13 October 2019

Seeking inspiration from Sweden

I’ve been banging the vegan activist drum quite a bit recently so this week, inspired by a big tidy-up of my recipe collections, I thought I’d get back to basics, and one of my real passions: vegan recipes. I’ve been busy filling the gaps in my ‘World Vegan’ scrapbook and this week, the focus has been on Swedish food. Earlier this year we took our third trip to Sweden. This time we made it all the way to Stockholm. Unfortunately it was just too far in the time we had left to drive a further 1000 km to the Arctic Circle, but it’s still on my wish list. Maybe a boat trip would be more environmentally responsible. 

Some great inspirations come out of Sweden: Ikea, Oatly and, of course, Greta Thunberg. It’s a great country for vegan food. When you think of Swedish food, probably the first thing that comes to mind is meatballs, especially if you’re an Ikea fan. Next, it’s probably fish, and it is true that the Swedes do eat a lot of fish – soused herring and Gravadlax being top of the list. But it is actually quite easy to veganise many of their traditional dishes, just leave off the hunks of carcinogenic animal carcass.

Way back in December 2016 I blogged about our Swedish Vegan Christmas. Since then, I’ve made Swedish vegan meatballs many times. The recipe bakes up a batch of about 36, so they’re a great stand-by to keep in the freezer. Brilliant with mashed potatoes, chips or pasta. There’s a great sauce recipe over at one of my favourite blogs Connoisseurus Veg­ and an alternative meatball recipe, too. But Swedish cooking is not just about meatballs or fish. Some of the traditional recipes include Janssons Temptation, a dish based on potatoes; Smorgasbord, a type of open sandwich; Knackbröd, Swedish crispbread; Raggmunk, a potato pancake and Ärtsoppa, yellow pea soup. All of these are eminently veganisable.

I’ve been making a version of Jansssons Temptation for many years. In fact, it was one of our favourite way back in the days when we first started campervanning. We used to call it ‘anchovy potatoes’. The fiddliest thing is slicing the potatoes into matchsticks, but don’t skimp on this as it will cook best if they are all about the same size. I’m not sure who Janson was or why he was tempted by this dish – some reports say it was the Swedish opera singer Pelle Janson, others that it takes its name from a 1928 film Janssons frestelse. It’s basically a potato gratin, and in the original version is flavoured with smoked sprats or anchovies. All I do to veganise the dish is swap out the tin of anchovies for capers and use soy cream or soy gratin cream preferably, rather than dairy. If you can get hold of Oatly crème fraiche all the better. Capers don’t have quite the same flavour as smoked fish, but overall it is pretty near perfect autumn comfort food.

Janssons Vegan Temptation

Four large potatoes, cut into matchsticks
One onion, sliced finely
Two-three cloves garlic
Two tbsp capers
250ml brick of soya cream or Bjorg Soja Gratin
Two-three tbsp fried breadcrumbs (garlic fried is extra good!)

In a large frying pan, heat a generous glug of olive oil and fry onion and garlic until softened. Then, layer the potato matchsticks with the onion mix in an ovenproof dish, sprinkling a few capers in each layer. Pour cream over the top and scatter with breadcrumbs. Cook at 180c for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Serve with a green salad, or steamed green vegetables such as broccoli or green beans.

On the subject of winter warming comfort food, we are now approaching the soup season. Unfortunately, Mr VV is not a big fan of soup, but this version of Ärtsoppa is so thick with its chunky potatoes that it’s a meal in itself. Yellow split peas are quite easy to find in France. Look for netting bags near the dried beans in the vegetables area, or buy en vrac in your own bags from the BioCoop. The advantages of both of these meals are that, not only are they easy to make and filling, but they are also quite cheap to rustle up, too.

Ärtsoppa: yellow split pea soup

One onion, diced
Two or three garlic cloves, minced
One cup yellow split peas, washed and drained
Two or three large flurry potatoes, peeled and cubed
Two tsp Marigold vegan bouillon powder
Two tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
Salt and pepper
Colza or olive oil

In a large heavy lidded pan heat a little oil and sauté the onion and garlic until golden. Add the potatoes, stir well and put on the lid to steam for five minutes or so. Then add the split peas, bouillon powder and enough boiling water to cover all the contents. Stir well. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently until both the potatoes and the split peas are cooked. It’s difficult to give a precise measure of water to add, but make sure it does not dry out while cooking, top up if necessary. When the soup is ready remove half the potatoes with a slotted spoon, then add the nutritional yeast and seasoning. Use a stick blender to puree the soup to your preferred consistency. You can add a bit more water if necessary. Then add the whole potatoes cubes back, stir well and serve. You could garnish with some chopped herbs or a few chilli flakes for added zest.

6 October 2019

Girls’ day out at Under the Lime Tree

Under the Lime Tree, a vegan and vegetarian B&B and spa retreat, has been on my radar for several years. I’d been promising myself a visit, but just never seemed to find the right time or someone to go with. A solo trip felt overly self-indulgent. So, when DD’s annual visit coincided with her birthday what better reason did we need for a girls’ day out? Back in the UK she’s a holistic therapist, so I was a bit concerned it might be a bit of a busman’s holiday, but I needn’t have worried.

Living as we do, in the middle of nowhere, there’s no fast route to UTLT although it is only 40 miles away as the crow flies. Nevertheless, we had plenty of time so we set the sat nav and let TomTom lead us along the winding back roads of the Haute Vienne and Charente borders. It was a glorious day, with clear blue skies and a warm late summer sun. We passed through quaint French villages and past soft-eyed Limousin cows lazing in fields laid bare by the scorching heatwave. Eventually, after a few wrong turns that landed us in a Lidl carpark, TomTom and Google maps were in agreement and we pulled up, literally, under the lime tree.

After a warm welcome from Nikki, our spa day began with a sumptuous vegan lunch under a shady gazebo. Aubergine steaks baked with lashings of garlicky BBQ sauce, two salads of rainbow colours, all made with produce picked fresh from the potager. The feast was complimented with a cooling soy yoghurt dip and crusty olive bread. Dessert was a luscious butternut squash cake with a healthy dose of chilli, topped with raspberry sorbet. We dutifully turned down the offer of wine in favour of lemon water. Once replete, it was time to change into our cozzies and enjoy a post-lunch herbal cuppa in the spa pool.

The location of UTLT is stunning. Set in about twenty-five acres of pasture and woodland, the traditional stone buildings are set around a sunny courtyard. An enormous lime tree stands guard over the garden – I wonder how old it is? – its leafy boughs offering a shady place to relax post-treatment. Or maybe sit in the little summerhouse and enjoy a view over the valley. In every nook and cranny there are seats, loungers, hammocks and sofas, stones, statutes and artwork. The spa pool is set at the edge of the garden, just before a sweeping meadow falls away, so once you are relaxing in the warm bubbles it’s almost like an infinity pool with a huge backdrop of blue sky. You can’t help but immediately feel at ease here. The atmosphere is at once calm, yet has a feeling of energy. It’s peaceful and quiet, and as I later discovered, had no mobile phone signal. And that’s a good thing, right!

It was probably about twenty years since I’d last had any type of beauty treatment, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Nikki told us her speciality is hot stone massage, so I decided to just let her plan how the treatment would go. As I entered the treatment room a beam of light from the Velux window encapsulated the massage couch. It’s haven of tranquillity and I quickly felt at ease. All I needed to do was relax and enjoy the magical touch of Nikki’s healing hands. Of course, it wasn’t long before she found the knots in my shoulders and elbows, caused by too many hours spent in front of the computer. Once these were soothed, all too soon my treatment was over and it was my turn to relax out in the garden. Considering that I rarely sit and do nothing – there is always a keyboard beneath my fingers or a pencil in my hand – I did pretty well to relax in the lounger under the lime tree for over an hour, without even once looking at the mobile phone.

What a wonderful day we both had at UTLT. Before long it was time to leave, but not before treating ourselves to Nikki’s two veggie cookery books. Well, we just had to get that chilli cake recipe! We opted against the fast route back via St Junien, and again followed the quiet backroads roads through the countryside, watching the late afternoon sun dappling through the first golden leaves of autumn, with not another car on the road. A perfect end to a perfect day.     

29 September 2019

Documenting our vegan journey

One of the benefits of a weekly personal blog is that it acts as a kind of online diary, so it’s easy to go through the entries and track progress. On the one hand, it feels as if we have been vegan forever, but on the other hand, we’re well aware that we were meat-eaters for a long time and that we’re relatively new to the vegan lifestyle. It is one of our greatest regrets. But, I’m never really sure when the change occurred. I never thought to actually note down the date, if there was one, not realising what a life-changing move it would be.

Looking back, in January 2016 I described ourselves as ‘low profile vegetarians’ or vegetarien à la maison, and I was bemoaning the fact that France was 20 years behind. Things have improved since then, and we don’t care about upsetting the carnies any more. Of course, I did follow a virtually vegetarian diet back in the late 1990s, and even did courses at the Vegetarian Society Cookery School, but as I’ve since read, vegetarianism is not vegan, and does not enable you to make the same mental connections. No wonder, then, that I eventually returned to eating some meat, even if not on the scale of many carnies.

We moved to France permanently in 2013 and initially tried to embrace the local culture, eating out at cheap relais and shopping on the markets. But this was short-lived. I was posting vegetarian recipes back in September 2015, and even when we lived in the UK we did not eat a great deal of meat, certainly not every day. Looking back, I can’t understand why we didn’t make the connections. Well, actually I can understand – I wrote about it a few weeks ago. The last time I posted a recipe containing meat was July 2016 when we were travelling in Spain. We’ll be going again soon, so it will be interesting to see how things have changed. It looks like the seeds of veganism were planted much earlier in the year. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but by August 2016 I was making vegan pesto, had tracked down quinoa and we’d tried tofu.

By October 2016 we’d totally eliminated dairy products from our diet, leaving just eggs (free range, from our neighbour). By the 2017 New Year we were pretty much vegan, and I was looking at expanding it into other lifestyle areas. Although I was still using free-range eggs for Twilight baking. In fact, this year, 2019, was the first year that I made all of their open day cakes with vegan recipes.

On 23 July 2017 the blog title recorded, “Going Vegan; the final push”. Why? We’d just watched ‘What the Health’. Since then, we’ve watched many more vegan documentaries, I’ve read The China Study a couple of times, and I’m steadily building a vegan library. I’ve also done an online vegan nutrition course and, of course, developed the Vivez Vegan website. We’e come a long way and now every decision e make, about eating, purchases or activities, is viewed from the perspective of veganism.  It’s good to look back on the journey, so I’m counting 23 July 2017 as our vegan birthday ~ we’ve made two full years so far. There’s no turning back now. As John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, says, “Once you know, you can never forget.”

22 September 2019

A vegan trip to the UK

Twice a year we take a try to the UK to visit relatives. First stop after leaving the Eurotunnel is always Sainsburys at Ashford. It's always the final stop on the way home, too. Each time we visit, the range of vegan food has expanded. There’s so much choice and products that we just can’t get in France, or that are difficult to track down. I usually pick up a selection of my favourite brands: Vivera ‘fish’ fillets, Fry’s vegan pasties and sausage rolls, Violife vegan cheese and, of course, a couple of jars of Hellman’s vegannaise. On our trip this time, Mr VV headed off to the freezers to check out the ice cream selection. Wow! It was awesome, so good I took a photo. A big difference to the choice offered in Leclerc.

I know that a lot of plant-food purists eschew what they consider to be ‘processed’ food. However, we’re not averse to a good dose of vegan junk food. That’s not saying we eat meat substitutes every day. I love cooking from scratch and do so regularly, but campervan cooking calls for minimalism and convenience. What’s more, we’re not really opposed to so-called processed food – what does that mean anyway? Once you’ve combined a few raw ingredients in a saucepan or oven, the meal is undergoing a ‘process’. If you look at the ingredients list on many of these products, it might be long but there’s nothing really scary there and many are organic. So, on our hunt for new varieties of vegan foods, on our next supermarket jaunt, I was delighted to spot some ‘Beyond Meat’ Burgers in Tesco.

It’s been a fair few years since we’ve eaten meat, but the Beyond Burger brought the memory of that taste flooding back. In fact, it was almost too meaty. It’s easy to see why the Beyond Burgers are so popular with meat eaters. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Any alternative product that will encourage the carnies to transition to a vegan diet is a good thing. Later, I learned that Beyond Meats were due to launch vegan sausages in Tesco UK just six days after we returned home. Damn! Still, something to look forward to next time. Overall, I preferred Sainsburys over Tesco – we didn’t get to visit any other big supermarkets this time – I thought the vegan range was bigger, and easier to find. I also noted that in the UK fruit and veg is excellent quality and much lower prices (pre-Brexit!), but there is way too much packaging.

We didn’t cook all our own meals in the van, so I did get to try out a few vegan restaurants. First choice on any trip to the UK is always a visit to Wagamama. The first thing that strikes you on entering any UK restaurant is not the fact there is a separate vegan menu (though often there is), it’s the excellent customer service. France still has a lot to learn in this area, and I’m not sure it will ever change. In the UK, the food outlets are all open at times you want to eat, like Sunday evening, and the staff seem genuinely happy to have customers. We’ve never encountered a shrug or a surly face. How great is it to receive the response ‘Great, cool!’ when asking for vegan menus. This trip Waga did not disappoint – oh, except the vegan chocolate torte had sold out (good news for veganism!), so we had to content ourselves with some vegan ice cream back at the van.

A few evenings later we were meeting up with DD after work (another vegan member of the family). I had a craving for vegan pizza, something very difficult to find in France. I’d checked out the menus at Pizza Hut and Pizza Express. Whilst they both had vegan options, only Pizza Express had a separate vegan menu and pretty tempting it looked, too. However, DD suggested taking a look at Zizzi, another chain with a separate vegan menu and some cracking vegan wood-fired oven-baked pizzas. Another super meal with great service, and I even had a large glass of (vegan) red to wash it down.

Since we moved to France, lots more chain restaurants have sprung up in the UK, many offering vegan options. There’s plenty more to try out next time we visit, and I’m sure that in a few months’ time veganism will have progressed even further in the UK. However, for our final meal out we took the in-laws to the village pub. The first time we visited this particular establishment a few years ago the vegan range was quite extensive, with burgers, pasta and puddings. Since then, the pub has changed hands and the vegan selection has been reduced to two choices – butternut risotto – take it or leave it. Despite our disappointment at the lack of burgers, we both enjoyed an enormous bowl of risotto. In fact, one portion would have served both of us, especially as we ordered sides of chips and onion rings. Not quite sophisticated enough to accompany a risotto, but who cares!

Overall, it’s quite apparent that in terms of shopping, eating out and general acceptance of the lifestyle, the UK is far more vegan friendly than France. It would be very easy to live a vegan life in the country. Next time we visit I plan to checkout some different supermarkets like Waitrose and Asda, and also try some of the 100% vegan cafes that have sprung up in the area. Before then though, there’s just time for one last visit to Sainsburys at Ashford before heading for the Tunnel and home.

15 September 2019

The cost of ethical living

Is living plastic-free cheaper? Last week I reviewed our progress with the #plasticfree mission. It’s something we’ve carried on since the initial summer campaign and something we will continue. We’ve now become much more aware of packaging and we’re always on the lookout for alternatives to plastic wrapped goods, though sometimes it seems unavoidable. Interesting though, that whilst we may be trying  to do our bit to save the planet we’re certainly not saving any money, quite the contrary. So, I decided to take a closer look at the price differential between ‘en vrac’ (loose) and off-the-shelf.

The Day-by-Day store Limoges

One aspect of our plastic free process was to buy some reusable cotton bags for buying loose fruit and vegetables, and also dry ingredients. It’s become second nature now to whip out our own bags in the fruit and veg aisle, and I keep a couple in my bag, just in case we make an unscheduled store visit. I’ve also been trying to buy dry ingredients in the same way, using a smaller set of bags handily marked up with weights. Most of the larger supermarkets have a range of at least twelve ingredients that can be bought loose, using your own bags or the paper bags supplied. The drawback is that all the products are bio, and hence more expensive. In many cases the supplier is the well-known brand Jardin Bio.

The range of en vrac goods offered by the supermarkets is usually restricted to breakfast cereals, nuts, lentils and beans, plus snacky items like chocolate covered raisins. The bio shops generally offer a much wider range, including several varieties of rice (complet – brown rice – can be difficult to track down), lots of fruit, nuts and seeds, cereals, grains and sugars. However, I still have that irritating issue that brown rice is only available at one bio shop and whole wheat pasts at another, both being 30km away in opposite directions.

Wouldn’t it be great if everything was available – en vrac – in one place? Well, it is. As I discovered when I visited the Day-by-Day store in Limoges. This is part of a franchise group, with stores generally found in towns with a population over 40k, so a bit limited for us rural dwellers. However, if I were properly organised a one-a-month or once-a-fortnight trip into Limoges to stock up would be worthwhile. It’s no further than going to Grand Frais or one of the big supermarkets. Day-by-Day in Limoges sits in a small side street in the heart of the city centre, just a few minutes’ walk from the magnificent market hall. The shop sells over 700 items, all loose, with no packaging and no restriction on quantity. You can buy as little or as much as you need. The range covers virtually everything you could possibly want. From dried pulses, nuts, dried fruit and seeds to sugar, flour, herbs and spices, tea and coffee. The ingredients are not restricted to dry goods, there’s a choice of oils and vinegars, plus wine, gin and vodka. Move deeper into the store and you’ll find every cleaning product you need, all ready to fill up your own containers or buy a reusable bottle. Personal care is not forgotten either, there’s soap, toothpaste, refillable facial products, plus a large selection of washable face wipes, sponges and wooden brushes and combs. Near the till is a small display of lovely fruit and veg (they offer a veg box service, too) and some fabulous hand-made chocolates. Must try those next time. The chain’s philosophy is to offer bio where possible and 70% made-in-France. It’s a fantastic concept and one we’ll revisit again, just wish it was a bit closer.

Logically, you’d think that buying products loose with no packaging should be cheaper. But I suppose the problem is that there is limited demand for this type of shopping. It is more time-consuming to have to fill up a bag, and remember to bring your bags and containers with you. It’s easier to simply chuck a plastic-wrapped package in your shopping trolley. Limited demand means that these shops cannot obtain the economies of scale of the large retailers, and this is reflected in the price. (That’s a generous explanation, as we’ve all read about the pressure the large buying groups put on producers.) The price difference is quite substantial, ranging in my limited research from 7% to a massive 32%. Here’s my records, I’ve tried to compare products pretty much like-for-like where possible, so bio ranges in supermarkets.

En vrac
Whole wheat pasta spirals
Bio Coop
Brown basmati rice
Bio Coop
Aldi Bon et Bio

Whole flaxseeds

Extra fruity olive oil
Bio Coop
Balsamic vinegar

Buying fresh fruit and vegetables is more difficult to assess, although the packaging issue is easier to avoid. We just simply don’t buy anything wrapped in plastic these days, even if that means doing without. This also means that we don’t buy bio produce from the supermarkets as it is always wrapped in plastic. Apparently this is because people will try to put bio produce through the tills as ‘normal’ to save money. Who would have thought it? 😊 If we happen to visit the Bio Coop then I do tend to buy fresh produce there. It’s all organic and the shop has a good turnover so there’s no risk of stuff rotting before you get home, unlike some smaller supermarkets. They also sell the very best brown mushrooms!

Before we began to think about our plastic footprint we used to buy cherry tomatoes in small 250g plastic punnets; double wrapped, plastic tray and plastic outer. They were only 99c a box though. I suppose we were buying on price. Well, we certainly weren’t buying on quality. It was wintertime when any tomatoes are really out of season anyway. At this time of year, loose tomatoes were available but the kilo price in Grand Frais was €6.99. Hence, a 250g punnet for 99c seemed good value. Now, in late summer, the price of loose tomatoes is down to €1.49/kg. But, of course, our own tomatoes and those of our neighbour are plentiful. There’s a lesson here –  seasonal eating. That must be our next step; not sure about the avocados though!

8 September 2019

How are we faring on the #plasticfree mission?

Sometimes you can feel as if you’re fighting a battle on all fronts: animal welfare, vegan, climate change, Brexit … not to mention, our #plasticfree mission. It was a bit disheartening to read a Guardian article a few weeks ago that left me wondering whether all our attempts at reducing waste and eliminating plastic were just a drop in the ocean (no pun intended) compared to the magnitude of the problem. However, if everyone thought like that nothing would ever get done, so we all need to make a contribution no matter how small. Yes, climate change and environmental damage needs to be tackled on a national and international scale, but we are each individual members of the worldwide community and we must all do what we can towards the collective effort.

So, to cheer myself up I decided to do a quick review to see what changes we’ve been able to make on the plastic-free front over the past couple of months. Turns out we’ve actually done quite a few things. Last time I reported on our #plasticfreejuly changes we’d ditched teabags for loose tea in a teapot for our tisanes. This is a permanent change for the better; we’ve now found another great organic brand, in addition to our favourite Yogi. We’d also switched to bar soap for the shower and shampoo bars, too. Once the little Solibio soap was used up – and pretty quick too, given its cost – I just bought some plain unwrapped Savon de Marseille in the bio shop that suits us well. (I think the French use it for washing clothes 😊 ) I also bought some reusable cotton bags in the bio shop and we take them every time we go shopping. So far, no shop has refused them and Grand Frais even gives a discount to reflect the extra weight. I’ve been trying to buy as much as possible in loose ‘en vrac’ form, though there are cost implications to this, which I’ll investigate in future.

We haven’t stopped there, though and over the last month or so have made even more changes. On the personal care front I finally tracked down the toothpaste tablets, which were posted from Germany along with a soft toothbrush, and they’re going fine. Interestingly, I recently read that Unilever were trying to develop a tablet-form toothpaste that dissolves in water. Maybe they should ask the Germans who are already doing it! Also in the bathroom, I’ve bought some washable face wipes from a French-based small autoentreprenneur business and these are great, no need for disposable cotton wool now.

In the kitchen and elsewhere, we’ve ditched antibacterial wipes (80% plastic) in favour of natural-based spray and piece of eco-friendly kitchen paper. We do have one pack of biodegradable wipes reserved for emergencies (usually dog-related!). Cling film has been absent from the kitchen for a long while and I use a set of silicon flexible lids on bowls when I need to store food in the fridge. We’ve also started using fabric napkins rather than paper ones. I bought some lovely ones from Etsy, though they were about twenty times the cost of a pack of cellophane wrapped paper serviettes. On our last trip to the bio coop I invested in a reusable olive oil bottle. You pay a small amount for the bottle and then it’s filled up from their en vrac machine. It’s about twice the price of a plastic bottle of cheap supermarket olive oil but more than double the quality. Fruit juice we have also started to buy in glass bottles, though these are difficult to track down – only Carrefour and Grand Frais, so far. But that’s one less Tetra Pak to dispose of. We could go a step further by making the plant-based milk (but Mr VV is not very keen on my oat milk).

On the rubbish front, we still seem to be producing a huge amount of recycling, but it tends to be more glass and tins now. The dogs have both swapped to tinned as opposed to foil sachets of food (they have different types) and the cat is about to do the same, provided I can get her favourite flavours, of course. It’s not very nice scrubbing out the dog food tins when they’re empty, especially when you’re vegan so not used to dealing with meat, but it’s a small personal inconvenience for the good of the planet. Apparently, both tin and aluminium cans can be recycled an unlimited number of times.

Finally, I decided to tackle the question of rubbish bags. We have four waste bins in various places it the house, but only three had plastic bin liners. We’re not allowed to put rubbish in the wheelie bin for collection unless it is inside a plastic bin bag, so dumping rubbish straight in is not an option. However, given that often the two smaller bags were often put inside the kitchen bin bag when we are getting ready for ‘dustbin day’, I wondered if we could just go down from using three plastic bags to one. So we did. And it works out fine. I’m still undecided on whether this one bag should be a bog-standard black plastic bag €1.30 per roll, a vegetal-based bag at €2.74 per roll or a fully biodegradable bag at €3.80 per roll for the same size and number of bags. From what research I have read, whether or not it is worthwhile using biodegradable bags depends on where your rubbish ends up – something I am trying to find out for this area, though I fear I may not like the answer.

1 September 2019

When I come across vegans versus vegans

Vegans attacking other vegans. Yes, it’s a thing. Over the last few weeks I’ve written about some of the questions I’m often asked and the vegan responses I give, with supporting evidence where possible. But interactions on social media are not just confined to arguing debating with the carnists. Often I come across conflict with fellow vegans who seem to think that there’s some sort of vegan hierarchy and that anyone who does not perform to their high standards is ‘not vegan  enough’.

Is it possible to be 100% vegan?

There is actually no official definition of a vegan, so it’s open to interpretation. Recently, I’ve seen a number of articles espousing the difference between a plant-based diet and the vegan lifestyle. The plant-based folk tend to come at it from the health angle, so initially they may be less concerned about activism or eradicating animal products from other areas of their lives. This isn’t good enough for those on the moral high ground, but at least they’ve taken the first step, and in my experience, often go on to embrace all the aspects of the vegan lifestyle. So, a vegan will try not to consume or use anything that harms an animals, but is this really possible? I’d argue that at present it isn’t possible to be 100% vegan.

Moral grey areas

Despite our best intentions, there are still moral grey areas: what do you do if you need to take a life-saving drug that’s been tested on animals? (I’d say only answer this question if you have actually been in this position, because you don’t know for certain how you’d react if you were looking the grim reaper in the face.) What do you feed your pets? OK, so some vegans don’t think you should even have animal family members, but I’m not even going to consider this until all the cruelty, abandonment and welfare issues have been resolved. Should you impose your vegan choices on a dog, for example? We did try both of our dogs on a vegan diet and it was successful for a while. But then one day Dylan decided he was not going to eat vegan dog food any more. He’s thirteen years old and suffers from arthritis. Would it be cruel to deny him the meat-based food he was used to and had eaten all his life, or indeed deny him the painkillers he needs because they have, no doubt, been tested on other dogs?

Do your best

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

 “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

This recognises that we can only be vegan ‘as far as is possible and practicable’. And so all we can do is to do our best. Sometimes we will make mistakes, buy something that turns out to have milk powder in it, for example; sometimes we will have no choice. It also recognises that there needs to be development of animal-free alternatives to, well, just about everything. This is not going to happen overnight, but we can play a part by supporting those businesses, whether they be small enterprises or multi-nationals who are developing vegan-friendly products. As I wrote in an earlier post, the capitalist society operates on the basis of supply and demand. If demand for vegan goods goes up, so will supply.  That’s my excuse for eating the vegan Magnums.

To those vegans who think that we are not vegan enough because we have animal family members, because we feed them meat, because we may have some leather shoes lurking in the back of the wardrobe just in case we need to put on suit and attend a funeral, because sometimes we don’t have the time to examine every single label in the supermarket, because we are not promoting veganism actively enough … the last word goes to a quote from a Twitter follower:

“Vegans attacking other vegans! This is not helping with fighting for the animals. We are not going to agree on everything and that is OK. This is what makes us unique. Arguing with each other is ultimately time wasting” [@hippydippyvegan]