Vegan Challenge: a day of convenience

Today I’ve been thinking about convenience foods and the availability of quick-fix products to satisfy a vegan appetite. I’ve often heard vegans confronted with the question: so what do you eat?! And yes, the idyllic situation would be to live as raw and wild as a happy bunny, but how realistic is that in the modern day? Most of us have seen some of the range of foods you can buy to help those well-intentioned folks continue in their meat and dairy free ways. So, instead of taking my lunch to work today I ventured out into the west London area to forage.

My office building is a rather modern place with a gourmet restaurant on the ground floor offering a long and lavish menu for staff and guests. Unfortunately, their imaginations rarely stretch to an exciting vegetarian meal, so the chances of me finding a vegan lunch that didn’t begin and end with cucumber strips was slim. Today was a typical example with strange combinations cropping up like fish miso soup, tofu and pork salad and vegetable pie with beef gravy.

So, I set off with my first stop being Tossed – a healthy, freshly made food shop, it seemed the prime candidate but, sadly, I was disappointed. They offer a wide variety of low-fat, low-carb foods and the kitchen staff offered to knock me up a mean salad, but I didn’t fancy spending £4.95 on a small portion of cold vegetables I could have brought in myself. The only other vegan savoury* option was the tomato and basil soup. Quite boring. Sorry Tossed, but you let me down!

Next I popped into Pret a Manger and, I admit, my expectations were low. In the plus column, Pret has a good selection of vegetarian sandwiches and wraps, nut bars and tasty nibbles, however, they do insist on slopping everything in mayonnaise, yoghurt dressing and cheese. As I glanced around the shop with my mind already made up, I noticed two things: first, a lovely looking vegan superfood salad and second, to my wonderment, a vegan jelly pot! Naturally I swiped the jelly and skipped the salad.

With my lunch break drawing to a close, Sainsbury’s came to the rescue. It’s only a tiny express store but had a selection of couscous salads, bean salads and several Innocent Veg Pots, of which two were vegan, and the usual stacks of fruit, nuts and cereal bars. Yey!

I was pleasantly surprised by what was available in the immediate vicinity and how accommodating staff were, even during the midday rush. Don’t forget that it’s in a business’ best interest to listen to their customers so check labels, ask staff for alternatives and don’t apologise for being awkward.

*Quite a few of the sweet foods in Tossed are vegan, like the fruit packs, smoothies, oatmeal and banana & custard dessert (which is fab)

Breakfast: keeping it simple with granola, soya yoghurt and blueberries

Lunch: an Innocent Thai Curry Veg Pot, which I don’t have a photo of as I polished it off too quickly, followed by Rhubarb Berried Treasure jelly

the meat-free gelatine gave this a soft, smushy texture which had an oddly creamy taste - very pleasant!

Dinner: I was still rather full from lunch so opted for a light sandwich which gave me the chance to try out some vegan products. On Sunday I bought some fake ham slices and highly recommended dairy-free cheese, so that shall accompany a crisp salad in a pita (forgot to buy sliced bread).

CheatinMeat's fake ham slices

I’ve already used these in the scrambled tofu and they were pretty good when fried up but lacked the appeal if not. Let’s take a closer look.

two slices of mouth-watering pretend meat

On to the cheese…

mature white cheddar *style* - well, i'm intrigued

note the word 'delicious' on the packet and how it puts one in mind of a chicken roll

This is hideous stuff! The photo may suggest a similarity to feta or goat’s cheese but don’t be fooled. It has a consistency like a creamy, set pate and an odd, powderiness, as if reconstituted. The taste is unlike any cheese I’ve tried and ‘nice’ is a very generous description so whoever approved ‘delicious’ for the packaging can never have tasted this or real cheese. Still, it may fare better when combined with other flavours.

vegan ham & cheese sandwich

Overall, this was fine: the ham worked well with a daubing of Dijon mustard and, although the cheese tasted as weird as it looked, it didn’t have enough flavour to be offensive. I’ll certainly use the ham slices again as their smoky flavour adds depth but I can’t imagine a good use for the cheese. There are other varieties to explore and I’ve heard whisperings of a mozzarella replica that fully melts. Watch this space.

Snacks: fresh fruit, a handful of seed and nut mix, and an oatcake

Verdict: packed with energy! People who say you have little choice are clearly wrong because I haven’t stopped eating today. After arriving at work and unloading a ton of emergency snacks on to my desk, I steadily grazed throughout the day without getting bloated or over full. It seems to have paid off as I left feeling invigorated and so bursting with energy that I ran half of the way home…and not only because I’d left my handbag on the bus and had to chase it down. Try doing that after a steak!