Six months as a vegan

Admittedly, six months is a mere blink of the eye in the relative scheme of things. But this period of time as a vegan is something of a milestone, and a learning curve if I’ve ever had one. I’ve made a few observations in this short duration.

  • Being a vegan can be alienating. I live with three ladies: one is almost vegan, the other two are entirely omnivorous. I watch them crack eggs and fry bacon with a strangled outrage. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that for most of the population, eating animal products is as normal as sunrise and Monday mornings.  My brain is hard-wired onto a different plane of thinking, and my eyes see through another lens; it is difficult to cast myself down on to the level of un-caring I used to occupy. I’m angry, but I always refrain from comments and ‘preachy’ statements. I know that I am not entitled to judge, but cannot view their dietary choices in any other way.
  • Social media can be illuminating, but contributes to this alienation. We live in a society where the information we consume is freely adapted to our own tastes: we can filter out what we don’t want to read and focus entirely on what we like. A reality confirmation bias, you could call it. My Instagram feed is and always will be a continuous stream of food, cats, and artful coffee shop snaps. Now, the food featured almost exclusively vegan, which obscures the fact that my lifestyle is a minority one, numbing me from reality. Subscribing only to vegan feeds causes me to forget what society’s norm really is.
  • There are people who just will never understand. At Christmas my grandma grilled me on why I have chosen this lifestyle. After a discussion on why grass-fed cows are still not a valid option, she said “Well, at least they’ve had a nice life.” Talking with her is probably pointless. If for seventy years, meat has been a daily feature on her table, then it would take a near miracle to persuade her to change. I can discuss the issues with her more; but it’s disheartening to accept that there are battles which may never be won.
  • My choice is empowering. I have always had difficulty in speaking out and defending my corner. With veganism, my self-consciousness melts away with fervour. I am quickly frustrated and often upset by the intransigence of others, but it’s a learning curve.
  • My health has improved. Certain bodily functions are no longer an issue; I have put on a stone, and my muscles have taken on better definition. I feel less tired, more energised. My skin hasn’t cleared up, though, but no-one said veganism cured everything.
  • Cooking has become more exciting. I try different flavours and dishes far more often than I used to. I’m more open-minded to cooking with different ingredients, and I’ve come round to tofu. Feeding myself now is more creative and experimental.

Here’s to another six months – in the grand scheme of many.

Going vegan

Such is my dislike of proclaiming my personal beliefs across the rooftops, that I’m nervous even typing this. I don’t like putting myself centre-stage – but as it’s relevant to my blog, I’ll make my foreclosure, even just to organise my thoughts on the subject.

After several months as a vegetarian, most of which I chose not to eat eggs, I decided this summer that to begin making a difference to animals’ lives and welfare, I had to give up buying animal products. It doesn’t make sense, I realised, to consider yourself concerned about animals if you drink Frijj milkshake or buy leather Doc Martens. But this wasn’t an immediate decision – I watched ‘Earthlings’ – the vegan-ator, the trigger, the documentary which is said to turn people vegan before the credits roll – and then made myself a milky cup of tea to help mop my tears. It was an awful, awful watch, one which left me feeling pretty low and angry. But even still, however lucid its clarity, the message didn’t sink in. Whatever clicked in the brains of others as they watched, didn’t click for me; and I continued in my old ways, buying milk, cheese, and chocolate. But there was a realisation, a little moral niggle, lingering there whenever I thought about why I wasn’t a vegan. I knew what was right, but for whatever reason, carried on delaying it.

My issue was that my imagined vegan scenario positioned me as the victim, unable to savour the delights of dairy whilst others tucked in to pavlovas and poured cream over their desserts. I couldn’t fathom a life without mature cheddar, Minstrels, and a decent cup of tea with semi-skimmed. So, my first attempts at veganism were fairly half-hearted, as I ate plant-based meals but drank milky cappuccinos, and continued nibbling at the chocolate hoard I kept in a drawer. I needed a little extra push, which came from a weekend spent in Edinburgh with friends, to whom I’d mentioned my intention to go vegan. Seeing myself from their point of view, I was embarrassed of my inability to commit, my lax morals in trying to pick and choose for my own convenience. It helped, too, that Edinburgh is a great place to be vegan, with an abundance of cafes, health food shops, and vegan-friendly options.

Since that weekend, I haven’t looked back. It has become plain and simple to me: to care for animals is to care for all animals, not just dogs and cats and horses, but for cows, pigs, chickens, and all other species. Just as I would not discriminate between races and nationalities, it’s not okay to place species in a hierarchy of value. An armadillo is worth the same as a guinea pig, a panda the same as a pig. The fact that one is perceived as cuter and more lovable than the other, doesn’t make it more valuable in essence.

The problem is that we don’t see what really goes on in the makings of our animal products: we let ourselves be convinced that the suffering we don’t see isn’t our problem. Education is the key to unlocking awareness: for example, I had no idea until a few months ago that producing eggs takes such a toll on a hen’s body, which is why she lives years and years less than she is supposed to. Or, that once she can’t lay anymore, it’s curtains for her. Nor did I realise that free-range and organic are generally labels which we take to make ourselves feel less guilty about our actions. Just because a cow was grass-fed on rolling pastures, and got to gallumph around happily in the sun, doesn’t excuse the fact that her baby was ripped away from her soon after birth. I have YouTube to thank for my enlightenment, if I’m honest. I’d followed one particular outspoken YouTuber for a while, but never took her very seriously – it was the less in-your-face approaches which engaged me. Rhetoric is a useful weapon in the arsenal of anyone looking to change public opinion, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

But I would quickly regress to point out that I am not morally superior to any non-vegan, and would never openly criticise a meat-eater for doing what I did for twenty years, unless they professed their unashamed support for industries which use and abuse animals. Lambasting individuals for their own choices doesn’t get you far; words can persuade, but it may not be enough to cause a lifestyle change. I’m an example of that. The choice I made was a culmination of sources, working over time to gradually open my eyes – but I did need that little external push. One of my closest friends has been a vegan for years: although she made me feel more aware of my own habits by the simple act of going against the mainstream, this awareness only kicked in seriously in recent months. As with everything, the decision was a laboured one – spontaneity and impulsiveness are my complete polar opposites.

My family received the change in interesting ways, with my dad initially thinking it ridiculous, but has come round to it – although he still likes to substitute ‘hippy’ for ‘vegan’. My mum was completely unimpressed, and made sure to voice her concerns for animals fed on vegan pet food, and vegan children – funny, really, when you consider our overweight cat and my elder brother, who for most of his teenage years subsisted on plain pasta and sausages. She’s also made comments on how my veganism relates to my interest in health and fitness, which in the past has been unhealthy. Fair enough – but not if she knew the progress I’ve made in combatting that, evident in the huge plant-based meals I eat whilst she’s tucking into a tiny bowl of spaghetti bolognese.

I still find aspects of veganism difficult, of course – the primary issue being telling people that I’m vegan. The coffee round at work became stressful when my standard order became black, instead of white; I felt too embarrassed to utter the v-word in front of an office full of omnivores. Such is my horror of controversy, that the words ‘I’m a vegan’ seem loaded with accusations of moral criminality.

But I’m positive that little minor issues like that will work themselves out, and they’re not enough to alter my mindset. I’m embracing this new part of my life, and in navigating a new world and discourse. As someone with a passionate interest in food, I see bags of potential in veganism and the possibility to create fresh and cruelty-free takes on omnivorous classics. I’m not sacrificing anything for veganism – I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything at all.

If anybody made it this far – thanks for reading, and please comment so that I can visit your blog and learn more about veganism.

xoxo

The easiest Iced Tea

Hot weather poses a grave confliction: to drink or not to drink a cup of tea. I’m one of the endless brigade who resort to tea in times of distress, fatigue, pure habit, even boredom – a decent cuppa goes a long way in filling a void and occupying oneself. Yet, when the sun is beating down on England’s weather-adverse population, leading to general chaos and complaining, a cup of hot tea just doesn’t make the grade. Needing to reassure my subconscious mind that it was still getting its tea fix, at the same time as cooling myself down, I fixed some iced tea to enjoy on these often uncomfortably warm afternoons.

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Iced tea brings back to me memories of a summer nearly ten years ago, discovering the sweet refreshment of Lipton’s in the Vendee. It appeased perfectly the thirst engendered after a few hour’s of zip-lining and climbing through trees, and gave me the childish thrill of drinking something so laden with sugar that it would rot my teeth. While I still feel this nostalgia for a childhood of simple desires and satisfactions, iced tea is something I’d never drink now: fizzy soft drinks leave me parched and conscious of their nutritional shortcomings.

Luckily for me, iced tea is just about the easiest thing to make at home, and can be sweetened to suit one’s own taste. To serve three generously, here’s how to make it:

  1. Boil 500ml water, and pour over three teabags or three teaspoons of tea leaves in a teapot, or in a large jug. Brew for three to five minutes, depending on how strong you like it.
  2. If in the pot, pour the tea into a large jug. Top up with equal parts of cold water.
  3. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze in a little juice, and give a good stir with a big spoon. Leave the lemon half in the jug to infuse.
  4. If you have any fresh mint to hand, muddle a handful of leaves and drop them in.
  5. Place in the fridge for around five minutes to chill. (If the jug won’t fit in the side door, even with removing any compartments, a wide-necked bottle (lid fastened securely) laid on its side would work fine.)
  6. When ready to serve, spoon demerara sugar to taste into a glass – a teaspoon is plenty. Pour in the tea, stir vigorously, and add ice. Garnish with sliced lemon and more mint if desired.

A jug of this is a fantastic drink to have at hand – make in the morning for something to look forward to after school / work / because you need it. It’s easily drinkable without the sugar, and using fruit tea would probably add an interesting twist.

Work experience on BBC GoodFood magazine

Recently, I’ve been pondering the future with some uncertainty and much apprehension. Over halfway through my degree, it won’t be long until I’m waving goodbye to the comforting walls of the education sanctuary – but, with only a half-formed career goal in mind, a independent income seems a long, long journey away. (Owning my own house is an idea I don’t bother idly speculating about: reality confronts me squarely and laughs in my face.) It seemed wise, then, to combine the only two interests and skills I have – food, and writing.

Food writing, though, is just like journalism: a very difficult nut to crack. There are different forms, roles, and limited doors in. Yet, why not follow what you love? My dream job is on a food magazine, naturally for someone who loves anything to do with food: cooking, eating, writing, and reading about everything from aioli to novelty egg separators.

After months of drafting CVs, making fruitless emails, and tweaking covering letters, I finally succeeded in securing an actual work experience placement on a food magazine; and not just any magazine, but BBC GoodFood, at the very top of the game. I was overwhelmed to even hear back from them, especially as I’d sent off my application with no expectation whatsoever of receiving a response – so much so, that I almost didn’t send it.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with BBC GoodFood: it’s the crème de la crème of food magazines, even with its own television channel. I consult its website often for recipes, ideas, and inspiration; spend hours combing through each edition; and have a backlog of editions at home. It’s my secret ambition to work there – or not so secret.

 

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I was extremely nervous on the morning of my first day, for pretty obvious reasons. I’ve never commuted to London before, but once I’d successfully made the two-train journey for the first time, every successive one felt like second nature. Needless to say, I felt quite small around the team: the editors, cookery writers and designers have years of skill and experience under their belts, degrees to which I aspire. What surprised me to begin with was the quietness of the office, and the sheer absorption of everyone in their work – but in reflection, that’s testament to the quality of the magazine and the dedication of everyone who works on it.

In my week of work (because of the short notice, I couldn’t make the whole two weeks), I had a go at range of different tasks. My first responsibility involved skimming a week’s worth of newspapers and selecting any snippets relating to food, which was great fun. Next, I helped out in preparing for and taking part in a strawberry jam taste test. Alongside putting together a Pinterest board on Father’s Day gift ideas, visiting a proper fishermonger’s, and getting lost in an Ideal Home show, I assisted in printing invoices and totalling receipts for the test kitchen’s finances, and reformatting GoodFood recipes for Easycook magazine.

Easycook’s editor was very generous in sitting down with me, taking an interest in my background and ambitions, and talking me through how to use software. Under his guidance, I even got to select recipes and think up a headline for a chipotle feature, to go in the October edition.

One considerable perk of the job was food brought out to the staff from the test kitchen. Sampling food I would happily pay for was my greedy stomach’s dream come true; I tried ice cream, tarts, blancmange, cakes… How nobody on the team is morbidly obese, I cannot fathom.

It was an all-round fantastic experience: travelling and getting to know central London by myself (and manipulating the Tube in a week of delays and a strike); seeing a group of talented people in their element; picking up new skills; and getting to grips with how a food magazine is produced. Work experience is so incredibly valuable to anyone considering a career in journalism – if you’re unsure as to whether you’re suited to it, or aren’t having much luck in getting responses, stick at it. It will be worth it in the end!

 

 

Welcome

Welcome to my food blog!

After much dithering and delaying, I’ve finally made the effort to sit down and begin the blog I’ve been making mental contributions to for the last year. Although that makes it sounds as if I view this whole project as a chore, that’s not the case at all – my hesitance is more from a lack of confidence. My blogs in the past have failed because I’ve been so self-conscious, and so paranoid of being judged. But I have a new resolution: stop caring!

Before I get started I may as well give myself, the blogger, a bit of an introduction. My name’s Amy, and I’m a first-year uni student. Food is a passion of mine: I love cooking food, looking at food, thinking about food, and eating food. I developed an interest in food in my early teens, which stemmed into my experimenting with recipes and flavours – with often dubious results, but since then, I’ve made some progress.

Beginning uni and having to fend for myself has provided me with an outlet for my food-related interests: feeding myself has never been a chore, but rather a pleasure, and a source of excitement. I love browsing recipes and planning what I’m going to eat prior to cooking. Every mealtime is an event I look forward to, regardless of how little time I can spare to invest in it.

This university experience hasn’t been a smooth ride, in terms of my relationship with food and nutrition. I’ve misjudged the idea of a ‘healthy’ diet, and I’m now coming back to terms with the real concept of a balanced diet. My attitude to the food I put into my own body took an unhealthy turn, and not in the usual student sense: I just wasn’t eating enough.

So this blog is as much as a private enterprise as it is a public one: I want to share my ideas and preferences as I continue to restore my relationship with my body. In particular, I want to focus on a simple approach to food: fad-free, unpretentious, and accessible. As a student, I’m always on the lookout for cooks and bloggers who share this view.

I’m excited to get started! Thanks for reading.