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Horn for horn

Eating meat can require a very flexible mind. Many omnivores will tell you how much they love animals. Ditto, a medium rare steak. And it’s a rare meat-eater who doesn’t draw up some apparently arbitrary guidelines for what they will and won’t put on their plate. Pigs, cows, chicken and sheep are all acceptable, but not dogs, horses or goats, for example. Muscles and skin are the height of good taste, but internal organs are not quite the thing. Which is why the humble haggis, national dish of Scotland, is an especially divisive dish – sure to horrify as many palates as it delights.

I used to flex my brain muscles this way, justifying some dodgy decisions, and ignoring some unpleasant realities: happily eschewing meat, but equally cheerfully consuming dairy and eggs. In my feeble defence, I ate fish under sufferance, and I always felt guilty about it … oh go on I was just as bad as anyone in the previous paragraph.

So, in honour of my newfound veganism, my lighter conscience and my less agitated brain, I celebrated Burns night for the first time in my life, with a delicious guilt-free supper of vegetarian haggis, mash, sprouts and mushroom gravy. Meal number 75 was delicious, and so much easier to swallow than the carnivorous alternative – “Sae let the Lord be thankit.”

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Kale queen

Today is my 23rd day of eating vegan, and I am just about to tuck into meal number 69. There’s nothing too special about 23 days of animal-cruelty-free eating, except that it is 24 hours  longer than Beyoncè’s much-publicised 22-day  “vegan cleanse”. Which was presumably followed by a “vegan tone” and a “vegan moisturise”.


Cleanse is mostly a silly word, sometimes a dangerous one, and really never a word to use in the context of food. 

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Halfway through and hitting my vegan stride

I hit the official halfway mark – vegan meal number 47 – happily yesterday. Cauliflower curry, brown rice and mint tea in Leon, while catching up with two good friends. The weekend felt like more of a halfway mark though, and on Saturday night we treated ourselves and ate meal number 42 at Manna in Primrose Hill – a fantastic vegan restaurant I have been visiting since it was merely vegetarian. I highly recommend the cashew cheese croquettes, and the vice-cream and cookie pudding my partner had looked amazing. Just like Manna, I think I have converted to veganism for good now.

Eating out is going very well so far – on Tuesday night, meal number 30 was the vegan ramen at Shoryu in Soho.

Two bowls of vegan ramen please. Slurp! #veganuary

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Meal number 39 was experimental, by many standards: I BBQ-sauced the tin of jackfruit I bought at Vegan Life Live last week.

Further adventures in vegan cookery – BBQ jackfruit

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God knows what pulled pork is meant to taste like. This tasted mostly like BBQ sauce to be fair, but it was tasty. And I ate it with the last of the cashew-tahini dressing that I made to drizzle on Buddha bowls the night before (meal number 36). Neat!

For most of the meals in between, may I refer you to the image at the top of the post? Still addicted.

Vegan meal number 54 should be pretty special too – there’s a cocktail bar in east London called Pamela. Which is the best name. And it has just brought in an entirely vegan menu courtesy of Club Mexicana. So we are heading there tomorrow night with veggie/vegan pals to sample its wares. And I’ll be celebrating, cos I am so pleased I made this change. I feel better physically, and my conscience is lighter too. It’s just a small change to make, but if enough of us do it, it will make a big difference.

And in case I ever were to waver, I have been collecting some alternative Veganuary motivation to keep me on track.

choc

  • Vegan chocolate – so good.
  • Despite the above, I’ve lost a few pounds, all of which needed shifting, and there are more where they came from.
  • Watching footage of 19th-century livestock auctions as part of my job.
  • Watching vegan documentaries on Netflix in my lunchbreak. Yikes.
  • I’ve booked a trip to the US and I want to save some pennies to offset the cost.
  • I’ve booked a trip to the US and I want to reduce my carbon footprint to offset the cost to the environment.
  • You can’t really argue with this statistic. For those of us who have a choice, eating meat really is unsustainable. And with meat, goes everything else …

vegan.png

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One week in – green for go

I am one week into Veganuary, which means I have had 21 vegan meals, with no dairy, meat, fish, eggs or honey. In fact I have had 22 as I just ate breakfast on the eighth day – you can’t blog on an empty stomach.

If I had to sum Veganuary up in one word, I’d pick “doddle”. Seriously it has been incredibly easy to eat healthy, tasty vegan food all week. It hasn’t all been avocado on toast either … I’ve eaten stirfry, pizza, sausage’n’mash and heaps of salads. Seven-nil to the green team. I haven’t fallen head-over-heels for vegan cheese, but I haven’t missed the real thing either. In fact I have had zero cravings for food on the banned list, and I am feeling much healthier and bouncier. Definitely less bloated and sleepy. I may even have lost a pound or two.

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Maybe this is the honeymoon (agavemoon?) period, but so far I am hooked. It’s simpler for me than for others doing Veganuary as I work from home so I can cook what I like, but also I don’t have to have tedious conversations with colleagues and strangers about why I have changed my diet. I honestly think most people I know would be very supportive (my omni husband has been amazing) but I know other people have had some tricky conversations.

How do I know? Because the downside of working from home is that I have found it very easy to get sucked into reading Facebook posts and blogs on veganism when I should have been working. I’ve long said that if reading burned calories I would be wearing Kate Moss’s cast-offs by now, but that’s been especially true this week. I have found the vegan Facebook groups I joined full of wisdom, advice and useful information, as well as cheery supportive chit-chat. So I have devoured everything I can find.

The daily emails from Veganuary are very helpful, but I am reading around the subject so much that by the time they drop I’m all: “Oh, yeah, I know about that. Next.” This means I am perhaps thinking about Veganuary a little more than necessary, so no wonder it has been a breeze so far.

By far the most important thing I have learned from the online vegan brigade is that the militant, all-or-nothing approach I expected is far from universal, especially during this month devoted to welcome, recruitment and public education. Yes you can be vegan if you are still wearing your old leather belt, or if you accidentally eat something with milk in. One line has resonated with me, though I am afraid I can’t remember who first posted it: “Veganism is about doing your best in an imperfect world.” So I guess that means you can spend a five-pound note on tofu and almond butter after all!

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It is so nice in my little web bubble that I was almost dreading having to drop the “V word” at a dinner table or restaurant in future. Luckily I broke my duck last night when a friend and I popped into a local Italian restaurant for dinner. This place used to do a fantastic arrabbiata so I was distraught to see it had been discontinued, but still, there was one vegan pasta dish on the menu so I ordered that, refused the parmesan (who even am I?) and tucked in. It was a yummy courgette and tomato tagliatelle, which I suspect I enjoyed all the more because it wasn’t smothered with salty cheese. Win. I get the impression that  eating out can sometimes be a bit more awkward than that, so I was very grateful for the experience.

My task for next week is to try some recipes from the vegan cookbook I ordered online. And hopefully I will pick up some tips at the Vegan Life Live event I am visiting today. Obsessed? Me?

Here’s to many more vegan meals – 71, at the very, very least.

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V Day

Veganuary starts … now.

Or rather it started a few hours ago. I saw out 2016 (good riddance) with a vegan lasagne and few glasses of champers. Yes I made “cheese sauce” out of cashews (pictured above) and all that game. It was, well actually rather tasty, but hideously unphotogenic. Could do better.

In fact I started Veganuary in semi-earnest a few days ago. I’ve already ditched cow’s milk for almond in my tea and have been exploring a little vegan cookery. Cauliflower curry, avocado toast, and several similarly non-adventurous dishes … but also these delicious vegan Brazilian cheese balls, which fooled several party guests into thinking they had yer actual cheese-cheese in them.

As far as my vegan support system goes, I am enjoying the daily emails from the lovely Veganuary people and I have signed up to many, many Facebook groups. I have also recruited a veggie pal to go the full Kevin (Keegan) with me. She’s a great veggie cook, and a fellow cheese addict so I am in fine company. We’re Whatsapping recipes back and forth and sharing sources of vitamins and vegan merlot. It’s going to be easy, right?

Meal number one of 93 was scrambled tofu with avocado. Genuinely delicious. Here goes …

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Veganuary shopping trip

Just a few days left until I begin my Veganuary challenge, and almost time to step away from the cheese and crackers. Full disclosure: I ate fondue on Boxing Day, and baked Camembert the day after that. Going cold Cheddar is going to be tough.

Retail therapy is the only way to stave off those fears, so I hit the shops today to stock up on some vegan supplies. My local supermarket proved very fruitful, and I piled my trolley high with fresh veg, tinned pulses and a few specialist vegan products. Some, like the plant milks and the vegan mayonnaise, I haven’t tried before and I am looking forward to experimenting with. Tofu, falafel (I had to take care not to buy a brand with honey in) and aubergine pesto I much more familiar with. Many of the vegan products were eye-wateringly expensive, but the almond butter was on special offer, which I was very grateful for. There was only one kind of “Gary” for sale that I could see – which means it must be the most delicious, right? Hmmm …

 

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If you have any recommendations – please let me know. Is the margarine really going to be as disgusting as I have been told? And the mayonnaise as tasty as I have been promised? I have high hopes for almond and oat milk, though there was a formidable choice of alternatives …

I am planning another trip to a healthfood shop to stock up on nuts and more rarefied products, including nutritional yeast, which I am already quite a fan of. And my local vegan cafe has begun to sell local, home-made vegan goodies such as vegan butter and seitan, which makes me a very lucky novice.

When it comes to fitting out a vegan kitchen, this post from the lovely Hannah and her joyous vegan blog is very useful, and comprehensive. You should probably read that instead of this, and then check out the rest of her site, which is infectiously enthusiastic and full of information. Also, pictures of kittens.

There is a lot of animated talk on vegan websites about products being “accidentally vegan”. This is not always as exciting than it sounds – yes it’s nice that Jus-rol pastry and croissants, for example, are vegan, but it mostly just means that factories are mass-producing products cheaply using vegetable oil. And if it’s palm oil, that is quite concerning. (The picture at the top of this post, for example, is a pie I made last Christmas, that was accidentally, or otherwise, vegan, thanks to that fact.) Still, I slung some cheap, “accidentally vegan” garlic baguettes in my freezer, next to the Linda McCartney sausages and pies that are not-so-accidentally vegan. Baby steps.

It has to be said that most “accidentally vegan” lists seem to major on crisps, sweets and booze – things you might not expect to contain animal products in the first place, but certainly nothing I will turn my nose up at, especially if I am missing some of my favourite foods. You can check out lots of these products on the Accidentally Vegan UK Instagram feed.

🎅🏻 Vegan Christmas Series 🎅🏻M&S Christmas Cobbler Cocktail

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Sainsbury’s, the supermarket I visited today, is one of the best at labelling its vegan products as such, apparently, but I still spent an awful lot of time reading the backs of packets and tins. It begins to be quite maddening that some are still labelled vegetarian when they are full-fat vegan … Tinned soup is a minefield, although if the name begins “cream of”, that’s a very big hint. Baxter’s, why do you put honey in all my favourites, though? Very disappointing. It won’t always be so laborious, hopefully, as I get to know what’s what. I have a relative with a severe dairy allergy so I know that milk powder, for example, lurks in some unexpected places. Though I am lucky enough to also know that it doesn’t really matter if I accidentally eat some, which is not the case for him.

Now I am all stocked up, I feel as if I may as well start straight away, but perhaps a last-hurrah supper on NYE will be a suitably solemn farewell. It is time to start planning my final meal of this year, and also the first of 2017. This afternoon, I am going to try some vegan baking, too.

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Why worry about veganism?

No one wants animal cruelty on their plate, or their conscience. Vegan food is delicious, and healthy. I’m only trying it out for a month, 93 little meals.

So why am I worried? I have a few reservations, but writing these things down always makes them less alarming …

  • My health – I have a sensitive digestive system and I am worried that a vegan diet will cause it to flare up. Then again, maybe the opposite will happen and I’ll never touch dairy again …
  • More than vegetarianism, veganism seems very all-or-nothing. I’ll be much more worried about slipping up than I am currently as a chilled-out non-meat-eater.
  • Hungriness – all that salad and not a single fried egg.
  • Boredom – tofu, tofu, tofu …
  • Expense – a lot of vegan alternatives such as mayonnaise and cheese, are far pricer than the “originals”. And some useful fruit and veg might be imported from far and wide.
  • Eating more junk food and processed crap. Lots of ready-made vegan food seems to be versions of fast food that has never appealed to me. Apparently there’s a vegan fried chicken shop opening in London – I’ve never felt the need to eat fried chicken before!
  • Eating out or at friends’ houses – I’m going to become a fussy person, which doesn’t appeal. And then there’s the risk of plate envy when I’m picking my way through a cheeseless pizza on a Saturday night.
  • Clean eating is a load of balls, and I don’t want to be associated with that.
  • Terminal smugness.

Anyway, I hope these qualms will prove unfounded. Ninety-three times.

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Veganuary balance sheet

Once I start Veganuary, there are a few things I am going to be giving up. I’ll be gaining some new habits too. So I thought I would write them down to see how they balance out.

Giving up

  • Cheeseboards.
  • Indian takeaways (ghee).
  • Saturday morning scrambled eggs.
  • Salmon risotto.
  • Cauldron vegetarian sausages – they’ve got ruddy milk in them. And my favourite veggie tinned soups have honey in them.
  • Milk in my tea (and occasionally coffee).
  • Eating out so much, I think.
  • A dress size – you never know!

For lunch, a delicious obstacle course

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Cheese party

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Guess I am a real #e17 freelancer now

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Picking up

  • A feeling of ease and wellbeing – I love the idea of a cruelty-free diet.
  • Reading labels – it seems like I’ll be doing a lot of that.
  • Learning how to make tofu scramble and almond butter.
  • Experimenting with alterna-milks (or drinking a lot of green tea) and fake cheese.
  • Even more guilt about food miles – all those avocados.
  • A thick skin when people make those tired vegan jokes.
  • Becoming a regular at my local vegan cafe.
  • Possible Marmite addiction.

Delicious vegetarian lunch at @hornbeamcafe on a plate celebrating the great year of 1987

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Popping Padron peppers in Madrid

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23 signs you work for the Gdn

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Time to vegan up

It has been more than two decades since I last ate a sausage. Around 246 months since I sat down to a roast chicken dinner. Over a thousand weeks since I last tasted a ham sandwich. I gave up eating meat when I was a teenager after reading about the environment, and working on the meat counter at the local Co-op. Full disclosure: the final straw was watching the movie Se7en on video. Ugh.

It was the right decision. I felt better about the impact I was making on the environment (ie it was a lot, lot smaller) and finally I really began to enjoy my food. I ate more heartily, rather than pushing my food around the plate. Vegetables were my friends. As a student I embraced the lentil and ate frugally; when I started working in London I expanded my culinary repertoire, and even visited fancy vegetarian restaurants.

Big whoop. I’m not vegetarian. Not really. I am a pescetarian, I guess. When I announced my plan to go veggie, my mum, understandably worried about my vitamin and protein intake, asked me to keep eating fish. I was happy to agree – after all, I didn’t know whether a vegetarian diet was healthy either. And while I was a student, it was largely irrelevant, because fish was too pricey for my shopping basket, but after graduating, once I moved in with my omnivorous other half , who swoons with delight at a fishmonger’s window, I began to eat more and fish – not just anchovies in my puttanesca sauce, but tuna sarnies, roast salmon, prawn curry …

Searching my heart, and my tastebuds, I reckon I could give up the fish just like that. [fingersnap] I should have done so years ago, although it would have been a shame not to be able to share those meals with my partner, and it does make dinner parties easier … Heck, there’s always an excuse.

That’s not the thing that’s worrying me. It’s all those articles about the dairy industry, and the problems with poultry farming, that I push to one side. Forget the fish, I have a niggling feeling that I need to give up eating all animal products entirely.

In short it’s time to give veganism a whirl. So I have signed up for Veganuary.

As of 1 January 2017 I will be going vegan for a month. Thirty-one days without cheese, eggs, milk, butter, honey, fish and yeah, meat.

I have reservations. A lot of reservations. But there are also lots of things I am looking forward to, lots. And I want to give it a proper go.

So if I falter I am going to set myself a forfeit. If I crack and eat a slice of Welsh rarebit, I will do something I have never done before. I’ll eat a Big Mac.

bur-bigmac-big_0

The thought of eating this makes me feel genuinely sick. I really don’t want to do that. I mean no way on this green earth would I ever want to taste that muck. So this is my insurance policy – steer clear of the dairy and eggs and I don’t have to contemplate the putrid patty punishment.

How hard can it be? It’s just breakfast, lunch and dinner for 31 days. Ninety-three vegan meals. Starting … soon.