Archive for food

If it wasn’t for those pesco-vegetarians…

Although I have just found the French word for vegan, I can’t convince myself it is going to be very useful. Just mentioning the word for vegetarian draws the most quizzical expressions. I think it would be better received if I were to say I lived on Mars. It would be less alien to the French psyche than to claim I didn’t eat animals.

I recently decided to try my luck in a place that served sushi. I should not have bothered! The shopkeeper tried to convince me that she had plates of vegetarian sushi, but pointed at sushi with salmon. I called her on this, saying that I could see some salmon.

“Yes,” she told me, “that’s not meat.” Double-take time for me. Eventually I ordered some plain noodles and boiled vegetables, using the chilli sauce on the table to add some flavour.

As I reflected on this at my leisure, I realized who was really to blame. It’s not, as you might think, the beleaguered shopkeepers who have to deal with such unconventional and demanding customers. No. It’s those people. You know the ones. The vegetarians who eat fish. I have no beef with them over their chosen diet, but why did they have to go and pollute a nice simple concept like vegetarianism with eating fish? It’s no wonder the food service industries in the Western world are so confused by the idea.

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A vegan Christian?

My last blog post was about me stereotyping other vegans. As if to teach me a lesson, I was stereotyped right back today. Having accepted the hospitality of some Korean Christians, I mentioned that I was a vegan. In a not-wholly-surprising turn of events, there was no vegan option at their lunch. After all, they didn’t know I was coming.

They had plenty of vegetables, but these had all been mixed up with meat to make a sandwich filling, so I ended up eating just bread and water. I didn’t mind at all, though I felt a bit bad for the extremely apologetic Korean lady who explained the situation. I told her it was good preparation for any future prison time I might experience.

Several people asked what the matter was, and the pastor looked visibly shaken to see I was eating such plain food. One very interesting young Korean man asked what my religion was. When I told him I was a Christian, he nearly fell out of his seat. “If you are a Christian, how come you don’t eat meat?”

This mirrors my experiences back in Sheffield. I have attended a number of events hosted by charities, and the refreshments have always included vegetarian and vegan options. When I attend the welcome time before my church service, I invariably end up having just water because everything has eggs, milk or butter. There are a couple of exceptions: I brought a vegan cake once, and someone brought some crisps. Since I was serving the food on that occasion, I didn’t eat any of either. This isn’t a problem—I don’t go to church to eat; however, it does reinforce my opinion that Christians don’t expect anyone else in church to be a vegan.

Perhaps this passage has something to do with it.

On the whole, I don’t think it is the Christians who are the exception here, so much as the charities. I think veganism is still quite rare, and most people just can’t fathom it. Today a homeless man asked me for money to buy food. I was munching on a corncob, and he grimaced at it, saying, “I can’t eat sweetcorn—it just doesn’t taste of anything.” And that was before I told him it was raw. Apparently good vegan food is scorned even by the destitute beggar in this country.

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Vegan surprise

I have come to take some things about vegans for granted. For example, wherever two or more of them are gathered will be some sort of New Age mysticism or Oriental religion. It’s hard to find a vegan café or wholefoods shop without adverts for Yoga, Meditation, Spirit Healing, Aura Massage, and other arcane groups or classes . What is it that binds all these things together with veganism? Above all, I feel, it is the decision to move away from the consumer society and the norms of life in a modern Western democracy.

It is ironic then that same market principles should apply. First of all, many of these advertisers have chosen these fora because they are targetting a particular niche—the very people who have come there because of their objections to consumerism. However, this is a minor point. The advertisers are genuinely offering services, some free and mostly ethical in their intentions.

Of much greater concern is the marketing of harmful products as food to vegans. Allow me to illustrate.

If the intent is genuinely to provide food suitable for vegans and thereby make a living, then the products would be made from natural, wholesome ingredients. A fantastic example is Booja Booja’s Stuff in a Tub ice cream alternative. I just tried the vanilla version yesterday and it was delicious. The ingredients: water, agave syrup, cashew nuts, vanilla oil. That’s all! Compare this to the ingredient list on a luxury ice cream from a supermarket. Well done, Booja Booja! Go to the top of the class, you swots.

If the intent is to make money by selling things vegans will eat, then the products will be made from the cheapest non-animal ingredients available, even, it seems, if those things are not real food. An example is Tofutti’s Creamy Smooth cream cheese alternative. The second ingredient is “partially hydrogenated soybean oil”—a trans fat. The process of hydrogenation reduces the melting point of oils, changing the texture and increasing the shelf life. Sadly, it also renders them of little nutritional value, and increases the consumer’s chances of contracting coronary heart disease. Sainsbury, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, and even Asda have all made moves to remove trans fats from their shelves. The City of New York has banned trans fats. Why are vegans buying and eating it? Why are supposedly ethical retailers selling it?

I contacted Tofutti to ask about their product range. They said only two of their products use PHO (partially hydrogenated oil). They even produce a PHO-free version of the cream cheese, but this is only available in health food stores (try Holland & Barrett).

So Tofutti know how to make cream cheese without this slow-acting poison, but only as a “health food”? What are all the other products—sickness foods? The very concept of having a special shop for foods that don’t kill you is outrageous.

So, this was my rude awakening. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the general preponderance of good and healthy foods on offer. But I am new to this whole vegan thing. What’s everyone else’s excuse? Come on, you vegans—start living up to my stereotypical expectations of you! Stop buying this thing that isn’t even food, and complain to the people who stock it. And as for you ethical food retailers, you can get your acts together too.

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Farewell to fussy friends

For a long time I have idly wondered about writing The Fussy Friends Cookbook, to help people when entertaining those with dietary restrictions.  I’ve certainly had enough experience.  For someone who eats most foods it takes a conscious effort to discover and satisfy the requirements of people who do not.  I have catered to Hindus, Muslims, vegetarians, pescetarians and teetotallers.  I have even found some unusal quirks:

“I won’t eat chicken unless it is breast meat and I can cut it up myself.”

“I won’t eat beef that isn’t from New Zealand.”

“I don’t like vegetables when they’re cooked.”

“I won’t eat cheese if it has been melted.”

“I won’t eat Waitrose Caesar Salad unless I am at John’s house.”

Please don’t think I am complaining.  Most of these “fussy” friends would quite happily have put up with whatever I made, but they would have picked out the things they didn’t like and left them on the side of the plate.  I hate that.  It was far better then that I should exercise my creativity in preparing a meal that suited all the attendant palates.  The culinary contortions required would certainly have made an interesting writing project.

So why farewell?  I did leave these friends behind when I left Hampshire, but it is not the friends to whom I bid farewell, but the book idea.  It’s true that I entertain far less now than I did in Hampshire, at least until I make more friends in Sheffield.  The more compelling reason though is that I have chosen to surpass them all in fussiness, and can no longer describe my friends as fussy without provoking cries of “Pot!” and “Kettle!”  I have decided not to eat meat or dairy products.

I had been fasting for a few days and was slowly re-introducing food. This is best done by starting with juices, then progressing to fruits and vegetables. The complexity of the foods consumed is to be increased gradually, to give the digestive system time to recover. As I was doing this, it suddenly occurred to me that I need not re-introduce meat, milk, coffee, or tea to my diet at all. I am still trying this out now, one month later. Since this diet aligned closely with a vegan diet, I naturally gravitated to that. This includes cutting out anything made using animal byproducts as well. In some countries, even white sugar is made using animal bits! Probably the hardest things to refrain from were cheese and coffee. One because it is so tasty and the other because I had become reliant on it to stay awake!

Just to be clear, here are some things I don’t eat: meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, honey, coffee, tea, or anything made from them.  I should confess that I am not restricting my diet out of a sense of compassion.  Here are some of my reasons:

Modern livestock farming methods are unhealthy.

The BSE crisis revealed that it had become standard practice to feed sheep’s brains to cows.  That should have been enough to make every one of us suspicious.  Even a child would know better, surely?  A slow and stupid child, at that.  Admittedly some cows are reared as vegetarians, but a walk through a pasture will reveal that something is very wrong with the digestive systems of many cows.  No healthy animal should leave long trails of slurry-like dung.  Look at animals in the wild, or domestic animals that are well looked after.  Even the ones that eat meat have healthier looking stools.  Most herbivores have dung that is hardly offensive at all, and I am sure cows should not be any different.

BSE aside, the number of other recent scares that suggest malpractice in animal husbandry is overwhelming.  This includes diseases arising from unhygienic farming and slaughtering practices, such as blue tongue, foot and mouth, bird flu, and salmonella.  A scarier story still reveals the well researched but previously little publicized dangers of recombinant bovine growth hormone.

How many other stories are yet to be told of ways in which farming has led—and has yet to lead—to terrible diseases of animals and humans.

Meat is an inefficient way of providing energy to humans.

More and more authors are now propounding the fairly obvious point that eating grain-fed animals is considerably less efficient that consuming that same grain ourselves.  The per capita grain consumption of the US is four times that of India, due largely to the preponderance of vegetarians in India.  This year, grain shortages are evident, and grain prices are climbing.  This includes wheat, rice, and maize.  This hardly affects the affluent middle classes in the West, but it can make the difference between life and death for much of the world’s population.  In his blog, George Monbiot points out that all this is in a year of record harvests; what will happen when climate change—as it inevitably will—causes harvests to fail?

Water as a resource is becoming more and more scarce.  Many countries are able to offset their water shortages by importing water-intensive products.  As such, the virtual water content of food items is a useful indicator of their relative efficiency.  Although the plants vary quite a lot, nothing comes close to the meat and dairy products:

  • 15,500 litres of water for 1 kg of beef
  • 5,000 litres of water for 1 kg of cheese
  • 3,900 litres of water for 1 kg of chicken
  • 1,300 litres of water for 1 kg of wheat

It is clear that in a world without enough water for drinking and agriculture, eating meat is just plain greedy.

Some of these foods are just addictive.

You might think that the astonishingly high virtual water content for coffee—140 litres for just one cup—prompted me to give that up too.  It played a part.  It was a New Scientist cover story mentioning coffee that first made me think in these terms.  However, the occasional cup of coffee could probably be excused.  I used to drink 2–8 cups of coffee every day.  When I stopped drinking coffee, the initial withdrawal symptoms lasted less than a week.  It took more than a month before I was able to go a whole day without feeling drowsy.  It is only on reflection that I realized how dependent I had become.

Meat falls into a similar category for me.  I think fried chicken is probably the best example.  When I was used to eating it, it tasted really good.  Just seeing it would make me want some, and it was always easy to eat another piece.  Avoiding intense, rich foods like meat, cheese and milk chocolate (plain chocolate is nice but far less enticing) is much, much healthier for me.

Now that I have adjusted my diet, I find my tastes have changed.  I don’t crave unhealthy foods the way I used to, and I appreciate simpler foods much more.  (Have you ever tried raw corn cobs?)  I still eat a lot and don’t exercise enough, but it’s a start along the road to a new lifestyle.  I don’t think it will be long before we all have to make changes—I’m just trying to stay ahead of the game.

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What is it?

inner carrot.jpgAny idea what these outlandish looking things are?  I have always thought they could be food in a sci-fi film.  No prizes, I’m afraid—just click on the photo to find out more.

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Chocolate Carrot Cake for Coeliac Vegans

I was hunting around for a vegan carrot cake recipe I might hack to use with buckwheat flour—I recently bought some, so I am keen to use it—when I suddenly wondered: what would a chocolate carrot cake taste like?  Dianna Rattray seemed to think it would taste okay, so I started out from her recipe.  Oh—I recently bought a juicer, and I love carrot juice, so I used the leftover carrot pulp, rather than grated carrot.  The cake came out moist, heavy and mealy, with a rich chocolate taste.  The carrot added to the texture, but I could hardly taste it at all.

How I made it:

  • 1 cup carrot pulp
  • ½ cup natural cane sugar (sucanat)
  • 3 tbsp agave nectar (golden syrup will do)
  • ½ cup olive oil (a lighter vegetable oil might be better)
  • 1 cup Tesco exotic fruit juice (I needed to use it up!)
  • 1½ cups buckwheat flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder (more might be in order—my cake did not rise very much)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt

Mix the carrots, sugar, syrup and oil in a mixing bowl.  Pour on the boiling water and set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift the remaining ingredients together and combine.  Add to the carrot mixture and mix thoroughly.

Spoon into a square or rectangular baking tin (I used a 7″x8″ flexible silicone baking tin), and bake in a pre-heated oven at 175°C (350°F) for 30–35 minutes.  (I gave it 30 minutes at ~165°C in my fan oven.)

You can safely double the amount of carrot pulp, I think.  This cake will probably keep best in the fridge.  I made twenty pieces like the ones shown, and they go well warm with syrup, or cold and alone (sniff).

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