VEGANISM is becoming a hugely popular lifestyle choice across the UK.

But what is all the fuss was about and what is it?

A vegan diet cuts out all meat, fish, and animal products, such as eggs and milk, so if these are things you could live without, it might be for you.

According to The Vegan Society, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

Vegans Wendy Cooke and Annelise Woodier, from The Planet cafe, in Paul Street, Taunton, turned vegan seven years ago after being vegetarian for a number of years.

They haven’t looked back.

Wendy, owner of the cafe, says people are becoming more aware of the environmental and health benefits of veganism. “There is lots of support and information out there for people wanting to go vegan,” Wendy said.

“I think more people are becoming more aware of the horrors that go on in factory farms and the dairy industry and as a result are going vegan. Some people I have met have been meat eaters and have gone vegan to improve their health and there is a lot of information out there about how to make the change.”

Annelise thinks education is key to showing people the benefits of a vegan diet.

“People think that we eat a special diet but we don’t, other than meat, fish and dairy products, pretty much everything else you can buy in supermarkets, is vegan,” Annelise said.

“In London, being a vegan is becoming a trend when it is actually a lifestyle choice.

“In my first year of being vegan it was a bit of a case of trial and error. I tried vegan versions of food I was used to to start off with but after a while I got to know what I liked.”

“There are a lot more articles out there telling people the best ways to go vegan which is good as I think its quite daunting for people who want to go vegan as they don’t know where to start.”

Wendy is a member of Taunton Vegans, the only vegan group in the town, which was set up in 2010 after the first Taunton Vegan Food Fair.

The group meets once a month at The Planet cafe and Wendy said it is a great resource for vegans.

“The group has nearly 800 members now, we meet once a month and share stories and recipes in the company of like-minded people,” she added, “People sometimes bring in vegan food or buy cakes from our shop, last time about 20 people came which was great.”

Martine Ashe, at From Nature UK, Taunton, has also provided valuable insight into the lifestyle Why become vegan?

Preventing the exploitation of animals is not the only reason for becoming vegan, but for many it remains the key factor in their decision.

Many people are turning to a vegan diet for the health benefits: increased energy, younger looking skin and eternal youth are just some of the claims from enthusiastic plant eaters.

“For me, it was basically down to the environment, looking after animals and obviously the cruelty, as well,” Martine explains. “I think a lot of people choose veganism for different reasons; there is health, environment and cruelty factors. Those are the three main ones.

“I think people are more aware of the health benefits of being vegan. I think because a lot of celebrities have taken it on board, there is a lot more interest in it. A general awareness has risen of late.

“If you are prepared to make the commitment and willing to give up animal-based foods for plant-based foods, then it is healthier and easier to manage your weight.

“I think you would notice a difference within a few months in your general wellbeing.” It does make you feel better about yourself and within yourself as well. There is emerging scientific evidence that if people are on a plant-based diet, they tend to live longer, they are more active and have less health problems. Generally, I think it is healthier, yes.”

Are there any challenges?

Martine says going vegan is a ‘lifestyle change’ and that for some giving up meat and dairy is a challenge that takes commitment.

“There was a lot of stigma in the past about vegans being a bit strange and ‘out there’ and new age, but the concept today has definitely shifted,” Martine said.

“People do like the taste of meat and they do like the taste of cheese, so to give that up is quite a big change. To transition to a completely plant-based diet is a lifestyle change that takes commitment.”

Martine says that milk powder and cheese can be hidden in a variety of food, beauty products and materials and said vegans have to pay close attention to all of them.

“You can’t buy leather or wool. There are things like honey, which you wouldn’t think of as being vegan, but it is.”

“There are a lot of different things, that until you think about it, you don’t consider being vegan.”

Taking the next steps The Vegan Society have some wonderful tips on making the change. They suggest keeping your end goal in mind but going at your own pace.

Making small changes to your everyday meals is one of the easiest ways to increase the amount of plant-based foods in your diet.

Removing meat or dairy one day a week is a helpful way to start.

Or you could try changing one meal at a time, having vegan breakfasts during your first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on. “I cut one thing out at a time,” she said. “I was a vegetarian and then cut out eggs and milk, my main difficulty was giving up cheese because I did really like cheese.”

“Once I had stopped having cheese, I then started looking out for foods without added animal products and so on. It took a while to get to know what you can and can’t have, yet once you know you just avoid those things.”

Balanced diet Martine said: “If you are going to make the change, make sure you balance your diet. It is easy to fall back on a few tried and trusted products that you know. It is important to make sure that you have enough iron, protein, calcium and so on in your diet. Most of these vital things are in fresh vegetables, yet you have got to be vigilant about having a balanced diet.”

What about protein?

“People have a misconception about a lack of protein when you become vegan,” Martine explains. “I had a woman once come to me worried that her recently vegan daughter would not get enough protein. I explained about food combining and that it is not a problem as long as you mix the two food groups.

“For instance, plants all have protein in them, but the proteins in plants are incomplete. You need a complete range of amino acids. By food combining you are making sure you have a complete protein. For example, you might have grain and pulses and if you mix those together then you are eating complete protein.”

Is eating out a challenge?

With the interest in veganism surging, more shops are stocking vegan foods and more restaurants are providing vegan meals.

The type of ingredients that you can buy from a health shop taste better, they are more palatable than they used to be.

“Now you can buy vegan sausages from a health shop that taste quite good,” Martine explains. “Whereas before they were a bit bland and not as appetising. Now there is more awareness, more restaurants and cafes are making it easier when you go out with vegan options, like if you wanted to buy a vegan cake etc.

“It does make a difference when you go out for dinner. A lot more restaurants now offer a vegan choice on the menu, it used to be difficult to find anything vegan. “ “You sometimes have to ask if something is not on the menu.”