Saturday, 19 September 2009


Here is a list of awesome goodies than are vegan (and yes, I know that so far my readership is entirely vegan and therefore this is entirely pointless, but I'm trying to get back to the original purpose of this blog, ie. proving that vegans aren't weird uber-skinny people who sit in dark rooms eating raw carrots and baked beans out of the tins whilst defaming their family for eating stuff they don't, and that it isn't impossible to feed this strange race of creatures):

Tomatoes. Nuff said.
Ok, no, not enough - sundried tomatoes.
Olive oil.
Chocolate (vegan chocolate is way way better than the poor quality sugary milk-filled rubbish that most places sell)
Raw chocolate. Yes, it needed a separate point.
Any kind of dried fruit.
In fact any kind of fruit.
Tamari soy sauce.
Balsamic vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar.
Red wine vinegar.
Chilli sauce...
Spices. The root of all deliciousness.
Ginger. I know it's covered, but it's special.
Fresh basil, rosemary, sage, coriander... and so on.
Coconuts, coconut milk, coconut cream, dessicated coconut...
Cashew nuts.
Pine nuts.
See where I'm going with this?
Ok, I'll stop.
Date syrup.
Agave, the sweetener of champions.
Chickpeas. Oh wondrous little legume, bringer of nutrients and yum!
Tahini. See above comments.
Lots of garlic.
(I really want to list tofu, because I love it, but that is too 'vegan'. If only more people realised the wonder of it!)
Baked beans!
Most bread.
Hummus. Was there ever a better excuse to eat copious quantities of this.
Avocadoes. I think I may have a slight avocado problem, actually.

I think that'll do for now.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Found article: 'Nihilism, restlessness and existential musings'

Clearing out my room in preparation my big move next week I found this little scribbling from what must have been February or March, judging by content. On reading it back I cringed a bit, but it's interesting to remember how I was feeling not so long go. I'd forgotten. Here it is.

I am struck with the Restlessness.

It happens from time to time but it feels big this time. I have to do something, make a change, make my life different and less dependent and squalid.
I'm coming to realise that the things I do when I feel like this are just temporary solutions, basically big displacement activity. I break up with someone or find a new person to enliven myself, get a new job, move house, move cities, cut my hair, clear my wardrobe, and so on. But these things are just a superficial cycle. I need to do something more permanent, in myself - my circumstances are just a symptom or an excuse or distraction. There's always been some project to occupy me - university, a wayward boyfriend, a play, heartbreak or family crisis. Seems a bit like the equivalent of the needlework or music lessons of girls of old - just something to occupy them and make them appear less useless to the outside world.

I remember being stuck in a kind of stupor, aged about 16, a general feeling that I wasn't really in the world, or experiencing anything - like my ears were blocked and I couldn't pop them. I was rehearsing for some play or other and decided I had to snap out of it, force myself into action - so I ran outside into the alleyway next to the theatre and started jumping and running up and down to jolt myself awake. I think it worked, or perhaps it was just a change in my mentality that I wanted to get out of it.

It's not quite the same now, but I still have that feeling that I'm missing the point, things are passing me by and I'm not sure what to do about it. Except that now my brain is full and constantly buzzing with the noise of all these things, what I can or should do, what the hell is the point of it all, and soundbites of things people have said that may or may not be useful.

Action one: I am giving up caffeine. It's a pretty tall order but it's a major habit and forms a large part of my lifestyle - and it's something I've never considered before. I will also stop smoking, but one thing at a time.

Action two: Relax. I used to sped a lot of time daydreaming and just letting my mind wander, but I don't do that any more and I find it more and more difficult to deal with the things flapping about in my head, the everyday stresses and the not knowing what I should be doing. I need to spend some more time alone to fit things together.

Action three: Write more. It's the one thing I've always been good at, and enjoyed doing. I forget for long periods, but it's cathartic and creative. If I can just do a bit once a week for example, I might find what it is I'm after.

I just want not to be shit, not be useless, or wasteful, when I know there's so much more I could be doing.

I'd forgotten completely that I'd decided I wanted to give up smoking - I stopped very shortly after this due to a health issue, cold turkey the minute I walked out of the doctors, sooner than scheduled I expect. I still don't drink caffeine so that worked out pretty well. I write a lot more now too - Exhibit A. Not so sure about the relaxing, but I certainly feel more focused. The restless feeling I have now is due to not being able to do the things I want as soon as I'd hoped, rather than boredom and lack of direction. Things have certainly taken some interesting turns since I wrote this though!

Monday, 14 September 2009

What's for dinner?

Tonight, I had the magic of roasted cauliflower. If you've never roasted a cauli before, do it immediately.

Cut the cauli into bite-size florets, put them in a roasting dish, add a pinch of salt and drizzle liberally with olive oil. This is really all you need to do, but if you really want a taste sensation, add some chopped almonds or hazlenuts (or pine nuts, if you suddenly win he lottery), some garlic (I use lots because I like big chunks of roasted garlic in my food. I should probably seek help for my addiction), and a few spices - tonight I used a dash of nutmeg, a sprinkle of ground coriander, and a smattering of paprika. Mix together and whack them in the oven for about half an hour, or until the edges start to brown.

Once the cauli was done, I sprinkled on some lemon juice and left it to cool while sorting out some tasty cous coust complete my splendiferous repast. I admit, I can't quite manage yet to thoroughly enjoy the taste of cous cous alone - it's probably some fundamental failing as a vegan - so I cheated and mixed a teaspoon of bouillon powder in with the grains before adding the hot water, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary for good measure. A few chopped cherry tomatoes later and my culinary delight was all ready.

Sound delicious? I can assure you it was.

Now for the really fun part. Because cake is the one thing that can motivate me to get organised, I managed to put together a batch of cake batter in the time the cauli was in the oven, seamlessly transferring the batter-filled tin into the oven as I removed the tray of cauli. This is my brilliant totally guilt-free sugar-free cake (sounds boring but I promise it's great), veganised from the Vegetarian Society's Good Food recipe book. The pages containing this recipe are totally ruined.

Apple and Date cake:

225g self-raising flour (or if like me your a cake snob and can't bring yourself to purchase generic self-raising pap, plain flour of any variety, plus teaspoon of baking powder and a bit of salt)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp lemon juice
150ml soy yogurt
2 blackened bananas, mashed to a nice egg-replacing goo
100ml vegetable oil
225g apples, cored and diced (I totally failed to weigh mine but I used two - the recipe says Bramley, last time I used Discovery with good results, this time I've got one Bramley and one Cox)
100g chopped dates

Preheat your oven to 350F and grease an 8" cake tin. Sift your dry ingredients into a big bowl. Whisk together your wet ingredients and add to the flour. Beat together (it will be pretty thick, but don't worry) and fold in the fruit. There's barely enough batter to cover the fruit, in my experience, but don't let this bother you! It's like complaining that there's too much jam in your roly poly.

Once you've somehow scooped, wedged, spread and mashed your mixture into the cake tin, bake it for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool in the tin for 5 mins, then turn out onto a cooling rack (might seem unnecessary but I really really recommend it - no one wants a soggy cake). The book says serve cold but what do they know?! Warm with vegan ice cream or custard, or on its own, is marvellous, as is cold with soy yogurt. And probably with vegan ice cream or custard too. I eat this cake for breakfast as well. Ok, so that's nothing new, I'll eat any cake available for breakfast, but I don't feel guilty about eating this cake for breakfast! Tomorrow I may even experiment with spreading it with jam.

Now here's a man who knows what I'm talking about...

Danny Chivers performing at Climate Camp. Sums up far more eloquently and entertainingly (is that a word?) many of the points I made in my last post:

Sunday, 13 September 2009

It's only food...

...what's the big deal?

You can ask this question from both sides. As far as I'm concerned, it's only food and what I eat has jack squat to do with anyone else, and why should it matter to them what I do and don't choose to consume anyway. As far as the naysayers are concerned, it's only food and no one person's choice is going to make any difference, so why waste your time being awkward?

But it's not just food. It's not just food in the literal sense that vegan choices extend to everything they use, including clothing, make-up, household products, etc. But also in the sense that food is the basis of life. The way we approach it, create it, market it and consume it makes up a huge portion of our culture - and that makes up a huge part of us. I could probably write a whole thesis on this, but I'll try to keep it to a reasonably concise blog entry.

There's a whole bundle of issues here - for example: need vs want, advertising and mass indoctrination, exploitation and suffering, malnutrition/obesity, the separation of modern life from reality, intensive consumerism, and extreme wastefulness. For me, the way that supermarkets have homogenised and monopolised everyday life is one of the biggest travesties of our culture - and yet so few people seem to have noticed, or at least care about, the impact they have had. Not only are local businesses undersold until they go out of business, but many people now think that things that don't come from a supermarket are automatically suspect. Several reasons I can think of include a) the fact that local grocers and food stores are often now run by immigrants, thereby being frightening and foreign - despite the fact that giving money to MNCs (multi-national corporations) and colossal chains does absolutely zero for local economy - and so the average xenophobe prefers their quid to stay British b) that fruit and vegetables exposed to the outside world is somehow dirty, and that because they go off quicker (due to lack of preservatives and non-selective cultivation) they are of inferior quality - never mind the toxic chemicals sprayed onto veg you find at the supermarket, followed by being injected with or polished with or stored in various other highly questionable substances, and then probably sneezed over by every employee who handles them and then every customer who walks past. Dust from the street you can just rinse off. And the mud on those potatoes and carrots? That's supposed to be there. They come out of the ground (hopefully - sometimes).

The final reason is, I think, pretty sinister - and it is this: comfort. Reason a is related to this as well, but that is more obviously identifiable. The intrinsic, insidious and pervasive nature of Brand Power is more frightening. Even if you're buying Asda or Sainsbury's or even Waitrose own version, you're still buying a brand, and in buying it you're buying a whole parcel of pseudo-values. Most people have loyalty to products and chains, to the point where if you move to the Canaries or Barbados, you can still buy a tin or Heinz beans or tomato ketchup - for about ten times the price, of course. Why would you go to an exotic country and marvel at the indigenous delights when, for a fraction of the price of a plane ticket home, you can continue to make sure everything tastes the same. Well, for my money you don't even have to go to an exotic country for that kind of experience - because that's what has happened here. Local and seasonal foods, growers, sellers, traditions and recipes have been lost to the swathe of sameness. And it's a swathe of sameness that destroys local economies, ecologies and communities, and promotes excess, gluttony and therefore waste. What's wrong with the world? Isn't that it?

Beyond that, beyond the shopfront and the deli counter of Marks & Spencer (wait - do they even have deli counters?), it gets worse. In our own country, we believe that both we and these companies are being governed by our government. In reality, the corporations are the ones with the money, and the government is supposedly separate from the economy, and so leaves 'the market' to organise itself (with the exception of bail outs, but let's not complicate things further right now) - but the government is tied to the corporations because it needs their cash. Amongst other things. So in reality, our society is controlled at pretty much every level by MNCs, but particularly by supermarkets. And what about the effect on other countries? It doesn't matter to most inhabitants of the 'free' world what happens to most inhabitants of the rest of the world (people will see a video of a starving child and get all bleary eyed, but really they don't want to change their lives to improve things for people that they can't see - if they did, we wouldn't have the MNC bollocks), but it does to me. And it will to everybody else, eventually, when the world's resources run out. The general pillaging of a country at the merest whiff of a natural resource, the enslavement and exploitation of anyone too poor to have a choice in the matter, the political inveiglement and shenanigans orchestrated to facilitate access to resources in politically unsound countries without appearing to have done so (the secret selling of weapons to Israel, for example, or the recent bunkum with Syria) - need I go on? And it's not even as though people don't know about most of these things.

Most vaguely aware people know that the oil industry is bad, that waste and food mountains and landfill are bad, that exploitation is bad. And yet, apparently, they keep on contributing to this melee of misery without much thought. And, again, I blame supermarkets. That clause I mentioned about reality - that's the one. Life has, for many, become polystyrene-cladded and hermetically sealed, in order that these things do not affect us. Supermarkets and the like are responsible for this. Kids don't know that vegetables grow in the ground. I know grown ups who won't eat meat unless it's been processed to resemble breadcrumbed dinosaurs and nuggets. Food comes from supermarkets. This is an illusion. Buying food from supermarkets is a necessity because otherwise we'd starve. This is an illusion. We are the top of the food chain. This is an illusion. We are groomed from birth into being good consumers, thereby enabling this way of life to continue, and society worldwide is the worse for it. I'd argue that we are pretty low down on the food chain - how many of us in the 'civilised' world, put back into a natural habitat, would be able to survive for longer than a few days? We are not superior to all other species - for the most part, we're total idiots. Of course I also don't think it would take long, given the capacity of the human brain, for us to relearn the requisite skills. I don't mean that we're idiots in the sense that we have limited powers, just that we're lazy and have become sucked into this quasi-reality.

So when people roll their eyes and sigh and try to make me feel like I'm being ridiculous for having thought about my behaviour and formed my own opinions, and seen them through to practical, everyday choices, I have to remember these things. It's not only food. And I do feel small and powerless and silly when people respond like that, which I shouldn't - perhaps in time I'll be able to summon a more appropriate response which enables me to do more than turn to either belligerence or inefficient vagueness. Food is the most fundamental part of our existence - I've barely scratched the surface with this not-so-concise post - and questioning the way we go about that is the first step to freedom and independence. Isn't it? I might be kidding myself, and doubtless the efforts of one make no difference at all - but I'm trying to swim towards the surface of the primordial ooze here, and it seems like a pretty good place to start.

Herbivores Anonymous

I'm a bit annoyed that this forum has closed its membership, but I was browsing earlier and found this brilliant entry.

Family woes

As mentioned previously, my family aren't over-enthusiastic about ethical dietary requirements.

Today I finally told my mum - we were discussing a shirt she'd bought for either me or my sister because 'it was too nice to leave in the shop!', and it turned out it was silk so I said I couldn't have it as I'd made the decision not to buy any more animal-based clothing, even second hand. She asked 'so have you gone vegan now as well?' and I said yes. She sighed in a way that implied I'd failed her as a daughter. In response I did the mock exaggerated teen-angst sighing that she used to use on us as children when we protested about having to tidy our rooms or hoover the living room.

They'll come round, right?

So what *do* you eat?!

Stop teasing us, I hear you cry, make with the food already!

I know, I know, I keep talking about food and it's making you all want steak and chips with loads of mayonnaise and some pork on top.

This morning I ate two lots of breakfast (oops) - toast with two kinds of jam, and muesli with soy yogurt. Homemade sort-of-muesli, anyway: mixed some oats with some almond meal, wheatgerm (nothing scary, just the protein part of the wheat, looks a bit like bran but yellow-y rather than brown-y in colour), chopped hazelnuts, chopped partially rehydrated figs and, of course, raisins.

Then half an hour later I ate the little pile of mini-ganache truffles out of the fridge that I'd made yesterday, having successfully resisted eating them just before bed. They were really nice. So nice, in fact, that I'm considering attempting to make larger and more complicated truffles to impress people with (and for me to eat, of course, because they are yummy). Ganache is pretty easy to make, so I reckon if I can try cutting it with chopped nuts, or a bit of mint or orange oil, dried fruit, spices, etc, I'll have something pretty goddamn good. As long as it doesn't do weird stuff to the chocolate. Oh no, I might have to practice more and then I'll have to eat the not-quite-perfect fruits of my labour, whatever shall I do.

The day before yesterday I was feeling very strung out what with my house purchase, and needed some serious cupcake dosage. Therefore that evening I made Mexican Chocolate cupcakes. They were pretty good, perhaps didn't quite hit the spot - dare I say too dense and chocolatey? - but this may have been due to a) my using brown rice flour rather than ordinary, because that's what I had, and b) not putting enough chilli powder in. The recipe said cayenne and I didn't have any, so went with chilli but was overly cautious.

Anyhoo, I ate about 4 of these throughout the day yesterday, which is actually quite restrained. Managed to give several away to staff and housemates. I'm considering offering some of my next batch to the Big Issue seller across the road as I always feel guilty for not wanting to buy his wares. Or to the occasional homeless person who comes into the shop trying to blag free clothes. 'I'm sorry sir, I can't give you any stock for free - but wouldn't you rather have this delicious gingerbread cupcake with lemon icing instead?' Surely they won't be able to resist. It could set a dangerous precedent though.

It's possible that I eat non-sugar-based things from time to time, too. (I promise I'm a mostly healthy vegan. I'm certainly a more healthy vegan than I ever was omni.) In fact I made a rather triumphant thai-style curry last night, off the top of my head. My first successful impromptu curry, I think. Having made the Mexican cakes, I had about 2/3 cup coconut milk left over (that particular recipe used coconut milk rather than soy milk). I had a vague idea of what I wanted to eat - it involved rice and vegetables and deliciousness - but only an even vaguer idea of how to achieve it. A bit of googling on Thai peanut sauce and various other coconut milk-based spice pastes, and I felt marginally more prepared.

Turns out, it was really easy. I put the rice on to boil (brown short grain, of course), poured the milk into a small saucepan to heat up, and then selected some spices. Normally when I do this I go minimalist, as I'm worried about getting the combination wrong. This time I threw caution to the wind and grabbed fresh ginger, turmeric, cardamom pods, chilli powder, tamarind paste and lime leaves (though I forgot to add these in the end). Coconut milk being oil-based rather than water-based means it's ridiculously easy to just chuck it all in, rather than the slightly annoying Indian methods of having to fry the spices in oil before adding them to the sauce. I also sloshed in a little bit of soy sauce and a drop or two of sesame oil. Then I steamed some courgette, carrot and broccoli over the rice pot for 5 minutes before mixing it all together. Conclusion: delicious, but next time just one cardamom pod rather than two...

Here's another food blog I update from time to time:

Saturday, 12 September 2009

You know what else is great about being vegan?

Eating. Eating a lot. And not worrying about it. Sure, it's possible to be an unhealthy vegan, comsume nothing but processed veggie burgers, fake cheese loaded with saturated and trans fats, waffles, chocolate, hob nobs, etc - but in reality, what you're eating is never going to be as fatty or as bad for you as a meat and dairy diet. It's almost impossible to consume cholesterol on a vegan diet, for example. Most of what I eat is fruit, vegetables, beans and rice or pasta.

Even vegan cake is relatively guilt free - it still has a lot of sugar and some oil or marg in, but no butter and no eggs makes for a far trimmer treat. And it's dead easy to replace sugar with date syrup, agave, pureed prunes or apple sauce if you're feeling particularly healthy.

Yay for eating lots. I like eating.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

So again, why?

That's the big question... The first one anyone really asks. Along with 'so what do you eat?', but we'll cover that later.

In particular for all those people who think I'm jumping on the bandwagon - yes, all the cool kids are vegan, and of course that has had an effect on my decision (I'd never have considered it as a rational thing to do before), but the reasons are endless and, in my view, totally incontestable.

  1. We are in a global food crisis. Eating meat, the least efficient form of food, when most of the world is starving, is greedy and selfish.
  2. The world is warming up at an alarming rate, in direct correlation with our industrial advancement. The production of excess food (and I'm including the meat and dairy industries here, as wasteful of resources), and the gases released by said food (ie. farting animals), is a massively contributing factor. Livestock farming contributes more to greenhouse gases than transportation. Info here amongst other places. Add in the packaging, the transport, the waste... you get the picture.
  3. Commercial farming methods treat animals in ways you can't even imagine.
  4. Commercial farming is ruining local economies and ecologies.
  5. Companies who use animals in experiments are totally reprehensible, even without the grotesque things they do to rats, dogs, monkeys - anything they can feasibly test on - are slimy corporate fuckers who control us all in subtle ways we can't even comprehend. Think advertising, pharmaceuticals, beauty products, endless cleaning products causing who knows what damage to the environment and to people.
  6. IT IS CRUEL. This should be the only reason anyone needs. Sadly it is low on the list because people are sick of hearing it and don't want to know. Other new and more logically rational arguments seem to have more impact. Plus people seem to think that we have evolved to a point where our benefit and pleasure is far more important than that of any other species, hence it doesn't matter. I'd argue that in 2000 years of (un)civilisation we ought to have evolved to a point where we don't need to cause destruction and pain to the other inhabitants of this planet, but anyhoo. Never mind the terrible conditions cows/pigs/sheep/chickens are kept in, the suffering inflicted on them by the farming process. Chickens seem to me to have a particularly rough deal - having their beaks and wings clipped, being packed into a truck, and if they're lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive the trip, left to sit in their own squalor along with hundreds of others in a dark, cramped room for the grace period of a year until they have reached the end of their useful life and are killed. And that's without the live-chick-mincing operation.
  7. It's not healthy! Humans do not need to eat meat. It increases your risk of cancer, heart disease and other classic nasties (see here). And why we consume vast quantities of products derived from a lactating non-human animal is beyond me. You wouldn't drink another woman's breast milk, would you? Or make cheese out of it? We are not supposed to drink cow's milk. Baby cows are supposed to drink cow's milk. We don't even have the enzymes to digest it - and why the hell should we.
  8. Humans animals are not more important than non-human animals. I used this justification for years (that people were more important than animals), but frankly it just isn't true. We are animals too, and we forget that. We're all here and we're all here by accident. More intelligence doesn't equal more validity, more right to life. We've done unspeakable things to this planet - what other animal is so guilty?
So, the bottom line is, I do not require things to suffer for me to live. It's not necessary.

The first announcement

I am vegan. There, I said it out loud. (Sort of.)

And I love being vegan. I've been operating covertly for the last two months, partly out of embarrassment, partly out of fear of judgment, and partly out of experimentation. I was veggie for a few months prior to this, but if you'd asked me at Christmas whether I'd ever go vegan I'd have laughed at you.

So how and wherefore did this happen? I slowly stopped eating meat after moving into a veggie household (well, mostly - two hardcore veggies and one occasional meat eater). The less I ate it, the less I wanted to, until eventually I realised I just couldn't bring myself to do it anymore. During this time I also started seeing a vegan, and had more contact with a heavily vegan community. So many people asked me when I told them about my exciting, ethical new lover, if I'd go vegan, and I vehemently denied this possibility, hence feeling slightly embarrassed. Plus my family weren't exactly supportive when I told them I was giving up meat, let alone the whole animal shebang.

Still, I never though I'd be able to give up cheese. Plus, yannow, I hate raw tahini. And that's obligatory eating for vegans. But as I cut down (due to the company I kept, and in my new quest to rid myself of excessive bad habits - also renouncing caffeine, cigs and later alcohol) I found, just like with the meat, that the less I ate the less I craved it. Where once it would have been the first step before consuming a meal to smother it with cheese, I reached a point where I didn't even think about doing that unless asked, and even then I wasn't over-enthusiastic. My suspicions about the addictive qualities of cheese are confirmed. I've never liked milk, cream or butter, and soy yogurt is basically the same as dairy yogurt.

At the same time, I was beginning to look into the values and details of veganism - why people did it, the nutritional facts and so on - and the more I found out the more I felt that I couldn't be vegetarian without being vegan. (This site had a big impact - the philosophy of living with the planet rather than pillaging it struck me.) It's all the same big factory-animal-killing-exploitation-unhealthy pie. The dairy industry creates just as many, if not more, problems as the meat industry. We'll discuss this later.

So I decided to give it a go and see if I could do it, and if so, how I felt about it. I'd already stopped eating eggs and honey at this point so it was pretty rare I actively ate large chunks of animal product. Soon I was checking packaging for lactose and whey powder like any seasoned vegan. The only thing I really found tricky i not being able to just eat whatever is sitting around - biscuits at work being the main problem (unless some kind soul has bought hob nobs instead of custard creams :D). Though I'm definitely better off not eating them!

Since discovering the magic of vegan cakes I've pretty much been sold. It wasn't so much a desperate animal rights issue that spurred me to do it as a knowledge that I was questioning the right way to live, being healthier and greener, and eschewing the general horrors of commercial farming. Though since making the transition the reasons seem more and more clear to me. Sometimes I sit and wonder that everybody isn't vegan. The physical and mental clarity is liberating, cooking is a new and marvellous challenge, and a new vista of previously unknown ingredients and techniques has opened up.