Category Archives: Vegan

Talking A Lot Of Shite

After nearly two decades of being vegan, I’ve somehow recently managed to end up with constant constipation.

It’s come as a bit of a shock actually, especially since I’ve long prided myself on having the perfect poo (as according to the theories of diet guru, Gillian McKeith): years ago, one of my ex-girlfriend’s had a copy of ‘You Are What You Eat,’ and we sniggered our way through the parts of the book that talked about all the things that your stool shouldn’t look like, before I smugly came to the conclusion that my number twos were consistently of the right consistency during my twice-daily bowel movements. My ex, we decided, had too much fat in her diet (because her poo floated) and her brothers ate too much dairy (because theirs’ always stuck to the inside of the pan).

I am not joking. I was really quite pleased with all I achieved in the bathroom.

Anyway, I never had this problem till I moved to Sudbury – except for the times when I came here on holiday. And I’ve always maintained it was to do with hardness of the English water. Antonia had the opposite problem when she first moved to Glasgow: her IBS flared up.

The thing is, I don’t understand how someone with a very high fibre diet that includes at least one daily dose of beans (either on toast, in a chilli or simply from a carton of soya milk) can have trouble going to the toilet. I mean, if my bowels were just sensitive to the local tap water, then surely after almost a year of living in England they should have adjusted, not gradually ground to a halt?!

To be fair, I have recently changed my breakfast habits: instead of wholemeal toast or cereal I’ve been whizzing up smoothies made from bananas and berries and whatever other fruits I can find, together with kale and pond-scummy spirulina; because I wanted to be healthier and get a head start on my seven-a-day fruit and veg portions – and although I totally understand that eating the skins of fruits would be better for me, I don’t think it matters since I also usually chomp my way through a couple of apples, a half punnet of cherries and at least one large salad every day.

Lunch is usually a sandwich with hummus or plant-based cheese or avocado salad, and ninety percent of the time I eat seeded wholegrain bread. Dinner is almost always a mixed bean chilli, a lentil-based dish or something with lots of iron-rich leafy greens. And the snacks I have in between are five seed crackers or oat cakes or toast, all of which provide plenty of roughage.

So I’m perplexed.

I wasn’t keen on the idea of taking laxatives as it took me back to my days of being a teenage bulimic, but I had a look in Holland and Barratt just out of curiosity and was surprised to discover that none of their ‘natural remedies’ were vegan as they all contained lactose. Antonia’s response to that when I told her was: ‘That would have worked really well for you, hen… because you know dairy products give you diarrhoea.’

In the end, I got a two-hundred-and-fifty gram bag of prunes from Waitrose – I used to liked prunes when I was a teenager and regularly had to put up with my parents’ stupid ‘well, you’ll shite tonight’ comments. Maybe it was because I was vegan, or maybe it was simply because I ate a lot of other dried fruit, but I never noticed any difference.

One hour, two large glasses of water, and half a bag of prunes later I started to feel a bit sick. Two hours later, Antonia arrived and I began complaining that I still hadn’t been able to go. She said that me talking about prunes and constipation made her want to run to the toilet. Shortly after, on exiting my bathroom, she announced: ‘Mine’s smelly but otherwise fine.’ Charming.

Three hours later and I am still waiting…

Orange Is The New Addiction

  

‘Orange Is The New Black’ is back today for a third season, and Antonia has got her geek specs and her tributary satsumas at the ready. I did suggest dying our hair ginger and buying tangerine coloured t-shirts but she thought that idea was too last season. Funnily enough, I’ve been avoiding eating oranges because they contain histamine and I’ve been locked up indoors for the best part of the week with a bad bout of hay fever. I am also trying for my orange belt in wado ryu karate this weekend, which will come in handy if I ever end up sharing a cell with a pyschopath.

The Netflix prison drama, based on Piper Kerman’s best selling autobiography ‘Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison’ (2010, Random House), first burst onto our screens with its blend of comedy and controversy in July 2013, and has fast become one of the streaming channel’s mostly frequently watched shows; it follows the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a thirty-something, white, middle-class career woman who is sentenced to fifteen months in an American correctional facility for transporting a suitcase of drug money through customs – an offence she committed ten years before for her ex-girlfriend. On leaving her charmed life with man-childish fiancee, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her newly established business, Piper vows to make prison a meaningful experience and possibly learn carpentry; however, once she’s inside the walls of the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary, she struggles to fit in with the other women (most of whom haven’t shared her privileged upbringing) and their rules: in episode one, she is served a bread roll with a bloody tampon in it after she offends kitchen matriarch, Red Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew); and she is shocked to discover that old flame and ex-drug-smuggler, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), is also an inmate.

I sometimes wonder how I’d fare food-wise if I were ever incarcerated: on one hand I’d want to stay true to my beliefs and steer clear of eating and wearing animal products, but on the other I’d be worried about rocking the boat and making enemies of the prison wardens or kitchen staff; I would also want to avoid going without meals or important food groups because I’d like to have my wits about me in case of any altercations, but having worked as a writer-in-residence in a prison for two years I’ve heard my fair share of grumbles relating to the dinners inside and I understand that providing fruit and veg for cons is not high on the rehabilitation agenda. Obviously, this is a very good incentive not to break the law, but the idea of any fellow vegan – no matter who they are or what they’ve done – having their human rights breached bothered me, especially since I knew there must be plenty of political prisoners serving custodial sentences in the UK who are devoted to living a cruelty-free lifestyle.

 So I googled ‘Vegan’, ‘Uk’ and ‘prison’ which came up with a blog post by PETA (‘People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals’) called ‘The Top Five Vegan-Friendly Prisons In The UK’, followed by a link to the ‘Vegan Prisoners Support Organisation’ and an article from the Guardian dated 2009 which stated that after a fifteen year campaign imprisoned vegans would be permitted to buy animal-free food and basic hygiene products such as soap and tooth paste; the ‘fight’ to allow vegan prisoners to wear non-leather shoes was allegedly still continuing at that time. I can’t help thinking it’s great that this information exists, but that it’s completely useless to people who can’t access it or don’t know about it. Plus, how would you ascertain someone’s vegan status? Would someone who followed a plant-based diet for health reasons but wore leather be excluded in the eyes of prison authority? And who would get to decide how far vegan ethics would be allowed to stretch?

Most of the storylines in OITNB are about women who are in some way marginalised; and for that reason I’d love to see them include a vegan character. It would be even better if a potential vegan storyline was a bit more imaginative than the stereotypical crazy-animal-rights-activist-blows-up-science-lab-to-save-two-rabbits-and-kills-loads-of-people-in-the-process. Maybe there could be a new sexy cucumber-wielding vegan lesbian love interest for either (or both) on/off girlfriends Piper and Alex? Or a tofu-eating, kick-ass, hipster warden could take over and force Red to take meat off the menu altogether?

One thing’s for sure: Antonia and I will be under house arrest till we’ve watched all fourteen new episodes.

Cookies And Dreams

  

Last night, I dreamt that I was in New York standing outside the vegan equivalent of a ‘Millie’s Cookies’ store. It was baking hot, and I was second from the front in a mile long queue looking up at an array of neon lights advertising things like ‘dark and chunky double choc’ and ‘dairy-free ice-cream dream’; and I was so excited by the prospect of claiming my chewy, soft-baked treat, that when I got to the kiosk my mind went blank and I couldn’t think what to order.

 This, of course, is exactly the sort of thing that would happen to me in real life. If Antonia was with me, we’d go to Caffe Nero beforehand and spend an hour enthusiastically writing a list of our top favourite cookie flavours – and then we’d write a reserve list just in case they ran out of our first choices; and then we’d get to the front of the queue and end up spending an absolute fortune by buying one of everything, and probably make ourselves sick.

 I got my dream cookie in the end – a double chilli chocolate one with pieces of sour cherries and brazil nuts, and its circumference matched my handspan – and as I walked along in the sunshine I bit into it… and Antonia nudged me awake.

 After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about cookies and ice-cream all morning. And two hours later, I found this recipe: [cookieshttp://www.veganbaking.net/recipes/cookies/chocolate-chip-cookies] And, despite my previous multiple kitchen disasters, I was inspired to give biscuit-making another chance. Because, with the exception of the three egg-free cookies I bought in Edinburgh’s ‘Forest Café’ back in 2005, I have personally never managed to find a shop-bought vegan cookie that has lived up to my expectations in terms of chewiness.

That’s not to say that I think other commercially-made cookies are rubbish – I don’t – although the one I bought in the American Sweet shop in Glasgow a couple of years ago tasted like I was eating sawdust out of an armpit. I love the ‘Lazy Days’ shortbread rounds (which of course aren’t meant to be chewy) and I think it’s a amazing that a tiny wee company from a little-known Scottish village has earned shelf-space in mainstream supermarkets with a product that has been aimed at a minority palate. My gripes with other vegan cookie brands are that their products are far too sweet or too crumbly – and that’s entirely down to personal preference; when Antonia and I discovered ‘Going Against The Grain’ (another dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free company), she mowed through her fun-size sachet and saved my uneaten ones for later.

 I followed my recipe to the letter. And blamed the oven when after fifteen minutes my cookies remained squishy. After twenty-five minutes, I gave up trying to get them to ‘cook’. I later realised they’d come out exactly as they were supposed to; just like they did all those other times when I chucked my soggy hot-mess ‘failures’ in the bin. I didn’t know, and the recipe didn’t say, that you are supposed to leave them for half an hour to set.

 Antonia loved my chewy chocolate chip cookies. And so did her gran. And so did I.

 I think I’ll make chilli-chocolate ones next…

Recipe For Disaster

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Today I tried to make strawberry rocky road bars. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. Because I am rather well-known for my culinary catastrophes: brick-like biscuits, disintegrating scones and short bread fingers that’ve emerged from the oven as dough balls; not forgetting the rice milk I once spent six hours preparing as a romantic gesture for Antonia, which she later told me tasted like sewage. Despite this, and that fact that I prefer savoury foods to sweet ones, I would much rather spend the afternoon stirring cake mixture than watching lentils browning  in a pan.

The rocky road bar recipe which appeared in the May issue of ‘Vegan Life’ magazine (http://veganlifemag.co.uk/) should have been easy enough: there were eight ingredients (plain chocolate, golden syrup, margarine, strawberries, an apple, almonds, dried cherries and icing sugar to sprinkle on the top) and four simple instructions none of which involved timing or an oven; and I imagine most people (vegans and non-vegans alike) would have managed to go to their nearest supermarket, collect the aforementioned ingredients, and then gone on home to complete the task within … oh, half an hour.

Not me though.

To be fair, the rocky roads were not the first thing to catch my eye in the magazine. I’ d originally fancied making the double chocolate pie on the opposite page (59) – and that would probably have been a better bet seeing as I have an uncanny knack for making anything and everything that contains pastry turn out pretty much perfect – however,

despite the thrill of a pie crust made of Oreos which contained a rather yummy sounding strawberry filling, I was put off by the fact that the recipe was a tad more complicated,  and more importantly, involved a food processor; and aside from the fact that I’m slightly scared of food processors (I like all of my fingers attached to my hands), it had been so long since I used mine that I couldn’t  remember how all the parts fitted together.

However, having decided that I was definitely going to bake something today, I spent another full  hour deliberating over all the different dessert recipes I could try out, before narrowing my options down to blue-berry choux pastry or rocky road.  (I had been threatening to make choux pastry for months,  ever since my friend, Sophie, gifted me the Welsh vegan cook book ‘The Voluptuous Vole’).  And in the end, I decided that I’d go to the shops and make the choice whilst I was there, depending on whatever ingredients I saw first.

Stupid plan.

Stupid, stupid plan.

I understand that sometimes it is difficult to get a hold of certain vegan ingredients – things like silken tofu and egg replacing powder aren’t exactly thick on the ground.  But chocolate?  Blueberries, for god’s sake!?

I was lucky to get the last two punnets of strawberries in the second supermarket I went to (that was after the detour to two health food shops).  And by the time I returned home, another two hours had past. I didn’t manage to get the dried cherries so I decided to add some kirsch instead (I had a quarter of a bottle left over from the black forest gateaux I made last xmas).  And I didn’t see the harm in melting together the various different dairy-free chocolate bars I had at home (they were all dark chocolate even if one was espresso-flavoured  and another had orange and geranium through it).  I added some freeze dried raspberry pieces and cranberries too just for the hell of it, and when I licked the spoon I thought the melty chocolate mixture tasted damn good.

In all honesty, I don’t know what want wrong.  I had a little trouble chopping the almonds and when I finally added them to the mixture the chocolate had gone a bit clumpy.   When Antonia saw my creation the first thing she said was: ‘Oh dear, hen, it doesn’t really look like the picture in the magazine, does it?’

I harrumphed.

Earlier, I ‘d given my friend, Fiona, a running commentary on my shopping and baking experience; and I did say the rocky road bars were ‘either going to be marvellous or dreadful’.

I can confirm, they were anything but marvellous.  In fact, in my opinion, my rocky road bars more closely resembled a muddy road, and they tasted like one too.  Antonia, on sampling them, very kindly said they were ‘not that bad’, but added that the biggest mistake I made was baking enough for about sixty people when there are just two of us.

Antonia takes a bite
Antonia takes a bite

Loyalty

When Antonia first suggested ‘loyalty’ as the theme for this week’s blog, my mind turned immediately to thoughts of longstanding friendships, and to partnerships and marriages and family ties, before pendulum-ing in the direction of disloyalty, misplaced loyalty, infidelity and betrayal.  Next, I thought of patriotism, of leaving Scotland, and of nationalism and the thinly-veiled anti-Scottish statements I’ve heard since arriving in Sudbury; and from there my ideas spiralled till they covered everything from naziism and neo-naziism to  secondary virtues such as duty, benevolence, sacrifice and servitude.  Finally, I considered my own loyalty, not specifically to my country or even towards other people, but to the extended beliefs and principles and humanitarian causes that have mattered to me over the years, as well as the commitments I’ve made towards maintaining my personal fitness and crafting out a career as a writer.

I have been vegan for nearly half my life now, and I’ve regarded myself a writer for an even longer period: I decided when I was seventeen that I would write a book about myself, my experiences and my views on the world, and I did (although at the time, there were many skeptics); and two years later, I pledged to follow a plant-based diet and to avoid wearing and using the by-products of animals, and I have stuck to that resolve despite the harsh criticisms from others. 

There have been other instances in my life, however, where I have not been quite so purposeful: I’ve started many short pieces of prose that have languished uncompleted in notebooks that are now gathering dust, and I once abandoned an arts council funded novel eight chapters in because on completion of my research (which involved travelling round several Scottish islands and trying to embrace their customs) I became disheartened with the subject matter; in January 2014, I made two New Year’s resolutions a) I would include more raw food in my diet in a bid to be healthier, and b) I would beat an old sports record of mine by running five kilometres in under twenty-five minutes.  I ate a lot of ‘Nakd’ bars that year, and possibly bought kale twice; I also grew bored of sprinting and took up both swimming and long distance running (which I always favoured over short distances) once again.   

 It used to be that when I set a challenge for myself, I’d be hell-bent on following it through to the finish, no matter how ill or unhappy it made me, or what the consequences were; and this was doubly to my detriment as I included kamikaze relationships and friendships into this equation, and the result was often a negative one albeit a frequent learning curve. I used to think that calling time on a goal or a friendship that was making me miserable was equivalent to throwing in the towel, to having no staying power, to being a failure; and during those times, I often found it hard to stay true to my own core values. 

Over time, it has become easier to align my beliefs and my interpersonal connections with others: I have made friends with other people who are vegan (or who want to be), and being in a relationship with someone who is as dedicated to her artwork as I am to my writing helps me to feel grounded; I also consider myself very lucky to have a partner who cares as much about ecology and ethical veganism as I do.

The Sex Issue

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It’s three PM and I’m sitting in Cafe Jacqui’s with my Diet Pepsi and the sex issue of Diva trying to decide on what to write for this week’s blog. I feel a tiny bit awkward because I hadn’t actually realized that the May issue was the sex issue: I simply grabbed the magazine on a whim as I was rushing out of the house, thinking that reading one of the monthly columns might unlock some inspiration; but now I keep looking surreptitiously over my shoulder to see if the two octogenarian ladies at the table behind me have noticed on one of their many trips to the toilet that I am perusing a publication that is full of naked ladies.

Not that I’m particularly shy about my sexual orientation – my days of playing the pronoun game whilst trying to maintain a hetero charade are long and truly over, and there would quite possibly be a murder if Antonia ever heard me referring to her as ‘Toni’ – but similar to comedienne Susan Calman, I grew up in a household where sex was an untouchable subject (throats were cleared and channels were switched over whenever there was an ounce of nudity, or snogging scenes got a bit racy on the telly); and like she says in her latest article (‘It’s Getting Hot In here’), I also would ‘really rather we didn’t talk about it at all, thank you very much’.

And I know, that this might come as a surprise to some people – especially those writer friends of mine who’ve read the graphic lesbian sex scene in my girl-meets-girl novel ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’, not to mention the post-bath-time chapter early on where my young butch narrator gets on down with a hand-mirror to examine her vagina for the first time – but I really am quite shy when it comes to watching, reading about or discussing carnal topics; it’s all very well making my characters hot and horny and sexually liberated between the sheets of my manuscripts, but those people aren’t me – and if they were, I certainly wouldn’t be giving anyone a running commentary of what I get up to in the privacy of my bedroom!

To be on the safe side, I decide to quickly flick past the top five sex toy guide and the photographs of scantily-dressed couple Emily and Ali, and fix my gaze on Joanna Benecke’s queer grooming column. This month’s focus is on ethical make up and it includes the low down on Super Drug’s B range, a new-to-the-UK vegan brand called Pacifica Beauty, and a company called VF who specialise in cruelty-free face paint (veganfaces.co.uk); there is also an information box which goes into detail about
shark liver oil, boiled animal fat and other unappealing ingredients like cochineal beetles that are used in the production of non-vegan makeup, and I begin reading it with the best intentions, right before my gaze accidentally wanders to the opposite page where there’s a P!nk For Peta advert featuring the caption ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ alongside an au naturale picture of pop star Alecia Moore…

I don’t stay to read the next page which is about masturbation (another theme which has popped up multiple times in my writing) because I realise it’s nearly closing time, and besides I’m starting to sweat inside my hoody and I’m not certain it’s the heat that’s causing that. Also, I’m not sure whether the owner (who just walked past) was coughing loudly because she wanted me to leave because she was anxious to clear up and go home, or whether she just wanted me and my cheeky magazine to leave, period. Alternatively, I suppose she may just have had a summer cold.

As soon as I go home I plan to have a cuppa and a Nakd bar whilst checking out the film and TV reviews on pages thirty-one to thirty-three, before Antonia comes hammering on my door for her dinner; because, really, that’s about as risqué as I get.