Friday, 28 October 2011

Eating your own

James McWilliams believes that the locavore's mistake is to advocate home slaughter. (No gory pics in this one) Needless to say I have some sympathy with that idea. I'm no fan of people killing chickens in their back yard. Where I part company with McWilliams is on how to approach this. He worries about the psychological effects in a neighbourhood where such things are normal, and aregues that killing should be kept at a 'graceful distance' in an automated slaughterhouse. Uh, no. I can tell you that having a chicken 'factory' in the neighbourhood isn't a brilliant thing either.

What's my take on this? I'm no fan of killing any animal anywhere. You may have guessed that. But remember what I said about nose-to-tail eating? It involved a lot of rather big ifs, and this is the same. IF people are going to eat meat, then maybe they should get up close and personal with where it comes from. IF people want to take the animal welfare line then maybe they should own the process from start to finish. IF people choose locavore over vegan when they want to eat in an eco-friendly way, maybe it's best that they don't get to sugar-coat the process and pretend that slaughter is anything other than bloody and nasty. And the botched kills? Believe me, they happen in the industrial killing process too. And many of the people responsible find it funny. So yes, IF chickens are going to die for people to eat them, bringing it closer to home could be a good thing.

But as I said before, those are big IFs. My view is that if people experience the slightest unease at the prospect of killing an animal, maybe they should think twice about doing it. And if you can't wield the knife yourself or watch your friend or family member do it, then you should have a big old think about whether you should be eating animals at all.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Branding (warning: post contains language fitting to the subject matter)

Apparently Russell Brand is now vegan, and for ethical reasons rather than weight loss or personal purity or (on the surface) attention-seeking.

'Vegan' celebrities can often be a liability more than an asset. I've seen a few come and go. Alicia Silverstone came to the conclusion that she should eat animal products in social situations so as not to appear 'rigid and unfriendly', and Natalie Portman had apparently no way of obtaining vegan versions of the baked goods she so desperately needed to get sufficient iron and B12 during her pregnancy. Sadly that is a mixture of direct quoting and paraphrasing, without any need for added satire.

Also, when a celebrity has a tendency towards offensiveness, this can have a certain type of impact on veganism and animal rights more widely. It's similar to the 'because you're vegan' phenomenon that occurs whenever one of us catches a cold, breaks a bone, gets the almighty scours (because *that* never happens to people who eat chicken, oh no) or gets hit by a rock thrown by some twit who must have been secretly monitoring the dietary habits of every passer-by in order to know the right one to aim at. Any and every illness is blamed on being vegetarian or vegan, and every vegetarian and vegan is tarred with the same brush. If the footballer John Terry makes racist remarks it's because he's a dick. If Morrissey does it (even in contexts that are fuck all to do with animals), it goes hand in hand with 'Meat is Murder' and we must all be behind him all the way. To which I say, no, he's a dick. A musically talented dick with one or two opinions that are right, but nonetheless a dick. And Brand has done one or two things that would make me mentally add 'twat' and 'arse' to 'dick' when describing his behaviour.

So Russell and Katy, if you're reading this, I'm very happy you have taken the plunge and wish you all the best for it. Seriously, we're all here for you, if you need recipes, advice on vitamins or toiletries or any of the minutae of vegan life, just ask. If you promote veganism, let people know why - fans going vegan purely because you do it probably won't stay that way, people who are clued up on the issues are more likely to keep it up. If you yourself can't keep it up for whatever reason, don't be a dick about it. And if you do or say anything twatty, I'm the first to say 'not in my name', right? If however you are happily vegan this time next year, you might like to submit your story here* to help other newbies.

Oh, and you might need this...

*In fact, so might other vegans reading this ;)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Giving it 95%

Up until now I've resisted the temptation to weigh into the debate surrounding Carpe Vegan and their approach to vegan advocacy. This is partly because I wanted to avoid a kneejerk judgement and partly because whatever I say on this issue is going to offend someone. But I have a period right now, so I'm allowed to be offensive.*

I do like the idea of 'decultifiying' veganism. I don't personally feel that it is a cult, although I do sometimes feel that certain individuals I've encountered would quite like it to be. I know, however, that some people do feel that veganism is overly cultlike, and that they are put off by it. So the idea of making it less exclusive, eroding crap such as 'you aren't vegan because you like the wrong music' or 'you aren't vegan because you eat cooked food/gluten/caffiene', strikes me as a good one. The glitch is that their approach seems to also want veganism to become inclusive of people who knowingly, consciously, with other choices available that don't involve pain or death, consume animal products. This is the 95% vegan.

Speciesist Vegan has come up with a scientific nutritional breakdown of exactly what being 95% vegan might entail. (He clearly has more time on his hands even than me :P) A commenter then raised the issue of how to account for animal products that are consumed by genuine accident or unavoidably. SV suggested raising the bar to 97%.

Let's look at what accidental and unavoidable means here. There's quite a wide range. Trace elements of dairy from cross-contamination in the factory. The crisps you eat before realising they taste different from the last hundred times and checking the packet to see the recipe now contains milk. The time early on in your vegan path when you forgot to pack a protein bar and are now on the verge of fainting so you decide to go back to being vegetarian to take advantage of what's available. The medication you have to take to be functional that has lactose in. The vegetarian meal in an omni resturant that has no obvious dairy ingredients that you wrongly give the benefit of the doubt to. The leather and wool in your wardrobe that you decide to use until you can replace those items. The small traces of nasty stuff that are in all sorts of products, probably more than you'll ever know about. Your mum's or friend's toothpaste that you use on an overnight visit because you forgot yours. You get the idea. Depending on circumstances, you're probably 95-99% vegan in any given year.

Now, some take that as an incentive not to make more effort - if you can't be totally vegan, why try? I take the opposite line. I aim for 100% in situations where I have control. I don't consciously or knowingly consume animal products when the alternative options are all tolerable. If the worst thing that will happen is I have to eat white bread because the wholemeal has honey in (admittedly I live in a country where that isn't usually a risk) or not get a piece of someone's birthday cake then yes, I'm going to take the 'worst' option and stay vegan. That's what 'as far as reasonably practical' means to me.

*This isn't sexist. Men are also allowed to be offensive if it feels like the carpet is being taken up in their innards. Or maybe if they get kicked in the balls while suffering food poisoning, which I guess would be an analogue. Although you'd have to be either very mean or heavily provoked to do that to someone who was already ill.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The vegan normal (?!) life and some housekeeping

As you may notice, I've been tidying my sidebar a bit. I've had a tendency to add blogs and websites, occasionally notice that one has stopped updating or vanished altogether. However, I tend not to be logged in when I notice this, so haven't done more about it.

The short of it is:
-Blogs have been removed from the main link lists and put in specific blog lists. I may seperate these out at some point, but for now they work as they are.
-If you want to see the blogs that updated less frequently, click 'see all'. I figured that was better than removing any, since this way I and anyone who uses my blogroll will see if there are any updates.
-The sceptics - these are vegans/plant-based people who take a more or less critical perspective. Sorry to segregate you guys - hope you feel speshul rather than insulted. ;) I have not included any full-on 'antis'. I don't altogether agree with these blogs (hey I don't agree with all the blogs on the original list) but do find it interesting exercise for my brain to engage with their arguments.
-The only links I've completely removed are those which no longer work or where the author has started eating animals again.

And on that note, I came across the following at The Vegan Good Life:
I simply can't relate to the blogs of people kissing their cupcakes or non-stop joyous attitudes. That's just not real life, that's an image you're trying to sell. There is a real disconnect to how veganism is being marketed to people, and how difficult people find doing it completely when they try it (so then not doing it at all, a great failure for animals).
I'm sorry to hear that Catherine found it this way. (Before y'all give her any grief, I don't know her well and having found time to read her new blog - so no idea how not-vegan she is. Doesn't seem that she's turned militantly anti though.) But seriously, my aim for a long time now has been to try to make the vegan journey easier for people. I do highlight when something is a pain in the arse (milk in cashew nuts anyone?). But is it so bad to also highlight the good bits, the cupcakes and cute sanctuary pics (not me so much, but others I read) and cool places to go and eat? This blog mirrors the part of my real life that pertains to veganism and a few bits that don't - not 100% of my life, sure, but you don't come here for that. Rest assured that while you get cupcakes here there is no other form of sugar coating...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Product review: Redwoods Soy-free cheddar

I should start by saying I've got no personal animosity towards soy. I wouldn't be thrilled if my diet depended on it for the good stuff, but in recent times my intake tends to be mostly milk in tea with the odd bit of mince or cheese or bowl of milky cereal. The fortified soy milk I usually get has the advantage of introducing vitamin B12 into a cup of tea, which feels like a bit of a triumph for some reason. So, not having any health issues with soy, I'm never likely to adopt a soy-free diet - on the other hand, I don't want it to become the mainstay, any more than any other one foodstuff. So I was slightly intrigued to hear of a soy-free vegan cheddar made by one of the relatively mainstream brands.

I don't rate this cheese very highly to eat on it's own - the normal Redwoods white cheddar is much better for that! The soy-free cheddar is however far meltier than the cheddar with soy. The consistency is similar to the melting mozzarella - ie while it doesn't do the 'stringy' thing dairy cheese does it does melt passably rather than staying solid and burning (Sheese I am looking at you...). Being a little on the orange side in colour, it worked brilliantly on a tray of nachos.

I'm told the soy-free cheddar is better than it's counterparts for baking - it has a stronger flavour than the mozzarella and melts better than white cheddar, let alone pretty much any other brand. I didn't personally get to taste any of my friend Kiwi's cheese scones, but I'll take people's word that they worked out. I feel the need to try this out sometime, but suspect the pile of marking about to land on my head won't allow for a lot of baking time this week or next. Or maybe I'll need to console myself by stuffing various types of fat and carbs down my throat...

I can, however, testify that it works well in cheese sauce - specifically cauliflower cheese for today's lunch. As with the mozzarella, it is a bit annoying and messy to grate, but it made up for that by melting without me having to do anything special.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


This seems to be the week for celebrity carnists of one sort or another to come out of the woodwork and be annoying. Hugh F-W can kind of be forgiven, because he's currently big on eating your veg and his comments about pigs and puppies had the potential to provoke meat-eaters as much as vegans. Anthony Bourdain, however, does not get off so lightly, having announced in Playboy (of all places) that he thinks vegans are self-indulgent.

Ok, I'll throw my hands up and admit it. I am just the teensiest bit self-indulgent in my tendencies towards espresso, dark chocolate, olive oil, nachos, alcohol and overeating in general. I'm surprised if Bourdain thinks that's something to criticise though.

But 'bad guests and bad travellers'? Not so much. I realise that if I go to certain parts of the world I will probably have to take my own supply of nuts and Trek bars. Sometimes I have to do that for a day at work though. And being a bad guest in my view would be rocking up on the day and saying 'I'm vegan, what are you going to do about it' - I always declare my hand in advance, and prefer if people who visit me do the same regarding what they can't or won't eat.

As far as I'm concerned, Bourdain (much as I admit to rather liking his writing style - bet that would scare him) is one of the more self-indulgent people I can think of. Absolutely fine with taking other beings' lives for the sake of dietary whims, then writing huge swathes on how awful it is that some people don't like that.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Help a Grasshopper out!

Those of you who read Vegan Grasshopper might have noticed that things are a bit slow there. To an extent I'm fine with that - the information that's already up (including the blogroll) is useful to newbie vegans regardless of whether I add anything else, so there's no point adding extra froth unless I think of something good. However, I'm also aware that the blog is largely reliant on my perspective on going vegan. So I'm opening up the floor a bit and asking readers to share their new vegan stories - anyone up for it?

It doesn't matter if you are a current grasshopper or a seasoned old lag - your vegan wisdom can still be useful to a newcomer. One of my favourite vegan/animal rights role models has personal memories of the vegetarian rationing provisions in World War 2! Don't worry if you didn't have the smoothest transition to veganism - you could be helping other people in a similar position.

Some questions that might help (not a prescriptive list/structure!):
What inspired you to go vegetarian? What inspired you to go vegan? Was there a gap between the two?
What was the hardest part of going vegan? How did you get around it?
What stage of life were you at when you went vegan?
How did the people around you react?
What are the main features of your life, other than veganism?
What are your favourite foods as a vegan?

Stories can be emailed to I'll come up with a posting schedule when I see how many I get. I reserve the right to edit for spelling and so on if necessary, because I'm a pedantic git. Longer stories may be divided into more than one installment. I'm happy to link to your own blog if you include the URL. I can't currently upload photos - I'll let you know when that changes. Stories shouldn't advocate illegal activity - I take no issue with what you do elsewhere, but this isn't the space for it. Insulting people who are less far along the vegan path than you is also a no-no.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Quick snack

I have a cold, which for some reason seems to be making me extra-hungry as well as tired and bunged up. I've also struggled through a few days where I couldn't just give in to it, and am feeling the effects now. Also, my partner is at work late, so dinner will be late. I generally deal with this by snacking. This particular snack involves tomato and mushroom - two of the main vegan umami foods, in case anyone was wondering - and chilli-flavoured olive oil, because it tastes nice and spicy stuff is good for counteracting bunged-upness. It doesn't have magical powers of resurrection or anything, but I feel a little less out of it than I did earlier this afternoon!

-1 large tomato
-4 closed cup mushrooms
-Chilli oil (enough to cook the veg and still have a bit left over)
-Two slices of bread

Heat the chilli oil (not too hot, olive oil reacts badly to overheating). Chop the tomato and mushrooms small and cook them in the oil.
Toast the bread.
Pour the mess from the frying pan over the bread. Preferably on a plate rather than straight onto the worktop/table.

And yes, I'm a vegan, admitting publicly to having the same annoying but ultimately minor illness that many of my colleagues and students have had/will have in the course of a semester. Such is life. Detractors will be coughed on.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fearnley-WTF? Pigs, puppies and (potential) prats

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall advocating vegetarianism? I knew it was too good to be true. When I saw his initial article on the subject a few weeks ago, my first thought was to double check that I hadn't somehow gone into a coma and woken up on April 1 (in a fit state to go out and buy a newspaper). This is, after all, 'Hugh Fearlessly-EatsItAll', known for butchering wildlife on TV and advocating the 'nose-to-tail' style of eating animals. Carnism with integrity, certainly, but not a natural ally for anyone who might object to eating animals at all.

The upshot is, he isn't going fully vegetarian - at least not permanently, he seems now to have done so for the sake of his new show - but he is drastically cutting his meat consumption and advocating that others do the same. My feelings on that subject are similar (i.e. mixed) to my response to Meat-Free Mondays a while back - great if it encourages people to think about the issues involved and possibly go further than eating a bit less meat, but a bit crap if it is pushed too heavily as an end goal.

His latest foray into the world of the thinking carnist is to make a point that many - vegetarians, vegans and omnis - have made before: the arbitrary nature of the distinction between those animals we see as our adored companions and those 'we' (in the loosest possible sense) regard as food.

This is far from a new point. One of my earliest memories of the Vegetarian Society involves a picture of a puppy sitting on a plate, and the legend 'you eat other animals don't you?' More recently animal rights campaigners set up fake 'dog meat' stalls at farmers' markets to highlight the hypocrisy of eating some animals rather than others. In between, there was a mild shitstorm when Nigel Slater printed a dog recipe in the Observer food magazine. (In his 'apology' he again referred to the disjuncture of eating some species but recoiling at the idea of eating others, and also iirc said the recipe would work just as well with a 'nice fluffy bunny'. Charmer.)

Part of me is utterly delighted that this point is being made in a way that nets it the widest possible audience. Another part, however, worries that carnists will get ideas from HFW's words, and investigate the possibilities for dog-eating in the Western world. (They'd have trouble getting it too far, purely because the UK at least has more stringent animal welfare regulations for dogs than for pigs...) Although I agree that there is no difference, I can't see that adding more species to the butchers' counter can be in any way a good plan.

I am, however, curious to see how some of Hugh's more hardcore fans - the ones who are attracted to the ferretting, butchery and nose-to-tail - will take to a series that seemingly requires him to renounce meat for several months...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Hanging out with the omnis

This is one of those subjects that occasionally generates controversy, I'm not always 100% clear why because only at very low moments has it been an issue with me. Nonetheless, because it is subject to much discussion, it probably warrants some coverage here.

I have some very nice vegan friends. Some of them comment here. I also have some very nice friends who aren't vegan, some of whom also comment here, although not to the same extent. I don't use veganism as the sole criteria for whether someone is a decent person or whether I like them. Maybe that's the controversial bit. I have encountered vegans doing the whole grandstanding 'I don't want to hang out with *those people*' thing, and in most cases if you probe a bit it turns out to be just that - grandstanding. They don't like what their friends eat, certainly won't facilitate it (guess what, neither will I), but don't actually boycott 'those people' to the extent they'd have you believe. Then there's the quieter sort of vegan who is unahappy about seeing people eat meat, would prefer if all their friends were vegan, and sometimes avoids events where meat is front and centre. I have a lot of sympathy with that view. However, if you try to tell me to cut off half my friends on that basis - well, I'll respect your opinion and your right to choose your friends on whatever criteria you like, but I'm unlikely to go along with your (obviously equally respectful) suggestion.

The nature of my friendships, vegan and otherwise, aside, the way I see it is that a vegan bubble isn't necessarily the best way to go about things. Sure we can insulate ourselves, only form meaningful relations with other vegans, avoid facing any criticism of our beliefs from anyone we care about, forget that the rest of the world exists. I'm not sure how that helps the animals though. (I'm assuming that if you avoid hanging out with non-vegans you must be vegan for moral reasons, otherwise it would be like me refusing to sit next to someone who was drinking diet soda) Promoting a vegan diet and lifestyle is a pretty good way of helping the animals, and promoting these things to other vegans is a wee bit pointless.

Let's try a quick thought experiment. I'm a philosophy tutor so I rather like those. Say you're a meat-eater (we could push it a bit and say vegetarian, but let's go with what the majority do) and you're on the verge of hearing about veganism for the first time. How keen would you be to adopt a lifestyle exemplified by the work colleague who eats alone in a corner every day and never joins in social activities? With the promise of that person as your only friend? Or would you find it more convincing from someone who is like you in every way other than the whole animal use thing?

The non-vegans in my life get to know a real-life vegan. They get to see that a vegan is as healthy as they are (not making any grand claims there, think I'm about average among my friends), eats tasty food and does, for the most part, the same things they do. (not triathlons or rock-climbing, but you get my point) I'm not kidding myself that all or even most of these people will go vegan. But I like to think they'll get a little less anti-vegan, less likely to be hostile to the next of their friends to go vegan, and less likely to freak out if one if their children starts to link sausages to pigs and act on the knowledge. I think I benefit from the interactions as well - my vegan beliefs are a whole lot stronger now than they were when not dealing with any serious considered criticism.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Making soup in the oven

This is currently one of my favourite things to have when I'm home alone at lunchtime!

-One tin of cannelini or borlotti beans (borlottis have more of their own flavour, cannelinis go mushy which helps the texture)
-One onion, four medium garlic cloves (or both)
-Olive oil - more than you think you'll need
-Two teaspoons of yeast extract dissolved in a coffee mug of hot water (just off the boil is best)

Tip the beans into a roasting tray. Add the chopped onion and/or crushed garlic and stir it in. Cover everything with olive oil and put in a hot-ish oven (200C or thereabouts). Take out after 20 mins or so and add the yeast extract liquid. Put back in the oven for another 20-odd mins. Take out and eat.