Peterborough’s Christmas Vegan Success

Crowd an stall shot of Thrive 3 - Peterborough Vegan Christmas Festival

Thrive Peterborough Christmas Vegan Festival was another success for the Thrive Tribe.

Held on Saturday, November 23, in Peterborough, it was the third Thrive event following a ticketed summer gathering.

I am, of course, a member of said Thrive Tribe and one of the four organisers of Peterborough’s number one vegan Christmas festival – along with Kim, Nicola and Kelly.

I wanted to give you an insight into the organisation and motivations behind such an event.

Work actually began back in June when the Thrive summer event was still being planned. Even starting so far ahead, we were unable to find a venue in Peterborough available on the Sunday we wanted, hence we had to hold it on a Saturday this year.

We did, however, find a bigger venue next to an out of town shopping area with free all-day parking.

Parking and the venue being too packed were the common complaints from the first vegan festival we put on (I blogged about it – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/11/27/a-citys-first-vegan-festival-an-insiders-view/ ), so we listened to people’s views and booked a similar number of stalls in a larger hall.

This worked very well – accessibility is an important issue to me – I want everyone to be able to come and enjoy the day – parents with pushchairs, those in wheelchairs and people who aren’t good in crowds included – I think we succeeded in this aim.

One of the pleasant surprises for me was the number of local independent vegan businesses who applied for stalls – and it was great to see how well they did on the day.

We don’t have an estimate of the number of visitors at the time of writing, but I’d say it was slightly fewer than the 2,000 who visited last year – I put this down to it being held on a Saturday. More people work Saturdays than Sundays and more events are also held on a Saturday.

Booking stalls was surprisingly easy. We posted the event on Facebook and Instagram and the applications began to roll in.

I designed an application form and a list of terms and conditions and we set about organising meetings to discuss applications.

We then started to confirm vendors, promote them through social media and collect public liability and food hygiene certificates.

Things like not blocking fire escapes, electrical requirements (we had to hire two generators after discussions with an electrician) and what the venue would and wouldn’t allow all had to be taken into consideration.

For a small group of people working voluntarily, a lot of work goes into putting on such events – and we were working on the day too – marking out the floor for stalls, making sure everyone was OK, dealing with any issues and overseeing the volunteers, workshop rooms, photo booth and kids’ craft areas.

In the weeks before the event, we went on a PR drive, sending out press releases and printing flyers to hand out to businesses which were likely to attract interested customers. There’s no point in putting on an event if people don’t know about it – and we wanted everybody who might be interested to know about it.

A huge plus for us on the day was the presence of Hench Herbivore – a well known social media star who proves how fit and strong vegans can be.

Stalls at the event included doughnuts, cakes, cheeses, dog treats, candles, toiletries, pressure groups, skincare, food, drink and so much more – people forget how big veganism is now – it really has become an economic force to be reckoned with in the modern age.

However, my main reason for getting involved is simply to spread the vegan message in Peterborough. At the time of our first vegan festival, nobody had done it here before and I wanted to see that change. I travelled to vegan fairs and I wanted one on my doorstep – therefore, if nobody else was doing it then why shouldn’t I? And when Kim came to us with the idea, I jumped at the chance of getting involved (I already co-ran the Peterborough Vegetarian and Vegan group with Kim).

In conclusion, the hard work is worth it – but if you want to bring a similar event to your town on a DIY ethos, talk to people who have put of similar events – there’s a lot to think about before going ahead. But vegans are friendly people and vegan business owners are among the friendliest of all.

Crowd an stall shot of Thrive 3 - Peterborough Vegan Christmas Festival

A vegan guide to Peterborough (UK)

Blogger Paul with food from Resist Vegan Kitchen

When I first moved to Peterborough it was a virtual vegan wasteland – the only plus being a nice little independent health food shop in Westgate Arcade.

That shop has long since gone – and is much missed actually. Over the last couple of years, there has been a huge increase in the number of places for vegans to eat and shop, but there is no independent health food shop in the city centre. There is a Holland and Barrett in Bridge Street, however.

Products from Backyard Food
Products from Backyard Food

However, all is not lost by a long way – Backyard Food (https://www.facebook.com/backyardfoodpeterborough/), based at the Green Backyard community garden is open every Saturday and Sunday. This zero-waste shop also stocks a range of vegan goods and cruelty-free cleaning products and toiletries – plus they have Suma’s Vegan Sausages and Beans in a tin.

Be Kind Kitchen zero waste
Be kind Kitchen

Also zero-waste is Be Kind Kitchen (https://bekindkitchen.com/) in the city market’s food hall. Be Kind also has a range of delicious hot takeaway or sit-down vegan meals (the lasagne is to die for) – Angel, who runs Be Kind also has a delicious range of sweet treats in the fridge. You can guarantee that everything is vegan – down to the plant milk in your tea.

Vegan burger and vegan Mc Cheese
When Polly Met Fergie

When Polly Met Fergie (http://www.whenpollymetfergie.co.uk )is the main name people think of when it comes to veganism in Peterborough. Situated in Westgate Arcade, the fully vegan restaurant also has a jazz club upstairs. With a regularly updated menu, they use local products and have a range of both healthy and naughty dishes.

Vegan tacos
Tacos and Flipflops

The city also boasts a couple of fully vegan pop-ups, Tacos and Flipflops sell nachos and tacos at local events and in pubs too. With big portions, friendly smiles and delicious cake to follow, you can’t really go wrong. Visit https://www.facebook.com/tacosandflipflops/

Resist Vegan Kitchen are also known for their pop-ups but are branching out into home delivery. Famed for their seitan-based street food and, in particular, their vegan kebabs, I blogged about them a long time ago – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2017/10/29/vegan-pop-up-kitchen-with-punk-ethics/

You can find Resist at https://www.resistvegankitchen.co.uk/

Of course, there are restaurants and takeaways which aren’t strictly vegan but which sell vegan food – for example, Argo Lounge, near the Cathedral has such vegan delights as the Beyond Burger on the menu and there is a Wagamamas nearby too. I’ve blogged on them too – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/05/29/wagamamas-new-vegan-dishes-reviewed/

Wagamamas food
Wagamamas

The Good Stuff in Cowgate also offers many vegan options (http://www.thegoodstuff.io) and there is also a Prezos near the Bridge Street entrance to Queensgate.

Dessert lounge Creams Café, found in North Street, also has several vegan desserts on offer – including dairy-free milkshakes. Check out https://www.creamscafe.com/

Mock meats at Janson Hong
Mock meats at Janson Hong

Shop-wise, a special mention must be made of Janson Hong (https://www.facebook.com/Janson-Hong-107512039275800/ ), the Chinese supermarket on Bridge Street. It isn’t a vegan establishment but does sell many ingredients that are of interest to vegans – for example, the gluten-based mock meats in a tin, jackfruit, banana blossom and a wide range of tofus, noodles and sauces.

There is a Peterborough Vegetarian and Vegan Group which hold monthly food shares and socials. It gives local vegans the chance to try new foods and chat with likeminded people. Check them out at https://www.facebook.com/PeterboroughVeg/

There is also a Peterborough Animal Rights Group for the more activist-minded people – they meet at the same venue once a month too – the above link also carries details of their get-togethers.

Thrive Vegan Festival 2018 crowd
Thrive Vegan Festival 2018

Peterborough is also hosting a Vegan Christmas Festival for the second time this year. Hosted by the wonderful Thrive Tribe, it is the best vegan event in the country by a long way – and I’m not just saying that because I co-run it. It’ll be on Saturday, November 23 and you can find out more details here – https://www.facebook.com/ThriveVeganFestival/

Last year’s event was a huge success – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/09/23/peterboroughs-vegan-christmas-fair/

There are several businesses who pop up at vegan events such as Thrive and also offer online shops. For The Love Of Cake’s name speaks for itself – Sarah’s cakes are utterly divine – check out https://www.fortheloveofvegancake.com/

If tea is your thing, Very Craftea has a range of zero-waste, vegan-friendly teas from https://www.verycraftea.co.uk/

They offer free delivery in the city and you can find them at Thrive and other events in the region.

 

 

 

 

Do people really hate vegans?

Vegan protest

A recent article in The Guardian attempted to explain why people hate vegans.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/25/why-do-people-hate-vegans?fbclid=IwAR1Y_ZIehJTDu-REZWpqTCnnpOz_MgS2wRim2D2gA7eZOKjU3rUwY2q-cHw

With a provocative headline, the article is rather long, in-depth and, despite being full of history and good points, low on answers.

People dislike trends, there’s always a backlash against them and veganism is definitely a growing trend. People like to fight online and love the number of “likes” when they criticise veganism – Piers Morgan helped Greggs sell millions of vegan sausage rolls through giving them free publicity and sparking a debate. In a world where news sites like to post as many stories as possible during a day, veganism has become a buzz word which is seen as gaining an instant reaction.

News pages know veganism – like fox hunting – is a contentious issue and they like to fuel the fire with negative and provocative headlines – because the more comments, the higher their page “hit” rates – and this, in turn, makes them appealing to advertisers.

People don’t like their conservative world shaken up and veganism challenges the safety of what they have been taught and grown up with. “I like the taste of meat” really has become a convenient reason for not giving up meat.

It also must be said that there are a fair few climate change deniers in the world, and veganism is inextricably linked to battling man-made climate change.

People don’t like being told what to do – with climate and veganism whey ignore the message like a little petulant child with their hands over their ears shouting “I can’t hear you, la-la-la” despite the fact that what they are being told is totally based on facts.

Veganism really does threaten two whole industries – the meat and dairy industries, so, naturally, those involved in those industries are going to react badly to vegans – especially when we openly savagely attack the way they make their livings. Even our very existence through our purchase power is a threat – and our marketing strategies are heavily attacked and countered by their advertising campaigns and PR departments – look at the NFU’s reaction to the latest Tesco advert https://www.livekindly.co/watch-tescos-controversial-new-vegan-sausage-commercial/

I found the reaction both chilling and a beacon of hope – chilling because it shows that those who use aggressive marketing themselves are prepared to try and suppress their competitors – the history of animal product marketing was highlighted in The Game Changers too (my review – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2019/09/22/the-game-changers-vegan-movie-review/ )

I see hope because it shows that the rise and rise of veganism continues and it does pose a threat to those very industry which it is designed to threaten. Let’s be blunt, if we oppose the consumption of animal products then we want to see an end to the industries which profit from said products. Of course, the likes of Tesco who are cashing in on veganism also sell a vast array of animal products – maybe that’s exactly why farmers are fearful – think about it.

Finally, it has to be asked do people really hate vegans?

Behind the safety of a keyboard, I think may commenting on social media threads come across as anti-vegan, in real life, however, my experience is one of gently Mickey taking rather than full-on hostility. Certainly, there’s the backlash from the expected sectors of society, but on the whole, people I’ve worked with are considerate when it comes to going out for meals etc – after all, it has to be said, most people are still not vegan. We still have the freedom to protest in this country too, so vegans highlighting abuse and cruelty where they see it is carrying on this right and tradition – such protest just receive more publicity in the era of social media and as protests are more in people’s faces they have a greater impact – and more of a backlash. I don’t believe it’s anything personal.

A Lincolnshire sausage for a vegan Lincolnshire lad

Linda McCartney Lincolnshire Vegetarian Sausages

The widely-available Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages are considered the benchmark in veggie sausages. This has pleased many who, up until the last couple of years, have found they’ve been the only vegan-friendly product in the supermarket freezer.

Since 1991, Linda McCartney foods has been the major player in vegetarian processed foods. They are the go-to vegan staple for barbecues, unimaginative relatives and, to be fair, vegans who want cheap bangers and mash or vegan breakfast.

The Red Onion and Rosemary variety is even nicer – and I adored the Red Onion and Rosemary plait and I was absolutely gutted when it disappeared from the shelves.

The Chorizo sausages were the last new vegan sausage product I tried from Linda McCartney, and they’re divine.

I had heard about the legend that is the Vegan Lincolnshire Sausage from the kitchens of Linda McCartney but had yet to find said bangers.

But a trip to my local Morrisons has changed all that.

They were just staring at me from the freezer – and the only cost £2 for a packet of six – I was sold.

The reason for being obsessed about finding the sausage grail is simple – I’m a Lincolnshire lad.

Linda McCartney Lincolnshire Vegetarian Sausages

The first thing to notice is that they’re made of pea protein and soya-free is you have an allergy.

The pea protein gives them a softer interior to the other sausages – this offers a very pleasant sensation when eating them – as does the nice, but not overpowering hit of spice once you bite into them.

The skin is very much a Linda McCartney sausage, but the inside is very different – in a good way, a fantastically brilliant way in fact – it’s soft and delicious but gets very hot – temperature-wise. It’s the delicate hit of black pepper that does it for me – they are my new favourite sausages.

The Linda McCartney brand has pledged to go plastic-free by 2021 and its products are 96.4% plastic-free according to its website with a commitment to make the plastic they do use compostable – they also have a commitment to sustainable palm oil.

Linda McCartney is, of course, one of the big players when it comes to vegan and vegetarian food, so the fact they have serious eco statements on their website is great news.

https://lindamccartneyfoods.co.uk/our-food/vegan-range/

Linda McCartney Lincolnshire Vegetarian Sausages ingredients

The Game Changers – vegan movie review

The Game Changers film poster

The Game Changers is the latest in a list of “must-see” vegan films, but it is the first to receive such widespread cinema showings.

The Peterborough (UK) screening sold out and a number of my friends missed out – it is, however available to pre-order on i-Tunes at the time of writing, and I’m sure it will be available elsewhere in the near future – keep an eye on the website https://gamechangersmovie.com/

But is it any good?

In a word, “yes”. Unlike Earthlings and Land of Hope and Glory, it focuses on the impact of a vegan diet on a human body, while briefly touching on climate change – animal abuse is hardly mentioned and there are no disturbing images – although the discussion on the positive effects of a vegan diet on errections did make a few people blush – but it’s interesting viewing for penis owners and people who enjoy penises in a sexual way.

When it comes to star names, The Game Changers has them in abundance – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lewis Hamilton and James Cameron – who executive produced the film too.

It features interviews with vegan athletes, scientists and spends a lot of time with James Wilks – an elite Special Forces trainer and winner of The Game Changers The Ultimate Fighter. He is on a quest to discover the advantages of a plant-based diet in repairing the body after injury – obviously, the advantages of the diet are huge – but the fact that someone so closely connected to elite forces is endorsing veganism is huge news in itself and should banish a few ideas that vegans are weak and protein deficient.

World record-holding strongman Patrik Baboumian is also heavily featured – again this dispels any notion that a vegan diet leaves vegans weak and lacking in any nutrients. I like the fact that these athletes also points out the huge range of vegan foods which are now available.

There is a lot of scientific data in the film explaining why a vegan diet is healthier for both athletes and the general population. The information about vitamin B12 is particularly interesting – many state that it is only available from meat, however, it is added to animal feed and used to be available in the soil attached to vegetables – that is now killed by pesticides, therefore fortification or supplements are the best ways for humans to get B12 – vegan or not.

I was also particularly interested by the archaeological evidence challenging the notion that ancient man hunted to live. The argument that it was the marketing of meat that has formed many people’s beliefs in the need for it as part of a healthy diet, that it makes you stronger and more manly was fascinating to me. This section was well argued and it’s something I hadn’t thought of before. It has definitely given my another string to my bow when arguing veganism’s corner in debates.

The scenes of UFC fighter Conor McGregor mocking vegan Nate Diaz’s diet and then getting beaten by him made the already vegan members of the audience smile and nod that justice was done. McGregor was also seen relishing in his steak-based diet – however, Diaz was beaten in the rematch a couple of months later – this wasn’t mentioned or discussed in the film – a shame which could lead to some criticism.

Overall, it’s a very watchable film – the science is explained clearly and the narrative never gets bogged down in the complex scientific facts, but it doesn’t over-simplify them either – a balancing act which is hard to pull off successfully. The famous names and frank interviews are also a big draw for those interested in nutrition for athletes.

It’s well worth a watch and I definitely advise checking out the website for more details – here’s the trailer

 

The reason people hate vegans revealed!

I found the recent Press stories about vegans lacking choline a bit odd. At first, I thought it because we weren’t visiting enough public swimming pools, but apparently, it’s a vital brain nutrient.

I’d never heard of it before the Media used it as a “bash the vegans” stick, the Mail’s story even totally neglected to mention the plant sources of the nutrient.

Apparently, Emma Derbyshire wrote the piece for an opinion body, so it’s an opinion piece, not scientific fact and vegans had great fun debunking the story on Facebook. The anti-vegans were also less than quietly condemning vegans for their “nutritionally deficient” diet, an opinion backed up by no evidence at all.

The Vegan Society have summed the whole thing up rather well: https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/news/statement-media-reports-about-choline-and-vegan-diets

But that’s the point in this social media opinion dominated world, facts go to the wall and convenient truths rule the roost. I read someone said “I don’t trust scientists” on one thread. Personally, I don’t trust anyone who’d believe politicians and businessmen above scientists – maybe he thinks the world is flat, cigarettes don’t cause cancer, water isn’t necessary for survival and cars do run on baked beans – basically anything that isn’t a scientific fact! This is what we’re up against when debating climate change – one of the reasons it’s important to be more vegan. Yes, I said “vegan!” Most people say “plant-based” these days as if veganism is a dirty word.

Similarly, stories that vegans carry a higher risk of strokes – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49579820 – neglected to mention the fact the same study found vegans had a lower risk of heart disease in their headlines.

So, the real question is, why are people so worried about vegans’ health?

They’re not.

When people ask you “where do you get your protein/B12/iodine/choline” (delete as applicable) what they actually mean is “don’t be vegan, it doesn’t give you a balanced diet and that’s a good excuse for me not going vegan”. It’s another stick to beat vegans with. This one has “don’t you dare question my safe little reality with your vegan facts” etched on it.

They say “ignorance is bliss” and this rings so true when it comes to attacking veganism. Vegans are questioning the status quo, in effect questioning capitalism itself as the system is built on animal testing, animal agriculture and viewing our fellow creatures as commodities and not living beings – no wonder the Press, politicians and business leaders wish to lead the attack against veganism.

They do like to profit from the vegan pounds, of course, paying lip service to us by introducing plant-based products in supermarkets and fast-food outlets, raking in the vegan cash while failing to cut back on the number of animal products available.

People who question vegan nutrition online probably wouldn’t rush to your aid if you did collapse from protein deficiency. They laugh in a morbid “I told you so” manner when vegans happen to fall ill – totally ignoring all other factors. It is a sick way of reinforcing their prejudices if you think about it deeply – or not deeply at all come to that.

It comes down to asking why people hate vegans – and it’s not because we always talk about veganism, push our opinions down their throats or any other weak excuses, it’s for all the reasons above. Veganism remains radical, veganism remains rebellious and, fundamentally, it is the only way to save the planet’s wildlife and the planet itself. That this is seen as a threat shows that something is deeply wrong about people’s thinking and attitudes in the world today.

 

Asda’s Vegan in a tin range reviewed

Asda vegan tins

Nothing beats cooking vegan food from scratch, but Asda’s new range of vegan meals in a tin are great for those in a hurry or out camping.

Supermarkets have really upped their vegan game in the last couple of years – so much so, that some independent vegan shops are feeling the strain. But, with many vegans also feeling the strain financially and, it has to be said, time-wise, these little gems will come as an enticing alternative to slaving away in the kitchen. There is a certain stigma attached to eating meals from a tin – but it’s no different to any other processed food – in fact, tins are recyclable and much of the plastic containers housing other vegan processed meals are not.

Priced at either £1.25 or £1.50 a tin, they are pocket-friendly too. You can stretch them by throwing in your own ingredients too – for example, I add mushrooms to anything resembling a pasta meal.

So what do they taste like?

Jackfruit Thai Red Curry
Jackfruit Thai Red Curry

Jackfruit Thai Red Curry.

There has been a lot of hype of jackfruit, so to see it getting a look in with this new range shouldn’t be a surprise – although one of my Facebook friends described this meal as “ming”!

I thought it was a bit better than that. I liked the crunchy veg and the pleasant spicy hit – I ate it with a biryani which gave it even more heat but, even so, it wasn’t overpowering. The refreshing crunch of the water chestnuts was the best bit for me and the heat actually masked any flavour from the veg – although, jackfruit is pretty tasteless in itself anyway. But overall it did the job.

Asda Vegetarian bolognese
Asda Vegetarian bolognese

Vegetarian Bolognese

Despite most of them being vegan-friendly, all of the range are labelled “vegetarian” – which is odd.

This one is basically soya mince in a Bolognese sauce.

It’s OK. Tesco does one with the spaghetti already mixed in if you’re ultra-lazy but, personally, I like the bite of freshly boiled pasta. This one still tastes like it came out of a tin – but it has, so that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. It has a meaty feel, smell, but unfortunately, the tomatoes are relegated to a background status – in fact, there is hardly any evidence of their presence at all when it comes to taste.

Lentil Ragu
Lentil Ragu

Vegetarian Lentil Ragu

This is my favourite. It reminds me of Jack Monroe’s Tin Bolognese recipe in terms of taste and texture – https://cookingonabootstrap.com/2018/10/05/tin-bolognese-recipe/?fbclid=IwAR0YXJBZCAAVWpAS53hbyYAJMplcYp5mJw_HLOlvR_FVP6nh6xOmaqu07zs

I prefer it to the above Bolognese as the lentils give it more substance and a nicer taste. The tomato sauce is more prominent too.

I thoroughly recommend both this one and trying Jack’s recipe.

Smoky Three Bean Chilli

This is two chilli hot – which is about the right heat for me. It has the spice but maintains the taste of the other ingredients.

This one certainly smells like chilli and it has a nice thickness to it too. The smokiness is married to a distinctive spicy hit and it’s certainly full of beans – in fact, all of these meals are packed with veg, which makes a nice change.

A nice surprise.

Vegetarian chilli
Vegetarian chilli

Vegetable Chilli

There have been vegan-friendly versions of this tinned favourite around for years – even the Stagg veggie Chilli is accidentally vegan, and they’re all pretty adequate when it comes to making a jacket potato filling. I’m a bit odd, so I had this one with pasta – try it, I believe it works pretty well.

There’s a mild to medium heat here and a pleasant enough after-taste. The vegetable chunks impress once again and the overall feeling is one of a thumbs-up rating.

Sweet Potato Coconut Curry
Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

Welcome to my second favourite in this range. Although the sauce in this one is thinner, the taste isn’t. I love the flavour of the coconut combined with a medium-hot curry. There’s a lovely smoothness here and the colour is more appealing than some of the others. I’d definitely recommend this one with rice.

Overall, the range offers what you’d expect from tinned meals at a reasonable price – certainly a good option when you’re in a rush.

After the Ration Challenge

Me with homemade rice milk

 

Having done the Ration Challenge as a vegan, I thought I’d tell you all how it went.

I have previously blogged on my reasons for taking part in the challenge – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2019/06/12/why-im-doing-the-ration-challenge-as-a-vegan/

People are still able to sponsor me at https://my.rationchallenge.org.uk/paulbenton

The charity’s aims are explained on their website – https://www.rationchallenge.org.uk/

Just in case you wondered – I did complete the challenge successfully, and, as a result of my experience, have started to think about my food choices even more deeply than your average vegan (is there such a thing?)

While it’d belittle the challenge to call it easy, I didn’t struggle. I felt a little hungry at times, but I wasn’t desperately craving chocolate or chips – although, to live like that all the time would be difficult. The fact my friends were so very supportive meant I earned plenty of reward items, meaning a bag of kale helped immensely – having soya chunks as my chosen protein also went a long way – dried TVP is so light, that you get a huge amount for the allowed 120g.

One of the main things I realised – or remembered – was how easy it is to make your own milk alternative – rice milk just takes rice, water and a blender. Having just broken my blender, I have also come to appreciate how important kitchen equipment can be. You can get “cheap” blenders for a tenner – by I have found, to my cost, that they break very easily. I will be relying on my stick blender (a fiver) until I can replace said machine.

Making your own plant milk is fun and gives you a sense of achievement – you can also make just the right amount for your needs and save on packaging – a huge issue at the moment.

fried rice for the Ration Challenge
Fried rice for lunch

One of the other things I discovered was how tasty rice and beans are.

Yes, really!

I’ll admit I threw in both salt and my chosen spice – and usually bulked it up with soya chunks and kale, but just rice and kidney beans is fine in itself for a meal – especially if fried. I will admit choosing fried rice and beans as a main meal since completing the challenge.

I enjoyed the lentil soup from the challenge’s recipe book and also the basic flatbread bites – which is pretty much flour and water with added spice. I will be using both of these recipes in the future.

In fact, the only meal I didn’t really enjoy was congee – I prefer my rice with bite and, although I appreciate the energy this breakfast staple gave me, I did struggle to eat it without throwing up. Being sick is not advisable when you’re eating a rationed diet.

My overall belief that a vegan diet further an omnivore diet was reinforced – especially with the weight of soya chunks compared to the two sardines allowed as the meat-eating equivalent.

I realised that, even as a vegan, I don’t need to buy as many processed meals as I do – making dishes from scratch is healthier and more rewarding – and improves one’s relationship with food.

I came to appreciate that many have to live on a strict budget, and this is possible as a vegan, but, you have to be adventurous and eating the same or similar meals day in, day out can become very disheartening – you also have to be very mindful of getting enough of all the nutrients required for a healthy diet.

This made me think more deeply about the added challenge of people who live as refugees – life is certainly not easy and compassion is often in short supply in wider society – something which both saddens and frustrates me deeply.

Are vegan meat replacements too real?

Vegan burger which looks realistic

There seems to be a never-ending race to create vegan burgers which resemble meat in taste, texture and look.

The Guardian calls them “meat-a-like” foods in the following article:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2019/jul/02/im-paranoid-its-meat-the-rise-of-vegan-conspiracy-theories?fbclid=IwAR2MTm5HO65XPz5ONwS0IC4PhZMltOK-Jh5Slu6X6xbVNGwqQNAmkJzTx28

The following comment sums up how realistic things are getting: “”I always get paranoid when [fake meat] tastes so much like the real thing, that one day it’s all going to come out on the news that we have been tricked into eating real meat this whole time,” reads one comment on the Facebook group. In February, a commenter posted a picture of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll, seeking reassurance that it wasn’t real meat. “Had to stop eating,” they wrote. “Please tell me it’s safe.””

One phrase which vegans hate with a vengeance is “but bacon”, however, over the years there have been a number of bacon substitutes on the market. It seems that here too the alternatives can be super realistic, as highlighted in this article:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/shopping-deals/super-realistic-vegan-brand-tricks-17910556

There are a couple of interesting comments in this particular article. The first paragraph states: “Looking to reduce your meat intake but can’t tear yourself away from the idea of from a weekend bacon sandwich, or a roast chicken?”  So, are these products even aimed at vegans?

It seems not! These are vegan products not targeting vegans, and that does actually make sense.

I became vegan because I don’t believe it’s right that animals have to suffer and die to provide for me. The environmental and health benefits are something I discovered after turning vegan, but they are reasons why people are not starting to either turn vegan or reduce their intake of animal products. The article also says: “The Isn’t Bacon even have half the salt of conventional bacon, no cancer-causing nitrates and zero saturated fat – so it’s even better for you.”

So, you see, the health-conscious vegans are part of the target audience here – and that is why there is such a desire to make products so realistic.

Meaty-looking vegan burger

While many die-hard, long-term vegans hate the idea of anything which resembles meat, those looking to reduce their intake or new vegans may crave a realistic substitute. There is also the fact that vegans dining with meat-eating friends or family may wish to have something which will have their meal companions say: “Wow, I can’t believe that’s vegan!” Although the potatoes, carrots and cabbage on their plate also happen to be vegan!

The Mirror article also includes the line: “It’s also more sustainable, as it uses 90% less water and 70% less CO2 emissions than meat.”

The environmental impact of animal agriculture has been in the headlines a lot recently and meat production’s impact on the planet cannot be underestimated.

Exact facts and figures are hard to come by, but this Guardian article from 2018 is a pretty balanced look at the issues:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/may/07/true-cost-of-eating-meat-environment-health-animal-welfare

Its conclusions are pretty similar to those which vegans have been highlighting for some time now.

I tried the Beyond Burger with cheese a couple of weeks before writing this piece and I was shocked at the realism. I have pointed out before that some supermarkets have started stocking vegan foods alongside meat products on their shelves:

https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/07/15/vegan-in-the-meat-aisle/

As I pointed out then, I am not the real target audience for these products – but it’s undeniable that the growing number of vegans will also buy them – and maybe buy them for meat-eating partners, children or friends who come to dinner.

I do like the No Bull Burgers a lot, and I love that they have added beetroot juice, I don’t think this makes them look or taste like real burgers particularly, but then I don’t really know what “real” burgers taste like. I do know what they smell like, however, and I despise it.

I didn’t despise the Beyond Burger, I just felt it was a little “too real”. I understand that people don’t turn vegan because they dislike the taste, look and texture of meat, but because of the suffering behind the meat. That’s me really, but I have grown to dislike the idea of meat so much that the thought of its taste repulses me. But others are different and they are also catered for by such products.

Of course, the fact that these products are controversial means lots of debate and therefore free marketing for the companies behind them.

I personally prefer veggie burgers to have bits of vegetables in them – but I’d love to hear what you think.

Why I’m doing the Ration Challenge as a vegan

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I am taking part in the vegan version of the Ration Challenge 2019

The money will help raise cash to support Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan.

The money you raise will provide food, medicine and education for refugees and support the wider work of Concern Worldwide (UK) to tackle hunger and extreme poverty with the most vulnerable people in the world’s poorest places.

I believe, as vegans, it’s our duty to respect all living beings – and that includes our own species. The meagre rations I’ll be living on for a week – flour, rice, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, 120g of tofu to replace the sardines non-veggies get, vegetable oil and my rewards – so far, I’ve earned a spice, salt and a few tea bags. I can add a vegetable to this if I raise enough – and a protein (more tofu for example) if I raise £400 – then a luxury item up to £3 if I raise £850. Basically, the ration pack I have to live on during Refugee Week (June 16 -23) is the equivalent of what a Syrian refuge has to live on in a camp in Jordan.

There are recipes provided in the guidance pack – this includes basic rice dishes, falafels and hummus.

It will also require planning and organising a meal planner – something the charity advises strongly. This is another good habit to get into – especially for those who live busy lives during the week and/or live on limited means – why not cook in bulk at the weekend and adapt what you cook throughout the week?

I will have to make my ingredients stretch, so planning will be key – and many families – even in Britain do have to live like this. Remember we live in the era of foodbanks!

Refugees have to be resourceful with their family packs, the rewards system emulates that. I have to resource the rewards myself.

Not much is it? And some people go without.

I have long believed that veganism doesn’t need to be expensive – this shows how vegans can survive on a diet of very little, it also shows me how lucky I am as a vegan in the Western world – there is so much choice, so many luxury items and we sometimes take for granted our extensive and varied diets.

This challenge will help me appreciate what I have and reaffirm my relationship with food – something I believe vegans have an advantage of over meat-eaters anyway – but it takes me back to the basics. Many vegans don’t realise how difficult it is for poorer communities to survive and veganism is seen by many as expensive – this is something I have a particular interest in challenging – staple foods are not expensive – and I love the fact that Jack Monroe has published a book called the Tin Can Cook filled with recipes based around canned goods. I am all for pushing the belief that cooking from scratch doesn’t have to mean using a huge list of expensive ingredients. Check out https://cookingonabootstrap.com/category/vegan-recipes/

It is also helping me on my journey to use less more – I buy so much expensive processed food and it isn’t necessary. Vegans really are spoilt now, and I want to get back to basics, I want to expand my cooking repertoire – but not through recipes with a long list of hard to find or expensive ingredients, but through mixing cheap store cupboard staples and seasonal vegetables.

An example of a recipe from the Ration Challenge online recipe book is Simple Falafels using 85g of chickpeas, a spoonful of flour, 60ml of oil and any earned spice and a little of any earned vegetable.

“Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them with 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight.

Drain and rinse well with water. Pour them into your food processor or pestle and mortar along with any earned spice, and a small amount of earned vegetable.

Mix all ingredients together until you have made a coarse meal. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that… but don’t over-process, you don’t want it turning into hummus.

Pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Test one falafel in the centre of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown. If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the centre. Cool the oil down slightly and try again.

Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot.”

Obvious hummus is another option I can add. I am lucky that I have a food processor, otherwise, I could mash with a fork. But you can see that while I won’t starve, the resources available to me are very different from those I would purchase during a normal weekly shop.

I can also make basic rice milk as I’ll have lots of rice – Soak 155g of rice in hot water for about 3 hours, drain, add a litre of warm water and blend – you can make rice milk bread with this too.

Finally, I wish to challenge the notion that vegans don’t care about humans. I am as much pro-human rights as I am animal rights, I’m doing this challenge to show my empathy for the poorest of the poor – those who flee warzones only to find a life of hardship and persecution. I am a member of Amnesty and believe in a philosophy I call Total Equality – a belief that all living beings with a central nervous system are equal.

To sponsor me, please visit https://my.rationchallenge.org.uk/paulbenton