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.