10 not-so-stupid questions about veganism

23 Nov

One of the things vegans have to get used to is being asked an awful lot of questions. While all vegetarians and vegans have at least one story about an offensive or ill-informed conversation with an omnivore, I find that most people are genuinely interested and just want to know about the practicalities of what they see as an extreme or unusual lifestyle choice. The best advice I can give to new vegans is to be prepared for the sorts of questions that come up, and to answer questions calmly and honestly. Here are my responses to some of the questions I’ve been asked over the last few months.

  1. Is it difficult?

Logistically? I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but I do have to always plan ahead. If I’m going on a long journey I tend to research where I might be able to eat on the way. If I’m going to see friends for the weekend I take some almond milk and veggie sausages so I know I can have a cup of tea and some breakfast without causing them any problems. Wherever I go I always have healthy snacks in my bag. Are any of those things a problem? Of course not. I’ve always been obsessed with food anyway, so this isn’t much different from before. Even if it were an effort it would be a small price to pay, the benefits of being vegan outweigh the work that goes into it.

  1. Are there any foods that you miss?

When I first turned vegan I dreamed about oozy cheese every night, but got over it really quickly. I still miss eggs sometimes though, there are times that I get a real hankering for a boiled egg with soldiers, but I know I will get over it. When I first turned vegetarian at the age of 12, whenever I smelled bacon cooking I’d get a real longing for it, but after a few months the craving disappeared to the point that when I smell it cooking now it doesn’t even register as food.

  1. Are you ever tempted to say “oh sod it” and just have some cake?

Honestly? Not in the slightest. My reasons for being vegan are stronger than my desire to eat something animal products. When I do crave an egg, for instance, I just ask myself what happens to the chickens when they’ve stopped being useful, and that’s enough to kill the craving.

  1. But you can’t eat cake!

I don’t know if it’s because I hang around with particularly cake-obsessed individuals, but this is by far the most common thing people say when they find out I’m vegan. I can’t buy cake from a shop, and if someone brings cake to work I have to turn it down, but don’t worry because I can definitely eat cake. My favourite method of vegan advocacy is to bring them some delicious cake and surprise them afterwards by telling them it was vegan.

  1. I’ve been reading all about vegans on the internet, and I’ll let you do it as long as you promise me you’re getting enough vitamin B12.

Thanks Mum! I’m 32, I’ve got an important job, I’m married, but I’m still my Mum’s baby and she will never stop worrying about me. B12 is a vitamin we normally get from animal sources, but it’s actually made by bacteria rather than the animals themselves, so it is possible to get vegan sources of it. Loads of things are fortified with it, like breakfast cereals, non-dairy milks and yogurts, marmite, and nooch.

  1. Is your partner vegan?

He’s vegetarian but not vegan. Mr Veg is a very ethically-minded person, I know and trust that he doesn’t make any decision lightly, so while I don’t agree with his reasons for eating eggs and dairy, I do respect his choice. Does it cause any problems? All of the meals we make together at home will be vegan, if that bothered him he would be welcome to make himself something different, but it doesn’t. The only issue, and it’s really trivial, is that he feels uncomfortable eating certain things when I’m there, he thinks it bothers me an awful lot more than it does.

  1. How do you cope going on holiday?

This is really two questions in one. Firstly, in terms of accommodation then either self-catering or a vegetarian bed and breakfast will be easiest, but most hotels will have a breakfast buffet with at least some vegan choice (e.g. beans on toast or some fruit) so it’s not really an issue. Secondly, they might be asking about eating out. My answer to this is that I’ve learned what sort of places I can get easily a vegan meal in, and how not to be shy to ask questions or ask for tweaks to things on the menu. I sometimes get funny looks asking for things without the cheese, but when it’s a choice between getting a funny look and going hungry, I’d much rather put up with being the weird customer who wanted the goats’ cheese salad without the goats’ cheese.

  1. Do you find you have enough energy?

This surprises some people, but I actually feel physically a lot better now than before I was vegan. I have more energy, my acne is a lot better, my hair is less greasy, my nails are stronger, and I suffer a lot less with bloating. I transitioned to veganism gradually, and for a few months I was vegan in the week and just vegetarian at the weekends, until I realised that every Monday and Tuesday I felt bloated and grumpy. That was enough to give me the final push!

  1. Do you want some cake or are you still doing that vegan thing?

I have to admit, this does wind me up a bit. It’s not the offer of cake, they’re just being polite after all. What really does bother me is that people assume it’s a phase or a fad diet, or that I’m vegan most of the time unless it’s someone’s birthday. I’m not on the 5:2 diet or WeightWatchers, I made a permanent lifestyle change due to an ethical choice. Thank you very much for the offer but, in the same way a vegetarian would turn down a bacon butty, I’ll politely decline.

  1. You’ve lost weight, is it your [whispers like there’s something shameful about it] vegan diet?

I did lose a few pounds when I turned vegan, it’s quite common but not guaranteed. I was at the upper limit of a healthy weight for my height before, and now I’m comfortably below that line but definitely nowhere near underweight. I had to work very hard with this particular person to demonstrate that my diet is vibrant and healthy and varied and definitely not something to be worried about, and I think I won her round.

I’d be really interested to know what questions others have been asked, or what answers you’ve given to some of the questions above. Please leave your comments below.

In my veg box this week – celeriac, fennel, swede

19 Nov

I’ve chosen the three most weird and wonderful items to talk about this week. I imagine all three of them will divide opinion, some people love strong flavours, some find them freaky. I love a bit of variety, so I’m thrilled to see all three of them.

Celeriac
It’s almost impossible to describe celeriac without sounding nuts. The best I can come up with is a turnip infused with celery, but that still doesn’t quite cut it. There’s no way to know whether you’d like it or not without trying it, so give it a go! I’d highly recommend making a celeriac and potato gratin. Peel and very finely slice some celeriac and potato, then par-boil them for just a couple of minutes. Drain and return to the pan with some finely chopped garlic and plenty of salt and pepper and toss it all up to mix. Tip the whole lot into a greased casserole dish and drizzle over plenty of non-dairy cream. Bake at 200˚C for 30-40 minutes until bubbly and brown on top.

Fennel
Another one that’s difficult to describe. I suppose I’d say that the texture is similar to chunky white cabbage but with a little more crunch, and the flavour is unmistakeably aniseed, but much fresher and zingier. You can eat it raw, sliced finely and tossed with herby vinaigrette. It also roasts and steams really well, or cook it in a stew with tinned tomatoes and tonnes of garlic.

Swede
I hated swede for such a long time when I was younger, I can’t even remember why now because over the years I’ve had a complete about-turn. It’s perfect paired with carrots, the sweetness of the carrots counterbalances the bitterness of the swede, and they bring out the best in each other’s flavours. Mashed together they make a perfect bed for some veggie sausages and a bit of onion gravy… Yum!

Also received this week: tomatoes, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, mushrooms, apples, oranges, plums, bananas.

“In my veg box this week…” is not intended as a product review, simply a description of some of the fruit and vegetables that are in season and what I like to do with them. I pay full price for my vegetable box and have no affiliation with the company that delivers them or any of their suppliers.

Healing lentil and vegetable soup

30 Oct

At the start of every university term all sorts of bugs and diseases spread round campus. All the students come in from all over the world with their different germs, which they give to each other and the academic staff, who then pass them on to the admin staff. It’s now three weeks in to term and all of the support staff in my department are either just recovering or just coming down with something. In honour of everyone who works in a university, college, or school, and is feeling grotty right now, here is my get-well-soon soup. The lentils will give you enough protein to make all of those extra white blood cells you’ll need to fight the infection, and the vitamins from the veggies will boost your immune system so you can beat anything. It’s simple enough to make when you’re feeling at your absolute worst. On top of that, it’s both warm and comforting AND fresh and zingy all at the same time. I’ve used a mix of lentils for a varied texture, you could use just split peas to make it chunkier or just red lentil to be smoother. Here it is:

Recipe (serves four):

  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped as chunky or as fine as you like
  • 1 stick of celery, also chopped as chunky or as fine as you like
  • 1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs
  • 100g yellow split peas or chana dal
  • 200g split red lentils
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Sweat the onion and celery in the oil, covered, for about 10-15 minutes without colouring.

Add the herbs, split peas, lentils, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil then simmer for 45 minutes, until the split peas are cooked through but still retain a little bit of bite.

Add the parsley and season to taste.

Curl up in your duvet and eat the soup out of the biggest mug you can find. Get well soon!

In my veg box this week – Halloween pumpkins (well, squashes) and late summer veg

29 Oct

Last Halloween we left it really late to buy a pumpkin to carve. We went to both of our local shops and neither had any left, so we ended up carving a swede instead. Historically in Britain and Ireland it used to be swedes and turnips that were carved at this time of year, but frankly it’s a lot more effort, doesn’t look as cool, and not nearly as tasty either. I’m really pleased to have three squashes to choose from this year. I bought the large one in the middle from the market at the weekend, the butternut and the little one on the right are from this week’s veg box. Whichever one gets carved on Friday will end up roasted or baked over the weekend, and end up in any of the following:

  • with pasta, greens, chilli, seeds, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar glaze,
  • salad with lentils and loads of other seasonal veggies,
  • a creamy curry with chickpeas,
  • soup,
  • cakes or cookies.

This week I was thrilled to get some late summer courgettes and tomatoes. It has been such a long time since I had courgettes. For weeks on end I’d been saving a recipe for the next time I had courgettes (this one with fava beans if you’re interested) and I had actually given up all hope. so it’s a lovely surprise. I’ll enjoy them all the more knowing they’re almost certainly the last courgettes of the year.

Also received this week: onions, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, grapes, bananas, oranges, apples.

“In my veg box this week…” is not intended as a product review, simply a description of some of the fruit and vegetables that are in season and what I like to do with them. I pay full price for my vegetable box and have no affiliation with the company that delivers them or any of their suppliers.

In my veg box this week – brassicas, brassicas, brassicas!

22 Oct

If the colder weather wasn’t enough of a sign that autumn is here, the sudden abundance of brassicas should be enough to convince you. Vegans are recommended to eat green leafy vegetables every day, because they’re a great source of both iron and calcium. Having three different brassicas in one veg box looks pretty extreme, but we should be eating that much in a week anyway. What am I going to do with them? Let’s see…

Cauliflower
It’s quite a small one, it will only feed the two of us for one meal. We’ll save the green outer leaves and feed them to our pet lizards and snails. I think I’ll fry the florets with Indian spices and serve then with dal and rice.

Broccoli
I don’t know yet what I’ll be doing with this broccoli, but last time I volunteered for FoodCycle we made some fab green soup, using onions, potatoes, stock, tonnes of broccoli, and some kale (you can see a photo on Twitter). It was way more delicious than I expected, so fresh and light but satisfying at the same time.

Cabbage
It’s been a few months at least since I last had cabbage. A lot of people don’t like it, but as long as you don’t overcook it it’s lovely and so versatile. I think we’ll have some of it with bangers and mash and gravy (it is October, after all), and the rest will go in a spicy stir fry.

Also received this week: a leek, potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, bananas, apples, oranges, even more plums.

“In my veg box this week…” is not intended as a product review, simply a description of some of the fruit and vegetables that are in season and what I like to do with them. I pay full price for my vegetable box and have no affiliation with the company that delivers them or any of their suppliers.

Chilli con seitan

16 Oct

Chilli was one of the first proper dishes I learned to cook. When I became vegetarian in my early teens I started helping my mum out in the kitchen by making the vegetarian version of whatever she was doing for the rest of the family. Chilli con carne is part of her regular repertoire, and I have particularly fond memories of her giving me a bit of onion, half a tin of beans, half a tin of tomatoes, and letting me be creative with my dinner while we sang along to the radio together and chatted about our day. Over the years I’ve been making it I’ve learned three important things:

  1. While you can knock up a half-decent chilli in 10 minutes or so, if you simmer it for a lot longer the flavours will develop.
  2. Use more herbs and spices than just chilli powder for a greater depth of flavour. I like to use both fresh and dried chilli, together with cumin, oregano, and cocoa powder.
  3. It’s seemingly impossible to take a photo of it that will do it justice.

This is the perfect way to try seitan if you’ve never had it before, for me this shows it at its best. It’s chewy, meaty, satisfying, and stands up well to the complex flavours without either dominating the dish or getting lost in there. It’s a good way to satisfy any meat cravings you have, and it’s crammed full of protein – the seitan and beans alone give you about 30g.

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Recipe (makes two generous portions):

  • 1 tablespoon or more vegetable oil
  • 200g seitan, cut into approx. 1cm cubes
  • 1 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 1 x 400g tin of kidney beans, drained (240g drained weight)

In a large saucepan over a medium-high heat, fry the seitan in the oil until browned on most sides, about five minutes. Transfer the browned seitan to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium, add more oil if needed. Fry the onion for about five minutes, until it is softened and starting to brown round the edges. Add the garlic and fresh chilli and fry for a further 30 seconds or so. Add the cumin and chilli powder and cook for another 30 seconds. Then add the rest of the ingredients including the browned seitan. Simmer over a low heat for 30-40 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve over rice, quinoa, or a baked potato.

 

In my veg box this week – onions, broccoli, satsumas

15 Oct

The battery in my camera ran out just as I was lining up the shot of my vegetable box this week. Some days that would be enough of an excuse to give up and not bother with the post, but I’ve had a good day and I’m in the mood to write. Luckily I just worked out recently how to embed Instagram photos in my posts, so my phone came to the rescue. On the subject of Instagram, if you’re on there and interested in pictures of my dinner, my pets, and my knitting (all fascinating obviously) you can find me at instagram.com/mrs_veg.

You might notice that the beetroot in this picture look particularly dark. It’s not the lighting nor the variety of beets, it’s actually proof that they’re local. The soil in East Anglia is black, giving both the scenery and the root vegetables an ominous hue.

This week we have:

Onions
How have I been writing about my vegetable boxes for this long without mentioning onions? I get quite a big bag of onions most weeks, about 500g. I put onions in most savoury dishes, they’re an obvious starting point for soup, stew, curry, pasta sauce. They’re also great baked, just chop them in half round the equator but don’t peel them, drizzle with a tiny bit of oil and bake for about 30 minutes.

Broccoli
Another thing I can’t believe I’ve never written about! Humble broccoli is a long-time favourite in the Veg household. Not only is it green, crunchy, and versatile but, like its friend cauliflower, it has a high surface area so it’s glorious with sauce. One of my favourite ways to cook it is to boil it with pasta (just for the last minute or two of the pasta cooking time or it will turn to mush) then serve it with any pasta sauce. It also goes particularly well with miso soup, they complement each other with their natural umami-ness.

Satsumas
I know it’s still a couple of months away, but nothing says Christmas to me quite like satsumas. The closer you get to Christmas the softer, sweeter, juicier, and more plentiful they become. By mid-December I will be eating several of these a day. For the moment, the first couple are a tantalising little hint that winter is coming, and that maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

Also received this week: potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, a green pepper, spinach, apples, a tiny little slug, oranges, yet more plums, a lemon.

“In my veg box this week…” is not intended as a product review, simply a description of some of the fruit and vegetables that are in season and what I like to do with them. I pay full price for my vegetable box and have no affiliation with the company that delivers them or any of their suppliers.

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