A Christmas vigil

Look into the eyes of the dying.

The main picture was taken at a slaughterhouse vigil. The pigs in the truck were about to have their throats slashed.

This is just before Christmas – a season on joylessness for many, many animals slaughtered for the benefit of human over-indulgent. As half the world starve, the grain that could fill their bellies goes towards raising animals for the dinner table of the “first world”.

This is followed by Boxing Day – a day of pheasant shooting and pheasant shooting. Like the animals killed for meat, many of the pheasants’ bodies are simply thrown away – surplus to requirements – they died for nothing.

Of course, Christmas is followed by Veganuary  (https://veganuary.com/) – more people than ever are expected to take part next year (2019) (https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/veganuary-2019-biggest-year-300-000-taking-part?fbclid=IwAR2zaJ6AVMoLteL1MiVItEzNe3K5SrCDuG5yxzSpZk2IdMFEE02dPeBM3qY0) meaning that there are shining lessons of compassion breaking through the darkness of environmental destruction, animal pain and misery and dangers to human health.

There are even hints that more and more people are shunning meat for their Christmas dinner (https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/one-in-12-people-will-tuck-into-a-vegan-or-vegetarian-christmas-day-meal-in-the-uk-this-year/?fbclid=IwAR20R8-71GijVbvHaWzx5HysyYCKP12vkkYAND27P7naUHsfTxu_9HZQ8D4) – given the rise in veganism over the past few years, this should really come as no surprise. But it is easy to feel alienated by simply browsing the comments to posts about veganism from national media outlets. I know, I know, the first rule of social media is never read the comments!

We sometimes forget that vegans are still in a minority, and the constant advertising of meat and “traditional” Christmas meals rams this down our throats at every opportunity over the festive period. The fact that many feel like the “token vegan” at office parties or company meals out can make this an even more depressing time of year, but the sheer number of meat-free Christmas dishes now available should be cause for joy.

I think, this year, every major UK supermarket has their own version of the vegan Christmas dinner – the Guardian has even rated them for us – although, it has to be noted this is just one person’s point of view – https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/dec/15/vegan-taste-test-grace-dent-rates-supermarket-christmas-dishes

So, with rising numbers of vegans, one has to ask why the advertising industry is still stuffing images of meat down our throats over the festive season, families make light of the “ vegan option” and some people still feel alienated. Indeed, many of us do not like the thought of sharing a table with those consuming animal products – even the smell is intolerable for me.

This is why attending the vigil was important. Even those of us who have been vegan for a long time need reminders every now and then as to why we choose a compassionate lifestyle – and what could be more compassionate than being there before somebody dies?

It’s also important to make the connection between the living being and the slab of meat on somebody’s plate – need I elaborate any further?

A city’s first vegan festival – an insider’s view

 

We don’t know exactly how many people attended the Thrive Vegan Festival in Peterborough, all we know was it was an overwhelming success.

We put it together in a couple of months. Our small team, spearheaded by Kim Coley, of Soul Happy Well Being Centre in the city, booked the stalls, organised the workshops, the venue, the layout, the rules and regulations and managed to really put veganism on the map in our little UK city.

Kim hosts and I help with Peterborough Vegetarian and Vegan Group’s monthly foodshare, it was this group which was the catalyst for the event. The Thrive Tribe formed with the sole aim of bringing a vegan Christmas fair to life. Peterborough had never held a vegan event. Smaller towns and cities like Boston, Louth and Lincoln had, so we wanted to get in on the action, and boy did we succeed!

We couldn’t have done it without a lovely band of volunteers, who manned the door, filled the goodie bags, served tea and coffee, helped at the video booth, manned the kids’ room and so much more.

Yes, there were issues, mainly because the event was so much more successful than we could ever have dreamed. There were animal rights groups, vegan food, vegan clothes, vegan chocolate, vegan cakes, vegan cheese, vegan cosmetics – you name it, we had it.

The workshops covered everything from vegan motherhood to making curry via Cath Kendall and John Curtin. And, yes it was heaving, busy, packed, a joy to behold for those of us who had worked so hard at pulling it off.

But it was also rewarding beyond belief. I wrote the terms and conditions, designed the receipts and checked people’s public liability insurance. I kept people up to date via email and also worked on some of the PR for the event. Informing the local press and radio and getting the message spread across social media helped enormously. We also conjured up the hashtag #thriveveganfestival in advance of the event to help people get the word out.

The help the people at the venue gave us on the day and in advance was invaluable – we actually called them because the toilets had run out of loo roll! We also had a minor issue with one of the electric points tripping – which was very annoying for the two food vendors affected. Luckily, it was sorted out and both stalls enjoyed a bumper trading day. Sadly, one outside food vendor didn’t make it due to breaking down on the way.

One of the best things for me about attending such events is actually talking to people. I get so inspired by other activists and vegans, it’s always brilliant to hear different perspectives and ideas, and there was plenty of that on Sunday. It’s also great to see the vegan community pull together to make things like this happen.

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It’s also amazing to see how many vegan small businesses there are now. There are many of these events up, down and around the UK now and there are different independent companies at each and every one! Isn’t it fantastic to see so many entrepreneurs putting ethics at the heart of their working lives?

Every event I go to adds new vegan delights to my kitchen cupboards. This time I was over the moon to buy vegan BBQ sauces from Callowfit (www.musclefinesse.com) – they have a brilliant range of dressings and sauces and they are based in Peterborough  too!

 

 

Peterborough’s Vegan Christmas Fair

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If writing a blog isn’t self-indulgent enough, I am now going to blog about something I’m helping to organise – the ultimate in self-indulgent blogging – and I’m not sorry.

Peterborough (UK) has a thriving vegan scene and, come November, it’s going to have a thriving Vegan Christmas Festival. Not only is this the city’s first Christmas Vegan Festival, but it’s also the city’s first vegan Festival or fair full stop.

In short, this is the biggest vegan event in Peterborough so far – and I’m helping to organise it – so, of course, I’m going to shout about it.

It will be held at the Fleet – a community centre in Fletton, one of Peterborough’s townships – on Sunday, November 25, 2018, from 10am until 5pm and, hopefully thereafter.

There will be stalls – lots of stalls, from independent traders to larger, more established vegan companies, workshops and speakers. You can register to book a stall by emailing Peterboroughvegans@gmail.com with the subject line Vegan Fair Stalls detailing the type of business (independent, a sole trader, or an established firm), what you will sell and a contact name and phone number.

The idea was put together by Kim Coley, who runs the city’s Soul Happy Wellness Centre (soulhappy.org.uk) which hosts the Peterborough Vegetarian and Vegan Group’s (https://www.facebook.com/PeterboroughVeg) monthly Food share (despite the name, all the food is vegan) – Kim and I run the group – or help to run it, all the members have a say in what we do and how we do it.

We decided that towns much smaller than our (albeit baby) city were hosting vegan events, so we should too. After all, Peterborough is very central, has fantastic transport links and the venue itself has a large car park.

Peterborough already has Resist Vegan Kitchen (https://www.facebook.com/resistvegankitchen/) serving vegan street food from its base at the Ostrich Pub (https://www.facebook.com/ostrichinn/) a very vegan-friendly bar. Resist also cater at many events in the area. I’ve blogged about them before (https://veganonadesertisland.com/2017/10/29/vegan-pop-up-kitchen-with-punk-ethics/ )

There is also a new jazz bar/vegan restaurant in the city ( https://www.facebook.com/WhenPollyMetFergie/ ) and a new stall providing vegan street food is heading for the city market ( https://www.facebook.com/bekindkitchenvegan/ ) and let’s not forget Backyard Food (https://www.facebook.com/backyardfoodpeterborough/ ) a small shop at the Green Backyard community garden selling eco-friendly stuff for the house, body and belly. I bought vegan cookies from there today.

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Cookies and crisps from Backyard Food

Anyway, a small group of us from the vegan group is helping to organise this vegan extravaganza and as we put it together we will be on the lookout for volunteers, suggestions and any help in publicising the event.

Jodie has already designed the awesome event poster/banner.

We look forward to seeing you there.

A vegan at Christmas – Star Wars, nut roasts and mince pies

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I saw the Viva ad promoting veganism at a showing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi today.

Sadly, it was followed by several supermarket ads showcase all the meat available this Christmas. For me, that sums up Christmas as a vegan. Although we are growing in number and share our stories, finds and views in vegan groups on social media, many of us will spend Christmas amongst meat-eaters.

I’ve often said that the festive period is a bad time for the animals – many millions are consigned to dinner plates – and worse…the bin when too much meat is purchased! We also have the festive fox hunts, reindeer cruelly paraded in a foreign climate, unwanted puppies dumped and wildlife left to freeze to death.

However, there are many positives to being a vegan at Christmas too. The local animal sanctuaries, for instance, often receive generous donations at this time of year (donate to Brook Farm sanctuary at http://www.bfas.org.uk/ or Hillside at http://www.hillside.org.uk/ in the UK). Plus, we have Veganuary (https://veganuary.com/ ) to look forward to and there are more and more vegan options to make your Christmas feast delicious as well as compassionate.

I usually buy a Vegusto roast for my Christmas lunch (https://vegusto.co.uk/) They are natural, vegan and soya-free. You do pay a little more than some other roasts, but I think they’re worth it – and great for cold cuts. Being a mushroom addict, I’ve gone for the Porcini Mushroom Roast. They do a great starter pack too – which is a fantastic introduction to their range of fake meats and cheeses.

I have had Tofurkey before too – this seems to be the favoured “meat” of choice for many – and I can’t blame them. It’s available at your local Holland and Barrett and many other health food shops. Again, it seems expensive – but you can feed a family from one roast. The outer layer can get a little tough when it’s roasted, but, other than that, it’s very tasty.

I’ve also tried the Cheatin’ Celebration Roast – also available for Holland and Barrett or http://www.vbitesfoods.com I had this a number of times so you can tell I enjoyed it! It comes with vegan sausages wrapped in vegan bacon – so you get a proper Christmas feeling from it – the roast itself is already sliced too – an added bonus! It comes with gravy too. Of course, you can buy nut roasts in many places, including Tesco – https://myvegansupermarket.co.uk/product/tesco-festive-nut-roast-mulled-wine-cranberry-480g/ – or make your own – there are many recipes online, and people have their own takes on this classic too.

There are many posts in vegan groups about finding vegan-friendly cakes and puddings over Christmas – and specialist websites often stock them – but I got my mince pies from Iceland and my Christmas pudding from B&M. It’s often a case of just looking through the ingredients – something vegans have become very good at over the years. As I get older, I’m finding I have to keep my glasses on while I shop so I can read the ingredient small print of products!

Many supermarkets now stock vegan custard and single cream and Sainsbury’s now stock a vegan Whipped Cream in a spray can – and, again, you can buy it in a can or carton at many health food shops anyway – even Amazon stock it! I must give Costa’s vegan-friendly Christmas cake slices the thumbs-up too – well worth a try if you’re popping in for a coffee over Christmas.

Linda McCartney now produces mini-sausage rolls and “chipolata-style” sausages for that Christmas tea – and you may have seen the posts about the Violife cheese platter available at Sainsbury’s.

There are festive selection boxes available everywhere – I saw a vegan one in Morrisons yesterday – or you could splash out and go for a box of Booja-booja – very nice for indulgent vegans.

The point is, there are so many vegan products now available, it’s impossible to cover them all in one blog. I, personally, love my traditional veg – the best festive products to consume on a budget. I fry my sprouts – chop them up tiny, fry with diced onion, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper for about three minutes – they are tasty and still have a nice crunch to them for 30 minutes also works well.

It’s easy to get downhearted by the obvious contradiction in celebrating through what vegans see as death and destruction of animals. But, just by showing off the vegan alternatives you are opening people’s minds to the possibility of another way of marking the occasion. We can buy ethical presents, eat ethical foods and drink ethical drinks – but we don’t have to spend a fortune in doing so.

For me, it’s good to remember that Christmas doesn’t have to be extravagant, the DIY experience brings joy to the cooking and present-making process and strips away some of the stress – after all, Christmas is supposed to be merry for everybody – whatever the species.

As for the film, well Star Wars has been a festive treat for many of us over the past couple of years – and this one has several vegan undertones!

 

A vegan at Christmas

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When I was a child, the humble nut roast was seen as the staple of veggie Christmas dinners everywhere.

These days, of course, a vegan can go through life without ever going near a dry and dull nut roast. There are of course people who enjoy nut roasts – just as there are people who enjoy watching Elf – I, personally, prefer self- flagellation!

OK, there are some great recipes to make the humble nut roast less humble and slightly more edible, but there is a wealth of alternatives in the world of the 21st century vegan.

I am going for a Vegusto Roast this year, as I’ve become rather bored of grabbing a Celebration Roast at every given occasion – although, price-wise the two are very similar.

Many will forego the processed option completely and make their own Mushroom Wellington, vegetable roast, or even, God preserve us, nut roasts. A simple Ecosia search, or walk through Facebook’s Christmas Wonderland will provide suggestion after suggestion. Recent issues of vegan and vegetarian magazines also provide plenty of suggestions.

Many Christmas puds and mince pies are vegan by default. The news that Iceland’s own brand of mince pies are vegan-friendly is great news for those doing Christmas on a budget. They cost £1.50 for a pack of 12. I, however, already have some Foods of Atherny Mince Pies as I snapped them up at the Animal Aid Christmas Fair. A great event in early December every year for stocking your cupboards with everything you need for the big day (or the looming nightmare of forced consumerism – Veganonadesertisland caters for all vegan beliefs).

This very day, I found a Christmas pud in Morrisons for my table. Their own brand Rich Fruit Christmas Pudding is vegan-friendly and contains booze! Alpro do a widely-available Single Soya Cream (or a custard – an item also produced by Oatly if you prefer soya-free) and vegan squirty cream is now widely available online and at vegan fairs. This year, Coasta is selling some rather nice vegan-friendly slices of Christmas cake in their shops – I thoroughly recommend giving that a try.

 

I have already reviewed the Tesco selection box and they also produced a dairy-free Advent Calendar this year – it’s a bit late for that now though – unless you wish to devour the first three weeks’ chocolates in one go – which is actually quite tempting! I have added a Moo-Free selection box to my Christmas shelf as their chocolate is divine. But if you want something a little more luxurious, you can’t beat Booja Booja products. But online stores like Animal Aid have a huge range of vegan products available.

Holland and Barrett have many nibbles in their fridge and freezer – I have picked up some Bites VegiDeli Spicy Bean Bites and the absolutely massive VegiDeli 48-piece Party Pack (also sold at H&B) has gone down well in previous years – but you need a huge freezer in which to house it Remember the one in the film The Shining? Well one about that size should do it)!

Obviously, things like vegetable spring rolls, onion bhajis and veggie samosas are available all over, as are the staple favourite Linda McCartney Sausage Rolls. You can, of course, always make your own and enjoy a truly sustainable festive lunch. After all, it’s a time for family – and what could be better than cooking together at the family time of year?

A couple of my previous blogs deal with vegan cheeses – another popular evening or afternoon snack – especially nice with strong pickled onions!

Many stuffings are accidently vegan and so are many gravy brands – including Bisto!

Away from the meals themselves, being vegan can be a bit of a nightmare if you’re the only vegan in the family (or indeed the village). But letting family know to the things to avoid when buying you gifts can help – otherwise you end up with leather gloves, a woolly hat and bubble bath tested on rabbits! Not to mention dairy chocolate and gelatine-based sweets….

Avoiding meat can be difficult at this time of year – I hate the smell so choose to eat separately from those who have a “traditional” Christmas lunch. The other festive traditions of fox hunting, shooting, parading or showing reindeers and horse racing also horrify me – but there are demonstrations up and down the country against the former on Boxing Day – and serve as a reminder that Christmas isn’t really an animal-friendly festival – despite the John Lewis ad!

Many animal sanctuaries – including Hillside – offer “in lieu” presents, where you can buy hay or carrots for the animals and let your loved-ones know through a certificate and, in Hillside’s case, a small calander.

Just because the occasion itself neglects our fellow species, it doesn’t mean that we have to as well. Enjoying a vegan Christmas is easier than saying “pass the sprouts”!

 

Every Little Helps for a vegan Christmas

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Tesco Selection Box review

 

Time was, Christmas was a complete horror show for vegans – a dry nut roast for the festive lunch and an apple to follow. Of course, sweets and chocolates were politely declined.

But now, vegans are big business and there are festive vegetarian magazines, an array of festive roasts in supermarkets and health food shops (I noticed one with a used by date of December 17 last week) and chocolate, boy do we have an array of chocolate to choose from!

People have still been excited to see the appearance of Tesco’s own-brand Free From Cho Selection Boxes however, because, now, we have truly hit the mainstream.

Despite the fact it’s only November, and I personally believe the word “Christmas” should be banned before December 24th, I decided to brave the commercial madness on behalf of you lovely people and bought one.

It cost me two quid, which, looking at the contents, is about right. You get three Choc bars – the normal Choc one (a milk chocolate alternative), a Choc ‘N’ Crispie and a White Choc, plus two small packets of choc buttons – a normal milk alternative packet and a white choc packet.

As all of these normally sell for 40p a throw each, it doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that the price is very fair. All the products are palm oil free too, which is important to many vegans.

There’s a small spot the difference game on the back, as, after all, my guess is these a generally not marketed at 40-something cynical blokes.

This is also borne out by the tiny number of buttons in the packets – but with the white ones being sweeter than sugar itself, that may not be a bad thing. The choc ones could be used on cakes as they too are medium sized – those ones are quite creamy, but still carry a noticeable sugar hit. But, again, we need to remember they are aimed at children, and they will absolutely love them.

The Choc ‘N’ Crispie bar is probably the best of the bunch as the crspie bits helps to detract from the sweetness. This means it has more of a creamy taste than its Choc counterpart – I prefer it to the Sainsbury’s equivalent I reviewed in an earlier blog. Talking of which, I have reviewed the other two chocolate bars from this box before too. But here’s a quick reminder for those who are new to my ramblings….

The White Choc Bar has a very sweet smell about it and, in fact, also tastes very sweet – but creamy too. It’s quite heavy and indulgent, but I like that.

The Free From Choc Bar is a little hard when you bite into it, but many people like the crunch effect. It does have an overpowering sugar hit, but isn’t really creamy enough for me. That isn’t to say it isn’t nice, it is a nice treat, it just doesn’t have the chocolaty taste that some of the other bars around possess.

All in all, it’s a good value stocking filler for the young and not so young vegans this Christmas and it’s great to see vegans getting more and more recognition on the High Street.

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