Friday, 26 August 2011

Beating the addiction

Bob Torres on quitting cheese.

The fabric of life and death

If you're transitioning from being a dietary vegan* to a full vegan, I'm aware this may only be the second post here that interests you. So I'll take the chance to say kudos for making that step.

Now, your wardrobe is harder to overhaul than the kitchen or the bathroom. You buy clothes to be at least semi-permanent. I'm not saying anyone needs to bin** the non-vegan parts of their wardrobe right away, although you may prefer to, especially if you can afford to replace the more vital bits. However, if you're being publicly vegan (whether standing behind an animal rights stall or eating a different lunch from your colleagues) then be prepared to explain (to vegans or non-vegans - the former will probably accept that you're a newbie, the latter may take more effort) why you're doing so while wearing leather shoes or a wool jumper. (Fur and silk are less excusable, unless you live in the Arctic these are luxury items rather than staples)

So here goes:

Why fur sucks
-Duh, it's a dead animal's skin
-Animals are generally killed purely for their fur
-Wild-caught fur comes from animals caught in a variety of inhumane traps and often left for days before being bludgeoned to death.
-Fur farms are factory farms, and the normal method of killing is anal electrocution. Niiice...
The good news - the high street is full of decent fakes, if you like that sort of thing. (Check the label carefully though) Other fabrics, such as polar fleece, are just as efficient at keeping you warm.

Why leather sucks
-It's a dead animal's skin
-The leather industry is linked to the meat industry, but is big business in it's own right - even if being a 'by-product' made it ok, that happens not to be true
-Much of the cheaper leather available comes from India, cows are herded long distances to the few provinces where it is legal to slaughter them and treated horribly in the process, and the provinces that allow the killing of cows don't have great animal welfare laws governing this.
-And slaughter in the UK is pretty horrible too, as you may have gathered if you've already quit eating meat.
The good news: leather is pretty easy to replace - non-leather shoes tend to be cheaper.

Why wool sucks
-A fair bit of it comes from dead sheep after slaughter
-Merino sheep are bred to have wrinkled skin and thick wool, meaning that they get skin problems especially in extreme heat
-The wool industry is tied in with the meat industry - yes, sometimes you'll come across a family who occasionally shear their 'pet' sheep who live as part of the family the rest of the time and never get overbred or slaughtered. These are more common than unicorns but I'd venture that they are rarer than otters.
-And also there's that pesky animal use issue - think about your reasons for going vegan, and consider whether it's ever ok for animals to be used for human ends. If we're after full liberation, then why perpetuate this form of use?
The good news - there are plenty of other fabrics out there to wear and to knit with. Come and look at my a) winter wardrobe and b) yarn stash for evidence.

Why silk sucks
-Silkworms get boiled to death for their coccoons
-For a product that is basically a luxury
-Need I go on?

*Veganish, strict vegetarian, vegitan/vegetan (sounds like fake leather imo), insert preferred phrase here - but don't start tearing each other's hair out over who is more vegan!
**Or give to charity, or bury in the garden, depending on your views on it staying in use...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tricky questions

The Vegan Society (UK) now has an FAQs and tricky questions page on their website, dealing with pretty much any aspect of being a vegan. Also, if you like them on Facebook you get regular chances to throw your own tricky questions at Amanda, the society's head of media and public relations.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Vegans at work!

I say 'at work', but I also found these strategies useful when attending university as a student, and in many other circumstances where I had to be away from my own kitchen for long periods of time. Now, maybe you're chronically lucky and your canteen makes a conscious effort to have a clearly-labelled vegan option each day. Or maybe you're a little bit lucky and can put a meal together from side orders and get something proper one or two days out of five to vary the monotony. That's great - one day we will all be there,* but until that point here are a few tips for those who aren't so lucky. This includes me.

Tip 1: Packed lunch. If you have access to a microwave you're motoring - just stick a portion of leftovers in a microwavable tub to take in with you. Otherwise, you may end up brown-bagging it with sandwiches. Vary the fillings and types of bread you use, otherwise you'll get bored. Dress sandwich lunches up with carrot and celery sticks, soy desserts and fruit juice. Another cold lunch option is salad - by which I don't mean limp iceberg lettuce, I mean actual food. Tabbouleh, couscous and quinoa are great for this. Add chopped cucumber and tomato, maybe some grated carrot, plus beans for a protein shot. I've also been known to take in protein bars, flapjacks, sosmix rolls and bits of homemade apple pie. Oh, and there was the sushi-sans-seaweed episode, which may not have been my finest lunch hour** but did the trick of varying things a bit and using up leftovers. (See the packed lunch entries here for ideas, if you need any)

Tip 2: Snack. I don't mean gorge on crisps, that won't keep you full for long. Keep fruit, raw veg or nuts to hand to nibble on through the day. (Unless you work in a cleanroom or other environment where it's inappropriate to eat) These should keep you in energy even if your lunch is just sandwiches.

Tip 3: Establish what you can get. Even if the only vegan things in your canteen are plain crisps and overpriced apples, you may find these useful someday. The flapjack tends to be a standard - many of these are vegan, but not all, so you'll need to check the ingredients.

Tip 4: Lobby. Politely request that the canteen stock more vegan items. Ask any other vegans, vegetarians, people with dairy allergies, etc to do the same. Frame it as a good business move on their part. Play the meat-free Monday card if you think that'll be helpful. Raise the health issue. It's not the best tactic for convincing people to go vegan***, but in this instance it could be useful.

What are your favourite packups? Any successes in veganising your canteen? Answers on a postcard, or alterntively in the comments.

*In fact, one day all the canteens will be totally vegan :-D
**Not as bad as the cold latkes. Or the cold soy mince and cabbage, eaten that way because the staff microwave got too filthy to use safely. Trial and error folks...
***Or rather it doesn't do a good job of convincing people to stay vegan once they realise that we have the same potential to consume fat and empty carbs as anyone else.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Food staples

Having just published a post discussing how veganism is not all about food, I'm now going to do another long (and maybe not so interesting to those of you who already have these things sorted) post on - you guessed it - food. It may appear to some that I'm feeding - pun totally intended - the idea that vegans are obsessed with food.* However, this is (as I've said before) the main area where most people will feel the difference.** Readymeals, for example, are a whole lot harder to get as a vegan than a vegetarian - this means cooking for yourself more. It might take more effort if you're used to heating something up, but it will also save you money. Swings and roundabouts.

Vegetables - you know your favourites and what you can afford/store. Fresh stuff can't be kept for that long, so it's worth having a few frozen and tinned things around. I normally have frozen spinach (for curries and pasta sauces) and peas (curries and a side dish for burgers or roast things) and tinned sweetcorn (for chowder or an extra chilli ingredient).

Beans - either dried (and soaked, boiled and frozen) or tinned. (I think you can buy frozen ones now, but haven't explored that avenue yet) Standards chez Duck are kidney beans, chickpeas, blackeyed beans and the tins of mixed bean 'salad'. These are pretty versatile and encompass many options for chillis, curries, salads, homemade burgers - you get the idea. Don't forget to recycle the tins! ;)

Dried things - beans (if you're ok soaking them), lentils, split peas (need soaking overnight before use), soup mix (to bulk out stews and casseroles), stuffing mix (part of a roast dinner), rice, couscous, pasta.

Tins - veg (as above), beans (as above), baked beans, mushy peas (if you like them)

Frozen - veg (as above), chips, burgers - not the healthiest, but sometimes you need something quick. The freezer is also useful for storing leftovers.

Jars - yeast extract (e.g. Marmite - a bit of extra flavour and b12), pasta sauce (more are vegan than you might think) - and hang on to the glass jars because they're useful reusable storage.

Flavouring - start with chilli powder, cumin and mixed herbs and go from there.

Baking things - flour and margarine (and water, but I'm assuming you have this on tap) are the basics if you just want to make pastry. For bread you need yeast (and preferably sugar and salt). Cakes require sugar and baking powder and a proper recipe - that's the only thing I haven't been able to ad lib on!

It's worth having a few meals in mind when you do a big shop (or get a delivery - worth thinking about if you don't have a car). This way you can take stock of what you have already, how useful it will be in the next few days and what you need to add to it in order to get everything to fit together. It also means that you know you are going to use all the fresh bits before they go off! You can get some great bargains with short-dated veg, but careful of buying anything that you aren't sure fits with what you want to eat in the next couple of days - if it goes off before you use it then it's a false economy...

*Personally I kind of am, but so are many omnis - and at least I indulge the obsession without eating whole baby birds or other animal products acquired in more-than-averagely horrible ways. That's a good thing in my opinion, as it helps to counteract the other false assumption doing the rounds that vegans are completely anti getting pleasure from food or indeed anywhere else. Rant over. ;)
**The exceptions being dietary vegans who are transitioning to full veganism. Bear with me, there'll be more about that soon.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Bathroom business

This blog, like my other one, talks about food a lot. That's partly because I like food, but also because when you go vegan your diet is the first place you will notice a big change. Even from being vegetarian, it's a massive jump - vegetarian is pretty convenient these days, vegan involves a bit more adjustment of your lifestyle. But of course veganism is about more than a diet, so there will sometimes be posts here that reflect that. This is one of those.

Of the steps towards a fully vegan life, your diet will probably be the first and the biggest. The second will probably involve wanting what you put on your body to be as vegan as what you put in it - that is, you'll feel the need to veganise your bathroom products. There are two elements here: animal testing and animal ingredients. Animal testing is pretty easy to avoid. Animal ingredients are harder to avoid - you'll either need to learn some of the major nasties or rely on companies' labelling. The recommendations below are all for stores and companies I've used a reasonable range of products from - they are based on the preferences of a person in the UK with a restricted budget and no real allergies. The BUAV, NatureWatch and PETA should be able to give you more information.

Superdrug: This is my usual go-to shop for toiletries. Their own-label ranges aren't tested on animals - in the last few years they ditched the rolling rule policy for a fixed cut-off date and acquired the BUAV leaping bunny seal of approval. They have a wide range of own-brand products, including some cosmetics (which are a seperate post). The vegetarian/vegan labelling policy hasn't quite spread to everything they make, but has covered more ranges since being introduced a few years ago. Personal favourites are the Vitamin E and Natural High skincare ranges, and the little jewel-toned handwashes. My other half has been using the fruity shower gels, which have been on a ridiculously cheap special offer.

The Co-Op: As far as I know this is the only supermarket to have the BUAV leaping bunny. They also highlight any animal ingredients in their products, or (better still) the absence of these. They don't do a very wide range, but they have all the basics (shampoo, shower gel, deodorant and so on) and these are pretty good value for money. As an added bonus many branches have vegan doughnuts. (although not my branch, *SULK*)

Tesco: they are no good on vegan labelling or on generating a list of vegan products. But if you're a bit savvy about ingredients, they have a pretty good animal testing policy and you could probably restock on bathroom basics for under a tenner.

Lush: great if you like perfumed things, hellish if you don't. I'm in the first camp so this is where I go for a bit of a treat. Supplier boycott policy on animal testing, all products are vegetarian, vegan ones are marked with the Vegan Society sunflower. Most cities now seem to have a branch - Stirling finally got one just before Christmas 2010 - but if you can't get to a store you can shop there online.

Nakd: they make shower and bath stuff, skincare and hair products. Most of the range seems to be ok apart from one or two things with honey. No animal testing. Medium price range - £3-6 per product. Available in Superdrug and Boots.

Mitchums: a deodorant line made by Revlon. Ingredients were vegan last time I checked. No animal testing - Revlon knocked that one on the head in the 80s, one of the first major successes on that front. This is hardcore antiperspirant, your mileage may vary on whether you want that. Personally I like it.

Samy: largely vegan and paraben-free range of hair products available from Superdrug. A bit pricey - average £5/6 per bottle - but often on special offer. I use the volume products and have been generally impressed by them.

Original Source: a bit of a funny one. Their parent company, Cussons, is nothing to write home about on the vegan front. However, the Original Source range itself has the Vegan Society trademark, because that depends on what specific entities do rather than what they're connected to. Not my favourite, but I'm including it so you can make up your own mind. (Having said that, my other half has quite a few of their things, and I've appropriated his almond and coconut shampoo for leg-shaving purposes because it smells nice and moisturises as well as making foam. Undecided as to whether I'd buy more though.)

This isn't a definitive range, but hopefully there's enough there to get you started!