I eat out a lot and, although the food, service and everything else might be great, there’s usually something that could have made the experience more enjoyable. Here’s a list in no particular order of importance of what would make for me the ideal dining experience. If you want to find your ideal dining experience, click here.
I can’t remember when or why I stopped drinking cow’s milk at home. It was definitely before I stopped drinking tea because I can remember using soya milk in tea and, although it was *okay*, the tea wasn’t quite the same, so it was probably around then I stopped drinking tea as well as moo juice. I remember *why* I stopped drinking it though and that’s because I decided drinking a cow’s bodily fluid was ick and so the only time I buy milk now is when I’m having work done to the house and need to make the workmen tea and coffee (except for the plumber who keeps things simple and has black coffee with no sugar). Despite my aversion to cow’s milk because of its ickness and my house being a dairy-cheese-free zone, hypocrisy kicks in when I’m out of the house and I want a hot chocolate or a pizza and no vegan options are immediately available. Luckily, dairy alternatives are becoming more and more available with vegan milk and cheese being offered in more and more places.
If you’ve been to the supermarket lately, you’ve probably seen all the different types of milks available in the fridge and on the shelf. Here’s a run down of some milk alternatives and what you can do with them.
Some of you will know I’m into my fitness and I even have a once-popular-now-woefully-neglected fitness blog at www.jog-blog.co.uk. However, just because my fitness blog has been lacking, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been slacking and I’ve just successfully completed Janathon 2018.
We all know about safety in the kitchen – don’t cook with saucepan handles sticking out where they can be easily knocked over, don’t leave hot oil unattended, don’t leave tea towels near the hob where they can catch fire, don’t have plug sockets near the sink, don’t stab someone for interfering while you’re cooking, etc. but what about other less life-threatening kitchen disasters that can occur? Here are a few of mine:
As a child, my breakfast cereal would be piled high with not just spoonfuls of sugar but fistfuls of the white stuff, not to mention the three teaspoons of sugar I added to my copious cups of tea each day. Then, on top of that were the sweets I bought each week at the local shop with my pocket money. All that sugar probably accounts for why my teeth wouldn’t look out of place on someone you’d see on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
My friend Jacqui (who I did a Q&A with about becoming vegan last year) spent a week volunteering at Jacob’s Ridge (better known as The Pig Village) and you can read all about it here. Thanks, Jacqui!
My week at Jacob’s Ridge (or Excuse me Miss, but there appears to be a pig trying to get in my tent)
Early last summer, when I was a relatively new vegan, I posted on a vegan Facebook group asking if fellow vegans could suggest suitable food that I could cook while camping in Norfolk. One of the responders, Lynn, told me to forget Norfolk and instead to get myself over to a place called Pig Village, an animal sanctuary based at Jacob’s Ridge in Southern Spain. This vegan idyll offered opportunities to volunteer with the day-to-day care of the animals, sleep in a glamping style bell tent and eat lashings of home prepared vegan cuisine. I didn’t need to be told twice, so I contacted Jacob’s Ridge for more information and, when the dates were announced in September for the upcoming summer season, I was one of the first in the queue to book.
I’m by no means a seasoned traveller. I’ve only ventured out of the UK about ten times, and most of those were to Amsterdam (and in case you’re wondering, I’m neither a prostitute nor a dopehead – I just love it there.)
Although I’ve never starved abroad, I can’t say I’ve been spoilt for choice of vegetarian options and usually live on pizza, telling myself it’s probably vegetarian cheese, even though I know it’s bound to be almost definitely probably not.
What I’ve been meaning to do for years is buy a copy of the Vegan Passport. This is a multilingual vegan phrasebook that includes the languages of over 95% of the world’s population so, as well as pointing to something on the menu that looks veggie-friendly, I could simultaneously point to something in the phrasebook and increase my chances of being served something that doesn’t contain meat.
There are vegetarian and vegan restaurants in most cities now but, as I’ve never been abroad with a vegetarian, I haven’t looked for any vegetarian restaurants, relying on the probability I wouldn’t starve when I got there. Anyway, everywhere serves chips and pizza. And if you go to Italy, you can get chips on pizza (and, incidentally, at Mondragone in Walthamstow).
Below I’ve summarised my experience of eating abroad as a vegetarian. Please bear in mind this is based on a couple of days in each place where I haven’t been too bothered about where I’ve eaten; rather, this is what I’ve ended up having instead of trying to find anywhere better.
Oh yeah, Amsterdam. I love Amsterdam. It’s a friendly, chilled out city and one in which I could imagine myself living. When I go to Amsterdam I live on chips and mayonnaise (if you’ve only ever had the stuff we have here, you’ve missed out) and pizza.
Like Amsterdam, Brussels is also the home of the chip-and-mayo combo. The first time I ever had a pizza in Brussels, the vegetables were raw and I don’t think I’ve had one there again. Brussels is the home of fruit beer though, so just drink a variety of those and you’ll be sorted.
‘Don’t go to France,’ they said. ‘You’ll starve,’ they said. Did I fuck. I had amazing food in Paris. I had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten, a wonderful crepe near the Notre-Dame Cathedral and, although before I left England I had looked for a vegetarian restaurant in which to have my birthday meal, our map let us down and we couldn’t find it. We did, however, accidentally stumble across another vegetarian restaurant that sold Indian/Chinese fusion food and that suited me just fine (i.e. it was licensed).
I know, I know – no one goes on holiday to Frankfurt, but my friend Tracey wanted to go there because we could get a flight for a penny (and now we know why). I can’t remember eating anything in Frankfurt except the peanuts the waitress brought us with each round of Apfelwein we ordered in the only open bar near our hotel.
Heston Blumenthal said on a television programme that Dal Presidente made the best pizzas in the world so I decided to go there for my 40th birthday. I have no idea if it is the best pizza in the world as, when we got there, it was no more than a take away place. We asked if there was somewhere to sit and the manager reluctantly showed us to a scruffy table in a back room. He flung a few menus at us, then started shouting and pointing at his watch. Doing our best Sherlock Holmes’ impressions, we deduced he wanted us to hurry the fuck up and piss off, so we left and went somewhere else. That somewhere else was great. Apart from the staff and one man reading a newspaper, we had the restaurant to ourselves. I explained to the friendly waiter I was vegetarian, and he brought over a selection of vegetarian pizza for me to try so I could choose my favourite.
So, that’s my experience of being a vegetarian abroad. Yes, I live on pizza and chips. Don’t be like me – do some research before you go and don’t just hope to stumble across something accidentally. And if you want to know the top travel destinations for vegetarians and vegans, have a look at this infographic.
Jacqui Crook, a 46 year old Senior Care Assistant from Norfolk took part in Veganuary this year and decided to continue with her vegan lifestyle after Veganuary was over. After being a meat-eater all her life, I thought this must have been a drastic change, especially without the more usual vegetarian transition period, so I asked her a few questions.
Cathy at Planet Veggie: Hi Jacqui, I’m in awe you went straight from being a meat-eater to vegan after taking part in Veganuary in January this year. What prompted you to take part in Veganuary in the first place?
Jacqui: The catalyst was probably seeing posts about Veganuary from one of my old school friends on Facebook. I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, but like many other omnivores I used the whole “but bacon” excuse for my reason to continue to eat them. I read some information about how Veganuary is not only a way to ‘dip your toes’ into veganism, but it can also make you lose weight. Selfishly on my part it was more for the latter reason that I actually signed up.
I joined the Veganuary Facebook group, and signed up to various other vegan groups for inspiration and tips on what I could actually eat. However, in addition to recipe tips I also got an eye-opening education into the horrific truths of the farming and meat industry, animal testing and vivisection, hunting, fishing and other equally terrifying environmental issues. I quickly developed an understanding of what we as a species are doing to our planet and to the other beings that we share it with. I suppose in my case you could liken it to a ‘red pill’ versus ‘blue pill’ dilemma in as much as once you ‘know’, you can’t ‘unknow,’ so continuing as a vegan was no longer just a personal choice to me, but also a moral obligation.
C: After Veganuary had finished, did you jump straight into being a full-on vegan (studying labels for any egg or dairy, checking clothing for any wool/leather, lip balm for beeswax, etc.) or are you taking it as it comes and easing yourself into it, e.g. doing your best to check things are vegan as far as you can tell, but not getting that worked up about it?
J: Due to becoming aware about mass deforestation I had been label checking for non RSPO palm products for over a year, so the whole label checking thing, although sometimes frustrating is second nature to me now. I still scream inwardly when I go looking for some amazing vegan foodstuff that everyone is raving on about online, only to check the label to find out it has palm in it! Although my diet was now strictly plant based I made the decision to use up the products that I had already bought for toiletries, cleaning, wearing etc., as I hate the idea of waste. Why use up other finite resources just to replace something I already had at my disposal? I have, however, made a point of replacing used items with vegan and environmentally friendly products since February. I still have a pair of leather work shoes from Clarks that I can’t see being worn out anytime in the next few years, as they seem to have been made to last forever. I sometimes feel bad about wearing them, but then I would feel worse just to chuck them away as it won’t bring the animal back. Giving them away would be almost like encouraging others to wear leather, which is the opposite of what I am trying to do.
C: I know your husband, Dean, was fine about Veganuary and even took part in it too, but how does he feel now it’s no longer a month-long ‘challenge’ but a whole lifestyle change? And what about your friends and other family members? Do they openly mock you on Facebook?
J: Dean quit at the halfway stage as he found label checking annoying (even though we already had been doing it!) He gets disappointed sometimes because the steak nights at Wetherspoons have stopped, and KFC and McDonalds are no longer viable eating out places if I am in tow, but on the whole he is very supportive. My daughter has been vegetarian since she was twelve, but like many vegetarians came out with the whole ‘but cheese’ argument. One of my sons decided to become vegetarian about two months ago, so I feel that at least that is a step in the right direction. He is also far more politically and socially aware than most 17 year olds, and we are both heavily into human rights, so for him to start considering the animals wasn’t too much of a leap. My other son simply couldn’t give a toss. As far as he is concerned he is never going to meet an orangutan or have a pet cow, so he doesn’t care what happens to them. My work colleagues generally mock my food choices. I think it helps cement in their minds that they shouldn’t feel guilty for what they eat or how inactive they are in saving the environment. On the plus side, two of my friends have since decided to try vegetarianism after talking to me and finding out more. I know that to a ‘level ten’ vegan supporting vegetarianism is as bad as tucking into a baby piglet, but I personally disagree. We all have our own motivation and issues, and if someone is willing to cut out meat and fish to reduce the number of animals slaughtered, then that is at least going in the right direction. If some jumped up holier than thou vegan had told me that my efforts at Veganuary were pointless and self-serving they would have probably driven me back to a bacon sandwich, so I always offer encouragement to others for their part in changing how we treat animals.
C: Have you had any cravings for meat/dairy/eggs? A nice cheesy pizza perhaps, or a bag of cheese and onion crisps? Steak and chips? What about a clichéd-ridden bacon sandwich (because, after all, all vegetarians need is a bacon sandwich to sort them out)? Maybe you’ve been hankering over just one Cornetto? Or maybe you’ve found alternatives to meet any cravings?
J: I won’t lie and say that there haven’t been times when I have thought about cheese, because I have. I know there are plenty of dairy free alternatives, but as yet I am still too close to have the memory of the real thing in my head, so I have yet to tempt fate and try them. In addition to running a palm-free household, Dean has now given up soya products (who’s the fussy one now, eh!) due to the alleged health scares regarding decreasing testosterone levels, and both of us eat ninety percent ‘clean’, avoiding artificial preservatives, sweeteners and other crap like glucose fructose syrup and MSG. Luckily for me, Dean likes cooking, so the vast majority of our food is now made from scratch at home, and his wholemeal, vegan, margarine free bread is amazing!
My two vices are wine and Pizza Hut, but as the local co-op stocks Fairtrade vegan wine and my local Pizza Hut have perfected my own personal cheese-free, diet (yes, under 500 calories!) spicy roquito and bbq sauce Virtuous Veg Pizzetta, I am fine in that department too 🙂
Oh, and those Tesco Free From Cones. Argh, why use palm?!
C: Personally, I love the ‘fake’ meat alternatives, but I know some people don’t like them, either because they don’t want to eat something that replicates meat or they didn’t like the taste or texture of meat in the first place or because it’s processed. What are your views on it?
J: I can see both sides. I don’t really do mock meats myself, because I tend to stick with tried and tested favourites just in case I discover I hate something. I actually enjoyed the taste and texture of meat, but I don’t particularly want to replicate it as I think my brain would communicate with my tongue and make me feel bad for wanting to experience it again. I sometimes envy other vegans though when they rustle up fake pulled pork from jackfuit, although some of the ‘lifelike’ mock meats make me feel queasy!
C: How do the meals you cook now compare to those you used to cook? i.e. more imaginative/interesting, easier, healthier, etc.? Do you still cook meat for your husband and children?
J: For myself I can say that I eat healthier for sure. As I said most of our food is now prepared from scratch and we avoid so many bad things, that I don’t feel so guilty about the odd bottle of vegan red. My omni son however survives on microwave pizza, sausage rolls, crispy chicken and coke. Sadly he is so far removed from real food that if I didn’t buy them for him he would actually starve as he refuses to eat vegetables or anything unprocessed. If it isn’t microwaveable, full of sugar, or designed to last for at least six months he won’t touch it. Dean has now decided to stop eating meat at home, although he does occasionally eat fish still. He prepares this himself I must add!
C: And while we’re on the subject of cooking, what are your new favourite dishes and where do you get them from? Any favourite cookbooks/websites/Facebook groups/blogs?
J: I have discovered risotto! I love the stuff. I used to think it was just mushy rice, but I was so wrong. Pasta in homemade roasted vegetable and garlic sauce is a speciality of mine, while calabrian pasta with olive oil, nuts and raisins is also is delicious. Stuffed peppers or flat mushrooms, vegan shepherd’s pie, or homemade vegan hummus. The list goes on and on. If there is something you fancy you can pretty much find a recipe online and veganise it to suit you. I must recommend a blog called Planet Veggie. She comes up with some amazing looking grub! 😉
C: It’s been over eight months since you became vegan. Was it harder or easier than you expected? What’s been the easiest and hardest bit about it?
J: Easier by far when it comes to my diet, but harder when it comes to how much it has affected me in my views. I am now far more angry at people for not caring, not just about animals, but also about each other. I have lost a few acquaintances along the way as I refuse to stay silent or dumb down now, but it doesn’t worry me as I really don’t want to associate with those kind of people anyway. I have however made a mountain of new vegan virtual friends on Facebook, and so my newsfeed is filled with positivity and action and cries for change. Oh, and food porn!
C: And, finally, any words of wisdom or advice for anyone thinking about becoming vegan?
J: If you are borderline about whether to try it out I recommend watching the movie Earthlings. Unless you are incredibly hardened you won’t remain borderline for long.
For those of you willing to try out veganism for yourself my experience has taught me to ignore the people who want to ‘outvegan’ you. We all have our own reasons for starting this journey, so don’t be so hard on yourself for any mistakes you make along the way. The point is change won’t happen unless we are willing to make it happen, so by giving it a shot you are already halfway there.
C: Thank you very much, Jacqui, for answering my questions. You are an inspiration!
Aged around five years old, I had a bottle of rose perfume. I loved this perfume. I think I loved it not because it smelt of roses but because it came in a snowman-shaped bottle. I can still remember it now – the snow-white bobbly opaque glass bottle in the shape of a snowman, topped with a lavender top hat. When the perfume ran out, I was heartbroken.
So, what does a heartbroken five year old do when she’s run out of her favourite perfume? That’s right, she makes her own but, to be perfectly honest, it was so seriously minging, I doubt even my mum wore it to humour her little rapscallion daughter.
I was recently reminded of making my own perfume by a friend on Twitter who was reminiscing about how she, too, used to make her own rose perfume by squeezing rose petals into water and she, too, said how seriously minging it was (although she’s quite posh, so probably didn’t use the word ‘minging’). So I got to wondering if making your own rose perfume was a ‘thing’ and, if it was a ‘thing’, how to do it without making it minging. And, lo! The Guardian came to my rescue. You can read The Guardian’s instructions on how to make your own rose perfume, or you can read my summary of it below (please note I haven’t made this so it may well be as minging as the one I made forty years ago):
How to make your own rose perfume
What you need:
A bottle into which to pour the perfume (snowman-shaped or otherwise)
2 handfuls of rose petals
2 cups of water
How you do it:
- Pour two cups of water into a saucepan.
- Put a lid on the pan and bring the water to a boil.
- Remove from the heat and add the rose petals.
- Strain the mixture through a sieve, squeezing out the perfume.
- Fill the bottle with the perfume.
You could decorate the bottle with thread and beads and, if you’re giving it as a gift to someone, put a few bottles of different types of perfume in a box or basket such as the kind you can find from somewhere that sells florist craft supplies.
If you do make some perfume, please let me know how it turns out!
In the olden days, being vegetarian was – let’s say – a tad tricky. It was especially tricky for me because a) I didn’t like vegetables; and b) I didn’t know how to cook. These two things combined made life difficult because the only vegetarian items you could buy back in the early 90s was Sosmix (we’ll talk about that later) and vegetables. As an Essex girl, the only vegetables I’d had previously were the bits of salad that came with my kebab on a Saturday night. I gradually introduced greenery into my diet and so the only barrier left was learning to cook the flipping things.
This wasn’t made any easier by my living arrangements at the time – a bedsit in Leytonstone, east London where the only cooking facilities were an electric two-ring hob thing. My saviour appeared in the form of my very first vegetarian cookbook: No Meat For Me Please by Jan Arkless. Jan’s superb book contained lots of simple recipes that could be done in a saucepan; I cooked vegetable stews and vegetable curries and pasta sauces. What was even better was all the recipes were just for one person, perfect for a 22-year-old in a bedsit. There was a section of recipes that all used a strange beige substance called TVP (textured vegetable protein) that came in chunks or mince-form. I ventured into the supermarket and found some on the shelves. Okay, so it was textured – the texture of cardboard, to be precise. I’m not sure from which part of the unspecified vegetable the protein was extracted but it was probably the bit that ends up in the compost bin. Still, it meant I could make old ‘meaty’ favourites such as shepherd’s pie and spaghetti bolognaise.
I mentioned Sosmix earlier. I’d stumbled across Sosmix before I was vegetarian. Back in 1989, I was skint, living in a bedsit in Liverpool, on the dole and surviving on potatoes. Potatoes were cheap back then; 50p would buy me 5kg worth of the starchy carbs and they’d last me a week. Then on Giro day I’d splash out and buy a tin of baked beans to go with them (not Heinz, obviously – I couldn’t afford anything that posh). I was living as a vegetarian but only because I was too poor to buy anything other than economy burgers and if you’ve ever eaten economy burgers you’ll know why being vegetarian was the better option. After a few months of living on potatoes, some student friends of mine who were equally skint introduced me to Sosmix. They practically lived off the stuff because it was cheap and, being students, they’d spent all their money in the student bar which, at £1 a pint, you couldn’t really blame them. Also, because it was dried, you didn’t need a fridge (students who had the luxury of owning a fridge filled it with beer, and milk that was always on the point of going off). As Sosmix was a powder, you added water to it, left it to sit for about ten minutes or so then made it into sausage shapes (the ‘Sos’ in ‘Sosmix’ – whoever thought up the name was clearly a genius), into patties or wrap it in pastry and make sausage rolls or pies. Sosmix was the staple diet of students and vegetarians around the country and I think I must be the only person who didn’t like it. Sosmix refuses to die and is still around. It even has its own Facebook page. Another mince-type product available back then, one which is still around now, was Beanfeast. Made from soya, it came in three different varieties; Bolognaise Style, Savoury Mince and Mexican Chilli. As you can probably guess, they were identical in form and texture; they just contained different herbs and spices. I liked Beanfeast; my friend Zoe hated it though, and when I reminded her about it recently, she called it, ‘That terrible Beanfeast crap.’
It wasn’t just the absence of veggie burgers or ready meals in those days that made life difficult for a vegetarian – lots of other food items would be made with animal fats. For example, biscuits, cakes and pastry. What made it worse was that labels stating ‘suitable for vegetarians’ were non-existent so you had to carefully study the label and know what it was you were looking for. Brands – especially supermarket own brands – are now great for labelling and most products are labelled if they’re suitable for vegetarians (even if sometimes it’s in titchy tiny writing on the back, hidden amongst the ingredients – yes Tesco, I’m looking at you).
Lacto-ovo vegetarians, of course, eat dairy and eggs. Despite most cheese being vegetarian these days, twenty years ago you’d find a curiously named ‘vegetarian cheese’ next to the Cheddar. It looked the same, smelt the same and tasted the same and I was convinced it simply had a different wrapper on it. These days, practically every cheese you pick up (with the exception of the harder cheeses such as Parmesan, which is never vegetarian) has a ‘suitable for vegetarians’ sign on it. No more freakily named ‘vegetarian cheese’ – it’s just cheese.
For vegetarians who didn’t include dairy in their diet, if they wanted soya milk – tough. I’m told by a friend that in 1976, soya milk was only available in powder form. Another friend also told me that in the 80s, there was only one brand of soya milk and it was disgusting. Look on the shelves today and you’ll find soya milk in many flavours such as chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, along with nut milk, oat milk and rice milk from many manufacturers, including supermarket own brand.
So that’s eating in, what about eating out? Even in London, there weren’t a huge number of vegetarian restaurants. Although, even if there were, shortly after I became vegetarian I started going out with a voracious carnivore who, although was okay with me being vegetarian, was most definitely not okay going somewhere where there would be no meat on the menu. This meant my eating out diet consisted mainly of pizza – which was hardly a bad thing, given my love for those cheesy discs of delight – and dishes I suspected were simply meaty ones without the meat (think spaghetti and tomato sauce). Speaking of vegetarian restaurants, one thing I do remember was walking past Mildreds in Soho one day in the early 90s. Mildreds is a well established popular vegetarian restaurant which has been around since 1988. I stood at the door admiring its ‘Time Out’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant’ award, then looked at the menu. It had fish on it. Fish on a vegetarian menu? The Vegetarian Society’s definition of a vegetarian clearly states that, ‘A vegetarian does not eat meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or by-products of slaughter.’ Tut tut, Mildreds, you should have known better. I’m not sure when Mildreds corrected its fishy error but that’s certainly not something that would happen today.
One of the most astonishing breakthroughs in recent years has been the introduction of meat replacements – most notably Quorn – in the large chains. No more ubiquitous spicy bean burgers – vegetarians can now get ‘meaty’ burgers in Mcdonald’s and Wimpy. Pizza GoGo have just started offering Quorn pizzas in four different varieties topped with Quorn’s chicken-style strips, meatballs and pepperoni style cubes, along with a side dish of Quorn spicy wings and dip. As there’s no Pizza GoGo near me, I’m hoping Papa John’s follow suit.
When it comes to clothing, although The Vegetarian Society doesn’t explicitly state that vegetarians don’t wear leather, I suspect were you to rock up to their head office wearing bits of dead cow on your feet, you’d be met with a disapproving look similar to the one your mum gave you upon discovering a mouldy plate under your bed. Personally, I wore leather until I started going out with a vegetarian who didn’t (yes, me and the carnivore had parted ways some years previously). Before then, I lived in Dr Martens. I had a black pair, a red pair, a red and black pair, an orange pair, a blue pair and a silver pair. I loved them all. Then I decided to stop wearing bits of dead cow and changed my allegiance to Converse, which also came in lots of lovely colours (I have, at the time of writing, eight pairs in various colours). For the die-hard Dr Marten fans though, non-leather ones were available from Brighton-based Vegetarian Shoes, but these were expensive. Now, however, you can buy non-leather Dr Marten-style boots in your local Shoe Zone for about twenty-five quid. I’ve got a fabulous pair of shiny red ones. Cheap shoe shops such as Shoe Zone are fantastic for cheap non-leather shoes. I’ve also bought great non-leather biker boots in other high street stores such as New Look and Tesco. That’s right, Tesco. I can now buy vegetarian boots at the same time as buying my soya milk and Linda McCartney sausages.
Talking of Tesco – you’ve only got to peek in their freezers to see how far society’s acceptance of vegetarianism has come. Gone are the days when you’d have to hunt for a pack of veggie burgers, now there are freezers full of the stuff. So when it comes to food and footwear, vegetarians can now – literally – fill their boots.