • Use some nutritional yeast and cashew nut butter for a cheesy sauce to go with some quinoa pasta

Nutrition

  • Be conscious of your protein intake, especially if you work out.  I really like Pulsin’s pea protein as it’s so easy to digest, even better than whey protein!
  • Don’t go overboard on your fruit intake if you are craving something sweet. Fruits have a lot of sugar in them, although fructose. Try to focus more on veggies rather than overloading on fruits
  • You may feel the need to consume a lot of carbs just to feel full, try to avoid this as much as possible
  • Read as much as you can about how vegans get enough vitamins and nutrients into their diets, above all stay nourished!
  • Before you make any major changes to your diet, please consult your physician. I had an episode when I had some vegan fajitas and because I was not used to the oil, I ended up with an upset stomach. Above all health comes first!

Going out

  • Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese restaurants are your safest bets to finding some great vegan choices
  • Prepare your meals in advance
  • Take a minute to think about whether the food you are eating is actually vegan even if it may appear so at first glance e.g. has it been cooked in butter or oil? Is there milk or cheese in the sauce?
  • Do not assume that everyone knows what veganism is. The number of times I have had to explain to some very puzzled wait staff is more than I can count
  • Expect some judgmental looks, remember you do not have to explain yourself nor do you need to preach!

Finally, there are some fantastic vegan groups and websites you can join that encourage discussion and provide many recommendations and recipes. Join the community!

My verdict

Going vegan is certainly not for everyone but as expected, it wasn’t meat that I was craving (as in actual fact I do not consume that much meat on a normal basis). The real struggle was dairy products which I realised I indeed eat a lot of. The most noticeable difference was in my energy levels. Normally, I am struggling to keep my eyes open during a normal work day but I was definitely more alert and had a lighter feeling. Speaking of which, my waistline pretty much remained the same throughout the process, but this may change if I were to do this more long term and resume my exercise routine. As for my skin, I have seen a bit of improvement but not drastic as this may require more time.

So what does the future hold for my diet?

I will not go full out vegan or even veggie but I am seeing the benefits in cutting down on milk and cream. I will therefore stick to Soy lattes and dairy free desserts wherever I can. Most of all, I will be more conscious of what goes into my food and know that I can say NO without starving or feel that I am missing out.

Useful links that helped me get through:

Laura Miller’s ‘Raw Vegan Not gross’ channel is a revelation:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLX98sAmndWt1lGRCL75HlrZH4dHmpQe4P

Ella Woodward’s story of managing PoTS without medication but through a strictly plant based diet is inspiring. Her recipes are also fabulous:

www.deliciouslyella.com

Hong Kong has its own Vegan FB group:

http://facebook.com/veggiehk

All the places I visited during my vegan month:

Home: Eat to Live- their burgers and wraps are to die for!

Grassroots pantry- beetroot gnocchi and their mushroom linguine are amazing

Purple Tomato- made to order salads in Central

Dandy’s Organic Café- range of healthy vegetarian and vegan meals in Sheung wan

Maison Libanaise- takeaway felafel wraps with hummus

Spicebox Organics- bought nutrional yeast, coconut yoghurt and quinoa pasta

Just Green Organic Convenience Store- bought Happy cow ice cream and cashew nut butter

The Kitchen- had a veggie pasta without cheese in Mui Wo

Isoya vegetarian restaurant – offer veggie dinner sets (review coming soon)

Oola- ordered a veggie pasta

Thai on High- offer veggie alternatives to some meat dishes  in Sai Ying Pun

Pret a manger- they have a new veggie range

Ovocafe- veggie and vegan options

Citysuper – for a last minute cucumber sushi takeaway

Mana- for their heavenly bliss wrap

If you are thinking about becoming or are already vegan, vegetarian or simply just curious, we would love to hear from you!

Nisha

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