Friday 22 November 2013

There are so many ways to be a dogmatic 'ass'hole*

A musician named Grimes' described by some sources (including herself) as a vegan, has caused a bit of a stir by posting a picture of herself holding a tub of icecream and declaring a 'one-day hiatus' from veganism. Suffice to say, this was not a situation in which the non-vegan food was standing between her and starvation, neither was she eating it at gunpoint. It was completely avoidable in all senses of the word. Unsurprisingly, vegans reacted.

Grimes' defence is, well, interesting.

First of all: 'Part of the reason I posted the ben and jerry’s thing is because I like to encourage people towards a type of veganism that is inviting and accepting. For the longest time I was vegan but I just wouldn’t say I was because of the bad reputation of veganism. most of the vegans i know are dogmatic assholes, and it completely turns people off.'

Now I'm no fan of being an arsehole (sorry, going to speak my native language here :p ) and have no illusion that all vegans are saints, but I also suspect that some of the 'dogmatism' going on here is a response to having an acquaintance who proudly proclaims 'hiatuses'  and tries to 'encourage people to towards a type of veganism' that is, to be blunt, not vegan. I can't imagine any other moral decision where it is considered acceptable to go back on what you apparently believe in the name of being 'inviting and accepting'. In fact, I even struggle to think of a remotely plausible example for illustrative purposes, which is usually a dire situation for someone who teaches ethics. Sure, being an arsehole is offputting, but consistency shouldn't be.

I believe more people would be drawn to having more ethical diets if they didn’t feel bullied to do so, or if they felt they were entering a welcoming community.

Sure, some vegans are perfectly capable of bullying, but they're not the majority. To a great extent the community is pretty welcoming to those who don't snap pictures of themselves with nonvegan food to make some faintly ridiculous point. But what really gets me about this statement is the idea that people would be 'drawn to having more ethical diets' if they didn't actually have to be more ethical. Defeating the purpose much?

And then we have this complete doozy: 'My brand of veganism is one wherein if your grandparents have no idea what you are talking about then you eat their beef stew rather than upset or confuse them. or if you really want to have cake with an egg in it on the holidays then you have that rather than just not being a vegan because you don’t want to give up occasionally having something that you love.'

My brand of anti-racism is one wherein if your grandparents have no idea what you are talking about you join right in with their ill-informed prejudices and offensive language rather than upset or confuse them.** My belief in workers' rights encompasses the idea that I can occasionally stick a small child up my chimney if I really want it cleaned the old-fashioned way.*** And why should I give up shitting on my neighbour's lawn every once in a while, as opposed to not being a person who generally respects their neighbours because I don't want to give up occasionally doing something I love?**** Obviously being remotely consistent here would make me a dogmatic arsehole, because there are so many issues on which short-term personal gratification could override a moral stance...


*Sorry, I'm British, it is arse all the way unless in a direct quote
**Sarcasm, for those who have trouble picking it up.
***Sarcasm again.
****Sarcasm for the time being as I like the current neighbours*****
*****Mildly tongue-in-cheek

Friday 18 October 2013

Who is the fowlest of them all?

Oxford Brookes University disciplines students for hanging dead partridges around halls. Since this is a vegan blog, you can pretty much take for granted that I am not that impressed by the behaviour of the students in question. On the other hand, I'm not clear why it is a disciplinary offence given the context. The setting for the offence was a university hall of residence in which the fridges were most likely packed with parts of dead animals, animal secretions and so on. I could hazard a guess that chicken parts feature quite strongly, purely because these are for some reason seen as less of a challenge to cook than other dead animals or parts thereof. (I have no idea why, when I ate meat this was a moot point due to being too young to use the oven or sharp knives.) Given that partridges are in season, making it legal to kill them, I struggle to see the moral distinction between them and the more-usually-consumed birds available in Tesco. (well, it's either a chicken or Pegasus, that's the risk you take when you dabble with these things) I am guessing that the presence of whole, feathered dead birds was considered a nuisance to housemates and cleaning staff, and possibly to passers-by who noticed the birds hanging in windows. But, again, why are people concerned about this? I doubt the majority of the people in a position to be disturbed are vegan or even vegetarian. (and by the way, if you eat commercial eggs you are involved in the killing of birds, even if you are not eating them directly) Are they disturbed by the honesty of a minority of their animal-eating cohorts, the ones who don't buy into the story that meat appears ready-wrapped on the shelf? Maybe they should consider making some changes to their own lives if so.

Monday 30 September 2013

What's this 'we' sh*t?*

'We are all part-time vegans now', says a recent headline. Who exactly is the 'we' here? According to the author, one Barbara J. King,

"Have you enjoyed a salad of greens and fresh veggies for lunch recently? Or a dinner of pasta (made without eggs), mixed with olives and tomatoes? If so, even if you ate cheese or meat or fish on other days, you're a part-time vegan."

So that's the constituency sorted. What I can't get from her article is how, exactly, 'vegan' gets applied to people who 'ate cheese or meat or fish on other days'. It doesn't compute. It reminds me of attempts to convince a very young me that bacon was 'almost vegetarian' because it was cured using some sort of plant-derived substance. (Disclosure: I may have wound up eating the stuff. I was nine, it was mixed in with the vegetables and I wasn't getting any more food that day otherwise. Yay for being an adult with the autonomy to avoid crap like that, and for parents growing out of dishing it.)

King draws excessively from Mark Bittman, someone who combines part-time veganism with advocating certain types of animal products. Bittman, like King, fails on one crucial point - why call it vegan? I drink alcohol once or twice a week. Sometimes I make a conscious point of restricting my intake. There are maybe five days in a week where I am not drinking alcohol. By Bittman's and King's reckoning, I am a part-time teetotaller. I would call myself that, except... wait for it... I am not teetotal, due to the aforementioned consumption (avoidable and usually very deliberate indeed) of alcohol. I could avoid alcohol more than once a week, I could seek out orange juice and mineral water and tonic without gin, I could hold off until 6pm - it wouldn't make me the equivalent of someone who avoids alcohol on moral grounds, would be mortified if they consumed some by accident (brandy in cake, wine in sauce etc) and face a dilemma if some alcoholic food item stood between them and death by starvation.

The part-time vegan strikes me as a new incarnation of the flexitarian. Now, flexitarians I can to some extent cope with. I don't like anyone eating animal products and am not clear why these folks need a special word, but they're not claiming to be something beyond what they are. (I do have a problem with 'flexitarians' who whinge about eating vegan/vegetarian food when that's all that's available, surely the point is to adapt one's diet to convenience, and the idea of a 'flexitarian cookbook' bothers me for some reason, but there you go) The idea of part-time veganism bothers me more, because it's explicitly laying claim to a vegan identity while not in any way fulfilling it. Health-based dietary vegans are one thing - food is the biggest source of animal suffering and they are avoiding contributing to it, even if their reasons aren't ones I'd go for. Part-time vegans don't even do that. Consider the people you know who work part-time - chances are there's a bit of variation in how many hours/days they do each week. By this reckoning someone could call themselves vegan if they ate one vegan meal per week. Although having said that, it's the one meaty meal per week that's the real problem.

*Old and tasteless joke about the Lone Ranger. Google is your friend if you want it in full.

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.