Monday, 3 December 2012

Plum and apple chutney

Two pertinent facts that you might not have known about me: I dislike Christmas shopping as most people know it, and I have a large stack of empty, clean salsa jars looking for a purpose. Homemade chutney struck me as a good solution. You can buy jars in places like Lakeland if you need to, but since you get them free with certain foodstuffs anyway it always strikes me as a bit of a waste.

To make three standard salsa jars of chutney you need:
Six plums
Three apples
One onion
A few handfuls of sultanas
Two or three tablespoons full of dark brown sugar
Enough cider vinegar to just cover the whole lot
A few splashes of balsamic vinegar (optional)

Put the ingredients in a saucepan, heat slowly until the sugar dissolves, bring to boil then simmer for half an hour or so.

If the chutney needs to keep for a while, you might find it useful to reseal the jars. This is easier than it sounds. Just fill the jars with hot (still bubbling if you have the nerve) chutney, screw the lid on tight (with the jar wrapped in a tea towel to protect your hands) and dunk it into a bowl of cold water. The freshness disk should pop back in after a few minutes. This technique also works for pasta sauce. Any that don't pop back in are the ones to keep for yourself and use first.

NB for those who use both non-stick saucepans and a dishwasher - HANDWASH THE PAN. I managed to trash a milk pan once after making jalapenos in it - something in the non-stick/boiling vinegar/dishwasher tablet trilogy causes a destructive reaction that basically rusts the inside of saucepans.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Vegan 'vs' plant-based

Being vegan and being on a plant-based diet have a lot in common. You may be surprised - some people act as if the two are opposed, even possibly enemies. That doesn't have to be the case. They are, however, different, and these differences need to be made clear.

Are mostly motivated by moral concerns relating to animals, although there may be other motivations in there as well.
Prioritise avoidance of animal products
Also avoid animal tested products
Generally build up a lifestyle that excludes these things as far as reasonably possible.
May use other arguments - e.g. health, the environment - to promote veganism but these tend to be what we in the business call adjacent concepts. They help to shape the way veganism progresses, but you could remove them from the equation without the whole thing collapsing.

A plant-based diet:
Is just a diet. People may go beyond this but it isn't intrinsic.
Is frequently motivated by health concerns. Can have a moral element but doesn't have to.
Usually excludes animal products, but this isn't always the main priority. (For example, as the motivation is health-based someone might choose wholemeal bread with honey over white bread without, whereas a vegan acting on moral grounds would suck it up and eat the white or something else.)
Excludes processed food, sugar, certain vegetable oils and refined grains as far as possible - foods that are vegan but not healthy.

The confusion comes when 'vegan' becomes a catch-all term. The strife comes when people call themselves vegan and proudly proclaim their love of honey. More strife comes when vegans don't accept that someone who isn't vegan finding a different name for what they are doing is a good thing. Seriously, we shouldn't complain when someone who isn't vegan and has no wish to be stops calling themselves that.

Personally, I would love to be able to be plant-based as well as vegan. I don't, however, have the willpower. The moral bit I can do, in fact I can cut down on things for health reasons and still be happy, but absolutely cutting out sources of pleasure because I might live a little bit longer isn't going to happen.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Product review - Astonish cleaning paste and dishwasher tabs

I'm not the biggest fan of cleaning, but sometimes you have to. Like when opening the oven sets the fire alarm off, which of course has never happened here ever in some alternate universe. Now, cleaning an oven is, I'm afraid, likely to occasionally require the use of nasty chemicals. That doesn't mean we shouldn't make sure they're vegan nasty chemicals!

Of the 'branded' cleaning products out there, Astonish have the best track record for avoiding animal testing and ingredients. Plus, they are mostly found in discount stores - Savers, Poundstretcher and B&M are just a few examples - at low prices, so nobody can complain that principles cost money on this score.

The first product I tried was the oven and cookware paste. It comes in a blue tub and is sort of beige and gritty. (Keep the lid on when not in use, otherwise it'll dry up) It can get the oven from fire-alarm-starting dirty to clean with relatively little elbow grease. I've also used it occasionally on the stovetop (be careful about scratching) and casserole dish.

This paste has not, however, done any good for the skin on my hands. I can't complain, as nobody is marketing it as a hand exfoliant. Point is, it's probably best to wear gloves when getting up close and personal with this product, and have a decent hand cream around. (See how I didn't say 'to hand'?)

The dishwasher tablets, well - they get the dishes clean. I've been using a different discount brand until now and don't see a whole lot of difference, but I don't see what premium brands could do that would be better, if you see what I mean. Also, the Astonish tabs don't look as much like sweets, so if you have small children around that's something to think about.

Astonish may also score eco-points by virtue of their products being made in the UK. I'd need to know the score on a few other companies before confirming that though.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Douche your mouth out

The cross-contamination issue means more to some vegans than others. Some won't eat on non-vegan premises, some will accept that their food may have touched cheese at some stage, most are somewhere in the middle - direct contact is a problem, but one that can be taken care of through decent kitchen hygiene and separate chopping boards. The significance attached to one's view on this subject also varies from one vegan to another. Unfortunately, some vegans seem to see the issue as a cause to be arsey - and no, it isn't the 'militants' throwing a strop.

The blogger known as Fat Gay Vegan recently questioned a vegetarian cafe regarding whether their many vegan products were fried in the same oil as halloumi, having had a tip-off from a former member of staff. Now, as far as I'm concerned you take some risks going into a mainstream restaurant or cafe and have to take things on trust a little - be prepared to question and explain, and don't be scared to point out if something is 'off', but accept that in a new place you have to either be on the alert or take risks. I like to think, however, that a place which makes the effort to have specifically vegan items on the menu and label them clearly as such should make an equal effort to, well, actually make these things vegan. In particular, if there are a minimal number of dairy-based items around the kitchen, it's a pretty poor show if those get to contaminate everything else. The upshot of FGV's investigation strikes me as a happy one - the cafe realised that their existing arrangement wasn't working, and acquired a separate deep fryer to avoid the risk of harried staff at busy times dunking halloumi in whichever section of the existing one happened to have space.

Unfortunately, one commenter decided that asking these questions made FGV a 'douche'. Delightful. For some reason, not wanting animal products all over your food is unacceptable to some vegans. I can't help wondering whether they'd be happy making their sandwich on the same plate/board that a member of their own family had just been cutting cheese on (by which I mean actually cutting up a dairy product, as opposed to the other meaning of the term 'cutting the cheese'). And if so, why they'd be so averse to eating it themselves.

It has been suggested that asking questions about the vegan-ness of apparently vegan items in cafes, let alone about cross-contamination, might appear overly 'picky' or make veganism seem 'difficult' and less 'fun'. Mylene challenges that assumption here and again here, and I'm inclined to agree with her. Obviously be polite and keep a positive attitude - they may be able to make a vegan option, but if you're rude it might be contaminated in other ways! Eventually you will figure out which places have something decent and which don't, possibly with some trial and error.

On the question of making veganism look 'difficult' - I think it's a mistake to paint it as always being 'easy'. It's pretty easy for me at this stage, with a lot of practice and a knowledge base regarding where to eat in various cities. It isn't necessarily easy for a newbie - hence Vegan Grasshopper - but it will get easier as s/he develops more experience. Not bothering about whether your food is actually vegan is a step up from eating blatantly non-vegan things out of convenience or to be polite, but it isn't an effective or sustainable solution to teething problems.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Erzatsz chilli spread/dip

Occasionally my other half's needs for nice things to put in sandwiches don't tally with expeditions to the sort of places where such things can be got. This is one way our usual stockpile of tinned beans can come in handy! I decided against hummus today because the process of turning chickpeas into paste is annoying - neither the potato masher nor the smoothie blender can deal with them that well, so I have to mash them up with my hands first. Not fun. Kidney beans are a lot softer and hence easier to make spread and dip out of.

1 standard tin red kidney beans
A really tiny red onion (we had an entire crop of onions the size of a large marble - this would be about a quarter of a normal onion!)
Juice of half a lemon
Half a small red pepper
A sprinkling of paprika

Pour the ingredients into a bowl, stir everything together and squish with a potato masher
Put the whole lot in the blender jug and blend slowly, occasionally taking the jug off and shaking it to alternate which of the contents get near the blades.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Confusing the issues

NB: Old post that I started writing in an office hour a few weeks ago and didn't have a chance to get back to. 

Former chef Richard Sandford is 'gardening for survival'. (sorry about the Torygraph link) As in, he believes a home grown plant-based diet will help his remission from cancer. Now, I wish Sandford all the best in his recovery. I know that the effects of chemo can make alternatives seem tempting. I can also testify that, if you are going to recover from any illness, a healthy diet can't hurt. Junk-food-vegan me would have caught freshers' flu and run with it and probably hung onto it all term, while largely-plant-based me has mild sniffles. And of course decisions about medication are personal ones - if Sandford is up for taking the risk that diet alone might not have the desired effect, that's up to him. If it doesn't work, at least the later stages of his life will have been happy. So in short, I have no problem with what he is doing.

I do however have a couple of problems with the article. Come on, you knew it was coming. The first one, the big one, is the use of the word 'vegan'. Dude uses horse muck to grow his veg. Now, I know none of us are 100% pure because that just isn't possible. I know that much commercial veg is grown in manure. But the thing about growing your own is that you have a choice and can avoid these things.

Secondly, Sandford's diet and lifestyle aren't typical of vegans, and I worry that the article could put people off veganism. All veganism requires is abstension from animal products as far as reasonably practical - not being pure plant-based or growing your own. We don't all have the resources Sandford does, which he needs for his lifestyle but which are (I promise) not needed merely to be vegan.

Thirdly, there is a big assumption on Sandford's part that the diet will cure him. Now, I wish him the best, but am suspicious of any major health claims on veganism's behalf. Not because I think it's unhealthy, but because the vegans I know have similar ranges of health - from never ill to some fairly serious conditions - to the non-vegans I know. Most are pretty average. Be a vegan and maintain normal health may not sound like the best slogan, but neither does it play into the hands of anti-vegan types who will throw up examples of extremely unhealthy vegans to try to prove us wrong. The sad fact is, vegans do get ill, not because of dooin it rong but because interaction with humans and other animals and our environment in general sometimes leads to the transfer of illnesses. Painting it as a miracle cure won't help anyone!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Halloween cupcakes

Hello, sorry for the long absence, I've been feeling a lack of blogging mojo for various reasons. Anyway, for halloween this year I thought I'd try making some pumpkin cupcakes. I adapted the following recipe from the PETA cookbook The Compassionate Cook. The main changes were Britishing the measurements, using self-raising flour (anyone know why this isn't used Stateside? *curious*), making cupcakes rather than a whole cake and of course introducing pumpkin into an applesauce cake recipe. I haven't tasted one yet but they seem to have turned out ok. This made 18 cakes - made as a whole cake it's meant to serve 9 to 12.

4oz/110g margarine
5oz apple sauce (I made mine by putting cooked apple through the smoothie blender)
4oz pumpkin puree (same method but the pumpkin needed to cook for way longer, maybe 40mins)
[I don't know how to divide up the gram weight, but the apple and pumpkin together should add up to 252g]
10oz self-raising flour
8oz sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (original recipe called for half this)
1/2 teaspoon ginger (not in original)

Preheat oven to 180C/350F
Melt margarine on the stove or in the microwave
Mix together the flour, sugar and spices
Mix the apple and pumpkin in with the melted margarine and add to the dry ingredients
Pour into cupcake trays and bake for 15-20 minutes.

I used this conversion guide for everything apart from the apple and pumpkin, can't remember where I looked that up.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

On the Care and Feeding of Vegan Vampires

If you have issues with nutritional supplements or (non-graphic) discussion of lady business, this might not be the post for you. If you're curious about iron supplements, read on...

The idea that you can a make hardcore iron supplement out of flowers might sound slightly odd. Floradix, however, aim to do just that. I should admit that I haven't been taking it that long, but have taken it during and in the run-up to a special female time (can you feel the sarcasm dripping from my keyboard in that sentence? It is 'special' in that I have an excuse to lie around and eat chocolate. If only I had the time to do that!) which normally leaves me feeling like your average used dishcloth by this point, especially if I have to (*gasp*) do anything involving the expending of energy.

Floradix claim that their liquid supplement contains a form of iron that is easy to absorb. Some people have a problem absorbing plant-derived iron, and I've heard Floradix touted as a way around this. I normally take tablets - cheap Superdrug ones, and not every day for that matter - but Shark Week evidently calls for something more.

So does it work? Well, I'm not rollerblading through fountains in white jeans or whatever people do in tampon adverts these days. I'm sitting at my desk plodding away at some work at half the normal speed and feeling owie all over. (seriously, smut aside my hands and feet are not reproductive organs, so why do they have to hurt because the carpet's coming up in another department?) I get emo over random things and can't walk past a large object without crashing into it. I do, however, have functional energy levels. I can achieve something workwise, plus cook two meals from scratch (half the battle in health terms) and generally make use of my body and brain rather than lying around in bed all day. And it isn't because the party in my pants was less wild than usual.

I should warn you that some Floradix products contain honey. What I have is Floradix Floravital, which is made without honey - it is explicitly labelled as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. I bought the smallest bottle, about £9 in Holland and Barrett - it doesn't go as far as I'd like for the price, so I may save it for the times when I need it most. People have described it as 'pleasantly flavoured' - I'm not sure I buy into that one. At first it just tastes like apple juice, but the aftertaste is slightly bloody. (Which makes sense, as iron is what gives blood its taste. Don't worry, I know this from sucking my finger when I get papercuts, not from anything more sinister!) This is why my first dose netted it the nickname 'vampire food'...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Tossing the badge

I should preface this by saying that it isn't of any great odds to me whether others call themselves vegan or not. If you are living a vegan life, avoiding animal products and animal-tested products and so on to the best of your ability, then which label you use isn't the main point. Having said that, I still find it interesting why people who for all intents and purposes are vegan choose not to self-define as such. Many are just being realistic about their own ability, temporarily or permanently, to be fully vegan - all they can do is aim for 95% (or less for some) rather than 100. I went through such a phase myself at one point. Some are reflecting a lack of desire to be fully vegan - in particular people who are being 'plant-based' for health reasons and will never want to go beyond the diet. I am delighted when people in that category are reflective enough to not call themselves vegan. Then there are the more complex reasons for avoiding the tag. The experiences of David at Raptitude encapsulate several of these.

David's main point seems to be that the vegan label puts up a barrier between vegans and omnivores.

For most of the last year I felt that divide, not just between me and the omnivores, but the vegetarians too, who abstain from only one kind of animal exploitation. And not just the vegetarians, but the “vegans” who eat fish occasionally, or the ones who eat vegan but wear wool peacoats.
I even felt it between me and other vegans. I was an abolitionist, which basically means zero tolerance for any avoidable use of animals. But on the other side of the fence there were also welfarist vegans, who spent their time campaigning to improve conditions for food animals, encouraging vegetarianism or Meatless Mondays or other “partway” measures that make abolitionists cringe.

He has a point here, but he's aiming at the wrong target. It is difficult to square your knowledge that someone is basically a decent person with the fact that they are doing something in front of you that you find disgusting or morally dubious. That isn't just a vegan/omni divide, it's a divide that affects anyone who is morally opposed to something many people around them are ok with doing in public. I'm not convinced a label makes a huge difference.
In social situations — barbecues, parties and dinners out — people are generally polite and accepting, but they still can’t help but treat me as a special case with my special-case food. They probably can’t quite see me as a full participant. They make it clear that they have absolutely no desire to become a special case themselves, who isn’t “allowed” to do what normal people do. They are usually trying to be kind, but it still creates weirdness on both sides of the wall.

To which I say, dude, you might have the wrong friends. Or they might just need time to adjust and get used to you. Either way, yes you could get around it by dropping the label, but unless you also drop a lot of the practice behind it and start to eat animal products out of convenience or to blend in you will still be doing the things they deem 'weird'. Or of course you could become a recluse or stick to vegan friends. The third alternative is to participate and stay openly vegan. It takes nerve sometimes, sure, but also reduces the barriers more than you think. If you don't like the people concerned, or have serious disgust at seeing what they are eating, then sure you should stay away. But, put it this way, it does veganism no harm if omnis see someone who is very much like them, part of things, able to eat something decent in a range of places (this is mostly true for me and I do not live in the capital of alternative lifestyles!) - and is vegan. They may go vegan themselves. Or they may just be less daunted when one of their children tries it.

Now it’s clear to me that it’s the label that’s the problem. Not the labeling of food, or shoes, but of people. I think it creates animosity on both sides, it defines the wall itself, and that prevents that wall from moving much. It seems that generally, vegans love their label, and love to deny it to non-vegans. If you were to tell a group of vegans that you’re a vegan who enjoys a tiny cube of cheese once every leap year they’ll say, “Oh so you’re not vegan then.” And technically they’re right.

Technically, they are. But technically the person making that claim is being provocative or what we in the business call 'a dick'. I don't take any enjoyment in telling such a person they are not a vegan, that the 99% good they do certainly counts but by the same token so does the 1% harm. Some vegans do. Some even do so unprovoked, looking for opportunities, I don't doubt that. But I do doubt that it is the majority. I am still not clear why there is a 'wall' here, except between those who can dialogue without reverting to the school playground and those who cannot.

Then we get onto David's own exceptions, less rigid eating patterns, and I begin to suspect that he is in the category who would annoy vegans more by self-defining as vegan than by refraining from doing so. It isn't always there, background or foreground, but it often is.

The single notion of “no more ice cream, ever” is, I’m sure, an utter dealbreaker for the majority of people.

Good thing products such as Swedish Glace exist then...

Between my abolitionist days and today, the difference in the volume of animal products I consume is pretty small. A few more of my dollars do go to paying people for exploting animals. These changes may represent the difference between say, 99.8% of my total buying power, and 99%. (Despite what some vegans may tell you, it is unlikely anybody is able to live 100% vegan, but you can get really close.)

Here we agree, although it is a case of drawing different conclusions from the same premises. His - like those of a certain website that was popular last year - seem to be that 100% is impossible so we should aim for 98 or 99. I'm not sure of the logic of that. I often make task lists for the day, week etc and goal lists for a month, semester or year. I used to make these short and simple on the basis that I needed to be 'realistic' about what I could achieve. I felt totally shite if I ever fell short. Now I make them long and ambitious, and am happy if I achieve most of what is on there. My point is, if you aim for 100% you'll often end up somewhere around the high nineties by virtue of things that can't be avoided or which are genuine accidents. 

But if my more relaxed, undogmatic lifestyle convinces even one person that they could live without animal products, even 50% of the time, I’ve already prevented more many times more harm than I’ve caused.

But it doesn't convince people of that, because you aren't living without animal products. If you make exceptions, you're likely to be doing this around the omnis in your life. All they see is another person eating cheese and blustering about why they don't do so the rest of the week. 

Think about it - if you see a friend taking a 'relaxed and undogmatic' approach to adultery or petty theft would it convince you to go any way towards not lying, cheating or stealing? 

In short, David, you did not hand in your v-card by ceasing to call yourself a vegan. You rejected it by ceasing to be a vegan, i.e. by making regular exceptions. You certainly didn't have it taken from you, as you might like to think...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Shooting and sh*tting

Ok, I'm already starting to dread the google hits from this post's title. Nevermind. There's been a meme doing the rounds lately featuring a cow in a patch of grass. I gather the starting-point for this was a meat-eater using the caption 'my food shits on your food.' So far, so childish. I can brush it off. I am less impressed still by the response by a vegetarian or vegan (I don't know who made it to start with) featuring the same picture and the caption 'your food shits on its food.' Now, I can understand the desire to retaliate, but I don't like this. Firstly, why are we still defining a cow as someone's food? I thought the point of being vegan was to move on from that view of animals. Secondly, what Roger calls the 'it parade' is coming into play here. What possible benefit is there in unnecessarily defining a living creature as an it? Anyway, just had to get that out there. The other bovine-related news this week involves a TV documentary in which baby calves were seen being shot. Roger, who I linked above, brought this bit of coverage to my attention. (Sorry for the Daily Heil article, I'm tempted to install the firefox app that diverts to pictures of kittens) I agree with a lot of what the author has to say here. If people are going to eat animal products they should be prepared to get up close and personal with where these things come from, and for that matter to eat the 'yucky' bits. Suffice it to say, however, there's a 'but' involved. The author describes how 'the animal rights brigade' put an end to the export of live calves for confinement in veal crates. To be fair, he isn't entirely critical and accepts valid welfare-based arguments for why this is a good thing. Then he continues: 'Where the campaigners were wrong was in failing to establish an alternative destination for the British calves.' Right. Now I thought there was a fair bit of effort on that front. I admit that veganism hasn't been at the forefront of live exports campaigns. FYI I think it probably should be. Why shouldn't people who object to cute calves or fluffy sheep being trucked through their main street be exposed to arguments explaining that other animals deserve the same consideration and that farming and slaughter in the UK aren't a barrel of laughs? But that's a bit of a side issue here. The point is, veganism got a whole lot more coverage out of the debate around calf exports than from any other welfare campaign of that era. Because it was calves, and the dairy industry was directly involved, it provided a lot more impetus for people to go vegan rather than just vegetarian. I was incidentally one of the vegetarians inspired to go further at that point. As far as I'm concerned, removing the demand for meat and dairy (and subsequently for the breeding of calves) is a pretty good alternative to breeding animals for the sake of killing them...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

If you're worried about conservation then make more effort to conserve the creatures in your care

I don't blog much about general animal rights issues, but this article annoyed me sufficiently to change my policy for the morning. The tl:dr of it is that zoos and aquariums are getting into hosting the sort of events that you wouldn't think anyone with two brain cells to rub together would allow near wild animals. When I was younger and working on circus campaigns, I got quite into reading the work of David Taylor, an exotic animal vet* who for many years based his practice at the (thankfully now defunct) Belle Vue zoo in Manchester. I have many, many disagreements with Dr Taylor which boil down to animal rights vs animal welfare perspectives - I'm sure everyone knows that debate. I believe in getting rid of zoos and circuses, he doesn't. Nonetheless, there were times when I was sympathetic to his perspective, even as a young person without many nuances in my thinking who had gone in prepared to dislike him. One such occasion was when he talked about the firework display held adjacent to the zoo each year - the zoo and theme park had the same owners, which could have been the local authority, I don't have the book here to check, anyway the people who actually worked day-to-day with the animals thought that letting fireworks off next door was a truly shite idea but they didn't have any choice in the matter. This makes it incredibly frustrating that the actual zoo management are encouraging these things - for fucks sake, that is not conservation, anyone who has lived with domestic cats and dogs knows that certain things don't mix. Either the concern for conservation or the pretence that this is the objective is going down. The only bright spot I can see is that it might help the public see through the pretence... *The animals were exotic, he tried to be

Monday, 21 May 2012

Down the pub!

No, that is not where I have been when on haitus from blogging. Well, not all the time. Anyway, the Guardian's Word of Mouth blog currently features this post, posing the question "Do you find the idea of a pub that serves only vegetarian food attractive or off-putting?" If you know me at all, you know my answer. You probably even guess that I might prefer a vegan one - Glasgow has several bars that are at least most of the way there, so it's doable. But (and you knew there'd be one, right?) I'm not convinced vegetarians - by which I mean ova-lacto vegetarians who eat anything not directly derived from meat - are a sufficient target market. They can after all get fed pretty easily in the UK. This means two things. 1) There have to be decent vegan options. That should go without saying, but in my experiences of vegetarian eateries it hasn't always been the case. (usually, but not always) 2) It has to be somewhere meat-eaters would also go. This means the food has to be up to scratch. You might at this point be rolling your eyes at the idea of accommodating people who aren't vegan. Fix your eyes back in place, though, and consider this - new vegans don't come out of nowhere, and they don't just come from existing vegans having sex. (Not disparaging those who do) Demystifying veganism is vital to encouraging people to go vegan. Tasty, readily available food in a good atmosphere strikes me as a good step here. Unfortunately either the spin of the article or the pubs mentioned in it don't seem that great. I would find the middle of Smithfield Market an offputting location, for a start, and the food sounds a bit uninspiring - a jacket potato sounds more like the sort of thing I'd eat at a pinch in the canteen at work rather than a meal I'd make an effort to go out for. Not great for their business, or our image. That's sad, because there are many great vegetarian and vegan pubs around! For example
Stereo in Glasgow (more a bar than a pub, but you get the idea)
The Red Lion in Great Bricett, Suffolk - I haven't been there personally but the reviews speak for themselves.
The Gardeners Arms in Jericho, Oxford - I've been here loads of times and always liked the food and the atmosphere. (There are two pubs with the same name in Jericho though, make sure you head for Plantation Road)
The George in Brighton. I went in there a few years ago while on holiday and liked it then. It has been through a few upheavals, and there were stories going around that it had dropped in quality and started to serve meat. The menu they have now seems to be back to vegetarian with several things that appear vegan (although the labelling seems a bit crap).

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Keep death out of our street?

Portsmouth residents protest 'The Southern Co-operative’s plan to convert its existing funeralcare offices opposite The Tangier pub into a chapel of rest where bodies can be viewed and stored before funerals.'

Now, your opinions may vary on the planning application. Personally, it wouldn't bother me. In my time I've a) lived in close enough proximity to such places to know that you don't actually see all that much, b) considered at least once applying for a job in one when unemployed and c) lived opposite a noisy pub, next to a mosque that was a total parking disaster, and around the corner from a butchers where the morning delivery coincided with me being at the bus stop several times a week. In other words, I've seen and heard a whole lot worse.

You may be wondering why a vegan blog is discussing planning issues and dead people. Well, the slogan the protesters are using is ‘Stop dead bodies coming to Tangier Road’ - and, commenters point out, early on in proceedings one of these delightful missives was displayed by a neighbouring butcher. Can you see where this is going? I bet you can.

The commenters on the article - only one of whom, incidentally, acknowledges that they are a vegetarian - make quite a lot of this, and I have to say I agree. Personally, having avoided eating animals for a couple of decades, I am less bothered by seeing a stranger's coffin than by the array of animal parts on display for human consumption. And these bother me a whole lot less than seeing trucks full of live animals going who-knows-where (nowhere nice, is the answer). It isn't because I care less about humans than about other species - the issue is the difference in context.

Apparently the butcher has now removed the sign - maybe worried about people making the connection?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Why would you want to watch that?

If I recall correctly, the question was first asked of me (in a vegan/AR context rather than a more general one) when I expressed interest in seeing the slightly infamous documentary involving interaction between Peter Singer and Tipu Aziz. It seemed that certain acquaintances thought even watching the show constituted letting the side down. I think my reasons at the time were along the following lines:
-To see for myself whether Singer does in fact capitulate and express pro-vivisection sentiments. (admittedly I have a fairly healthy level of scepticism regarding the editing process, so wouldn't be 100% convinced unless he had made a very clear statement) Dude went from hero to hate figure at nought to sixty on the basis of publicity before the show aired - personally I have never seen him as either, but to make any sort of judgement I need to know what someone has actually said or done rather than what someone else claims they said or did, if that makes sense.
-To make up my own mind about Singer's words and actions.
-To be informed about what the opposition, in this case Tipu Aziz, was saying.
-To reinforce my own beliefs by testing their strength and locating the weak points that need fixing. Not a fan of dead dogmas over here.

I still apply that rationale to what I read. (I don't currently have a TV, so no idea what's going on in that arena) It's why I often read the blogs of anti-vegans and born-again ex-vegans, even though they often exasperate me. I want to know what the opposition is, what I'm up against. I might take the piss sometimes, but I try to treat these folks like worthy opponents* as far as possible. I intend at some point to read Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth, in among a reading list composed of different vegan perspectives, because I want to know what she is saying. At the moment I am open to any of the new wave of vegan-hater types brushing me off with 'read Lierre' and using that as an excuse to not engage. It's a gap in my armour. Meanwhile, I feel that I am strong enough not to be 'converted' by her, so why should I be afraid to read it?

I believe that many people are afraid to read or otherwise encounter views that challenge their own. Why? Is it a betrayal of your own camp to know how the other side put their views? Are your own views so weak that they collapse when being challenged? I would hope not.

*99% of my students never want to hear those words emerge from my mouth or pen again for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately I will continue to deploy the phrase until 100% learn that brushing off the opposition without engaging will lose them marks. That could take the rest of my working life...

Monday, 23 January 2012

Book review - Jeffrey Masson, When Elephants Weep

I've been curious about Jeffrey Masson for a while now, but never really had the time to read his books. Come to think of it, this one has been sitting around on my shelves for a while now. It wasn't on the list, but probably should have been since (unlike many of the entries) it was already in the house.

Anyway, When Elephants Weep focuses on the emotional lives of animals. It has long been a subject for debate whether animals have emotional lives to begin with, and Masson gathers together evidence (observational and admittedly sometimes anecdotal) to argue this point. Generally he does so convincingly. I may of course be biased, since I see no reason why animals wouldn't have emotions of some description - and certainly no reason for humans to dispute this, other than those who wish to somehow exploit animals.

The cases Masson describes are interesting, but of greater interest to me was what many of these stories say about the humans involved, including a number of laboratory experimenters and several who work with animals in settings such as circuses and dolphinaria. Masson's focus is on the animals for most of his book - as it should be, since the issue of animal emotion is the controversial point here - but my predominant thought much of the time was 'yes, I can guess what's going through the animal's mind, but what the f*** is the human thinking?'. The reasons some people have for arguing against animal emotions are certainly highlighted loud and clear.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hot stuff

I had a bit of time spare to play around in the kitchen today, and I used it to try making my own jalapenos. I love those things, but they are a bit pricey. Also, homemade ones are just peppers and vinegar, so no random additives.

I'm not giving any specific quantities here, the only measure is having a glass jar to hand that will hold the quantity of peppers you have plus sufficient vinegar to cover them. You can buy glass jars from Lakeland, but why bother when you get washable ones free with so many foodstuffs?

Here's the technique I used, which seems so far to have worked:
Cut the peppers into rings and sprinkle them with salt. Leave for half an hour or so (about the time it takes to have a cup of tea - might not need that long but I was reading something engrossing).
Use your glass jar to measure the vinegar (in this case white wine vinegar) into a saucepan. Don't fill it up to the top, you need to allow room for displacement. (Although if Archimedes had been bathing in this stuff he would not have been shouting 'Eureka', unless it has a secret meaning along the line of 'my balls are on fire!')
Heat the vinegar. Add the peppers. Bring to the boil. Simmer for half an hour or so. Don't inhale the contents!
Allow to cool before putting in the jar. Keep in the fridge.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Animal, vegetable, mineral, priorities!

Sometimes I wake up with the germ of a blog post, but not enough in itself to get me writing that morning. Today, for some reason, the animal rights and environment dichotomy (whether real or imagined) was on my mind, but not in any really formed way.

Then Mylene linked to this post of Vincent G's, with which (you may be unsurprised and underwhelmed to hear) I agree with a fair amount.

I have no problem, incidentally, with caring about the environment nor with acting on that concern. I try to do both as far as possible - recycling, repurposing, not owning a car, the million and one other things that I suspect most people reading this also do. That's cool. I neither have nor want a claim on being better than anyone else, except maybe Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. I also suspect, by the way, that being vegan *might* make some intrinsic contribution to lowering my carbon footprint, but the science there isn't 100% conclusive and I am not a climate scientist anyway, so my perspective on the subject isn't based on that. Anyway, if you're an environmentalist who hasn't ranted at any animal rights activists lately, you can probably assume that my issue isn't with you.

My problem is with those who explicitly posit it as a conflict. It doesn't have to be. An animal rights activist can certainly have an eco-unfriendly lifestyle without being too contradictory to his or her core beliefs, but the ones I know are certainly no worse than the bulk of the population. And sure, energy directed at animal rights is not being directed at environmental causes. My answer is, so what?

My concern for the environment is based on a deeper concern for the sentient beings inhabiting it, who need as unpolluted an ecosystem as possible to survive. This means that when I have the time, energy and other relevant resources to be involved in activism, I'm generally going to focus it on said sentient beings, of my own and other species. If animal testing is required for 'environmental' reasons, I'm likely to call shennanigans. I am quite prepared to use a vehicle to get to a protest or sabotage a hunt, not to mention electricity and paper to promote certain ideas. Eco-friendly animal agriculture cuts very little ice with me. I don't see leather and fur as particularly 'natural', or maybe they are in the sense that eating one's enemies might be. Furthermore, if you're an environmentalist who thinks that culling animals or confining them for anyone's benefit but their own (e.g. for necessary medical treatment) is what the planet needs, sorry but I disagree.

I hope, at least, that it is possible to be for animals, people and the environment without too many contradictions...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

An example of what I've been ranting about for years

Vegansaurus highlights an obnoxious advert by Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine. Now, I like PCRM, in general. I have a few reservations about any group promoting veganism on health grounds, but can appreciate one that doesn't actually push it as a miracle cure/source of immortality. Likewise, they've always been a bit too anti-dietary fats for my taste (even if we ignored the health benefits of, say, olive or coconut oil, emphasising this angle would lead to a fairly joyless diet for many of us, which is of course a brilliant way of putting people off being vegan), but on the other hand I haven't seen any noticeable fat-shaming from them. Until now.

When I started this blog back in 2008, part of my motivation was to challenge the seemingly uncritical delight taken by vegans in sources such as the Skinny Bitch franchise and Gillian McKeith. (Since getting vocal on the subject, I have come across more critics, and GMK in particular has lost a lot of her popularity after eating insects on TV.) I've ranted about discussed related topics many times since then. I'm sure some people wonder why I give so much energy to this topic. Certainly, tofu-world friends* have asked why it bothers me so much. After all, if selling people a diet plan encourages them to go vegan, what's the problem?

I'll tell you what the problem is. VEGANISM ISN'T ABOUT GETTING SKINNY. Some people, for better or worse, experience that as a side-effect of going vegan. Others don't. Some put on weight. Some just stay the same, wherever they started from. And if you want to promote veganism for animal rights reasons, equating veganism with perfect health is a bit dodgy. A vegan diet is no more automatically healthy than an omni one - any diet takes a bit of work to get the right nutrients. Equating skinny with healthy is quite frankly dangerous - not everyone is designed that way. And equating veganism with the aesthetic side of skinniness? Just, no. As much as anything, if someone cares about 'getting skinny' over all else, do you really think they'll stay vegan if the weight doesn't fall off? If they get skinny and get sick, meanwhile, veganism will be blamed. This is how some of the more prominent ex-vegans seem to have come to be that way.

And the advert in question, well, it seems to be trading purely on the idea that fat is a Bad Thing aesthetically - that it looks gross, for a start, and furthermore is a sign that you must have been killing baby calves to keep yourself in such disgusting shape. A vegan, by this reckoning, absolutely cannot look like that. Sadly, many unskinny vegans (myself included) tend to have this strange thing called dignity that prevents us dropping trou/getting topless at PCRM HQ - possibly alongside a couple of the skinny omnis/lacto-vegs I know - and challenging the people behind the advert to spot the difference.

I'm with Fuck Yeah Fat Vegans on this one...

*Veganising 'meatworld', internet-obsessive speak for real life

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Things to read and do

I'm not doing new years resolutions here, but I do like a nice challenge, especially one that gives me something to blog about. And since I like books, that might as well be the theme. So here goes! NB each list will probably be added to as I remember other books I either have or want.

Re-read existing vegan/vegetarian/animal rights books
Specifically reread properly and blog. Many of my books are currently in crates while we get ready to move house, so may have to wait.
  • Peter Singer, Animal Liberation
  • Peter Singer and Jim Mason, Eating
  • Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (Not a vegan book, but it certainly challenges meat culture)

    Books I want to read
    These include different perspectives on veganism and at least one anti-vegan book - never let it be said that I let my critical thinking skills go blunt! Might have to wait until I can afford or borrow copies.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer Eating Animals This has had mixed reviews ranging from 'most inspirational book EVAH' to 'TEH EVUL INDUSTRY SHILL', so I want to make up my own mind about it.
  • Gary Francione, Rain Without Thunder This is some vegans' bible and a hate figure for others, so again I want to make up my own mind.
  • Lierre Keith, The Vegetarian Myth Because this is what ex-vegans throw at anyone who challenge them, so if I can say I have read the bloody thing it will get that bit of awkwardness out of the way.
  • Melanie Joy, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows - I can understand the critisms of her general concept of 'carnism' - on the other hand, as I have spent the last few years studying the construction of ideologies, I still find it intriguing enough to want a closer look.

    Vegan and vegetarian cookbooks I have and want to make more use of
    They occupy space in my kitchen, and normally they get ignored unless I want inspiration for something in particular. I'm thinking I should vary our diet a bit more by consulting them more than the current rate of twice a year...
  • Isa Chandra Moskowitz (/Terry Hope Romero?) Vegan With A Vengeance
  • Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard The Garden of Vegan
  • Simon Hopkinson The Vegetarian Option (This one actually belongs to my significant other, I'd be polite to say that veganising the recipies will be a challenge, but I might as well take it up!)
  • Linda McCartney Linda's Home Cooking (or similar title, I'm not fishing it out to check) - I seem to remember that this involved a fair few processed things (burgers and sausages - early product placement?!?) rather than basic ingredients, but worth a try. I may try it with Fry's products in some cases rather than Linda's own, since so few of the latter are vegan. (thankfully the exceptions are sausages, sausage rolls and pies, my favourites...)
    I'm sure there are other cookbooks knocking around the house, but none are particularly memorable - I'll make use of them in the new place as they emerge.

    Suggestions for more reading are welcome, and if you have favourite recipes in the books I mentioned let me know...
  • Monday, 9 January 2012

    That old chestnut

    I bought some chestnuts before Christmas, meaning to roast them, but was then too busy to actually do that. Luckily many of them were still edible by today! I was home alone for lunch, so this just makes one bowl. It was quite quick to make today, but involved overnight soaking.

    -1 or 2 tsp yeast extract
    -About three quarters of a small net of chestnuts, or buy a tin of pre-peeled ones if this is what you're setting out to make.
    -An onion
    -Three medium cloves of garlic
    -Olive oil
    -Splash of balsamic vinegar

    Peel the chestnuts. My preferred technique is to stick a knife into the middle of the shell and slowly bring the handle down towards you, then waggle the blade about to seperate the two halves. Try to get as much of the inner husk off as possible.

    Mix the yeast extract with hot water and soak the chestnuts in it overnight.

    The next day:
    -Put a decent amount of olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan and heat up
    -Chop the onion, crush the garlic, tip into the oil
    -Scoop the chestnuts out of the stock with a slotted spoon or fork (depending on the size of your container) and drop into the oil.
    -Stir around a bit
    -Add the stock and a bit more water if necessary
    -Bring to the boil then turn down and leave to simmer for half an hour

    Sunday, 8 January 2012

    Dispatches from my news feed

    Quite by coincidence, my morning trawl of facebook turned up two interesting posts on approaches to vegan advocacy.

    First, Mylene linked to a post by Vincent Guihan on the importance of humour. Sample: If you just glower and make fists in your pockets, you won't have a chance to explain your views. If you start shouting incoherently and flip the table (as I often do), people will wonder whether you are okay. If all you do is make cutting remarks that make people feel stupid, it just discourages someone from thinking critically about their choices.And really, it's the last that makes or breaks vegan education. I agree totally, as anyone who has read my blog for a while might gather. It is tempting to make fists and flip tables, but probably not the best strategy.

    Then Cat, who as far as I know doesn't blog (which is incidentally a great pity), linked to this post at The Fivefold Path on the issue of vegan preachiness. Specifically, those vegans (and vegetarians) who make a point of declaring their non-preachiness to the point that they can sometimes appear to be preachy about that. This really reasonated with me, because while I have no idea if the rest of you perceive me as 'militant' or 'preachy' I often suspect myself of being on that side of whatever line is drawn - purely because the people who draw the lines seem to conflate talking about or arguing for veganism with being preachy, by definition. And somehow it feels worse when a vegetarian or vegan says it. I am all for respecting differences of opinion, incidentally. I'm with JS Mill on this one, a dead dogma is neither use nor ornament. I spend a lot of my working life convincing young people that just because someone disagrees with them on a moral issue it doesn't mean that person is the devil. That said, you don't need to respect your opponents *more* than those who are nominally on the wrong side, and all accusations of preachiness do is shut down debate.