Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Awooga Awooga! Alert Alert!

Two exciting things that have nothing to do with me:

  • Today’s Epicure section in The Age has a two page spread on veganism which, thank god, is not derogatory, uninformed or sceptical. In no small part this is due, I’m sure, to the interviewer having the inestimable good sense to interview Emily Clark of aduki Independent Press, who provides honest, sensible and accessible comments. Go buy it right now!

  • I might be the last blogger in the veganverse to discover Lolo at VeganYumYum, but I am very much in love, awe, inspiration and hunger reading her blog and sighing over her incredible vibrant, alive and sensationally electrifying photographs. She just wrote a fantastic and in-depth post about food photography which I intend to study like I’ve never studied before.

www.aduki.net.au

www.veganyumyum.com

Monday, September 29, 2008

From NYC - 'sNice, or: I realise that my daily skinny-soy-latte is in fact pure gold

Yes, ‘sNice. Having been described in my NYC Bible (Vegan Restaurant Guide to NYC 2008, Friends of Animals) as a café/sandwich shop/baker, I was expecting a linoleum style counter-type place with little bits of sandwich filling in individual containers. Instead, ‘sNice is a rustic, relaxed, artsy-boho eatery on par with the finest of Smith Street’s wood-filled, nod-to-the-retro faux-ho.

A combination of individual and communal tables make for a missed crowd – couples, families, groups of friends – and the provision of the day’s papers was something we hadn’t seen much of in NYC. I was, however, a little perplexed by the service arrangements – either let me take my own food to my table, or give me a table number and bring it out yourself. But don’t take my order, prepare it, and then spend five minutes shouting my name out in a busy café on a Saturday morning to find out where I am so you can bring it over. I mean, dudes!

Buzz went for a side serve of pasta salad made with red cabbage, baby spinach and walnuts, with a main of TVP-chicken satay wrap. I plumped for a vegan panini and a Blondie.
The pasta salad, although the teenisest-weensiest bit on the oily side, was a winner,. The pasta was quite al dente to compliment the combination of the crisp cabbage and walnut with the soft spinach. The cabbage, uncooked, lost the worst of its bitterness whilst retaining bite and crunch. The spinach had been softly coated with olive oil. We’re going to attempt this one at home.

The stay wrap contained TVP chunks which were spongey and textured and delicious, but in retrospect remind me a little of the KitEkat Chicken in Gravy that I feed my boys. Good thing it tasted great then. The satay sauce was subtle, lightly creamy and not at all peanut buttery. The serving was large and accompanied by a decently sized fresh salad.

My panini comprised a couple of pieces of sundried tomato, slabs of room temperature tofu and pesto in a quite satisfyingly chewy ciabatta. The traditional combination of tomato and pesto was fine, but the tomatoes were a tad vinegary and sharp and the pesto unremarkable. Imagine a pest – hold it – that’s it. The tofu was a bit of a surprise; unflavoured and unwarmed and slapped between the ciabatta. However, all combined and encased in the excellent bread, and with the same salad, it was tasty and I finished it happily.

My Blondie was big and delightfully soft and chewy. It was pretty sweet, but not being a sweet-tooth by nature it’s hard for me to judge. The chocolate chunks were just at that soft and semi-melted but not dissipated stage; the crust was not crisp or think but of just the right consistency to both hold firm-ish and break off in bite-sized chunks; and the dough inside was on the right side of light and chewy.
A word on coffee: I can see why Starbucks does so well in the States. It’s oft repeated that prior to Starbucks’ ‘third place’ concept – the idea of a coffee shop being the third place between home and work where you could relax, hang out and bide a while – there was no such thing in the US. Starbucks began its success on the backs of urbanites who appreciated its plush velvet chairs, power points for laptops, and all the other soft-warm-welcoming design features. And from what I saw in NYC, this is a market niche otherwise unfilled. There aren’t really any other chain coffee shops and certainly none of the small, independent businesses or hole-in-the-walls we’re so spoiled with in Melbourne. What this makes for is that Starbucks’ cookie-cutter coffees are in fact the best cup available. They offer a standard taste, they’re familiar, and their stores are in fact used by people as their third place, which is nice in its way. One thing that did absolutely appal us though was the shocking and abominable practice of using pre-brewed coffee from tin coffee pots and then pouring freshly steamed milk on top. Shame! Surely this is corrupting the youth of America!

So back at ChezsNice, we were served coffees that were the best we’d had Stateside. The were fine by Melbourne standards, but superlative in NYC, and I mean that as the highest of compliments to ‘sNice.

If this all sounds like Melbourne-centric arrogance, hubris, snobbery and plain up-yourself-ness – it is. Melbourne’s coffee is the PhD to NYC’s crèche. NYC might out-perform Melbourne in many (many) categories, but in this one, Melbourne is the one who rawks.


Below: we returned to ‘sNice a couple of times for the comforting and warm atmosphere, drinkable coffee and range of vegan foodstuffs– here are some of our meals and a few thoughts.

From NYC - 'sNice, or: I realise that my daily skinny-soy-latte is in fact pure gold


Yes, ‘sNice. Having been described in my NYC Bible (Vegan Restaurant Guide to NYC 2008, Friends of Animals) as a café/sandwich shop/bakery, I was expecting a linoleum style counter-type place with little bits of sandwich filling in individual containers. Instead, ‘sNice is a rustic, relaxed, artsy-boho eatery on par with the finest of Smith Street’s wood-filled, nod-to-the-retro faux-ho.

A combination of individual and communal tables makes for a mixed crowd – couples, families, groups of friends – and the provision of the day’s papers was something we hadn’t seen much of in NYC. I was, however, a little perplexed by the service arrangements – either let me take my own food to my table, or give me a table number and bring it out yourself. But don’t take my order, prepare it, and then spend five minutes shouting my name out in a busy café on a Saturday morning to find out where I am so you can bring it over. I mean, dudes!

Buzz went for a side serve of pasta salad made with red cabbage, baby spinach and walnuts, with a main of TVP-chicken satay wrap. I plumped for a vegan panini and a Blondie.

The pasta salad, although the teenisest-weensiest bit on the oily side, was a winner. The spaghetti was quite al dente to compliment the combination o
f the crisp cabbage and wiggly walnut with the soft spinach. The cabbage, uncooked, lost the worst of its bitterness whilst retaining bite and crunch. The spinach had been softly coated with olive oil. We’re going to attempt this one at home.


The satay wrap contained TVP chunks which were spongey and textured and delicious, but in retrospect remind me a little of the KitEkat Chicken in Gravy that I feed my boys. Good thing it didn't occur to me at the time or I couldn't have spent quite so long stealing pieces of it off Buzz's plate (sharing is caring doncha know...). The satay sauce was subtle, lightly creamy and not at all peanut buttery. The serving was large and accompanied by a decently sized fresh salad.


My panini comprised a couple of pieces of sundried tomato, slabs of room-temperature tofu and pesto in a quite satisfyingly chewy ciabatta. The traditional combination of tomato and pesto was fine, but the tomatoes were a tad vinegary and sharp and the pesto unremarkable. Imagine a pest – hold it – that’s exactly it. The tofu was a bit of a surprise and I'm not sure it was all pleasant: unflavoured and unwarmed and slapped between the ciabatta. However, all combined and encased in the excellent bread, and with the same salad, it was tasty and I finished it happily.


My Blondie was big and delightfully soft and chewy. It was pretty sweet, but not being a sweet-tooth by nature it’s hard for me to judge. The chocolate chunks were just at that soft and semi-melted but not dissipated stage; the crust was not crisp or thick but of just the right consistency to both hold firm-ish and break off in bite-sized chunks; and the dough inside was on the right side of light and chewy.


A word on coffee: I can see why Starbucks does so well in the States. It’s oft repeated that prior to Starbucks’ ‘third place’ concept – the idea of a coffee shop being the third place between home and work where you could relax, hang out and bide a while – there was no such thing in the US. Starbucks began its success on the backs of urbanites who appreciated its plush velvet chairs, power points for laptops, and all the other soft-warm-welcoming design features. And from what I saw in NYC, this is a market niche otherwise unfilled. There aren’t really any other chain coffee shops and certainly none of the small, independent businesses or hole-in-the-walls we’re so spoiled with in Melbourne. What this makes for is that Starbucks’ cookie-cutter coffees are in fact the best cup available. They offer a standard taste, they’re familiar, and their stores are in fact used by people as their third place, which is nice in its way. One thing that did absolutely appal us though was the shocking and abominable practice of using pre-brewed coffee from tin coffee pots and then pouring freshly steamed milk on top. Shame! Surely this is corrupting the youth of America!

So back at ChezsNice, we were served coffees that were the best we’d had Stateside. The were fine by Melbourne standards, but superlative in NYC, and I mean that as the highest of compliments to ‘sNice.


If this all sounds like Melbourne-centric arrogance, hubris, snobbery and plain up-yourself-ness – it is. Melbourne’s coffee is the PhD to NYC’s crèche. NYC might out-perform Melbourne in many (many) categories, but in this one, Melbourne is the one who rawks.



'sNice Redux:
We returned to ‘sNice a couple of times for the comfortin
g and warm atmosphere, drinkable coffee and range of vegan foodstuffs– here are some of our meals and a few thoughts.

Below: Tempeh wrap with avocado, mixed greens, cilantro (that's coriander for you and me), tomatoes and spicy chipotle dressing. This was a little to smoky, and very Thousand Island Dressing-y. It wasn't as good as Buzz's satay 'chicken' wrap that he ordered again and part of which was stolen again by me.


Below: chocky-nana muffin (with free sugary bickies cos she forgot to charge me for the muffin and had to come over to our table to get more cash!). De-lish. Perfectly light, moist and banana-y. It was big but not mammoth, with more banana than chocolate - and this from a self-avowed muffin-ambivalent. The freebies were cute with their coloured sugar and animal shapes - they were quite 'buttery' but almost a little stale, although it goes without saying that they all made it into my tummy.


Below: finally, a cookie with no name, but by the loving tilt of this photo I can tell it was a good 'un. Just look at that choc-oat mix and just-crackled top.


Below: Thai salad with satay sauce, endamame and peanuts. Quite honestly, this was just a plain ol' green salad with a few beanshoots, a dollop pf stay and some peanuts. No lime, no chilli, no finely sliced nuffing' ... not really Thai at all except for the satay. A bit vinegary too.




'sNice Manhattan: 45 8th Avenue at W4th Street.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Bit of Shameless Promtion, or: I am an easily influenced shopper!

Mandee over at Cupcake Kitteh has posted a fabulous item about helping to raise money for Animals Australia by purchasing their Lamb and Pig plushies - seeing as her post made me immediately go and buy one of each and make a donation, I hope that by putting it up here too someone else will be similarly inspired!

They're cute, huh (and totally vegan)!



Have a look at Mandee's post over here: www.cupcakekitteh.blogspot.com

... and have a look at the awesome work done by Animals Australia here (and buy something!): www.animalsaustralia.sansolo.com


Friday, September 26, 2008

WholeFoods miscellanea, or: I upload a whole lotta photos on a Friday night

Here are some out'n'about shots from WholeFoods. Big snaps to Buzz who patiently waited while I snapped everything with the word 'vegan' on it and even lent a helping hand to hold up various pieces of produce to demonstrate their size.


I'm not really a soy-cream kinda gal (or should that be ice-soy cos it's the cream that I object to?) but this ... this really takes the ... cake? Soycream? IceSoy?


Just look at the soft and sticky swirls of fudge ... this bucket didn't last very long at all. Oh no it didn't!
A meal-in-a-bowl from the buffet.


Views from above - taken from the eatering area way up above the foodering area (don't ask where those words came from. But it makes sense doesn't it? The eatering are is where you do your eating, and the foodering area is where you pick your food).








All the little soy proteins ... maybe a bit too chemically and processed, but what a haul!







My first ever food tub from the buffet - layers 1 and 2. I was a full little girl.



Buzz has fairly large hands, and even they are dwarfed (kind of) by these bemusingly large red onions.

Slightly bizarrely arranged fresh produce. It's like someone's come along with a WhipperSnipper and buzzed off all the unruly ends.


Finally - why oh effing why does the one thing ever with my name have to be effing dairy? Tragedy!



Having now seen all these pictures together, I think I have also seen why I was so manic and determined in photographing all the special vegan food I could find. Certainly it was partly to demonstrate the range of products we simply don't have in Australia, but seeing now that so many of the items are those that are made in-store, I think my unrealised motive was to show that where there is a critical mass of people who are interested not just in veganism but in organics and other non-mainstream eating choices, market forces will lead to the creation of a new and expanded form of operation which sees these choices as crucial to their business.

Despite the concern about the role of WholeFoods as yet another giant supermarket chain - concerns that are valid and worth remembering - it's still pretty damn cool to get the incredible range of bakery treats above, bringing them out of the health food store and into a supermarket environment, which is the kind of food market where the vast majority of people in the US and Australia purchase their food. My position is that if this kind of ubiquity can help someone to think that veganism is something 'normal' enough to be catered for by a large supermarket chain, not impossible for that person themselves to cater for, and part of a movement large enough to command these things, then I say that this is a damn fine thing.

zuzucooks, this one's for you, or: I Hate Melbourne's Trains

Melbourne Central is a shopping and transport hub on the east side of Melbourne's CBD. One would expect, wouldn't one, that at 7:50pm on a Friday night (note: not 4am on a Tuesday morning; a high-traffic time at a high-traffic venue on a high-traffic day) that one would not encounter this:


(The screen flickered as I took the picture and I was too scared of being set upon by Connex staff for being a suspected terrorist taking photos of Melbourne's vital infrastructure that I hightailed it away before getting a clearer shot. Both trains are on the Hurstbridge line - the next train is in 20 minutes and the one after that in just 50.)

See, zuzu, even though Melbourne is in fact bigger population-wise than Chicago and also operates on a stupid spoke-and-wheel system, this kind of kind of rubbish is far from unusual and
, embarassingly and infuriatingly, is totally to be expected. It's hardly fitting for the kind of international city Melbourne wants to and could be. Actually, it's not even fitting for a poxy crumbling backwater riddled with stinking swamp mosquitoes and jungle vines growing over rusted decaying tracks.


On a slightly more cookering note, below is a reason why you shouldn't bake your ceramic dishes on high and then put them in the sink and run cold water over them.



Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whizz, grind, whip and pulse, or: I finally acquire a food processor only to discover disappointment and heartache (sort of).

For the longest time I have coveted a food processor. Many are the times I have had to flip on by a recipe in Veganomicon because it called for an item of kitchen electronica that I simply didn't possess. But no longer! I finally got sick of my own dithering, marched on down to Myer and chose one that just 'did' - a Breville Overhead Drive Wizz with blender and processor combined. Bliss! I even lugged the enormous box to an after-work meeting such was my desire to Just Get It Done.

On its first outing the blender performed bee-yoo-ti-fully, blending me both a chocolate *and* peanut butter & chocolate soyshake with ease. I experimented with pulsing, different speeds and times - and all were pretty darn drinkable.

Below: peanut butter, chocolate So Good soycream and VitaSoy Soy Milky Lite ... it was lite peanut butter damn you! Don't judge me!


Delighted and excited I took out the food processor. Dah-doowwww.

It's a big bowl, 2L, and I realised that I'd need to scrape
down the edges regularly to make sure that all the contents got an even go at the blades. After a disastrous first attempt at Veganomicon's basil pesto (let me tell you that golden syrup is under no circumstances an acceptable substitute for maple syrup), I tried a beetroot and walnut creation of my own ... it looked very purdy in the bowl:

But I didn't expect this:


...or this:


(The beetroot and walnut dip with garlic was delish, and got garlickier over the days. The avocado whip was great, but I don't think the whippiness outshines a simple lumpy fork mashing).

Being my first ever food processor, I'm willing to accept that I've not necessarily done everything correctly, perfect though I am in every other way of course.
But really - two massive beetroot slices escaped the merest whisper of all four blades, and this after more than ten minutes of processing with at least five readjustments of the contents. If it can mulch up walnuts surely it can slice'n'dice some thin soft pink beetroot. I was cross! And I sulked! So there!

In fact, I was so cross that I even gave Breville more of my money to buy a MiniWiz, which is (apparently) better for dips - and the pinenut pesto I made processed without issue.

So what's the story Morning Glory? Must I be condemned to a life of soyshakes forever? And is that a bad thing?


Rollin' with Dyson, or: I discover that the right tools can make all chores an exercise in happiness

I’ve been joined in my life by a very special gentleman. His name is Dyson. I can confirm that it’s serious and that our relationship is rock-solid. We’ll be together forever. I think he’s handsome and quirky, and I know he’s a hard worker, at the top of his game, and he’s worth the world to me.

Or at least $930, which is what I paid for my new Dyson DC23 motorhead vacuum cleaner with cyclonic action, free asthma and allergy kit and lifetime HEPA filters. I know, gasp, shock, horror, wasteful, blah blah - not the point. (You might note that this is significantly below the RRP of $1099. Yeah, I drive a mean bargain, biatch).

I’m following the slightly tenuous but supportable line
that this is a vegan matter because so many of us have shedding furry companions, and as a person with three adorable indoor animals who should be bald by the amount of hair stuck on my black clothing alone, the matter of their hair magnetically attaching itself to everything that enters my house is of great importance to me. In fact, sometimes I run into my mum at the train station and she can’t help grooming me of my special fluffy decoration. I’ve had boys flee my bed at 3am in the winter due to allergies.* I find cat fur in my food. Yuh-huh. (*not Buzz, ever. He’s supernaturally super about all the pet hair and other fur-kid-related issues and would never do anything hollable like that. But I know it annoys him so this one’s for you, kid).

So it was time for Dyson. I decided that if I was going to put do
wn incredible amounts of money, I might as well go for the top of the range model to avoid post-purchase regret. However, I did wait until David Jones had 15% off their Dysons, and then I visited the Good Guys and asked to beat it. Score 1 Miss T!

I’m not a great vacuumer. I love a vacuumed carpet more than anything – it seems to make all the rest of the mess look like House & Garden-style charming clutter rather than slobbish sluttish dirtiness. But I loathe vacuuming, so it’s always a bit of groan to do it and I require something nice afterwards. I also don’t do the best job … y’know, cos I hate it an’ all.

So I was expecting the first Dyson clean, performed with all the excitement and vigour of a new toy, to yield more than usual amounts of carpety muc
k. What I wasn’t expecting was all of the following things:

For my carpets to take on a different, brighter, cleaner hue;
For the grey trodden-down paths in the carpet where I walk the most to almost disappear;
For the suction of Dyson to be so strong that I actually got a much-needed, much-appreciated, pre-summer upper arm workout; and
For me to have to empty Dyson four whole times when usually I only have to do it once.

Here’s a picture of the hair, dust, fur and fibre sucked out of my carpets after no more than 5 minutes – and this would equal about a third of my living room:


I’ll own that Dyson was a little hard to manoeuvre – his telescopic arm was fantastic for covering a lot of ground but a little clunky to use, and the ball-shaped thing on the top of his cleaning head meant that he was too big to get under a lot of furniture (but I’ll move furniture for you, darling). However, what he lost in manoeuvrability he made up for in the cute little way he stores his three enchanting attachment heads on his compact body and the clever way in which his vacuum tube snakes around his barrel to fit away nicely. I wish his hard floor head attached too, but the main head might get jealous.

So here’s the real deal: I am totally in hot cleaning lurve with Dyson. He was worth every single shiny cent and I intend to be with him until the day we die (him probably before me. So then I’ll get another).

There’s also a handheld one ideal for pet hair … would that count as a bit on the side?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Superspecial A on VT; or, I amp up the avocado action

... and that sounds so much dirtier than I intended.

Home sick today with the snorting nose, hacking cough and p
ressure-filled cranium inevitable after air travel, I just happened* to have some Tofutti 'Be
tter Than Cream Cheese' on hand (*deliberately picked some up at the supermarket) so I decided to make some deluxe Avocado on Vegemite Toast.


Usually this food-of-the-gods is perfectly perfect with Nuttelex, but special occasions call for for special spreads. You have to be careful to let the toast cool enough so that the Tofutti doesn't melt, and to add a little more Vegemite than usual to counteract the extra softness.

Actually, a little bit of melt is pretty dam
n good:


The essential bread is Potts Sourdough - or, on trailer-trash occasion, plain white squares. Don't bother with wholemeal (too mealey) or multigrain (upsets the texture balance) or any of that white bread that toasts like air.

You can slice or mush your avocado, but don't muck about with adding lemon juice or salt - the Vegemite is totally enough. I like Hass avocados with their purplish bumpy ugly skin (the Shepherds just always seem too smooth and hard and unnaturally firm, like an LA woman past her second decade who thinks her Jacksonesque upturned nose and Botoxed-forehead suit her cheek implants and trout pout, setting off her mixing bowl-like plastic boobs and claw-nails ... have I been watching too much 'Girls of the Playboy Mansion'? Yes, I think so). Anyway, choose nice avocados (the Globe ones I've just discovered are nice .. weirdly huge, but nice).


A on VT - totally the bestest thing you can make for dinner, for breakfast, for hangovers, for sickness, for snacks, for treats, for pretending to be a bit healthy, or for comfort. Shlurp.

PS: Toast comes in pairs. Don't embarass yourself by only going for one piece. There's a reason toasters have no less than two slots.





Friday, September 19, 2008

Cruel, or: This is why I am vegan.

I'm posting something awful today. This is an undercover video made by PeTA (and no matter what you think of them, they do get real footage) about cruelty to pigs in factory farms in the US.
I'm at work and can't watch it right now. But tonight I'll try to summon up the courage.
Obviously, this is going to be distressing. Don't watch it unless you're prepared to see things that will hurt you. But maybe that's why you should watch it - that's what I'm telling myself anyway.


http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/09/16/abused.pigs.ap/index.html

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Uploading, or: Surely, surely, it can't be this bad

Photos are slowly being uploaded, but unless someone can tell me how to position them within the post without having to drag and click in each screen, progress will be snail-like. Just know that each picture was positioned with Herculean effort.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September is my Veganniversary, although I’m not sure which date. As it’s past the 15th I’m just gonna say it’s happened. Happy birthday me!

At the London Vegan Festival we (me and the lovely, sane, totally non-fanatical and very cool zuzucooks, Pete F and lemon_spot from the PPK) were chatting about where we choose to draw the line in making our lives vegan. It is oft-repeated that in no way can we refrain absolutely at all times from harming animals – each time I drive my car I might roll over a bug, or have an insect hit my window; I feed meat to my cats and dog; I wear cotton and eat vegetables from fields where mice and insects live and might be killed in harvesting – in this way some harm is unavoidable. But where within the sphere of our own influence do I draw my line, balancing reality and reasonableness with a desire to cause as little harm as possible, comparing compassion with the possible?

I try to draw my line somewhere around the limits of what I know, what I can do, and what in my opinion strays far enough from the principle of ‘do no harm’ that pursuing it is futile and counter-productive. For example, I know that bread often contains dairy products, usually milk solids or whey. I know that it is likely that if I eat bread in a sandwich and I don’t know what brand of bread it is, that it is very possible that it won’t be vegan. I draw my line there.

However, I also know that some mono/diglycerides in bread have an animal origin. I find this stretch too far – I barely know what they are, let alone how to determine their origin from the packet. While I’ll happily assume that glycerin in soap and make-up is animal-derived, in this instance I think it’s beyond impractical and does nothing to help advance veganism. The same goes for whether the sugar in a product was processed with bone-char. Although when I buy sugar for cooking I buy a brand that I know is made without the bone-char, and I avoid beers which have been processed with milk and fish derivatives, questioning the process by which every single ingredient was manufactured is, to me, beyond what constitutes helpful and productive.

When eating in restaurants I conduct what I consider ‘due diligence’. I ask every question I can reasonably think of to determine if my meal is vegan. In Thai or Vietnamese restaurants I ask about fish and oyster sauce. I ask about eggs in pasta, pizza dough and veggie burgers. I never eat Hokkien noodles (again, the dreaded egg) or bread and have learnt to ask specifically about honey. Where’s the line? If I order vegetables and udon noodles in black bean sauce, I won’t insist that the waiter go and read the sauce bottle to find out if it’s got lactic acid in it. In that instance I think that I have done what is fair, reasonable and honest to ensure that I am avoiding cruelty. Sure, I would check the bottle in the supermarket if I were buying it. But in a restaurant, my sphere of influence is different and I don’t consider it bending any rules to try to ensure that I don’t ruin mine and everyone else’s night by being shrewish and hysterical. And with my sphere perhaps contracting in respect of what I can control about my food, it expands with what I can do to exemplify and explain veganism to the others sharing my table, which in my opinion is vitally important.

So am I being a bad vegan and compromising my beliefs for convenience? I don’t think so. My primary reason for being vegan is for the animals, not for my own health. Although I firmly believe that a non-animal diet is healthier and safer for humans and the planet, my prime driver is animal welfare and rights. In that way, if I inadvertently consume some lactic acid that my olives were preserved in, I don’t think I’ll suddenly develop a hideous disease. What I do think is that I don’t ever want to be ‘that’ vegan – the one who helps perpetuate the stereotype of the rabid irrational fanatic, unable to live in the real world or be around others. I would be doing more to turn peoples’ faces away from my real concern that helping demonstrate and facilitate a calm and genuine understanding of the issues. By being clear about what I will and won’t eat and the reasons why, coupled with the understanding that I must be able to work within the world to change it, I think the path I’ve chosen is balanced and productive.

I’d be interested to know where others draw their line – but ultimately we are all doing the best we can in the way we think is best.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Airline Food and its vagaries, or: Geez Louise!

Today is a pre-Spring Melbourne day. It rained last night and the air smells of blossom and sweetness. It's slightly chilly and I've spent the day eating breakfast on Smith Street, wandering down Brunswick Street, and am now idly watching crappy afternoon TV whilst everyone sleeps and my jet-lag is forcing me to do endless rounds of laundry. But my mind returns like an addict to food ....

Airline food. It's got a rep. Despite the efforts of various airlines to engage one of the many celebrity chefs willing to lend themselves to any number of wotsits and 'design' their on-board meals (in fact, is any successful chef now not a celebrity chef? Or would I just not know of them if they do exist because they are not, of course, a celebrity?), the fact is that food that comes in al-foil containers and is pre-heated somewhere in the sky over an ocean in a galley is just not gonna be that great.

On the trip that was, being Tullamarine - LAX - JFK, JKF- Heathrow, Heathrow - Hong Kong and Hong Kong - Tulla, I had a number of meals that varied from the acceptable to the absent, viz:

MEL - LAX, LAX - JFK. Qantas: Perfectly fine and surprisingly edible vegan meal. The only annoyance was when I looked at my first meal, was unsure of whether the meal code "VGML" meant vegan or vegetarian, asked the hostess, and was met with: "Well is that the right meal code?". Well, I dunno love. It's your airline and you're the air host and you've been trained and you're getting paid for this and I don't distribute the meals. Whaddya think?

JFK - Heathrow. British Airways. There was cookie clearly marked vegan, a little pot of soy milk, and a little tub of margarine. Seemed fine. There was mac'n'cheese. I told the air host that the rest of my meal was vegan but that the main was vegetarian. I then, naturellement, had to explain what vegan meant. A lot. No, it wasn't "Asian vegetarian". No, I don't eat fish. Off she went to see. They had forgotten my meal and just replaced it with the vegetarian one. Right. She returned with the Customer Service Manager (and does anyone else think this is a weird thing to have on an aeroplane?). He was perfectly friendly but the conversation went like this:

Him: "So what is it that you need?"
Me: "This is a vegetarian main. I ordered a vegan meal - I don't eat dairy and this main is cheese".
Him: "Could we get you some vegetables?"
Me: "As long as they're not cooked in butter that's fine".
Him: "And will you have a physical allergic reaction if you eat any?"
Me: "No, but look - the rest of my meal is vegan, so there's obviously part of my meal here ..."
Him: "No, I don't not believe you, I just need to find out. So it's just a preference thing."
(Me, in my murderous mind: "It makes no difference if I'll have a bloody reaction or not! You shouldn't feed it to me if I don't just cos I won't! I've told you I don't eat it so although I understand you have to know if I'll swell up like a puffball and die, don't you dare sabotage me with butter!")

I should note that his part of the conversation was delivered in nothing less than a bellow. Although apart from the 'preference' comment he was perfectly polite and helpful, the whole cabin did not need to hear me discuss my dinner, nor to hear him say that he didn't not believe me as though that was a possibility. And this was over the noise of the aeroplane - he really was very loud.

He returned a few minutes later. There were no vegetables left anywhere on the aeroplane. Of course there weren't. The first class kitchen (note kitchen, not galley, for the front of the plane) would make me up a salad. And indeed they did. It was very nice and clearly very fresh. It was also obviously something they'd cobbled together from a green salad and a tangy Waldorf. It was bloody lucky than in my stroppiness at leaving Buzz I'd consoled myself with a duty-free block of dark Lindt and tube of Stax and was fit to burst with both food and remorse anyway.

Heathrow - Hong Kong; Hong Kong - Melbourne. Qantas. What a study in contrasts. Wary after my lost meal experience, before boarding the flight from London to Hong Kong I hunted (not literally) and gathered a variety of snacks to sustain me. Things looked good when the air host told me my meal was vegan straight off- aha! See, some do know what VGML means (although I admit it sounds kinda saucy, a bit like VPL or VG-something). And the meal was not a let-down - it was all purdy good and even some of the little packets in the snack packs were vegan. I was disappointed to miss out on the chocolate bar and ice-cream though. Each item had the ingredients marked on it to satisfy sneaky and suspicious people like me (I assume it was really for people who'll go into anaphylactic shock if they catch a whiff of soy or gluten, but I like to think it's all about me).

So, confidence raised, I didn't bother to search for more food at Hong Kong airport, sure that the rest of the Qantas flight would match. There were two meals between HK and Melbourne, and both were vile.

The first hot meal was marked 'vegetarian' and contained some suspiciously yellow potatoes, some tomatoey mess, and some unnaturally small carrots. The second had rice instead of potatoes, but big deal - it was still booooring and un-substantiated. There was also a packet of dry crackers marked as 'cream crackers', no ingredients; a very un-bready bread roll, no ingredients; and the absolute deal-sealer, a tub of "Sweet Cream Buttermilk". Three words, three non-vegan things. Score. I ate the teeny side-salad grateful from something fresh. None of the air hosts commented when my meal was collected untouched and I couldn't face having another broadcasted conversation about it.

So I guess a lot of the quality of food has not only to do with the airline (and remembering to actually get the meal on board; the BA meal might have been ambrosia for all I know), but also where the aeroplane takes on board its meals and what that particular provider considers as its food quality and labelling standards.

In the future I will take all long flights as an excuse to stock up on junk foody snacks and take care of my own stomach. However I might also point out to certain airlines that certain lapses in their service only avoided an instance of severe tantie-throwing by me due to my own good sense in having lots of chocolate handy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On cheeriness and noticing the now, or: I try to think about the moment and not go racing ahead

Perhaps it's time to inject some cheeriness after the last two slightly sooky-la-la editions. As I write this (I type it after at the hotel; by "write" I mean actual real-life old-fashioned manual labour hand-writing) I am sitting in Neal's Yard, London, behind Neal Street but before Seven Dials, between Long Acre and Covent Garden on one side and Shaftesbury Avenue on the other. It is 11am on a Monday morning. I have just been served a soya (as they say) latte in a happy little yellow cup. I think it looks drinkable. The courtyard is full of young trees homed in brightly painted metal barrels, and each building has slightly wild looking window boxes at every window, some filled with wildflower combinations running and spilling over and down, and some with flourishing herbs. On the building to my left a blue circular historical plaque tells me that Monty Python, filmmaker, lived here (woz 'ere?) between 1976 and 1987. I assume that all members of the troupe, rather than the fictitious eponymous filmmaker, came here to work.

Although the weather is a slight grey chill and a breeze is hitting the back of my head and the gap between where my new Secret Society of Vegans hoodie doesn't quite meet my jeans, the day is bright and crisp. My coffee is a little watery but strong.

The windows are all painted different colours inside and out. I wonder if someone once saw a blank and dirty yard and overlaid their imagined paints and green life. I see dark green, purples of all kinds, forget-me-not blue, orange, maroon, navy, emerald, royal blue, lime, tangerine, dark fuchsia and electric blue. I see red and black and yellow and real fuchsias like ballerinas and real lavender and real geraniums and real forget-me-nots and other trees and flowers for whom I have no name. I see a bonsai. I am sitting next to cardboard boxes of golden delicious apples, lemons, bananas, oranges, pineapples, watermelons, limes, tomatoes, and some tropical melons that I'm ashamed to say I also don't know the names of. A helicopter flies low overhead. Ivy falls like long dreadlocks over the Monty Python building. Prayer flags hand over the top balcony and birds perch on an old metal goods hoist underneath a small bell and the sky.

I am in London. I love London. I feel comfortable and at home and happy. I am lucky. I will be pleased to go home and see my boys and sleep in my bed and eat my food. But I am here and I am practicing noticing the now. It feels good.

Monday, September 8, 2008

On cityscapes, or: I can't find what I need

It is only once removed from a familiar environment that your assumptions are exposed to the air. In particular when travelling it is those day-today things we look for without seeing and use without questioning that are suddenly absent, and we find ourselves helpless without our safety net of patterns and expectations.

Sometimes strange things appear too, disrupting our sense of what should go where and the proper grouping of things. In Europe it is the ubiquitous tabac, selling cigarettes, stamps, magazines, coffee, and all manner of other goods and sundries - but once you realise the range of bits and pieces they sell, and that there are three on every block, they get used regularly. There are also the services, the mammoth petrol/mini-mart/fast food service stops on the motorways, also useful in their own way and like a servo on serious steroids.

In New York it took me a few days to work out why a city similar to Melbourne in so many ways felt so unbalancing. Sure, there was a different mix of cultures and language, and a much more urban and dense environment with many millions more people packed in, but we are both primarily Western, English-speaking, multicultural, cosmopolitan cities with a strong liberal artsy element and a great familiarity, at least from our end, through a lifetime of TV and film.

So what made me feel so off-kilter, so surprised, so much like I was struggling with the basics?

As we went about our days gathering activities and things, we began to search for those goods and services we needed. We needed stamps and letterboxes for our postcards. We needed supermarkets so we could cook. We needed internet access to keep up with our online worlds. We needed bookshops and cafes and banks. And we needed a beer.

What was missing from the streets of New York was so those services and facilities that we expect to see in any shopping centre at home - post offices, supermarkets, internet cafes, bookshops, cafes, banks and pubs. It meant we had to work out where these things were sold if not where we expected them, and that we had to re-think how certain services are offered.

In NYC we saw very few post offices and although we could buy stamps elsewhere, the lack of the post office as a business centre of sorts where you can pay bills, buy mobile phones and transfer money, was marked. The main post office, although open 24 hours a day, had a pitiful shop to buy mailing boxes in,and as far as we could see, offered mailing services only.

There were, where we stayed in Spanish Harlem, small grocery stores carrying roughly what I would expect to find in a milkbar plus some fresh food, lined up and proliferating block by block. But no supermarkets - perhaps outside of Manhattan.

ATMs were mostly found in almost every one of these grocery stores. This was the primary souce of getting hot fresh cash. Bank branches were midtown only and most banks after hours required you to swipe in with their own bankcard to use the ATM.

We saw some internet cafes, but only after we'd used one. In fact, to find that one in Chinatown we prevailed upon a nice lady in a shop to let us Google local internet cafes. The irony was palpable.

And despite the behemoth booksellers of Barnes & Noble and Borders, we saw only one or two of them and virtually no secondhand dealers except for the dusty specialists in Greenwich Village. Also, while we expected to see those American bookshops everywhere but didn't, we didn't see the spawning multitude of Starbucks we expected either. In fact, I'd venture that there are more in London. In London Starbucks is supplemented by Coffee Republic, Cafe Nero and Costa, whereas in New York we saw only a couple of Cafe Miros. Neither city, but especially New York, has small cafes where you would expect to meet someone, have a casual business meeting or take a break from shopping, and we wondered if this in fact contributed to the legendary (and now confirmed by our aching legs) manic pace of Manhattanites - they are simply not encouraged but their urban environment to stop.

Finally, there are great swathes of Manhattan without pubs or even bars. You can usually go into a restaurant and sit up at their bar, but that's not really the point. We felt like alcoholics searching so painfully for a pint.

All of this came into sharp focus when I landed in London. In Central London, and in most local high streets, I can expect to walk for no more than 10 minutes before finding a Royal Mail office, 5 minutes before finding a bank, 3 minutes before I come across a Tesco or Sainsbury, and certainly no more than 1 before finding a pint! It's not that post offices, banks, supermarkets and the like are qualifiers for society; it's that Australia being so much closer to the UK in history and culture, our cities are laid our with a similar idea in mind. We share so much with the US, but not the constitution of our cityscape.

Travel opens minds to culture, art, history, language, architecture, religion, society and environment - but also to those everyday things we never have pause to consider.

London Vegan Day, or: HappySad

When I was a child I had a little rag doll I called HappySad. On one side her face was smiling and rosy-cheeked, but flip her over and she wept little blue paint tears from her Janus head. I feel a little like HappySad today after the London Vegan Festival.

I visited with fellow PPK-ers Pete F, lemon_spot and zuzucooks, representing Walthamstowe and Cheltenham, UK, and Chicago, USA, respectively. We made quite the intercontinetnal cyberspace foursome as we met at Kensington High Street Tube.

The London Vegan Festival is in its tenth year and it was absolutely jam packed with stalls, exhibitors, and, most importantly, visitors.

What made Miss T happy? It was so exciting to see people from all walks of life, ranging from cyberpunks to goths to feral earthmothers to Christians to Vegan Runners to Vegan Weightlifters (bless!) to normal everyday Mr and Mrs Averages. Children ran around, parents sampled food, teenagers bought badges, and everyone shuffled along in the massive crowds from one stall to another. The range of food included produce such as Sheese, Cheezly and other established companies, to freshly prepared Caribbean and raw food, to home made sweets. Although we chose not to attend any of the presentations, there seemed to be a good balance between kids' activities, stimulating discussion, and musical and comedy performances (and to be honest, quite a lot of New Age wankery and other rubbish. I will never accept that the animal rights agenda is inconsistent with companion animals. Piss off).

What made Miss T sad? It's easy in the midst of all this happy, warm-fuzzy, food-oriented togetherness to forget exactly what atrocities continue to be committed. The stalls from various animal rights, welfare, liberation and action groups presented graphic reminders of just what the ugly reasons I went vegan are: the fur trade; animal testing and experimentation; greyhound cruelty; fishing practices; the incredible penal sentences handed out to animal rights activists (and I know many of them did appalling, un-condonable things, but many did not and received what are by any measure excessive and purely punitive sentences); the condition of dairy cows and egg-producing chickens; and the everyday cruelty of some people to their animals - all shocked me and made me unspeakably sad.

I know that when I was vegetarian I consistently and deliberately drew an impenetrable veil across what I knew occurred to give me my milk in my coffee, my eggs on my plate, and my leather on my shoes and slung across my shoulders. I know how easy and effective it is to slam that door of denial shut, and I had thought that when that horror fully dawned on me that my eyes had opened and that I could, would, and did face it with clarity and honesty. But when I saw those pictures - of tiny monkeys clinging to their rescuers and sucking their thumbs, of greyhounds with their ears hacked off to prevent identification, of foxes with their legs stripped down to the bone - I knew I hadn't the courage. I haven't watched any of the DVDs filmed inside animal experimentation laboratories or chicken farms; I haven't pursued any activities beyond my own veganism; and I have let that veil come down again, just further away from my eyes. I am sad.

I don't intend to start breaking into battery farms or laboratories. I don't intend to commit criminal damage. I maintain that although there is a place for direct action, it is easy to be counter-productive within that sphere and it is simply not how I think I can best help. But I think I should do something. I must.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Whole Foods London, or: Imitation is the best form of flattery

So after my incredulous wonder at the brilliance of Whole Foods New York, the London branches I have visited so far come as something of a cross-making affair. They also seem to be in some relationship with Fresh'n'Wild which I haven't quite worked out (in the Bowery there was a Fresh'n'Wild stand, but here in London the connection seems to be greater and more explicit).

I've visited two branches - Soho and Kensington Hig
h Street - and have found both wanting in their own ways.

The Soho branch, not surprisingly for its location, is small and therefore more in the nature of a large health food shop. No wuckers. What is wuckers is the vitally restricted, oily, and boring buffet.


The Ken High branch does not suffer the space restrictions of it Soho sister. Indeed, it sprawls arms and legs akimbo across three prairie-like floors, putting
one in mind of what a WalMart might feel like except a hundred times more expensive and fancy la-la.

The buffet at Ken High, like the Bowery, is three buffets long. However, you can't mix hot and cold due to VAT reasons, and the selection has none of the exoticism (for me, anyway) of NYC such as endamame, wakame, soba noodles and fried plantains. The dishes are good, but very same-same, and the green plastic reusable bowls they give out are shaped in the most ridiculous way with a pointy bottom that obliges one to plon
k all one's food on top of itself, causing a most deleterious mixing and great annoyance to the eater. It is somewhat ameliorated by the presence of real cutlery but frankly the crockery situation leaves much to be reformed.

But what really got one's bloody goat was the price. In NYC the buffet cost US$7.99 per pound (lb). Google informs me that one kilo is about 2.2lb. 2.2 times $7.99 = $17.57, so that's equivalent to US$17.57 per kilo (stop me if I'm wrong here. I might be on a fast track to mathematical oblivion).

In London - High St Ken - the buffet costs £1.79 per 100 grams, or £17.90 per kilo. £17.90 in US dollars, according to www.xe.com, is US$31.60. So a
kilo of buffet in the Bowery costs US$17.57, and a kilo of buffet in High St Ken costs US$31.60.

Below: almost 11 quid worth at Whole Foods, High Street Kensington. It's about 610 grams.

Below: US$22ish worth of food at Whole Foods, the Bowery - roughly the same price as the teensy mouthfuls above, and more than a kilo in weight (it's got two layers ... both different).





Now is that right (I mean both is my ma
ths correct and is it morally, ethically, sensibly ok)?

Organic food is pricey enough as it is. Perhaps it's even more so in the UK, but I find it hard to believe that it's near on twice as much. Maybe it's the clientele expected around Kensington. Maybe it's the rent to cover the three gigantor floors that I imagine is equally big. Maybe it's just the going rate. But it puts the availability of fresh, organic, vegan food in a variety of dishes more out of my reach and therefore I assume some other people's reach too, which is never a great thing.

Apologies if my maths is crap and I've made this up.
Either way I'm really cross about the £10.92 I paid for two-thirds of sod-all for lunch.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Food For Thought, or: My dear old friend, how I love you

Food For Thought, F4T, my dear old friend. I first met you in June 2000, when London seemed to be blooming from its concrete and bricks, as pubs festooned themselves with artfully planted flower boxes and hanging baskets, colours chosen for complement as much as cheer. F4T, I loved your stoneware crockery, your stools for those with short and stumpy legs, and your genuinely communal tables (take note, Wagamama!). Your hot, simple, unpretentious food has had me coming back ever since.

Today's dishes reminded me of why I am so perpetually fond of you. Your stir-fried veggies with ginger and tamari atop brown rice, although lukewarm at best, retain the taste of each vegetable without making me feel like I'm eating a raw salad. I season from your darling little stone pinchbowls full of salt and pepper, which remain on the table customer in, customer out, oblivious to any potential health risks - but that's the beauty of you, F4T.


But today, my treasured friend, I want to tell you how much you outclassed yourself with your vegan apple, pear and rhubarb crumble (as if 'class' means a jot to you, you egalitarian heart-of-my-heart!). Your crumble was full of chunks of fruit, each determinedly retaining its own flavour but forming a perfect whole, and steaming, piping hot under its cover of sweet, crumbly crumble. F4T, your crumble was honest, decent home food par excellence (although you'd never be so gauche - oh I did it again! - as to use French phrases like that) ... Your crumble was spring, it was summer, it was a cottage kitchen, it was climbing fruit trees, it was an apron dusted with flour, it was Britain and it made me happy.


I love you, Food For Thought, and I promise to keep coming to see you as long as we both shall live.


Food For Thought Cafe: 31 Neal Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9PR, ph. 0871 3328808