Vegans vs plastic packaging

Bekind Kitchen's herb refills

We all know veganism is better for the environment than a vegetarian or omnivorous diet, but why are so many vegan processed foods packed in plastic?

For instance, the Iceland No Bull range comes in a cardboard box with a pointless plastic window to help you see the frozen product inside – it actually looks similar to the picture on the box – so why do it? Iceland has actually committed to eliminating plastic from their own brand products, making this most curious – https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/iceland-plastic-free-packaging-own-brand-products-recycling-pollution-environment-a8161081.html

Iceland's No Bull Burgers

The main issue I have with Iceland is that there is no recycling information on the packaging – so, do they like us so much they want us all to email them and ask them? Do we guess and recycle anyway (this can contaminate a whole load of recycling), or tear off the plastic bit and recycle the box?

More concerning, the tough plastic bags the likes of the No Chick & No Porkies Paella come in doesn’t have recycling information either.

Farmfoods’ burgers and sausages just come in a cardboard box like Linda McCartney sausages – surely this is the best way to go? But the bags the Meatless Balls come in at Farmfoods say “recycle with bags at larger stores” – in other words, if you have nowhere to recycle plastic bags in your area you have a problem – unless you become a plastic bag hoarder – something I don’t recommend.

Iceland vegan Meatballs packaging

Vegan cheese packaging has long been a bone of contention for me. Some vegan cheeses come encased in a plastic coffin and you literally have to stab your way in using knife strikes which put your fingers in mortal danger. It also renders storage impossible, so you have to down the cheese in one vegan cheese munching session – that isn’t really healthy for you or the environment.

 

Tesco’s own brand of plant-based cheeses come with a peel-back top, so the stabbing drama is avoided – but they do state they are “not yet recycled”.

Yet?

They don’t give an estimation as to when the packaging will be recycled -that might be helpful. Maybe if it said “not recycled until October 2020” be could hoard our empty packets for a while – or just not buy the product until then? Or, maybe that’s what they’re scared of happening? Either way, it isn’t good news.

Every little really does help when it comes to the environment. The climate emergency is killing off animals and as vegans, this is something we really want to do everything we can to halt. Going vegan is a huge start, but looking at the packaging of our food makes a huge difference.

For example, I buy my mock meat in a tin from my local Chinese supermarket (also available at https://www.orientalmart.co.uk/ ) as tins are easily recyclable and better than a mass of plastic packaging.

Vegan chicken in a tin

It is also worth checking out your local zero waste independent traders – take your own refillable containers to replenish your hers, spices, rice, flour, soya chunks, muesli, Sos mix and more – local to me, for example, Spice of Life health food shop in Bourne (https://www.facebook.com/spiceoflifebourne/), Backyard Food (https://www.thegreenbackyard.com/backyardfood/) in Peterborough and Be Kind Kitchen (https://bekindkitchen.com/), also in Peterborough all offer this service.

Some packaging that appears to be non-recycling friendly actually is – for example, VBites products look heavily encased in plastic, but one look at their website (https://www.vbites.com/frequently-asked-questions/) tells you it can be recycled, so my advise is either check or ask.

Much has been written about zero waste products in the bathroom and getting rid of plastic straws etc, I now believe it’s time to get our house in order when it comes to vegan food packaging. Most of the plastic wrapping is unnecessary – and alternative products are available to consumers. Maybe we should start informing manufacturers exactly why we’re choosing not to purchase their products when the plastic wrapping is not as cruelty-free as the product it houses.

Veganism doesn’t have to be expensive

As inflation rises and wages continue to stagnate the price of vegan processed food has recently become more and more noticeable to me.

I have been grateful for the fact so-called “budget” supermarkets have been embracing veganism too for this very reason – I will be visiting Iceland very soon, and I reviewed a new vegan-friendly line from Farmfoods a while ago – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/02/05/farmfoods-veggie-kitchen-products-reviewed/

However, of equal concern has been the rise and rise of recipes on social media that call for about 25 different ingredients – including many hard to get or quite pricey ones.

Of course, there are a few simple replacers we can use for some ingredients – vegetable oil works as well as olive oil, table salt as well as Himalayan Pink Salt and so on.

When I mentioned my concerns on Facebook, I was inundated with recipe ideas and suggestions for cheap vegan-friendly ingredients.

Obviously, I wondered about the prices of meat in comparison. I haven’t eaten animals for 30 years, so I honestly had no idea how much a body costs. I was shocked – life really is cheap. Cheese for £1 a block, 50 mini-sausage rolls for £1, a whole chicken for £3, eight tinned hot dogs for 50p…. This was all in my local Tesco Express, but no wonder people see veganism as a “middle-class thing”.

It’s easy for us to say “but isn’t it worth it to save lives?” But that’s a very patronising attitude towards someone in food poverty who is really struggling to make ends meet – the reality for many families today.

Put simply, there aren’t enough budget vegan-friendly items on sale.

Vegan-friendly ingredients, however, are another thing. Vegetables – especially if you eat seasonally (something I recommend for the good of the environment too) can be very inexpensive.

TVP 2

However, the “from scratch” approach is much more budget-friendly – and it isn’t necessarily as time-consuming as one may think. You can get a kilogram of Textured Vegetable Protein mince for a fiver from Amazon, but my local health food shop sells it and the chunks loose – so you can scoop as much as you need pick ‘n’ mix style. The pictured chilli I made was produced using this – it’s much cheaper than a packet of frozen soya mince from the supermarket – I just hydrate it for five minutes in vegetable stock (water from boiled veg counts as stock too). I gently fried two carrots and a large onion in garlic and cayenne pepper and then added passata. I added a tin of drained kidney beans, chilli powder and then broccoli and mushrooms (any veg will do. Tasted for spice levels and cooked for 20 minutes.

I did enough to keep for a second evening meal – maybe with a jacket potato this time. The passata was 35p for a carton, the beans 30p for a tin, the spices and veg were in my store cupboard. A really useful media link is https://cookingonabootstrap.com/category/vegan-recipes/website

Writer Jack Monroe has the prices in pence of each recipe and has a section of the site dedicated to vegan recipes – the link will take you straight there.

There are cookbooks aimed at the budget vegan too, such as https://wordery.com/students-go-vegan-cookbook-carole-raymond-9780307336538?currency=GBP&gtrck=TFFaVzRkM1BPK2pGc0lVTlN6NVVIQ0NpM2tCcFNkcXIxL2hPaU1zYmxKMllXLy9lMFdlYkVhR0pPUDFLZE1PZ0ZKZlo1d2Z4K2JpY0FTYXZvbjNWTEE9PQ&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvcjq8piJ2gIVyLftCh0mdA5JEAQYASABEgIDbfD_BwE

 

 

I also bought a steamer basket from Wilkos to cook veg in a healthier manner. At £4.50, it was much cheaper than buying a steamer itself. You put the vegetables in the basket, stand it in boiling water, and Bob’s your uncle. Well, he would be if I could adult properly. The first time I used it, I nearly burnt the kitchen out as I let the pan boil dry – a bad, dangerous and smelly mistake. But, hey, we live and learn – or learn while being burnt to death!

Dahls, soups, home-made burgers (I struggle with getting them to bind, I will admit) and spag bog were all suggestions from friends and group members on Facebook. Stew and dumplings was a favourite too. But, make a spag bog on Monday, add chilli powder the next day and you have a slightly different offering for the next night. It was also pointed out that Poundland sells cashews for £1 – well worth remembering for making nut cheese recipes.

One social media comment that did spark my interest was from Alison Hawtin, who said: ”I just made a soup…roasted a cheap butternut squash and some garlic, cooked some leftover carrot and celery sticks on the hob with water, added some dried herbs and then whizzed this up. Added to the deskinned squash, mashed in a pan, add more water and/or soya milk and salt/pepper and Bob’s your uncle!”

I used to use a similar soup recipe years ago – I didn’t even whisk it up – just cooked it in a pan as a kind of chunky soup. I got the recipe from a punk zine- there used to be a lot of cheap vegan punk recipe ideas.

Another tip is, of course, to look for reduced items – or visit markets at the end of the day – I used the latter idea as a student in Leicester in the 1990s. The market traders would often try to get rid of produce at a reduced rate late in the day. But supermarkets often shift salad bags cheaply – also damaged tins etc – all perfectly useable.

EM Charlie’s stew and dumplings post also resonated with me: “Completely wholesome and balanced and delicious! My favourite meal! Red lentils (dried), celery, carrots, onion, leek (or basically any veggie that you enjoy), butter beans (or any bean) simmer for 40 mins with 2 veggie stock cubes, then combine half the amount of vegetable suet to flour with water for dumplings and add in balls to the stew. Let simmer for another 20 minutes. Serve with optional crusty bread and butter! Will last for 3-4 meals minimum.

Again, I used to make a variation of this years ago.

I guess I have become lazy since buying a freezer and having a greater choice of processed foods to hand. But I now aim to reduce my intake of such products (except for review purposes ha ha) and rein in my food bill. I see it as a healthy challenge. It should also help to improve my relationship with the food I eat.

 

Farmfoods Veggie Kitchen products reviewed

DSC_1373

It seems that a there isn’t a week going by without a new vegan product launch these days.

One the one hand, it’s great news there are so many products from which to choose, but, it does mean that with so many supermarkets fighting for the vegan pound, our independent health food shops have difficulty in competing. As someone who always bats for the small guy, I find myself torn between trying the new ranges and supporting small businesses.

Farmfoods isn’t generally seen as a big player as far as supermarkets go – but it is good for those on a budget – when I bought products from their Veggie Kitchen range, I got three for a fiver!

I decided to try all of the vegan-friendly products in the Veggie Kitchen range because it really didn’t cost me very much to do so.

Sausages. The sausages are of a similar size and texture to Linda McCartney’s famous veggie sausages – the benchmark by which vegan-friendly sausages are usually measured if we’re honest.

The Farmfoods effort has a similar rusky taste, but they have a herby hint that’s very pleasant indeed. I prefer them to the Linda McCartney ones – and they are certainly value for money – you get eight in a box!

Meatballs. These seem to lack the seasoning hit that their sausage sisters provide. You get a hefty pack and a meaty texture, but they are just a little bit bland. However, this does mean they soak up other flavours well and are great in a passata with pasta or in a nice onion gravy as part of a roast dinner.

We have to remember this is cheap processed food, so sometimes you need to spice things up a little with sauces or seasoning.

Mince. You get a substantial pack of soya mince to use in your spaghetti Bolognaise or shepherd’s pie. Again, the mince alone is a little bland, but then, who eats mince on its own?

It works perfectly in a good spag bog, and that’s all you need really. It doesn’t have a dominant flavour, and, I guess, that’s the point really. You get a lot for your money, meaning it can be stretched across several tasty meals.

Burgers. The Veggie Kitchen burgers have a meaty look and texture. By meaty, I mean substantial – they don’t look or taste like a dead animal – I feel the need to make that clear in our Veganverse. These also lack seasoning, but bung them in a bun with some salad and relish and you have a great burger. They also go brilliantly with gravy.

I have to point out, that while not exploding with taste, none of the products are offensive to the tastebuds – none of them are horrible and none of them are overly disappointing.

Southern Fried Chicken Poppers. These are my favourites in the range. The coating gives them a slight crunch and provides a mild peppery taste – one that’s very agreeable too!

The texture is gorgeous. They almost melt in the mouth – while, again, not having a powerful flavour. But they are perfect with ketchup, which, importantly, means they are very kid-friendly and they get the thumbs-up from me.

2019 may well as well be known as the year of the vegan sausage roll! Everyone seems to have been at it – new vegan-friendly sausage rolls have been popping up everywhere – and Farmfoods have got in on the act too.

As with many of their products, these no-frills mini-rolls do the job. They’re rather lacking in a herb or spice hit, but they’re certainly not horrible – and I’ve bought them more than once – which is an endorsement of sorts in itself.

All-in-all, if you’re after cheap, quick, processed food, or freezer staples, you could do worse than popping down to Farmfoods.

https://www.farmfoods.co.uk/