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.

Plant Kitchen makes its mark

Much has been written of the new (ish) Marks and Spencer (M&S has always sounded too much like S&M to me – sex and shopping really don’t mix) vegan range. Apparently, there are more than 60 new plant-based products in the imaginatively titled Plant Kitchen. (https://www.livekindly.co/marks-spencer-launches-plant-kitchen-60-vegan-meals/ ). I couldn’t buy them all – well, I probably could as most are reasonably priced, but it’d take me a month to eat them all, so I bought an armful and decided to review that arm’s contents for my lovely readers.

The first ever supermarket vegan coleslaw has been a hit on social media, as has their potato salad – but, to me, you just shred some cabbage and bung it with vegan mayo for the former and do the same with potatoes for the latter – so I didn’t purchase those.

However, it has to be said, that at two or three quid a pop, most of these products are pocket-friendly as well as vegan-friendly – something I like very much, as I’d always viewed Marks and Spencer food as something middle-class officer workers buy during their lunch after grabbing some new pants from the clothing department – I think some of their pants are vegan-friendly too, incidentally!

The first product I tried was the No Chic’N Nuggets. So, Marks and Sparks have become the latest vegan product producer to try and pun their take on a meat-based meal. But, for some reason, I always feel attracted to fake chicken products above all other fake meat products. And these didn’t disappoint – not too much anyway….

Nuggets

They have a nice strong texture; thick and, dare I say, meaty? But there is no hint of a taste explosion here, I guess nuggets are made for dipping in your barbecue sauce, ketchup, mayo or whatever takes your fancy (I don’t recommend these for dunking in your cup of tea though). They have the ability to absorb flavours, they appeal to kids and work as a good nugget should. They are soy-based, so if you’re soyaist, I don’t recommend them.

No Chic’N Chunks are similar to the nuggets, except not nugget shaped and not coated like nuggets – in other words, they’re meant for curries, stir-fries, salads etc. They perform that job very well and can be promoted above some of their more expensive rivals in my view.

Again, they’re mainly soya, but if you’re OK with that, give them a go.

The No Pork Sausoyges are a pun too far, but they don’t taste as bad as they sound. You’ve guessed it, they’re another soya-based delicacy. Soya is, of course, a plant, but it isn’t the one I immediately think of when I read the phrase “plant-based”, but to be fair, Marks and Spencer do use other plants in their range – plants which are much more interesting than the humble, over-used soya bean.

 

Sausages

Back to the sausages. They’re good. They look like how we’re taught sausages should look, with their meat sausage-style skin and they taste pretty damn good. To me, they’re to sausages what No Bull Burgers are to burgers – in other words, head and shoulders above most of the competition. The seasoning is just right, boast a nice texture and taste lush with gravy.

The Beet Burgers are the only soya-free product I tried and they’re also the prettiest. Aesthetically, I love the red look of beet products – just as I love the satanic black look of charcoal products – but like those, the red doesn’t actually bolster the taste at all – they don’t taste red, although I have no idea what red tastes like. Black, I guess, should taste either burnt or evil – I’m told charcoal buns taste of neither – and beet burgers don’t taste of, well, much at all really.

They actually contain more chickpeas than beet and they are pretty substantial offerings, so good value really, they just taste a little bland to me. To be fair, I’ve found the same issue with other brands of beet burgers, so it isn’t something that’s solely down to Marks and Spencer – it’s just that beetroot lakes a bit in flavour when it comes to using it as a burger ingredient.

Burger

But, all in all, it’s great to see another High Street giant giving busy vegans an ample choice of processed food to fill their weekly shopping baskets.

https://www.marksandspencer.com/c/food-to-order/adventures-in-food/plant-kitchen

 

 

Sunday dinners, Veganuary and plastic

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Review – V-Bites Meat-free Meatloaf

A vegan meatless meatloaf had to be worth a try post-Christmas.

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to automatically skip traditional Sunday meals, and I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting dishes to throw into the mix.

V-Bites came up with the goods on this occasion.

As part of their VegiDeli range, I was excited to find this in my local Holland and Barrett – and even more excited to give it a try.

I have liked the Cheatin’ roasts and love Macsween Veggie Haggis – my favourite roast substitute as it’s totally natural and very filling – but like a boy in a vegan sweet shop, I get excited by new vegan foods.

As Veganuary rumbles on, the hunt for “meaty” replacements to tempt new vegans grows, and this is certainly “meaty” – maybe too much so for some vegans.

The main problem I had with my Meatless Meatloaf was actually getting into the thing. You need to remove the tight plastic casing to cook the thing – it’s harder to get into than the Free Masons – mainly due to the metal clips at each end!

Also, plastic is bad – its affect on the environment is directly deadly for many animals – so, V-Bites, how about dropping that bit? To be fair, a lot of processed vegan food comes in a plastic prison and it’s something we really should be pulling companies up on – it simply isn’t cool!

Once you’ve got into it, it takes a fair while to cook – definitely closer to 50 minutes than 45 (the packaging says 45-5o minutes) – but, on the plus side, it is a chunky beast – I reckon you could get three good servings from it.

So, how does it taste?

It’s OK, in short. Personally, I thought it could do with a little more seasoning – or some seasoning really. A few herbs would have certainly livened it up – or maybe I’m too used to plenty of herbs and spices in vegan dishes – but many meat dishes are powered by these plants to make them taste better too!

It has a nice meaty texture, look and is certainly tender. The taste reminds me a little bit of some vegan minces on the market – so a good gravy, tomato sauce or mustard certainly adds a welcome flavour punch to this substantial and filling dish.

You can buy online here: https://www.vbitesfoods.com/product/meat-free-meatloaf/

But what’s your favourite vegan Sunday dinner? Please comment below – or in the social media thread which brought you here. I also welcome your recipes for vegan dinner dishes.

Also, I’m after your Veganuary stories for future blogs, so please get in touch.

Where have all the vegans come from?

The number of vegans keeps growing and growing and social media keeps uniting them.

It’s odd really – animal rights protests and protest movements are attracting a fraction of the participants these days in comparison to the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it does actually make sense.

Many new vegans are driven by celebrity culture promoted by social media – often this means people are vegan for health reasons – and the argument that veganism is a healthier diet is certainly compelling.

But there is certainly a rise in compassionate vegans – people who are vegan for animal rights reasons – and the rise in social media means that there has also been a rise in social awareness. Look at the reaction to the film Earthlings compared to the Animals Film – the latter was actually broadcast on Channel 4 during its opening week. At the time, of course, there was no social media, internet, or even mobile phones, so the Animals Film was only talked about in school playgrounds, offices and common rooms.

Yet, in many ways, the Animals Film is more important than Earthlings because it got there first and got mainstream coverage – and it includes footage of the ALF and hunt sabotage. It’s worth tracking down on e-bay.

One could argue that the huge increase in the number of vegans saves countless lives in itself – and it does. Vegans are everywhere. When I first became vegetarian, there was one brand of soya milk in my local health food shop – and it tasted like dish water.

Now, every supermarket stocks plant milk and most stock plant cheeses. Most restaurants have vegan options and veganism is talked about in the national press.

Even farmers have been complaining about plant milk being called “milk” – because they see the rise in its popularity as a threat to the declining dairy industry.

However, social media also promote laziness – anyone can share a petition, comment on a story or fire off an email – getting out and demonstrating, or doing direct action seems less, well, popular these days. That’s probably because electronic protest is so easy, or maybe it isn’t seen a socially acceptable – I’m not sure why.

The rise in veganism has, by many, been labelled a “middle class thing”. The rise in luxury foods like hummus and avocado as vegan staples hasn’t helped – the latter is over-priced and over-rated in my opinion.

The main issue I have with vegans on social media is bullying. People who are vegan for different reason, new to veganism and transitioning are often shamed, shouted down and attacked for using this or that product, liking this or that person and not boycotting this or that company – it’s a very easy way of turning someone against veganism. Gentle debate often produces better results – especially with people who are, broadly speaking, on the same side as us.

On the plus side, information sharing – such as where is good and bad to eat, where you can buy what and swapping recipes and cooking tips has never been easier – and sometimes, online friends can become real-life friends.

It is also true to say that film of animal abuse is now easier to share – you are not limited to TV as a medium and nearly everybody in the Western World can take video on their mobile phone. This means that animal abuse is very often caught on video and shared widely. The same goes for vegan messages and recipes – and definitely for vegan products – look at the Gary publicity!

So, which came first, the decent vegan food, or all the vegans? Well, firstly, there is no replacement for cooking from scratch and using natural ingredients. I, and many other vegans, eat too much processed food – because it’s available.

Supermarkets are driven by demand – and social media gives a medium to voice such demands – so, the rise in veganism can, I believe, be the reason supermarkets are catering for us.

The message is being heard and spread because it’s backed up by science, welfare concerns, health concerns and, it has to be said, the promotion from celebrities and, in particular, sports stars, as a healthy diet.

Indulgent vegan lunch treat

CO-OP Sweetcorn Fritter & Pineapple Salsa sandwiches

Limited Edition – £2.50 for two.

 

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If you’re looking for a vegan summer lunch treat and are feeling flush, these are a welcome addition to the choices out there.

The fruity hit of pineapple, the slight zing of salsa heat, the crunch of veg and pleasant taste of the red pepper bread are all reasons to indulge with this summer treat.

On the other hand, the price tag and an ingredients list that would pass for the first chapter of a novel are the downside that scream “buy some strawberries instead”.

Of course, it’s positive that High Street supermarkets are embracing veganism – but that’s probably the marketing execs getting their backsides into gear rather than any long-term romance with ethical living. Either way, it annoys the NFU, so can only be seen as a good thing. And, it’s the CO-OP the only vaguely ethical supermarket – or, at least, the least unethical supermarket, in the UK, so, their vegan output really does have to be taken seriously.

Sadly, this branch’s (Orton Centre, in Peterborough) is seriously lacking in the vegan-friendly freezer department – so one can’t have everything it seems.

Back to the sarnies – and you could have eaten both in the time it took to read the above – they smell nice, they look nice and they taste quite good. The cool salsa dominated taste-wise and the aforementioned hit of fruit is nice, but I wasn’t blown away – even spice-wise or, indeed, taste-wise in general.

They do lack a “wow” factor, and that is a bit of an issue for me. There is nothing in the vegan rule book that says we can’t enjoy utterly fantastic food. We should not expect bland or “OK” vegan options – we deserve to be bowled over with tongue orgasms every time we pay over the odds for vegan food many think we should be “grateful to have”.

Given this, an indulgent price should be reflected in the taste of the product – so, CO-OP, close but no cigar.