Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Another food post

Excuse the proliferation of food posts. This is my first week back at work and I don't have time to make 'proper' posts for the time being. Anyway, there is a post in the pipeline about the difficulties of being vegan, so think of these posts as the antidote to that, in terms of containing practical tips on making it easier.

Cooking beans from dried...
This is a bit of a faff, but the upside is the beans keep reasonably well in the fridge and can also be frozen.
Tip 1: If you haven't done this before, start with white beans rather than black or red. They have fewer toxins so you're less likely to mess up to the extent of getting sick. I've got sick from red beans that weren't cooked properly - including ones I've bought ready-cooked in a tin! - but never from chickpeas or similar.
Tip 2: Make loads, like half the packet at once - this is what makes it worth the effort. Freeze any you aren't going to use in the next week.
Tip 3: When refrigerating, the best thing is to put the beans in cold salt water in a glass jar (with the lid screwed on to avoid leakage!).
Soak the beans for a day - stick them in a pan of water before leaving for work, and they're ready to boil by the time you get back. Change the water before cooking. Boil for about an hour, more if beans are still hard, but they shouldn't be.

What I did with the first part of this batch...
I made lentil and chickpea dhal for dinner last night. Basically this entails boiling lentils until they become nearly liquid, in water seasoned with miso soup (no, this isn't culturally accurate!), lime juice, cardomom and cumin. Tastes better than it sounds. I added some of the chickpeas that had just come off the boil, when the lentils had just reached the boil.
Again, things like this take a bit of messing around, so always make enough to freeze a portion and keep some leftovers for the next day. I have a small amount left today, so will pour it over stirfried vegetables.

And some packed lunches...
My biggest problem with being vegan has always been eating during the day, while at work. Our canteen is not the best on that front. So my new year's resolution - the one i'm admitting to here! - was to bring a packed lunch every day. I always make this the night before - I can NEVER be relied upon to get up in time to do anything beyond putting clothes on (to the relief of the people i work with) and catching a bus.
Monday: brown rice, edamame (green baby soybeans), green salad. The brown rice was left over from dinner on Sunday night (Tesco readymade curry which i adorned with brown rice and another salad - effect similar to icing on a turd...) and the edamame had been lurking in my parents' freezer for several months so i decided to bring it back with me. It tastes more like broad beans than the normal white soybeans. I added some soy sauce for flavour. Might cook the rice in miso another time.
Tuesday: Salad made with chickpeas (see above), couscous (i made some to go with the dhal and did a bit extra, see below), tomato, cucumber and spring onions (chopped while doing a green salad for dinner then night before).

Couscous is the ideal convenience food, in my experience. (Unless you're allergic to wheat, which i'm not - 'addicted' would be a more accurate term!) You just pour it in a bowl and put boiling water on it, and leave it until the water is soaked up. You can buy flavoured ones with dried veg and so on in - Sammy's make a wide range of these, most of which are vegan and available in health food shops and supermarkets. Can be used instead of rice or pasta if you only own one saucepan and that has vegetables in (ie, my situation for five years or so) or if you don't want to cook. Can be a bit dry on its own - add oil or some kind of sauce if nothing else.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Vitalite NOT vegan

Message received from the Vegan Society, in my case via facebook:

" Subject: Vitalite is not currently suitable for vegans.

Vitalite is not currently suitable for vegans. Vitalite was due to be changed to a vegan friendly product, however the launch was delayed, as it failed to meet the manufacturer's quality standards.

Dairy Crest, the manufacturer of Vitalite, apologise for any confusion caused and The Vegan Society also regrets that the situation has arisen. Dairy Crest and The Vegan Society hope to offer Vitalite suitable for vegans as soon as possible.

Please contact The Vegan Society if you have further questions: http://www.vegansociety.com/html/#Contact

Thank you,

Amanda at The Vegan Society

Background: Vitalite was recently registered for the Vegan Society's trademark. It was featured in the 'Shoparound' section of the Vegan magazine in either the last issue or the one before.
Personally, I find it hard to be surprised that a dairy company is having problems veganising a product. It is, however, a pity that this is taking time, because a cheap mainstream margarine would be a very useful thing to point newbies and sceptics to.

Surprise, a vegan talking about food!

Now, vegans talking about food is a bit of a cliche - particularly among vegetarians, for some reason. So I guess I *should* make a massive effort to avoid the subject here. Unfortunately, however, what you eat is as big a part of veganism as what you *don't* eat - since we have to eat something and all - so I am going to talk about it and sucks if you don't like that. I promise that food posts will only be made if I've either made something particularly impressive or am lacking something else to blog about.

Anyway, my lunch today (taking advantage of my last few days off work, where I can cook proper food in the middle of the day) was vegetables and tofu in tempura batter with a green salad.
Salad: 'ordinary' lettuce, watercress, spinach and a couple of spring onions. Dressed with a mix of hemp oil (I had olive oil overload during my last attempt to eat healthily, then bought some that had gone off, so now try to avoid it where I can), wine vinegar and agave syrup. (That's the vegan stuff that is like honey. It comes from a cactus, which I guess is the true vegan equivalent of eating the secretions of a stinging insect!) The salad, particularly the vinegar element, was useful in mopping up the grease content of the rest of the meal.
Batter - from a packet mix. These are fairly easily available and most of them seem to be vegan. I'm afraid I don't have a recipe for making it from scratch, but I can tell you that it works better after spending a day in the fridge than it does before. The batter has to be really cold and the oil really hot to get the full benefit of it. I don't own a deep fryer, so used a centimetre or so of oil in the bottom of the wok. (You will hear more about my wok habit!) I left the oil to heat up while making salad, going to the loo (tmi? Gives you an idea about timing though. And I swear I washed my hands...) and getting the bowl of batter and veg out of the fridge. To get individual pieces rather than a massive pancake, use a spoon to scoop out bits of veg/tofu one at a time and drop them in the oil. Try to leave space between them. The oil really hurts if you get it on your skin, so try not to. (I did.) Vegetables used in this instance: cauliflower, baby sweetcorn, carrot, mushrooms (pre-fried in garlic oil - I have a horror of biting into raw mushroom!). Also tofu because I had some left over from something else. Vegetables I want to try doing this with: broccoli, peppers, patra leaves. Vegetables I am curious about using but not convinced it will work: tomato, courgette, aubergine.

The leftover battered vegetables are going in the fridge - I want to see how well they'd work as a cold packed lunch.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Why vegan?

I'll be open about this from the start - my reason for being vegan is 100% linked to animal rights. No other factor is capable of motivating me to stick to a decision which, lets face it, makes my day-to-day life that tiny bit more complicated. (I know it may violate some kind of party line to admit that, but there you go) Moral status for me is all about sentience - that's people, animals, birds, fish, hell I even extend it to molluscs, but not plants. I see preserving the environment as something which is done for the benefit of people, animals, birds, fish, etc, and future generations thereof, rather than for its own sake. Arguments that a vegan diet is *healthier* than either eating meat (which it wouldn't occur to me to do anyway, I've been vegetarian for sixteen years. That's since before puberty. And being lacto-veg is convenient as anything in England.) or just being vegetarian have very little impact. The authors of Skinny Bitch would most likely faint (especially when fasting, nu?) if they could see either my figure or some of what goes down my throat. Anyway, in my current circumstances, a *healthy* vegan diet depends a lot on making time to cook a proper dinner, make packed lunch and eat a proper breakfast before leaving the house in the morning. This doesn't always happen. The one health factor in the whole thing is a slight milk allergy - ie I won't die from ingesting dairy, but my throat will swell and get incredibly painful - and that only happened because I stopped eating the stuff in the first place.

Not killing animals, however, strikes me as a pretty damn good reason to put in the necessary effort. The baseline here is that, short of a pure survival situation probably involving roadkill rather than a live animal (because that is *totally* likely to happen), I'm a vegetarian and will stay that way for a whole lot more than the foreseeable future. That doesn't feel like a bold statement. Furthermore, I wouldn't (hypothetically) feel able to protest with any level of credibility about any other instances of animal abuse were I going home from the demo and eating beef or chicken. And, because milk and eggs are inextricably linked to the beef and chicken industries, being vegan strikes me as the logical conclusion of vegetarianism. (I do, however, eat bacteria. The sort of bacteria that inhabit Alpro probiotic soy yogurt are likely to be the sort which are at their happiest in human intestines. The sad thing is that *someone* is likely to ask this question if not pre-empted...) Being vegan is harder than being vegetarian, because I don't have the same 'yuk' reaction to milk as to meat. The pus factor can produce that reaction *if* I think about it hard enough, but it isn't automatic. It's the difference between a video being set to record a programme versus having to hit the record button in response to the first bar of the theme tune and remember to turn it off later. I can look at a block of cheese without feeling sick and smell it without having to leave the room (the effect bacon often has). So it is something which involves a bit of effort, the need to remind myself what happened to the calf the milk in that cheese sandwich in the canteen was meant for.

So, that's my rationale for being vegan. Now, about the other potential reasons. I may appear disparaging of these, but to be perfectly blunt, if someone is vegan I don't care why. I'm happy. Unless you leave me loads of comments to the effect that animal rights is a pile of shit, in which case there are ducks I can bribe to leave just that in your shoes, keyboard and saucepan. In normal circumstances, I don't see it as particuarly constructive to fight about this particular issue.


Firstly, lest anyone think different, it is *my* veganicity being increased - I was a vegan for ages, have gone back to being a vegetarian a few times, and have been slowly re-veganising for about a year. I slip up sometimes, but make the effort not to. I don't intend to use this blog to 'preach' at anyone, although if anyone *does* go vegetarian or vegan as a result of reading something I've written or linked to then I will obviously be delighted. I don't, however, kid myself that I am one of those cool people whose example automatically gets followed.
Beyond that, I don't know quite how much of a personal introduction I need to make since for the time being the existence of this blog will only be revealed to people who kind of know me. At any rate, my (screen) name is Nella - if you know my real name, that's cool unless you're some kind of stalker type, but keep it to yourself in cyberspace or my ducks will come and shit in your computer. I live in England, but the duckshit proviso also applies to my exact location. I'm 26 and in the later stages of a PhD in political theory. It doesn't relate to animal rights or veganism, fyi. I also teach first year undergraduates a fairly standard theory curriculum -Plato to Rawls via folks like Hobbes, Locke and Burke. I like knitting - a post on vegan yarn will appear here at some point - and ducks. I'm sort of a semi-retired goth, although I don't usually wear elaborate eyeliner to teach seminars. I have ten piercings. I make a pretty ace scrambled tofu and vegan cheese sauce. I've had a few health issues over the past year and have reduced my involvement in activism as a result, so online promotion of veganism and an improvement in my own practice of it seem like a happy medium.
So, shalom and welcome to what may or may not be the 'fun kind' of veganism!