Wednesday, 27 July 2011

You might as well live*

I'm all for diversity in how we approach animal rights/vegan advocacy - to a great extent each person or group of people can be most effective doing what works for them. It isn't a one size fits all thing. Also, I can accept that it isn't all bunny-hugging and flowers and unicorns farting rainbows and crapping candyfloss** - if you let yourself dwell on the animal cruelty angle, even to the extent of motivating yourself to act or informing yourself so you can inform others, it can get downright depressing, and dealing with certain people's reactions can be demoralising and make you wonder whether you will EVER get anywhere. Trust me, I've been there, I'm not glossing over that. I feel that these are necessary disclaimers, because the other day, via a question on my Formspring,*** I came across an approach that in my view takes that latter point too far and is beyond what I can remotely get behind. The basic premise was that veganism isn't a zero-harm lifestyle, nothing is in fact, and that animal rights will never be accepted by most of the population - and hence, the best thing animal rights advocates can do is commit suicide.

That's right, commit suicide in the name of human extinction, as this is the only viable way to help animals. Now, human extinction isn't a new concept - but for the most part it's limited to not creating more humans. Controversial, sure, but at the end of the day breeding or not breeding is not such a drastic decision as deciding to no longer live.

Now, I suspect there may be other issues at play here. Certainly I have known of animal rights activists who have committed suicide, for reasons related to the ones listed above. But they weren't killing themselves 'for the animals'. Being depressed at the state of the world in general and people's treatment of animals in particular, to the point of wanting to leave the world, is not the same as dying for the animals, and I'd suspect the friends of the people concerned would realise that. I'm not going to criticise those people. At the end of the day, taking your own life is a personal decision - certainly it can have negative effects on those around you, but at the end of the day it is your business. Advocating suicide TO OTHERS as the ONLY way to help animals, however - that, I feel I can have an opinion on. And that opinion, quite frankly, is that it sucks. Pushing these ideas to a movement with a high proportion of young people (including teenagers going through the normal adolescent crap and often having to defend veganism to hostile family members and friends) and fragile people is quite frankly irresponsible. To get a bit personal for a minute, if I'd seen the website in question at 17 Veganicity might not have come to exist because I'd have been dead for a decade and not doing a whole lot for animals in that time.

And that's another thing. How does removing the animal rights advocates from the world make said world better for animals? I will admit that the vegan lifestyle isn't zero-harm, because such a thing is pretty much impossible. All you can do is minimise the harm you do. Even if we're being strictly instrumentalist, isn't it better to hang on and promote animal rights than to leave? Then there's the question of whether we should be instrumentalist about our lives - I'd argue not. If someone genuinely believes that the lives of their own species, including or especially those members who are actively trying to improve things, have no value whatsoever - there is a lot going on there and none of it pleasant.

Also, having this sort of thing around as anything other than really obvious satire does absolutely nothing for the public's perception of veganism and animal rights. Seriously - 'changing your lifestyle and promoting change to others is pointless so DIE!!!' - such a great message to send out. I can see how that would convince people to do, well, anything other than just keep on eating meat and dairy, using animal tested products, etcetera ad nauseum, because cutting these things out will have no effect. Can you read the sarcasm in that sentence? And it promotes the idea that veganism is either a sign or a cause of being unbalanced - there's enough of that anyway without animal rights advocates joining in.

I would like to believe the website I saw was satire, but unfortunately I have encountered a few people in real life promoting that sort of attitude - and was lucky not to get too far caught up in it. All I can say is, if you are having suicidal thoughts and someone tells you you should go through with it because that will do more good for animals/the environment/other people than staying alive - please get as far away from that person as soon as possible.

Fluffy-bunny posting will be resumed shortly...

*Dorothy Parker
**Probably just as well given the subsequent dilemma about whether vegans can eat the candyfloss a unicorn happily deposited on the living room floor
***Currently underused, feel free to change that

Monday, 25 July 2011


I'm guessing that some folk out there like to imagine that, as an outreach-y sort of vegan, I make a habit of inviting non-vegan friends over and berating them about their choices over three courses of raw tofu and twigs. And some of these folk will encounter just such a setup for the first half hour or so of being in the house, because there is a lot of fun to be had in confirming prejudices.* For the less judgemental type, i.e. most of my friends and pretty much anyone I would voluntarily opt to spend the evening with, I'm more likely to dish up some tasty food, answer questions on veganism if they come up, and defer heavier conversations on the topic to an arena where there isn't alcohol.**

Anyway, this brings me to last night's dinner. This is a pretty massive quantity of tagine - dinner for three last night, lunch for two later today, and two margarine tubs full just went in the freezer.

Olive oil
2 medium red onions, chopped small
5 medium garlic cloves, crushed
3 large sweet potatoes, chopped large
1 large carrot, chopped large
450g pre-soaked dried apricots
2 x 240g tins of chickpeas, drained
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 x 500g carton passata (the tomatoes and passata are probably interchangeable, your mileage may vary about whether you like chunks of tomato or not)
1 x medium aubergine, roasted in segements with salt and olive oil then chopped a bit smaller. (optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp tumeric

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Turn the heat down to medium before it gets too crackly. Cook the onions and garlic for a bit, then add sweet potatoes, carrot, apricots, chickpeas, aubergine and spices. Stir around for a bit until the spices are evenly distributed. Turn the heat up and add the passata and tomatoes. You may also need to add some water. When it starts bubbling, turn the heat down and stick the pan lid on. Simmer for an hour or so. (Perfect if you're having guests and want something you can leave while getting yourself ready!) Serve with couscous and flatbreads, or pittas if you want bread without washing a mixing bowl.

*I should come clean and admit to never having done this. And sadly I've now exposed it as a prank so can't do it to anyone who might have read my blog.
**And probably not lunchtime in the canteen. Environments where food is a major factor aren't the best place to have vegan/non-vegan dialogue, as when people are eating they tend to be easily put on the defensive about what they are eating.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Yesterday I made a bit of a snap decision to go to a Scottish Vegans potluck hosted by this lady. That left me with the morning to make something. Once I'd decided that, choosing what to make was the easy part - we have a colleague coming to dinner this evening and I was going to make tagine and flatbreads, so I ended up doing the flatbreads a day early. (Which also makes today more relaxed since I've already got a stack of bread and no mixing bowl to wash today - that's my least favourite part of making bread, it ruins my nails and almost always means throwing out a kitchen sponge afterwards! Anyone fancy a bit of washing up in exchange for bread?)

Since this is something I haven't made before, I had to do a bit of 'net searching to find an initial recipe. Luckily they all seem to be basically vegan, so no need for substitutions. Here's the basic recipe - one of Allegra McEvedy's for the food geeks out there. I had wanted spicy bread, so adapted the recipe a bit by adding a heaped tablespoon of tumeric, the same of dried coriander leaves and a couple of sprinklings of cinnamon. I should also admit that I used a sachet of fast action yeast - I've never got the hang of the other sort, which is sad and something I want to remedy when I have the time and energy. But the recipe does work if you 'cheat'!.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Grasshopper has Landed

New post up at Vegan Grasshopper - The Joy of Pot! On the uses of a decent-sized stockpot in making veganism easy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Chocolate/cherry/chilli cupcakes

I wasn't sure these qualified as bloggable, but since they went down pretty well at last night's potluck (apart from inadvertantly poisoning a friend with a chilli allergy I didn't know he had - sorry again!) here's the story.

I used this recipe as a base, but since it is for a large cake with none of the ingredients listed in the post title some adapting had to be done.

First change: I used double quantity, because I wanted enough cakes for the potluck and to have some to eat at home.
Second change: adding chocolate. I replaced an ounce of flour per quantity with cocoa powder, i.e. 16oz flour and 2oz cocoa.
Third change: adding chilli. I put in two teaspoons of cayenne pepper, one per quantity. Halve this if you want a milder kick. Leave it out if you just want chocolate and cherries. Anyway, the chilli went in with the dry ingredients.
Fourth change: adding cherries. I put six tablespoons of cherry conserve (posh jam) in with the custard.
Fifth change: baking time. Cupcakes would be incinerated in the time the recipe suggests - I got them out of the oven after 20 minutes.

The recipe in question is one of my favourites, precisely because it is so plain - it can be adapted all sorts of ways and still work, or it can be dished up plain with icing, which is what I did for my boy's last birthday. (Making it was easy enough, getting it from one county to another was more perilous...)