Veganuary: Tried and Tested

Two weeks into 2020, I wonder who has stuck to their resolutions. Has January been as dry as everyone anticipated? How many new gym memberships have been left untouched? If anyone decided to try going vegan for January (coined ‘Veganuary’), and has stuck to it, well done! As a vegetarian for four years running, I choose not to commit to the vegan label for a number of reasons. I’m not entirely sure it’s viable with my current lifestyle and I try to avoid fixating on food choices so heavily. More than anything, I just bloody love eggs. Knowing this, I was gifted an egg poacher for Christmas, and thus condemned to another year of un-vegan behaviour, in my excitement to use my new tool. So, though I can’t take the vow of Veganism, I have tried six of the newest high-street vegan options and reviewed them for the benefit of anyone who is going plant-based in 2020.

Veggie Dippers, McDonalds

A little overpriced at £3.39 for 4, the McDonald’s veggie dippers are a little underwhelming. Advertised as “a tasty blend of red pepper and sundried tomato pesto, all coated in crispy golden breadcrumbs”, these glorified goujons lack any real flavour and, hence, required me to drown them in BBQ sauce. Be careful which dip you dunk into though, as the regular BBQ sauce may be suitable for vegans but the smoky BBQ sauce contains honey, thus is not. The manufacture of the strips meant that the vegetables within don’t hold together too well and, after one bite, the already flaccid dipper crumbles into smaller, less satisfying particulates. You have to hand it to McDonalds though, they are both vegan certified by the Vegetarian Society and gluten free.

Vegan ‘Steak’ Bake, Greggs

Had I ever tried a carnivore’s steak bake, I would’ve known that this particular flavour isn’t to my liking. But I hadn’t, and so I was left walking down the high street nibbling at something an old geezer might enjoy with a packet of cheese & onion Walker’s and a pint of warm lager. I’ll try not to be to biased as I’ve heard other people rave about this Quorn-based pastry, but it is my review after all. Izzy, 22, from Surrey says that the vegan no-steak bake is “crispy” and “salty”, filled with flavour. “It tasted like a faux meaty pie. And baby, I love pie”, says Izzy. Sorry Izzy, but the rich gravy and hot onions have a slightly odd taste. Like an oily beef stew – perfect for vegans! Despite a good filling to pastry ratio, the overall product is no match for the vegan sausage roll that Greggs brought out back in March 2019, and I won’t be forking out another £1.55 on this crap.

Vegan Suika ‘Tuna’, Wagamama

For something a bit more upmarket, get yourself to Wagamama in your lunch break to try something from their extensive vegan menu. Make sure to start with a side of the Bang Bang cauliflower; you won’t be disappointed by these deliciously spicy firecracker veggies, infused with ginger and coriander. Follow this up with the vegan suika ‘tuna’ – a culinary masterpiece comprised of a dehydrated watermelon ‘steak’. This is exactly the kind of thing Heston Blumenthal would’ve concocted on daytime television, probably wearing a lab coat for dramatic effect, but the result is a decent fish alternative. As someone who has never been a fan of seafood, spending £12.95 on this dish was a risky move, and yet I was pleasantly surprised. The texture, though strange, is what I would imagine pan-seared fish to be like and yet lacks the fishy flavour that I despise; instead, the suika (meaning watermelon in Japanese) is bursting with flavour, which is complimented nicely by wok fried kale and miso sesame-coated broccoli. And why have regular broccoli when you can have tenderstem, right? The avocado, tofu and edamame guacamole is a nice touch with its creamy consistency, but a little mismatched with the rest of the dish. However, paired with the vegan positive juice (as suggested by Wagamama themselves) this meal is packed full of punchy flavours and hands-down one of the most insane creations that I’ve ever tried.

Zero Chicken Burger, KFC

11 spices, ZERO chicken. You’ve seen the campaign, and KFC’s latest ‘vegan option’ doesn’t disappoint. KFC’s food development team must’ve been having the fried chicken version of writer’s block the Quorn fillet is cooked with the original KFC herbs and spices, smothered with mayo, and slapped in a bun with a sprinkle of lettuce. It may be lacking Wagamama’s creativity, but what I like about this burger is that it sticks to the formula that the fast food giant’s customers seemingly love, and it’s pretty tasty. I would even go so far to say that the zero chicken burger tasted almost identical to one of their 99p chicken fillet, especially for the handful of vegan customers that were accidentally fed the meat versions of this meal and subsequently fell ill, as their bodies struggled to digest a type of protein that it hadn’t eaten in years. And, as if things couldn’t get any worse for KFC, the also came under fire for the fact that they are unable to offer the vegan burger as a meal, because their fries are cooked in the same oil as the popcorn chicken. At least they don’t put chicken fat in the gravy. Cheers Colonel Sanders – at least you tried…

Vegan Smoky ‘Ham’ and Cheeze Toastie, Costa

Pret’s three Veggie only restaurants in London is a bit extra if you ask me. Costa, meanwhile, are keeping it real with their vegan version of a classic comfort food. Quorn’s smoky ham is sandwiched between two slices of eggless bread, along with a thick layer of a coconut-based cheese. Yum. The “smoky” ham may as well not be there as it doesn’t add much, but I must say that the overall effect is very tasty indeed. Once the barista toasts the sandwich to perfection, the cheese has that melty, oozy texture that so many vegan cheeses lack; and at just £3.05, this makes for a very reasonable lunch.

Meatless Marinara, Subway

Of all the vegan options I’ve tried so far, this is probably one of my favourites. Unlike Wagamama’s wild menu, Subway have simply recreated one of their most popular sandwiches for the plant-based population. The cheese may lack flavour, but the ‘meatless balls’ make up for this with their meaty texture and rich flavour. The marinara sauce is as delicious as ever, and can be supplemented with a small range of vegan dressings. I chose a scrumptious vegan aioli, hiding my dairy iced coffee can. Growing paranoid that the sandwich artisté might foil my vegan disguise, I decided to play into the role by inquiring as to whether my choice of bread (9 grain, seeded) was also vegan. It turns out all of the bread at this particular Subway branch was vegan, and I committed to my plant-based masquerade by adding salad to my Sub. Somehow, the jalapeño-olive-spinach combo wasn’t enough, and as I paid him the £3.79 that this 6-inch cost, he asked me if I was actually vegan. My false identity hanging in the balance, I scarpered to devour this delicious sub, and wished I’d gone for the footlong.

With Monzo incessantly reminding that I’ve been haemorrhaging my funds and have exceeded my monthly eating out budget in the first fortnight, I am taking an involuntary hiatus from taste-testing vegan options for now. The temptation to try the above was just too great, and I’m glad I got to try a good range – these new meat alternatives are great propaganda from those trying to proselytise us all to veganism. It’s just a shame that most of these are only available until January 31st. It’s heartening to see that a vegan diet is becoming more accessible and that the wider population are being encouraged to try meat alternatives, but it’s also important to note that buying products (even the vegan ones) from corporate fast food retailers is unlikely to reduce your environmental footprint, so you’d be better off boycotting Maccies and making your own lunch. Whether you’re going vegan or not this January, now is as good a time as ever to cut down on meat consumption, but I won’t harp on about the environmental (and health) benefits of doing so. Me? I’ll continue to be vegetarian and try to opt for more sustainable dietary choices, but with an egg poacher now at my disposal, I’m not ready to make the move to veganism just yet. `

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