Vegans? I admire them for their dedication. When I consider their reasons for not eating animal products, I start to wonder whether I should be doing the same thing. After watching a video enlightening me to the artificial insemination of cows, I was quite horrified. The video, with its quick montage of distressing images and clips, had quite a strong impression on me; but I’m still not vegan: nothing ‘clicked’ in my brain. Does this make me an uncompassionate person? I suppose that a vegan would believe so.
As a student, I do not have a huge amount of control over the quality of meat I buy, due to limited finances: so, I’ve taken to only buying British chicken, and avoiding red meat altogether (at home, we buy from a local butcher). These are the efforts I make to support farmers who rear poultry and cattle more humanely; yet, for a vegan, that question becomes irrelevant in the long run of animal welfare – if you really cared, you wouldn’t eat an animal at all. Similarly, can dairy farming ever be cruelty-free if we’re altering a cow’s natural mode of living, and physically adapting their bodies to our own needs? These are questions which I’ve been pondering a lot more recently. Yet that sudden revelation, the desire to abandon animal products once and for all, has not come to me. I don’t know if that makes me a less moral person; or that I’m still very much socially conditioned; but I just don’t want to stop eating meat and fish, leave behind cheese and milk, and say goodbye to proper cake and chocolate.
Moving on. I visited Chia, a vegan café in a little town called Hitchin, with my vegan friend (who, by the way, was the least likely vegan in her teenage years. A rack of ribs was no match for her; she’d devour packets of meaty crisps; and she loved cheese just as much as I do. But she made the transition, and has never looked back.) For a vegan restaurant to open in a place nearby to me is a great thing, and reflective of a bigger market in healthier, more environmentally responsible ways of living.
We were seated upstairs, and ordered nachos and bean chilli to share, followed by individual ‘buddha bowls’. The nachos disappeared rapidly as we waited for the bowls, and were satisfyingly tasty. There’s no need for meat in chilli, I find, and sweet potato is my much-preferred alternative; and this version substituted that nicely with a variety of beans, served with guacamole, cool salsa, and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. I did, however, lament the absence of warm, slightly coagulated cheese on the nachos: the nutritional yeast gave a good flavour, but, alas, not quite a sufficient replacement.
The ‘buddha bowl’ is something I’ve been recreating myself for quite a while, and it’s one of my favourite comfort meals. At the end of the week, I pile whatever needs eating up into a bowl with sweet potato chips, and perhaps lentils, sweetcorn, broccoli, kale, and olives; and because I’m not vegan, I’ll cut off a slab of feta cheese and crumble it in. A nice hummus or dip compliments this perfectly, with the lentils drizzled with balsamic dressing, and topped with coriander and cracked black pepper.
Back on subject: Chia’s buddha bowls. They were presented with a beautiful array of bright colours: avocado, red cabbage, kale, red quinoa, and carrots, finished artfully with a lime and tahini dressing. I happily ate the lot, but my friend and I both did have our reservations: the avocado was shamefully underripe; the cabbage came in sizeable strips and was difficult to cut; the carrots, warmed by the quinoa, were slightly sickly sweet; and the dressing was a bit too tangy for out tastebuds. I felt great after eating the buddha bowl, but hungry again a few hours later; according to my friend, this is a common feature of her diet – to eat a big plant-based meal and feel peckish soon after.
Before leaving, we ordered hot drinks. I opted for a raw cacao hot chocolate, an entirely new phenomenon for me, but one which left me quite disappointed. Cacao – unrefined cocoa powder – is very bitter, and there was nothing in the drink to mitigate this taste. Even after having requested a shot of peppermint syrup, I had to resort to returning the drink downstairs in embarrassment: the bitterness was gone, but replaced with an overpowering mintiness (too much syrup!) The waitress kindly exchanged it for an almond milk latté, which proved a much better choice. I also sipped a matcha latté, which I shall never return to again – the taste was strongly reminiscent of boiled greens. A distasteful throwback to dinners of my childhood.
I feel as though I have been slightly overcritical in this post – but I did actually really enjoy my lunch at Chia. It’s got a lovely atmosphere, simple decor, and a team of young and polite staff. Bearing in mind there were only three people working there, service was prompt; and everything was extremely well-priced. I would love to go back for brunch and try their chia porridge, give the superfood salad a go, or drop in for a slice of banana bread and a hazelnut mocha. As my friend said, for those new to vegan eating, what we ate may not give the best impression – but this isn’t a fair reflection, bearing in mind that there’s a variety of dishes on the menu. I just perhaps won’t be ordering a cacao hot chocolate or a matcha latté on my return.
(Photos courtesy of Rhiannon @ http://vieenvogue.blogspot.co.uk/ )