My vegan voyage

How did Paul MacInnes, a long-time fan of meat and carbohydrates, fare when his wife decided to convert him to a diet of pulses, rice and raw vegetables?

Falling in love is a wondrous thing and an overwhelming attraction to another person can cause unexpected changes. Suddenly you might acquire an interest in folk music. You might find yourself intrigued by high fashion, or engrossed in airport thrillers. I am no exception to this rule — love has transformed me too.

If only in the sense that it’s left me partial to broad beans.

To be fair, not just broad beans, but also green beans and sugar snap peas. Not just legumes either, but seeds, pulses and grains. Basically, thanks to my wife, I can happily exist on a diet a rabbit might find restrictive. It’s vegan food, it’s often raw and it keeps me regular. That is the profound, transformative power of love.

I have always been a carnivore. More importantly, however, I am a carbivore; I love carbohydrates and the sensation of being stuffed.

My wife doesn’t quite approach food in the same way. Technically, she is a pescatarian. She uses the term partly because it sounds as though she is predisposed to being pesky, but also because it makes it clear that although she doesn’t eat meat, she will eat fish.

Of late, however, fish has been appearing less frequently in her diet. Instead, she has started to eat huge heaving bowls of vegan food.

She likes to claim that this is nothing new. When we were courting she would invite me round to her flat for tea. We would perch on the end of her bed and I would be confronted with a bowl of what she called “health”. She claimed it was a dish that soothed her after the stresses of work and boosted her nutritional intake.

It was, essentially, a bowl of rice decorated with sprigs of thyme and a slice of lemon on the side for flavour.

Today most of the stuff we eat is based on food originally concocted by a small chain of Toronto restaurants called Fresh (we got their recipes from a cookbook, published by Penguin). They specialise in serving vegan food with an Asian bent. Most of the Fresh recipes rely on the same basic mix: wholegrain rice (yes, we have carbohydrates!), olive oil, tamari (a rich, dark soy sauce made without wheat) and the aforementioned legumes.

Each dish then has its own distinct flourish on top; soy-steamed bak choi for example, home-made hummus.

There is, however, a simple pleasure to making the food; throwing everything into one big bowl and slopping it around is fun. There is a pleasure in eating it too. It seems obvious, but when you take meat and every single product in any way related to an animal out of your diet, the onus is on you to be as imaginative and thoughtful as you can with what is left.

As I said, like a self-experimenting taxidermist, I like to be stuffed. Although even better, I have discovered, is to eat tons of food and feel simply sated. This is always the case when I eat vegan food. I feel content but never bloated.

According to Catherine Collins of the British Dietetic Association, there are reasons for this. “Vegan food tends to have less fat in it. A higher volume of fat delays gastric entry so with most vegan food you simply start processing your food faster. It’s also the case that you might end up pacing yourself as the food needs more chewing.” Ah, that would be me then. So my sense of post-prandial contentment comes not just from eating food that’s high in fibre, vitamins and minerals but because I’ve taken the time to eat it properly.

Collins is at pains to insist that the vegan-curious shouldn’t go overboard about the idea of a new, glowing you. “It’s important not to overstate the health benefits of vegan food,” she says. “Vegans can struggle to get sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin B12 in their diet. It’s all about getting the balance right.”

There are other unsavoury elements to adopting a vegan regimen. The change in diet often causes a temporary increase in flatulence.

There’s also the T word: tofu, the white wobbly lump that still, despite all logic and taste, remains at the heart of vegan food. Apparently, it’s good for filling up on calcium, but nothing can make up for the fact that in taste and consistency it is simply savoury blancmange. As weeks go by and our vegan adventure continues, my wife begins to mention tofu more and more. She would like to try this dish, she suggests, or that approach. My shocked response seems barely to register with her.

Then, last week, my wife made a cheesecake. It was a prototype for an upcoming barbecue. It was covered in apricot jam, which I like, so when I was encouraged to try the first piece I didn’t dither. “Do you like it?” she asked. Yes, very nice, I replied. “Are you sure?” Yes, admittedly the base is a little soggy, but the cheese bit is lovely. “Heh.” What? “The cheese bit … it’s made out of tofu.” I cannot believe she did that to me. —

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