Monday, 19 March 2012

Sun, Sea and Soya


So I’ve saved the final test until last.  I had every intention on timing the finishing of this little adventure before my holiday, but sadly, searching for a cheap flight meant I’ve had to leave a few days early, and I’m spending the last 2 days of Veganism in Portugal, amongst fresh fish and tasty steakhouses.

Challenges aside, It’s a good opportunity to reflect on what’s been an eye-opening 4 weeks.  I’ve learned what’s good, what’s not, and for the most part I’ve actually quite enjoyed it. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard.  Really hard at times. I’ve missed the choice, I’ve missed snacking and I’ve missed takeaways.  Perhaps if I’d done it for another month then I’d be better at those things.  But if not, what am I really missing out on? 
I’ve actually enjoyed turning things down, looking past the chocolatey treats for lunch and not melting cheese onto my dinner.  It’s been really good to exercise a little self restraint.

Which brings me back to Portugal.  And being in the centre of fishing region, The Algarve with all its tasty fresh fish and holiday treats.  Thankfully, I’ve had weeks to develop some serious resolve and with plenty of fruit and vegtables on offer, a vegetarian option for lunch and dinner and with a little positive optimism that the bread is generally ok, I’m happy to say I passed the test.

And so it’s finished. 30 days done, and with that finishing, a new question begins.  Where to from here?  I’ve developed all that resolve, learned about all that new food and even lost a bit of weight.  Do I just forget all about what I’ve learned and head straight to the takeaway, or has it permanently changed me?

Well the truth is, I don’t quite know what to think at the moment.  It’s been a few days, and although I enjoyed a pizza on holiday, I’ve not touched any other cheese, eaten packaged meat or even considered a fry up (although I have thought pretty hard about it). 

I’ll go back to my meat eating ways slowly but surely, and with my eyes more open than before.  It’s certainly vanquished a few myths about Veganism, and who knows, maybe I’ll buy soya milk again.  But I should really finish that rice milk first.  

Sweetened dishwater anyone?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The meaty, milky light at the end of the tunnel...

I can’t be sure, but I’m fairly certain that there isn’t a football ground in the United Kingdom that caters for us Veegs. (Answers on a postcard if you know of any that do. Word of warning: neither meat pie or Bovril are suitable.)
I went to the football at the weekend and had to go dry and hungry for a good few hours as I struggled in vein to find alternatives for the decidedly non-Vegan hot dogs, burgers and beer that were on offer. I even had to meet my friend outside my ‘lucky burger stand’ at the stadium. Now that was a real test.
But, once again, I managed to pass with flying colours. What’s more, after the game, in one of the rowdier pubs on London’s Kings Road, I discovered that Jaegerbombs are Veegs, in between glugging down celebratory pints of Heineken. I had a great day and wasn’t hampered at all.
And I suppose that’s the point of this post. This undertaking hasn’t been a doddle, but it hasn’t been a struggle or a pain in any way either. If anything, with only a few days left, there is a tinge of sadness in the air as we can see the meaty, milky light at the end of the tunnel. And I don’t think either of us would have believed that that would be anything like the sentiment at this stage of the game.
There’s a lot of ideas and meals and places I will re-visit once the month is done with. An example of which is the delightful Aloka restaurant / cafe in Brighton.
It’s a buffet joint where you pile on the food and weigh your plate on a special set of scales that produces a ticket with a price on it. Far from the cheapest grub in the world, and I wasn’t totally sure what I was eating, but it was really quite quaint and definitely delicious. It even went some way towards re-kindling my faith in tofu.
It’s the only time I have really gone out and found a specifically Vegan lunch solution, as opposed to just eating the stuff I can get away with. And it was rewarding. Places like Aloka sadly seem alien to a lot of us - if by doing this I can show even a handful of people that that’s not the case, then i’m happy...

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Vegan Police


It’s about time I clear something up.  Being Vegan does not give you psychic powers. 

Yeah, I know.

You should take a few moments to settle down, because I know how you must be feeling, but it’s true.  No mind reading, no telekenesis, no super powers.  Nothing.

I was sure that once I got to a level 10 Vegan, the other 90% of my brain would be free from curds and whey and I’d become a bonafide superhero.  But like my expected hunger pains and malnutrition, I’ve been let down yet again.

When I decided to take on this challenge, I wasn’t actually sure why people became Vegan.  Was it for health, the animals or just some curious way to express individualism?  I wasn’t really even that sure about what was and wasn’t on the menu, but the past few weeks have been incredibly eye opening.

As you might remember, I began by just eating things that were certified Vegan and avoiding anything that “may or may not contain trace elements of cows milk”, I then found out that my certified Vegan food could contain traces of cows milk and I didn’t know what to do.

But I had it all wrong.  It’s not about avoiding things to fit some rule book.  It’s not about trying not to get caught out by the Vegan Police.  It’s about finding a different way to live, supporting the methods that aren’t wholly destructive and finding your own way to make a difference.  And if that means starting out small and eating less meat, to going all out ‘E Number’ Vegan on the world then so it be.

There’s nothing more complicated to it.  Better for the environment,  considerate to the treatment of animals and sacrificing a few of the things I like for the greater good. 

And if that’s the case, then I guess I am a bit of a superhero.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Venturing outside the comfort zone.


I have ticked / survived probably the two biggest boxes / challenges that I have come across during this meatless month so far: my first night out and my first meal out.
We called Pizza Express ahead of time and, after consulting Nick, my all-knowledgable Vegan buddy at work, felt comfortable that they could provide me with an all-natural, hopefully delicious, Italian meal. And they did.
Sort of. 
It was basically a generic veggie pizza with no cheese. Absolutely no cheese what-so-ever. And it was nice, albeit pretty plain. And I’d be lying if I said that looking around the rest of our group’s plates containing barely-poked regular pizzas with all the dreamy toppings just sitting there, un-touched, wasn’t difficult. 
There was quite literally no Vegan dessert option so I sipped on my sparkling water while the others scoffed Banoffee Pie. But I passed. 
As VP discovered in a previous post, finding suitable alcoholic beverages could potentially have been a night-ending chore. But, thanks in part to the good people at the aforementioned and the handy option of having the internet on one’s phone, I got pretty lucky. Firstly, the gig venue I was at had Carlsberg on tap and the elected pub for a mate’s leaving drinks served Beck’s. Win-win. 
So undoubtedly my greatest achievement was the drunken Vegan snack alternative I concocted later that same night. I hopped in a taxi home with a mate of mine who was visiting from London at what would usually have been Kebab O’Clock. The sweet smell of numerous Brighton takeaway joints lingered in my nostrils as we pulled away and I began to wonder what the hell I was going to eat when I got in.
But pushing past the bacon, pre-packaged cheese slices and Peperami sticks in the fridge I managed to rustle up some sausage sandwiches, smothered in fake mayo and ketchup, chased with a bowl of instant rice. Black tea to wash it down.
All 100% Veegs. (Yeah, i’m saying ‘Veegs’ now. I’m that guy.) 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Home advantage.


It’s day 15.  Halftime if you will.  Halfway through our Vegan adventure and I’ve really come a long way.  I’ve learned a lot of new things, eaten a lot of new things, and I feel surprisingly normal.  I’m not malnourished, there’s no evidence of the protein deficiency I was virtually guaranteed and I even know what I’m shopping for most of the time.

But until now, I’ve always had the home advantage, rarely venturing too far from a home cooked meal and a packed lunch to need to worry too much.  However since it’s halftime, and I’ve effectively won the first leg, that means the real challenge is yet to come - the tricky away leg.  Taken out of my comfort zone,  in an uncertain environment and facing unexpected challenges.

So it’s appropriate that this time, I’m facing the new test of an overnight stay and a work trip away.  I’ll have to rely on the outside world to provide my 3 square meals this time.  And I’m a little nervous.

I’ll have to admit to cheating though. I packed some Soya milk and cereal along with my wash bag, since I didn’t want to take my chances and fall at the first hurdle.  Waking up at a mates house with bacon in his fridge makes this plan a massive win, and my regular cereal sorts me out until lunchtime.

But before lunch, another test.  Avoiding the selection of pastries and cookies during the break and not picking at the sweets on my table.  It’s certainly frustrating but I’m finding it a fantastic way to discipline myself to eating better and after successfully avoiding all the treats on offer, it’s safe to say I’m pretty excited about the buffet style lunch ahead of me. 

When lunchtime finally arrives, my biggest concern is usually knowing just how many chicken wings will be left by the time I get a chance to fill my plate.  But this time my concern is just what exactly my Vegan ‘option’ will be. 

Shockingly on this occasion, there is no Vegan option.  There’s not even a vegetarian option.  It’s a big disappointment.  And since I’ve got no back up plan packed in my bag, my only ‘option’ is to pick around the eggs in the salad, scoop the untouched rice away from the fish and sample a few (hopefully hair free) bread rolls.  It’s hardly inspiring.  Still, the fruit salad is good and I’ve eaten enough to tide me over until later when I can hopefully rely on the local 24 hour shop to inspire my choice for dinner

And is there anything more inspiring than a pipe of pringles, some houmous and a cold Peroni?

I’ve really got to get better at these away games.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

I must be nuts!


It had to come around eventually. Sunday off work, sunshine streaming through the living room window, little to do but watch football and feed my face... it’s Roast Dinner time.
Though, this can be no ordinary roast dinner, of course.
My personal favourite is chicken. Wrap that breast in some bacon and drown it in the brownest, meatiest gravy you can find and you’ve got yourself a sale. That narrowly beats beef, leaving lamb and pork a distant third and fourth and turkey obviously only suitable for Christmas Day.
None of that is on the menu today, though. My hapless mum, facing her toughest Sunday lunch challenge for some time, I should imagine, is charged with the cooking. The result? Nut roast. Yep. Bloody nut roast.
And you know what? It’s not that bad. Breadcrumbed, it reminded me of a slab of stuffing. And everyone likes stuffing. It was okay; more than edible, just not quite enjoyable. It felt like something was missing. I felt like pushing it around my plate with the potatoes and parsnips, lifting it up with my knife and fork as if searching for the inevitable sliced flesh that obviously wasn’t there.  
It might have been the first time during this fortnight that I have almost craved meat. So far I have almost forgotten that human beings murder animals for food. It seems like madness. Today, as terrible as it sounds, I suppose I was reminded as to why we are driven to do such a thing. 
For the moment, however, I’m still firmly on the side of nature. Even the multiple cups of milkless-tea didn’t upset my attempted sofa-naps as much as Ben Fogle (twat) apparently torturing / distressing wild Australian crocodiles for “their own good” on the BBC. 
At least he wasn’t killing them, cooking them and eating them, I guess. But I still might complain. ‘Points Of View’, here I come... 

Friday, 24 February 2012

A problem with alcohol.


I’m staring at a barman that looks so much younger than 25, I should have asked him for ID before buying any alcohol.  I’ve got to ask, it’s his job.

“I’m fairly certain Beer hasn’t got any meat in it mate!” He says, intelligently.

I knew this would come up.  It was actually part of the reason I took on the challenge.  I’d accepted that the onus was on me to know my stuff and I even had some back up options in case of emergencies.  But since there were none of my known Vegan beers on tap and no phone signal to check - I had optimistically put the question to him. 

Sadly he had no clue about what was available to me or why most options unfortunately weren’t.  I was left with no choice but to leave the pub and check the web in the rain.

Converse to this, I’d actually been in the pub the night before and once again none of my acceptable drinks were there.  Now I accept that this is not the best testament to the variety in my social life or my knowledge of Vegan allies.  But in my defence it was a different pub, and the Carlsberg was off.  On this occasion, I just went straight ahead and asked the question.

“None I’m afraid mate, they’ve all got fish guts in.” the barman replied.

Now It’s fair to say that I wasn’t expecting this.  I had in fact, already started checking the web, but the fish guts reference was a little too educated a response to simply ignore and it completely threw me.

I’ve got to admire his research.  Many UK Breweries filter using Isinglass, made from the swim bladders of fish, which speeds up the process of separating the live yeast from the beer. 

Thankfully upon further investigation, it turns out my educated friend was a little over-enthusiastic, and fortunately, I can add another Beer to my list.  Despite it’s origins in the fishing port of Osaka, it turns out Asahi, is in fact Vegan.

So I’m stuck between barstaff that think they know, and barstaff that quite simply haven’t got a clue. 

And my alternatives?  Well wine is often filtered through hoof gelatine, Vodka is filtered through Bone charcoal and as we all know, Guiness is made almost entirely from Beef steak.

So perhaps I’ll stick to soft drinks.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Living the animal-free dream...


This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was meant to be an awful slog. A nightmare. Impossible, some said. But a week in, the novelty’s still there and the whole thing is still pretty, er, enjoyable.
Now, I don’t wish to get ahead of myself, of course. The thought of a piled-high kebab, or a beef patty dripping with glistening fat droplets or a KFC boneless bucket creeps into my consciousness every now and again but... actually, it's quite rare.
I can report that I have enjoyed three really quite scrumptious meals in the last few days: an all-vegetable jalfrezi with rice that packed a son-of-a-bitch-that’s-hot punch, some non-Quorn veggie burger pittas, complete with salad and fake mayo, and even Vegan enchiladas made with mexican re-fried beans. 
I’ve even already got a pretty good idea on what I like and what I don’t like. The real food, the unexpected stuff, the Pringles and peanut butters of this world, are great. They make it a breeze. The fake stuff, however, the luminous pink ‘ham’, the odd-looking block of dairy-free cheese (‘Cheezly’ is the one currently in my fridge)... not so much. They just don't taste right.
Oh, and Tofu. I can’t do Tofu. I am reliably advised that I am cooking / preparing it all wrong, and that may well be the case, but for now I can happily live without its monumental blandness. (It was all over as soon as I put it in some pasta and the look and texture reminded me of that scene from the movie ‘Hannibal’ where Anthony Hopkins is frying up that one dude’s brains. Not cool.)
But aside from that, it’s all good. Bloody hell, I didn’t even realise that it was Pancake Day yesterday, let alone miss it. That’s a first. What is wrong with me? Right now, I guess, not a lot. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

Surprisingly Vegan.


It’s hard to believe that for nearly 300 years, the high protein content of the soya bean was only used for fertilization.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that their versatility in cooking was discovered and over the years it has been transformed into a multitude of mealtime opportunities.

The vast majority of which are now in my kitchen. 

Soya bread, margarine, mayonnaise, and even soya chocolate pudding are the most recent additions to my still relatively barren fridge.  I’ve been particularly impressed with the soya milk; a huge improvement on the rice milk I’ve been using until now.  The taste of which I can only liken to sweetened dishwater.

I’ve spent the last few days adding to my catalogue of acceptable foodstuffs.  I’m now finding it much easier to recognise what ingredients I’m looking for (ensuring I avoid) during those painful and rather lengthy trips to the supermarket, and if in doubt, a quick google search along the lines of; “Are Frosties Vegan?”, will usually procure the answer I’m after. 

As a result, I’ve discovered a number of pleasant surprises.  Cheap supermarket biscuits, baked beans, and amazingly, BBQ and beef flavour crips are all surprisingly Vegan and brilliantly, deliciously normal.

But despite these unexpected treats, the real win has been not having the unhealthy option to fall back on.  I’ve now bypassed the takeaway on two occasions knowing that their deep fried goodies were out of bounds.  It’s meant I’m forced to eat healthier, and to be honest, I feel pretty pleased with myself.

I might be missing those glorious takeaway smells, but at least it didn’t take me 300 years to discover the alternatives.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The first hurdle...


What exactly am I supposed to be looking for?  Can I even have margarine?  I mean, I know there’s probably cows milk in it, but if there’s an alternative, is this definitely it? 
I’ve been staring at the nutritional information of margarine tubs for well over 5 minutes now and the picture isn’t getting any clearer. 

It’s very early days into our little food adventure and I’m moving rapidly through a number of stages in food buying confidence.

Initially, and perhaps naively, I thought I could just avoid meat and dairy and eat pretty much everything else.  This idea lasted a few hours until I was made acutely aware that my bread might contain hair as a flour improver, and my soft drinks might contain beetles to improve their colour.

Next, I decide to only buy food that’s been labelled as ‘suitable for vegans’ - just to be sure.  However, in doing some digging, it seems that most products don’t get labelled, and if they do, they might still contain traces of eggs and dairy due to shared machinery and manufacturing processes.  One thing is clear, that in these early stages it’s all very confusing.
What I've learned so far, is that when it comes to eating Vegan, the onus to find the right stuff is most definitely on me.  So I’m firmly into stage three. Which means standing on my own, staring at margarine tubs.
But I’m getting there. And although it’s not the most effective shopping trip in the world, at least I’ve eventually managed to secure myself some soya based margarine, a sack of vegetables and some rice milk.  So at least my morning cereal is sorted.

If it wasn’t for the bastard honey in my Bran Flakes.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

And they're off...

I think they call this ‘The Honeymoon Period’... A day into our Vegan adventure and I have found the whole thing, well, staggeringly easy.
Having started out with little-to-no knowledge on the subject or lifestyle at all, and feeling bloody daunted, I now feel the tiniest bit more informed, thanks simply to a mosey around a couple of health food shops and a half-an-hour session on Google.
If anything, i’ve been pleasantly surprised. Heinz baked beans, peanut butter and most crisps are all on the good list. Sure, I learned that some bread contains duck feathers and pig hair and that Coca Cola has in it traces of both fish and crushed beetles but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers. I can still have a beer. (So long as it’s Amstel, I think.)
Maybe my surprise is because the stigma attached to Veganism, or the assumption from the outside looking in, is that you ‘can’t eat anything’. Which is moronic, to put it kindly.
I will crave steak and cheese and bacon and scrambled eggs, sure. But the opportunity to delve into not only the morality of being Vegan, but the practicality also, is too intriguing to pass up. 
I mean, I even survived a mate of mine turning up with an un-announced takeaway burger and fries for his dinner this evening, blissfully unaware of the challenge i’d decided to take on. At the moment, no biggie. 
Chocolate cereal, sarnies, veggie curry and a hoisin sauce stir-fry on day one can’t be bad. It’s all been rather eye-opening and, dare I say, tasty. Which means, of course, that it’s probably downhill from here.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What's all this about then?

 The look of bewildered confusion on the faces around us is fairly consistent as we calmly tell a group of around 10 of our close friends and colleagues our plan for the next the 30 days.

“Why the hell are you doing that, you’ll hate it”, they say supportively. “That sounds bloody horrendous, you’ll never finish it”. 

The backing is truly overwhelming. 

And then comes the big question: “What are you actually going to eat?” 

Unlike our menu for the next 30 days, one thing is for certain:  People don’t really understand Veganism.  I mean, we all get the theory, but most can't quite believe the practice.

No-one less so than us.  As confirmed carnivores, we see vegetables as those things you point at the meat, we’re rather fond of a fried breakfast, and after all, doesn’t everything taste better with melted cheese?

The big reason for taking this on is that we’re both so thoroughly unprepared, unqualified and uninformed to go Vegan that it seems crazy not to just go ahead, do it, and see what happens.

There are of course a huge number of reasons to become Vegan.  It’s kinder to animals, it's more environmentally friendly,  it’s healthier, etc etc etc, we could go on. 

We won't.

We’re not here to convince you to go Vegan, or even Vegetarian for that matter.  What you choose to put on your plate is your business, and we're honestly already missing bacon more than two slices of bread with some ketchup in the middle.

What we’re primarily concerned with is, if you were to wake up one day and decide to join the other 0.3% of the population abstaining from the use of all animal products, how difficult would it actually be?

What role do animal products hold in our everyday lives? How easy is it to remove them from our lives?  And can you really enjoy a fried breakfast?

So with equal levels of stubbornness and enthusiasm, no preparation and a couple of Vegan friends for advice, we’re going to find out just how prepared Brighton and the rest of the World is for those who want to become Vegan, and quite honestly don’t have a clue how.

Let’s commence.