3 Things I Learnt Doing Plastic Free and Vegan July
2 months ago, I was in Rome eating parma ham and spaghetti carbonara, having flown from London for a quick two night city break. I cared about the environment but wasn’t willing to sacrifice my lifestyle for it.
So what changed?
I always get a bit self-reflective on my way back from holidays… I think it’s partly the time spent waiting around on your journey home but also the #newme mentality needed to get you through work until the next one.
I’ve also recently Marie Kondo’d my Instagram and unfollowed all the people whose pictures don’t inspire me or spark joy – sorry Love Island and Made in Chelsea stars! - and started following people who are using their Instagram for positive change. These include the Stay Wild Swim gals but also the likes of Chessie King, Venetia Falconer, Deliciously Ella, Max La Manna etc. etc.
Following these positive influencers has opened my eyes to the growing trends of environmentalism, sustainability and conscious living. I quickly became obsessed and instead of scrolling through pictures of melted cheese and cheap bikinis, I started researching plant based diets, slow fashion and zero waste.
So when I saw a post about #PlasticfreeJuly - a global campaign led by the Plastic Free Foundation which aims to raise awareness and reduce plastic consumption across the globe – it felt like the perfect way to get started.
I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle, but it’s honestly changed the way I’ll shop and eat forever. Here are the three main things I learnt, which helped me start living more consciously:
Firstly, know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I listened to some brilliant podcasts, for example Deliciously Ella’s Veganism and Climate Change and Food Waste and Climate Change, and there are also amazing books, blogs and films you can watch too. They opened my eyes to the problem, motivated me to make the change and left me feeling necessarily smug as I walked into work on day 1 with my vegan overnight oats in a glass jar – oo la la.
Secondly, being prepared means that you need to carefully plan your vegan meals, and make sure you have the right stuff in your bag at all times, which is for sure the hardest part. I did not realise how many non-vegan and plastic covered snacks were handed around my office, until suddenly I couldn’t have them. Nor did I realise how much café or supermarket food comes wrapped in unnecessary plastic.
There were a few times when I was in desperate need of an afternoon pick me up and the Waitrose, Greggs, Starbucks and corner shops near my office had nothing that was both vegan and in recyclable packaging. There was also a time when I cycled out of my way to get plastic free veg, only to realise I didn’t have enough space in my bag and had to carry tomatoes home balancing in my helmet.
I’d say your new handbag (or manbag) essentials are as follows: reusable bottle and coffee-cup, cutlery, Tupperware for buying zero waste goods and reusable bags in case said handbag is not enough.
I will also never be journeying without Venetia Falconer’s vegan chocolate biscuit cakes, because when a girl needs chocolate – there’s no questioning that.
I was already “flexitarian” so I didn’t actually miss meat, in fact I really enjoyed the opportunity to try new recipes and restaurants that catered for vegans. But it was not without its difficulties.
Again it comes down to preparation, but I became very sympathetic for the fellow vegans out there who struggle to find food they can eat on a menu. I live in London so thought it would be easy. It’s definitely easier but it’s NOT easy. I had to google menus before going, and places I’d expect to be good, still had limited choices (Comptoir Libanais cough cough).
At the beginning, I’d recommend using veganism and less waste as an opportunity to be creative. Don’t try and make your favourite meat-based recipes into vegan ones straight away because they won’t taste as good. I’m sorry but vegan mac’n’cheese just does not compare, especially when that vegan cheese comes in plastic…
Instead try different restaurants or new recipes. I made some delicious curries, risottos, and salads which were much tastier than if I’d gone straight into attempting a fake scrambled eggs and bacon concoction. I also tried some amazing restaurants that I may not have given a chance before.
Vegan or otherwise, the chocolate brownie at the Van Gogh café in Brixton is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Having the freedom to be plant based and zero waste is definitely a privilege. I have focused on food here, but don’t get me started on trying to find vegan/plastic free toiletries that don’t break the bank.
I loved visiting zero waste stores such as Hetu and Source Bulk Foods (and I’d really recommend them) but I did double take when I saw the bill compared to my normal Sainsbury’s haul.
In this regard, I’d just suggest being really mindful of what you actually need, not just because it saves you money but it also fits with the whole mantra of being more environmentally conscious.
Where you can and you have room, buy in bulk. It saves on money and packaging – win win. I bought the biggest (paper) bag of oats I’ve ever seen and I could literally get inside the box of Who Gives a Crap loo roll that arrived.
Think about whether there are cheap farmer’s markets near you or use food waste apps to save food from being thrown a way. Too Good to Go saves you so much money and congratulates you every time you save food from being thrown away. And Olio connects you with neighbours who have excess food or household items and lets you collect them for free.
Finally, being plastic free and vegan is very difficult for lots of people, for lots of different reasons and even though I tried as hard as I could, I still finished the month with a jar filled with the plastic that was impossible to avoid.
I think the biggest thing I learnt this month is that doing something, is so much better than doing nothing, and that we can all do little things to make a big difference. I challenge you to give it a go.
This post was contributed by Stay Wild family member Octavia Warren - @octavialawarren