My vegan journey – a blogger’s story

It’s quite an egotistical thing to write about yourself I guess.

But writing a blog in itself is a bit self-indulgent, so I thought I’d explain a bit about how I came to be a vegan on a desert island.

My journey began before the internet – yes, people did exist before social networking, and people were actually able to think for themselves – although networking, marketing and sharing news and ideas took a bit longer, there was more actual talking to people face to face.

You see, not all vegans hate people. It’s true that some people do indeed suck, but not all of them. I like to shy away from huge generalisations, social media has been awesome in that it helps to spread the message, but the online bullying of vegans (sometimes by other vegans) has been very demoralising.

I digress.

I don’t know when I turned vegan. This is a shocking revelation in itself in the days of Veganversaries, but it’s true. I know I was somewhere between 28 and 30 at the time, but that’s as near as I can get,

Sorry. It just happened and so I didn’t really think about it. I’m 46 as I write this though, I do remember that.

I also remember turning vegetarian. I was 16, so it was the September of 1988. I know this because I had just started college in Boston. I was shy (I’m still very shy and get crippling anxiety in social situations – if I have to walk in a pub/party alone, I sometimes don’t turn up), quiet, unpolitical and not at all punk rock – although I did like Napalm Death.

Anyway, one of my new friends was vegetarian. He took us into the college library and put on a video tape (ask your mum) about the ALF (Animal Liberation Front). I went home and said I was vegetarian. That simple.

Friday was chppy tea night, so that night I had a big bag of chips instead of fish and chips.

And that was it. There was, and still is, a health food shop in Holbeach (the rural town in which I grew up), but supermarkets, in general, sold very little in the way of vegetarian food. I remember dried packets of Vegetarian Casseroles and Stroganoff and Lind McCartney did veggie pasties as well as pies. Dried soya chunks were the only real meat substitute.

I tried the one brand of soya milk available in the shop – it was horrible and that put me off veganism for the time being. Although, I do remember one of my father’s non-veggie friends asking me why I ate eggs when they contained baby chickens. I didn’t have an answer.

As a kid, we used to play games around being shipwrecked on a desert island – I think Robinson Crusoe type films were popular at the time. We made bows and arrows out of sticks. I remember only wanting to pretend to kill old and infirm animals to eat while “surviving”. Now I’d probably live off nuts, berries, roots and plants.

Also, the pioneering animal rights film The Animals Film (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Animals_Film) was shown around this time. Not only is this film better than all other animal rights films in my view, it included the Animal Liberation Front and hunt saboteurs in it as well as scenes of animal abuse, it was actually shown on mainstream television. Yes, it was part of Channel 4’s third night of transmission in 1982. So, this could have been the film (or part of it) I saw in the library – I may have taken it out on loan, or I may have seen a repeat – I can’t quite remember – obviously, I was only 10 when it was broadcast.

So how did I make the transition from vegetarian to vegan?

I just thought about it.

I remember I was living in Louth, in Lincolnshire at the time. There was a health food co-operative nearby and vegan food was becoming more readily available – although I started buying punk vegan recipe books. I loved anarcho-punk, and bands like Conflict and Subhumans had strong animal rights messages in their lyrics so that helped. But there was no social media. However, I know that part of my thought process centred around how it was unnatural to drink the milk of another species.

People kept saying to me “it’s natural to meat”, yet how could nicking milk from a calf be natural? So, in a way, meat-eaters turned me vegan.

And that was it. Did I stray? Yes, a couple of times by accident, and in New York when I struggled to find vegan food – but I wouldn’t now, and I am glad it’s so easy to spread the message and help people go vegan. Outreach is very important.

The title of my blog, while referring to the old cliché vegans often hear, “what would you do if you were stranded on a desert island?”, is also relevant in that my change and transition was a solo journey – as if my mind was on a desert island.

 

E’s are good, E’s are bad

When it comes to animal ingredients, the increase in the use of “suitable for vegans” label has certainly made things easier while shopping.

However, where things are not labelled in such a helpful manner, it’s the additives that make our lives more difficult – especially if, like me, you have a sweet tooth.

If you look at the list of E-numbers in food, it’s impossible to remember every single one and know exactly what they all are. And it’s quite often things like sweets that they’re likely to live inside – things that are more likely to lack informative labelling.

Thankfully, the list of definitely animal-derived E-numbers is relatively short. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the “might be animal-derived” list – which can make things a bit tricky.

The ones to definitely avoid are:

E120 – Carmine Dye – it comes from crushed up Cochineal Beetles and is used as a red food dye.
E441 – Gelatine – from ground animal bones and skin – one to look out for in sweets.
E542 – Edible Bone Phosphate – What it says really, ground up animal bones that helps keep food moist.
E901 – Beeswax – Used as a glazing agent – it’s wax made by bees.
E904 – Shellac – Another glazing agent – this time secreted by the Lac Bug
E913 – Lanolin –  sheep wool grease  – lovely right? It’s often used as Vitamin D3 (confusingly, there are vegan sources of that too). Look out for it in make-up, vitamin pills and anything fortified too.
E910, E920 and E921 – L-cysteine – You can find these evil triplets in bread. It’s made from animal hair and feathers (yummy, right?). Apparently, they’re used as a proving (or raising) agent”
E966 – Lactitol – As its name suggests, this one comes from milk. It is often used as a sweetener.

This list of those which may be animal-derived is much more extensive – hence why things become so complicated.

E101/E101a, E104, E153, E160a, E161b, E161g, E236, E237, E238, E252, E270, E304, E322, E325, E326, E327, E422, E430 – E436, E442, E445, E470a & b, E471, E472a-f, E473 – E77, E479b, E481 – E483, E491 – E495, E570, E572, E585, E627, E631, E635, E640, E920, E966, E1105, and E1518.

A lot of them isn’t there? A rule of thumb would be to air on the side of caution if there’s no vegetarian/vegan label – it can also help to look at the allergens list as many would fall under that category. There is also a good guide to E-numbers at http://ukfoodguide.net/enumeric.htm

One of the alarming things which come from looking at that list is the number of E-numbers banned in certain countries. That, to me, suggests that avoiding them altogether – whether animal-derived or not – may not be a bad thing. There is certainly evidence that many of them provoke adverse reactions in some children and adults.

 

A Wicked vegan pizza review

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Ever since Tesco announced a vegan marriage to Wicked Kitchen I’ve been curious to try one of the resulting offspring.

I have now had the opportunity to eat one of their babies and share my thoughts on the meal.

Vegan pizza seems to be a thing at the moment. I reviewed the very tasty Goodfellows offering here: https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/02/25/review-goodfellas-vegan-stonebaked-falafel-pizza/ and thought it a good idea to give my loyal blog readers an opinion on a competitor.

At £4 for a 280g pizza, it’s more expensive and smaller than the falafel pizza reviewed in the link, so, I do think it’s quite a pricey offering.

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As you will see from the photo, there is a rather long ingredient list, but everything on it does seem pretty natural – although I don’t like sugar, inverted sugar syrup and black treacle all being on there – but I guess, there is an underlying sweetness to most pizzas.

I must say that, again, this is a cheeseless pizza – I will endeavour to review a pizza topped with vegan cheese in the near future.

I used to make pizza toasties as a kid – so I was intrigued by a bread base pizza. It works pretty well – it’s crispy and tastes like a normal pizza base – however, there is too much base and not enough topping for my liking – especially for four quid.

The tomato sauce is, for me, the basis of all pizzas, this product does have that, so it does taste very pizza-like – always good for a pizza.

I also like the idea of shredded king oyster mushrooms as the “meat”. I’ve seen a few posts online using this as a replacement for pulled pork – and I’m a huge fungi fan, so it’s a win-win situation for me.

The mushrooms did remind me of pulled jackfruit, so they definitely work as a meat replacement. I would have liked more of them – but I will look out for the mushrooms themselves to use in my own recipes.

The overbearing taste here is one of chilli heat. If you don’t like spicy food this pizza is definitely not for you. I actually thought the chilli distracted from the other tastes – it hid the mushroom taste too much for my liking. I like chillies – but I like mushrooms more!

But if you are a chilli fan – and plenty of people are – this pizza will definitely not disappoint.

It’s nice that we have more and more vegan options and this is a nice offering – but I still prefer the Goodfellows pizza – it’s bigger and cheaper too!

https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/298910498

 

Farmfoods Veggie Kitchen products reviewed

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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/

 

Moo-ve over for the Vegans at Easter

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You can’t move for vegan-friendly Easter Eggs these days, if I were to attempt to review them all on here, I’d need an overdraft and a new wardrobe of clothes.

However, after my first blog on Easter eggs, I felt duty-bound to buy and, more importantly, eat more for your benefit.

This time, I went for the Moo Free Cheeky Orange Egg with Buttons (http://moofreechocolates.com/) and, as before, the buttons were in the packaging, not inside the egg as Easter tradition dictates.

However, I’m a big fan of chocolate orange, so I was also disappointed to learn that this does not count as one of my five a day – it’s got orange in it, so why not?

Moo Free have been one of the standard bearers for vegan confectionary for several years. They set the bar high before the supermarkets began to smell the money in veganism. While the choice is very, very welcome, please do check out the full Moo-Free range – I’m a big fan of supporting vegan businesses where possible.

Anyway, time to start on the egg. It tastes like chocolate with orange in it.

Is that enough, or do you want more? OK, well, the orange is actually infused into the chocolate through orange crystals, so as well as a subtle burst of sweet orange, you also get a satisfying crunch – lovely. I think “cheeky” is the right word, as the chocolate has a light texture and taste and a substantial sugar-hit, but the orange is not over-powering at all. It’s a nice understated addition to the taste that renders the egg very moorish.

While the buttons are small, and there aren’t a huge number of them, they are a nice, rich, chocolatey after treat – they don’t have the orange crystals, but this adds a nice balance to the whole package in my view.

It’s nice to have a milk chocolate alternative which is so tasty and the packaging and sweetness are both very child-friendly.

But while we’re on chocolate treats, I’m going to throw in something for the adults – the Vego Bar.

If you’re vegan and not familiar with these, where have you been? These beasts are available all year round, but Easter gives you a good excuse (should you need one) to tuck into a Vego.

They are thick hunks of chocolate filled with yummy hazelnuts. The nuts add bite and flavour, but, really, the chocolate chunks are so thick and creamy, they are an utter delight full-stop. Most vegan fairs, online vegan shops and many independent health food shops stock them. Go try.

 

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Vegan fondant delights

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Tesco Free-From Fondant Truffles

It’s brilliant how many new vegan products are gracing the shelves of supermarkets across the UK.

With Easter fast approaching, I have already seen a mass of vegan-friendly Easter eggs screaming “eat me” as I walk down the aisles in search of naughty Saturday night treats.

Seeing the new to me Tesco “Finest” free-from truffles when I only went in for Almond milk made this vegan’s heart skip several beats. I don’t mind admitting, I’m a secret chocoholic. Not so secret now eh?

These chocolates are perfect for those with a sweet tooth. You certainly get a strong sugar hit from them and they are very moreish. I can certainly see why people say you can become addicted to chocolate or sugar, eating one chocolate at a time really isn’t an option here – but do let me know if you have the willpower to pull that off!

The fondant centre is actually quite thick and carries an additional, albeit lighter chocolate hit. It certainly can’t be described as unpleasant.

The base is firmer than the rest of the chocolate, but is by no means hard. This gives the sweet a little more bite, something else I like very much.

Something else I like very much is tea. I’m a huge advocate for enjoying a cuppa and chocolates together and these offerings from Tesco do compliment a good cup of tea very well.

The obvious comparison is Choices Caramel Chocolate. Choices have long been a favourite of mine and I can devour a box within half an hour.

Obviously, the Tesco chocolates are fondant truffles and not caramel chocolates, but the idea is the same, if not the centres. I guess there’s enough of a difference to buy a box each – but the Tesco fondants are less expensive.

A box of Tesco Free-From Fondant Truffles costs £2 for 156g, whereas Choices Caramel Chocolates are £3.60 for 125g. A big difference then? Yes, but Choices still have the edge taste-wise – for me at least anyway, however, the Tesco chocolates are very nice and are certainly more than an adequate replacement at a lower cost.

I posted a photo of the Tesco chocolates in the Vegan Friends UK Facebook group and the comments were 100% positive, so it’s clear I’m not alone in being a big fan.

You can buy them online from http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=293818980

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Screenshot of people reacting to a photo of the Tesco Free-From Fondant Truffles in Facebook group Vegan Friends UK

That’s a vegan wrap! Co-op Falafel and Houmous Wraps reviewed

 

Vegan options are springing up all over the place – Pret’s tasty offerings, for example, have received plaudits from across the social media world.

It’s well-known that supermarkets have also been quickly introducing ranges to tempt vegans to part from their tallow-free cash in recent months – so I decided to try out Co-op’s perfect vegan-friendly lunchtime snack offering.

Famous for being the “ethical supermarket”, the Co-op has received particular praise from vegans for their jam and custard donuts. At two packs for a quid, these have long been a staple of vegan junk food addicts up and down the country. Their Falafel and Houmous Wraps are, I’m guessing slightly healthier than their sugar-laden shelf fellows.

I, personally, find falafels a little dry, so pairing them with creamy houmous is the natural thing to do – they go together like Friday nights and chips! I also prefer the hummus spelling of the dish – but the CO-OP has chosen to go with “houmous”, so I’ll stick to that for accuracy’s sake.

At £2.65 for two, you certainly get enough for the savoury side of your lunch, but I would have liked to have seen a little more houmous thrown in if I’m honest. But what there is does its job and means the wraps are not too dry – they’re not too wet either, which is probably why they haven’t been over-generous on the sauce.

A word of warning, the wraps are chilli wraps and, while mild, they do add a little heat and possess a pleasant spicy aftertaste. When mixed with the natural spice of the falafels, this can produce a satisfying taste to those of us who dislike bland food. But, if you don’t do spicy, you won’t like these.

They have a nice crunch to them too – perfectly provided by the lettuce, red cabbage and small pieces of carrot. So, as well as feeling that your hunger pangs have been satisfied, you come away with the smug feeling that you’ve eaten something relatively healthy while on the go.