At a time when more people than ever are discovering and embracing veganism, this guide will ensure you are well-equipped for the minefield of challenges and possibilities of being a vegan in Scotland. This guide is useful if you are considering a vegan diet, a new or a not-so-new vegan, whether you are motivated by health, animals, the planet or any of the other perfectly logical reasons. Navigating ordering in restaurants, snacking, social events, health and cooking techniques, this guide provides you with the tools to be a healthy, smart and confident vegan. Being a vegan in Scotland is still far from an easy ride, but things have improved hugely in recent years and exciting new developments are happening every week, making this the perfect time to embrace a plant-based diet and cruelty-free lifestyle.
I’ve picked up a fair bit of knowledge over the years as a vegetarian turned vegan (I remember the days of sitting through meals pretending to be happy with some tasteless lentil mush, a ‘mushroom burger’ that’s just a mushroom in a bun, or even being told the only vegetarian option was a crab salad). Fortunately, vegan options have become far more plentiful and exciting, with many establishments offering clearly-marked and delicious plant-based creations. The list below includes personal experience, research, and tips shared by fellow vegans. I’ve grown up in Scotland and moving between a small town and the capital means I’ve experienced many of the daily ups and downs that vegans encounter. The mindsets of people and businesses across Scotland are gradually changing to be increasingly understanding and accommodating and I truly believe that, in the not-too-distant future, veganism will be commonplace. But for now, stay strong, confident, and true to your beliefs, and be guided by these tips for navigating and enjoying each day as a vegan.
If you’re going somewhere, or thinking about eating somewhere unfamiliar, try to check the menu in advance so there is no confusion or disappointment when you arrive. Almost every restaurant, cafe and pub has an online menu, whether on their website, social media or sites like Zomato. Phoning or emailing in advance to ask about their vegan options also often proves useful and puts your mind at ease.
2. Be inventive when eating out
Very few eating establishments mark out vegan options but their kitchens are full of potential vegan recipes. Ask to remove cheese from the veggie burger or replace sour cream and cheese with extra salsa and guacamole on the nachos. And I’ve found that chefs are often glad of the chance to divert from the menu and get creative with their ingredients.
3. Be brave
Have confidence in your knowledge that you are making the right choice. As hard as it might seem at first, don’t be embarrassed or feel like you’re being ‘difficult’ if you have a special request when eating out. If the restaurant and staff are decent, they will do their best to accommodate and will do so willingly and discreetly. But be prepared to explain exactly what vegan means.
4. Be wary of alcohol
Unfortunately the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks still aren’t required to list ingredients so it’s impossible to know if your pint of beer or glass of wine is vegan without prior research. Spirits are a safe bet but a number of other drinks are still made with animal products like isinglass and egg. The growing list of vegan beers includes Tennents and Heineken lagers. Supermarket own brand wines are mostly labelled as vegan if they are.
5. Learn to cook well
In addition to the bonus of not having disgusting fatty pans to wash, I find vegan cooking and baking really satisfying and therapeutic. It’s far easier and more fun once you get the hang of it, and the nature of a plant-based diet allows you to be really experimental and creative. That said, I know plenty of people who don’t enjoy cooking. But almost all of us have the ability to throw together a few easy, healthy and tasty meals and there are so many easy-to-follow online tutorials and wonderful vegan cookbooks (see next point) to guide you.
6. Invest in a few great vegan cookbooks
And don’t only drool over the pictures, however beautiful they might be. The tips and methods surrounding the recipes are the most valuable bits for vegan cooking and where I have found some really easy, money-saving staples like tahini, mayonnaise and guacamole. I thoroughly recommend the Thug Kitchen series – there’s no clean eating nonsense, just real foods and the most amazing recipes (my favourites are spaghetti pie, curry pies and fudge brownies).
7. Try out vegan processed foods
But don’t rely on them. Some are truly dreadful. Linda McCartney’s range and Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda own brands have decent meat alternatives which make sense if you’re just going through the transition. But you will soon discover that homemade veggie burgers and vegan pizza are 100 times better than the frozen variety at a fraction of the price.
8. Fall in love with chickpeas and coconut cream
Two of the most versatile ingredients and my personal favourites. Boring by themselves, but they can be used to make creamy pasta dishes, crunchy hummus pizza topping, thick creamy curries, pancakes, burgers, indulgent desserts and much more.
9. Watch out for sneaky ingredients
Particularly when eating out, watch out for that sprinkle of parmesan on your risotto, mountain of whipped cream on your coffee, or butter on your hummus baked potato. So many packaged foods have (unnecessary) non-vegan ingredients like milk powder, whey, honey, gelatin and egg.
10. Spot accidentally vegan products
Just as there are countless unnecessarily non-vegan products, there many surprising vegan foods in your supermarket or convenience store. Oreos and other biscuits varieties are vegan, as are most Jus Rol pastries, almost all crisps and some chocolate snacks.
11. Stock up on snacks
Vegan snacks are harder (though not impossible) to come by in convenience shops and out-of-the-way places. So if you’re going on an outing, pack handy snacks like oatcakes, dark chocolate or a packet of nuts.
12. Peanut butter
But don’t waste money on overpriced small tubs. Invest in the massive tubs of 100% peanuts found in big supermarkets and some health food shops.
13. Remember that chocolate is vegan
I will fight anyone who argues otherwise (kidding). Pure chocolate is simply cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla. Milk has been added to most brands (for potentially unsavoury reasons). You can find dangerously huge bags of delicious vegan chocolate chips in Costco and most dark chocolate is vegan anyway.
14. Bring your own food to social gatherings
You wont seem weird as long as it’s delicious and you bring enough for everyone to try. From experience, people are open to trying vegan food and giving them the chance to see how delicious it can be is often the start of a more plant-based diet.
15. Share your beliefs and state the facts without being condescending
This is an incredibly tricky task as some people refuse to listen to anything that challenges their views. With these people, the best thing to do is use logic, stating that this is the logical choice for you, and that you are happy with your decision. However tempting it is to get into a debate (which you know you can win), a soft and considered approach is often most effective at not alienating people.
16. Explore world cuisines
Many foreign foods are naturally vegan and can easily be made vegan. Mexican, Indian and Thai cuisines are particularly great, for home cooking or eating out.
17. Get over-excited in vegan-friendly establishments
They’re popping up all over the country and many places are bringing out new vegan menus. There are established places for delicious homemade pub grub (like Mono and The 78 in Glasgow and the Auld Hoose in Edinburgh) and too many exciting newcomers to mention (although I must recommend Edinburgh’s Holy Cow). There are few joys in life greater than taking your pick from a full menu of wonderful vegan food.
18. Invest in a food processor and decent utentils
You can get a decent manual one for ~£10. I recently bought my first proper adult food processor (a Kenwood Multi-Pro) and my cooking quality and speed have massively improved. Plus it means you can have a constant supply of fresh hummus.
19. Consider if vitamins are right for you
Arguably all Scottish people should be taking vitamin D due to the lack of sunlight (our 5 hours each year isn’t quite cutting it). Vitamin B12 and iron are concerns for vegans but it remains debated whether we are at more risk of deficiency than your average burger and fries eater… I have never found a problem and try to eat plenty of iron-rich foods like kale and beans.
20. Get a blood test
It’s easy for vegans to be well-nourished so long as they replace animal protein with nutritious plant sources. That said, if you make any major dietary changes or if you don’t feel 100%, it’s a good idea to be certain you don’t need to top anything up.
In whatever form you enjoy. I have found exercise to be far more rewarding as a vegan, not only because I’m healthier and feel lighter and stronger, but because I feel like I am disproving stereotypes of weak, frail vegans. Be motivated by the knowledge that you can be fit and strong without eating anything involving cruelty.
22. Don’t panic about protein
If you’re eating a balanced diet full of whole foods including pulses and grains, you’ll be fine (and building muscle is very possible – many of the world’s top athletes are becoming vegan). Many meat eaters consume too much unhealthy protein – remember that only 10% of our calories need to be in the form of protein.
23. Set clear boundaries
If you are not prepared to buy animal products or cook with them for your partner, family and friends, let them know so they don’t put you in an uncomfortable situation. Especially when you first make the transition, it is important to make it clear that you are serious about it to avoid confusion. But no matter how well you explain it, or to how many people, there will undoubtedly be someone who still sends you a box of shortbread every Christmas.
24. Connect with like-minded people
Whether this is physically meeting up, becoming part of an online community or reading a vegan magazine. It helps a lot to be able to know that there are so many people who share your views. I believe that vegans are the nicest, friendliest and most caring people to be around so it makes sense to include them in your life.
25. Be inspired by the growing list of vegan celebrities and athletes
Beyonce, Ellen DeGeneres, Liam Hemsworth, the Williams sisters and David Haye.
26. Stay informed to stay motivated
There are always new studies and documentaries revealing information in support of veganism. There is also a barrage of pro-meat and dairy news, always with an underlying bias or assumption.
27. Learn to scan ingredients lists
You will get super-quick at spotting weird things like diglycerides of fatty acids and cochineal.
28. Visit ethnic food stores and world foods sections of supermarkets
Find cheaper, bigger packs of staples like seeds, nuts, lentils, couscous, soy sauce and spices.
29. Discover flax eggs
This sounds horrific but it’s tasteless and works wonders. Bananas can also replace eggs in baking. Everything will taste like banana but is that such a bad thing?
30. Don’t idolise perfection
You will make mistakes. Everyone (including your partner, family and friends) makes mistakes, but sometimes we don’t recognise them as mistakes at the time. I bought free range eggs for a while, fully believing I was doing the right thing. Not everyone has the same mindset as you, or is at the same stage in their journey.
31. Enjoy it
Stop to remember and find joy everyday in the knowledge that you are doing the right thing; saving lives, the environment and making yourself a healthier, kinder and happier person.