Writing, life, politics

Tag: veganism

On Cows Milk At A Vegan Event

First off, a statement. I do not consider being a vegan to being in any way comparable to being a member of an discriminated against group, be that persons who are non-white, female, gay or bisexual, trans-gendered, or members of a minority religion. However, for someone such as myself who by virtual of being a white, middle-class, male, cis-gendered heterosexual, ticks every single privilege box going, I think that being a vegan might perhaps in some partial way simulate what it might feel like to be a member of a discriminated against group. Not for real. Just for pretend. A simulation.

That said, I’ll then launch into a second statement that might sound rude, exclusionary, and frankly arseholish:

I sometimes wish that vegetarians wouldn’t turn up at what’s supposed to be a vegan event, like the one I’ve just been to. Although to be fair to them, in this case, it seemed very badly described. (Then again, the people organising it, when speaking, repeatedly referred to it as a vegan event, so I wonder if the “mis-description” was inserted in by the person who wrote the program). Here’s how it was (ambiguously) described:


(I should say, it was still a great event, I really enjoyed it, and I’m very thankful to the two women who organised it for putting it on).

The thing is, I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t feel I have a huge amount in common with them. I live in a non-vegan world, where I constantly have to moderate what I say, and bite my tongue. When people ask why I don’t drink milk, I have to simply say that it’s “because I’m a vegan”, rather than give the truthful answer that lies behind that, because if I did, I’d upset people. I can’t even really give that truthful answer here, because while this is my own personal blog, it’s still a non-vegan space. It’s still me writing as a vegan in a non-vegan world. (If you really want to know, I’ve attached it as an appendix to this post).

It would be nice, just once, to go to a place where I don’t have to bite my tongue for fear of upsetting someone. But as soon as vegetarians turn up, I have to, because it’s now back to being a non-vegan space.

Vegans tell anecdotes about the times they want to a wedding or restaurant and there was literally nothing for them to eat, and they literally went hungry. We cry that all we’re asking for is for there to be just one thing on the menu that we could eat. Just one and we’re happy. Overjoyed even. Hell, put two items on the menu and you risk rendering us catatonically indecisive, so unused are we to coping with choice.

Meanwhile, one of the vegetarians at this event just told an anecdote about going to a restaurant for a wedding dinner in the US where the punchline of the anecdote was that there was only one vegetarian option on the menu.

As you can imagine, I did somewhat fail to feel his pain.

Yeah, sure there’s a place for outreach, and bigger tents, and evangelism, and inclusiveness, and all that… But sometimes you just want to be among your own kind, you know? Where you can talk about the things that you have in common, and the things that uniquely affect you, without having to bite your tongue for fear of upsetting “the others”.

I’ve been trying to think of an anecdote about this, and the best I can come up with is (again, veganism is only a simulation of discrimination!):

Irish people living in the UK have certainly faced serious, historical discrimination in the past, and quite possibly to some extent still do. But if I was organising an event for BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) attendees at a UK convention, and an Irish person turned up, I think I’d be a bit, “Mate, really?”

And if he responded to our anecdotes about the serious and damaging discrimination we’d faced for being BAME with an anecdote about discrimination he’d faced for being Irish that was, by comparison to our experiences, quite minor…

Well I think I’d fail to share his pain.

So to go back to the “simulation” I referred to at the start of this point, when some white people get upset about things like the National Black Police Association, I’d like to think that just maybe I get it.

When you live in a world where you’re always the “other”, sometimes, just for once, just for a while, you just want to be among your own kind.

(Oh and by the way, the title refers to the fact that we ended up having cows milk bought to this supposedly vegan event by the hotel. If we’d all been vegans we could just have told them to take it away. But when a bunch of the attendees are vegetarian, that would have seemed a bit rude.)

* * * * *

The truthful answer…

Cows are mammals, and as with any mammal, they only make milk if they give birth to a child. So to get milk from a cow you have to make the cow pregnant, and when the resulting calf comes out male it’s surplus to requirements and is thus often taken straight away and killed (if not killed it will be raised for beef and then killed after several months). I’ve heard stories of cows that cry for eight days straight after their calf is taken away. I cannot see the moral principle in refusing to eat beef, but being okay with baby calves living a life that in its entirety consists of: be born, be immediately taken away from your mother and taken to a slaughter house, have brains blown out. It’s a life that spans less than 24 hours, which will entirely be spent, thirsty, hungry, scared and lonely. It seems to me that the life of a male dairy calf is about as shit, miserable, and pointless as a life is possible to be. It makes a mayfly’s life seem possibly purposeful, and every single time I think of what we do to cows and their calves it brings me to the verge of tears. That’s why I don’t drink milk. It’s not because “I’m a vegan.” It’s because I cry when I think of baby cows getting their brains blown out in slaughterhouses.

The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak

I’m a vegan, and here’s the thing: people who, for perceived health reasons, follow a plant-based diet and then refer to themselves as vegans – when they’re not, not really – kind of annoy me.


The Parable of the Regency Anti-Slavery Campaigner and the Regency Health Freak

Imagine it’s the 1810s. Slavery is legal in the British Empire, but a small group of abolitionists are fighting to stop it. Jeremiah is one such campaigner. He abhors slavery, and has vowed not to consume the products it produces. In practice, this means that he will eat no sugar, and wear no cotton.

If Jeremiah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist.

Then we have Zachariah. Zachariah has no problem with slavery. He quite happily wears cotton clothing made with cotton sourced from slave-using plantations. But he has come to the conclusion that sugar is an unnatural product, and so refuses to eat it. And he’s decided that the best phrase to describe his avoidance of sugar is… abolitionist.

If Zachariah is attending a social gathering and is offered a dish that contains sugar, he will politely explain that he cannot eat it, and – if asked why – explain that he is an abolitionist. (If then asked why he has become an abolitionist and what an abolitionist is, he will give an explanation that is entirely about sugar’s unhealthy properties with not a single mention of slavery).

People’s reactions to Jeremiah’s polite refusal of the sugar dish will be significantly affected by whether or not they’ve had their understanding of the word “abolitionist” corrupted by people like Zachariah.

If they haven’t, if they immediately realise that Jeremiah’s stance is born of a moral abhorrence of slavery, then they will likely respect him greatly for making sacrifices in aid of people he will never meet, even if they do not personally agree with him. And deep down, they probably will agree with him, and his example may start them down a road that will lead to their rejecting slavery and its products.

But what if they have had their understanding of the nature of abolitionism corrupted?

If they assume that Jeremiah is refusing the sugar dish merely out of a desire to enhance his own health, they may react very differently. At best, they will be neutral – unbothered as to whether or not he wishes to eat the dish. But at worst, they may perceive him as rude, selfish, faddy, and perhaps even narcissistic – a man who puts his obsessive attention on himself ahead of the norms of social interaction.

Imagine how it would feel to Jeremiah if, every time he mentions that he’s an abolitionist, he receives the response: “Oh, is that for health reasons?”

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society (who created the word “vegan” in 1944)

Ways To Piss Off Vegans: #1

Imagine you’re at a wedding reception, say, sat at a table that consists entirely of single people and couples who’ve only just been introduced to each other. And imagine that the following conversation were to occur:

Person 1: [To Person 2] Do you ever watch that Sunday morning discussion show thing on BBC1?

Person 2: No, I’m usually out then. Is it any good?

Person 1: Why are you out?

Person 2: Well… I go to church.

Person 1: Church?

Person 2: Yeah. Erm, I’m a Christian.

Person 1: [Apparently curious] Right. Perhaps you can tell me something. I’m just curious. But why are you a Christian?

Person 2: Oh. Okay. [Thinking] Well, I guess it’s because I feel blessed by the love of Jesus Christ and inspired to follow his teachings.

Person 1: [Looking a bit determined now] And one of those teachings is that you should do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, right?

Person 2: Yeah. It is.

Person 1: Okay. [Starts getting aggressive] So what if, say, you had a daughter, and she was in hospital dying, because she had something wrong with her heart, and she needed a heart transport, but there were no donor hearts available, and then some Columbian gangsters murdered a nine-year old street girl and stripped her body down for spare parts and her heart was being offered for sale on the black market, would you buy that little girl’s heart from the people who’d murdered her? Which would be basically paying them to kill someone else’s daughter? Would you do it?

Person 2: But… I don’t have a daughter who needs a heart transplant.

Person 1: [Really quite aggressive now] Yeah, but if you did, would you? Would you?

Person 2: [Helplessly shaking their head] Well I don’t know. Anyway, about this Sunday show?

Person 1: [Insistent] I’m just curious. I’m not being nasty. But would you? Would you do it?

Person 2: How could I know? How would anyone know how they’d react in that situation?

Person 1: [Sits back in chair triumphant, as those he’s proved a point] Ah. See! And what about…

You’d probably find such an exchange bizarre, incomprehensible, even. On what possible planet is it in anyway acceptable to demand that a complete stranger provide an answer to your bizarre, random, arbitrary, hypothetical thought experiment?

And yet it happens to us vegans all the time. If I had to pull a guestimated fact out of my body’s rear-mounted, downward-firing, solid waste disposal orifice, I’d say that on about 25% of the conversations in which it emerges that you’re a vegan, one of the others persons present decides to demand that you answer a bizarre, random thought experiment, typically involving plane-crashes on Pacific islands populated entirely by rabbits. And of course, if you do try to provide an answer, the person usually takes that as an invitation to badger you about it for the next half hour, no matter how much you say, “Could we not just agree to disagree?”

(I don’t mean that 25% of people react this way. I’m suggesting that in any such occasion, there’s about a one in four chance that one of the several people present will react in this way.)

And of course, although they’re aggressively demanding that you explain to them why you’re a vegan, they’re not actually expecting you to give any kind of logical, internally coherent answers; if you do , that only makes them more aggressive, as they take that as some kind of personal attack by you, on them. It sometimes seems that the only way to make them stop is to either agree to abandon in their entirety your ethical and philosophical beliefs, or just get quite rude and tell them to shut up,  sod off, and leave you alone.

It really pisses me off, and I know from talking to other vegans that it really pisses them off too. It happens often enough that you’re sometimes inhibited about mentioning that you’re a vegan, and instead dance around the subject, as though you’ve got some kind of bizarre eating disorder you’d rather not discuss. It’s important to stress that these aren’t occasions where we’re in any way proselytising, trying to push our opinions onto others. It’s simply situations where us being vegan has merely come up in conversation.

It most recently happened to me, two days ago, at a wedding.

Him: Why aren’t you eating the starter?

Me: Erm. We can’t.

Him: Why not?

Me: Well… We’re vegans, and there’s cheese and honey in it.

Him: [Apparently curious] Right. Tell me this. I’m just curious. What would you do if you were trapped in some woods and there were only rabbits to eat?

Me: But we’re not trapped in some woods with only rabbits to eat.

Him: [Insistent and demanding, if not quite aggressive] But what if you were?

I’m always more than happy to explain why I’m a vegan, to anyone who genuinely wants to hear why. And if you’re curious about the ethical difficulties I face in my day-to-day life, that’s fine too. But please don’t then hit me with the bizarre random thought experiments. I’m not a barbarian living in the bronze age. I’m not trapped on a biologically implausible tropical island. And I’m not living in a near-future dystopia with a sick daughter who urgently needs a heart transplant from a transgenic pig. I’m a middle-aged, twenty-first century bloke on a reasonable income living in an advanced Western democracy.

And I’m also just trying to enjoy the wedding.

Nothronychus: My New Vegan Hero

Yesterday, we watched the sixth and final episode of the BBC’s Planet Dinosaur. Entitled “The Great Survivors”, the episode featured one dinosaur I’d not previously heard of, Nothronychus (Wikipedia entry). It instantly became my new vegan hero. Why?

Well a clip on the BBC’s website explains:

CLIP: Although a close relative of the meat-eating tyrannosaurs, this pot-bellied dinosaur has completely changed its diet and turned into a strict vegetarian.

I think you can guess why I thought that was pretty awesome. Here’s a picture (from Wikipedia) of the chap:

The World Wide Fund for nature uses a panda for its logo. If I ever start some sort of vegan organisation, I’ll know what I’ll be using for my logo!

You Know, If Jesus Had Owned A Jesus Phone…

…he might have been able to think of a dish a little more imaginative than fish on bread.

Last Saturday I downloaded, for the very reasonable sum of £1.79, a new app for my iPhone: Vegan Recipe Finder by VegWeb.com. (I found it by accident, by clicking on the “New Apps” page in the AppStore while upgrading my existing apps). Their website already has 13,000+ user submitted vegan recipes; the app – which has literally just come out – simply exposes them in a very usable form.

As it happens, I was able to try it out the very next day, when my wife decided to do a spot of cooking for a picnic we were planning later that afternoon:

Jules: Can you look up on the Internet to see if you can find any choc chip muffins?

Me: [Holding up my iPhone and grinning in a way that was quite possibly both smug and idiotic] I don’t need to go on to the Internet love, I’ve got a new app!

I fired up the app, went into “Search”, tapped “Chocolate chip muffins” in… and was rewarded with 8 different recipes. (And that was just based on the recipe title. I later clicked on “Entire Recipe” and it came up with dozens).

The first couple of recipes we browsed through weren’t right for us, because they needed ingredients we didn’t have. But then we found one where we appeared to have what seemed like all the critical ingredients. It was perhaps a bit of a risk because it was the one with the least views and no ratings. But we needn’t have worried because it turned out great.

As an aside, that’s one of the things that I think is great about this app; you have so much choice that you can find a recipe that you can cook with the ingredients you currently have to hand, rather than having to head off out to the shops.

We selected a recipe by “CrumbledCookie”.

The recipes are laid out in a nice simple way; ingredients above and instructions below.

One issue for those of us in the UK is that the recipes are American and thus use cups (a system where ingredients such as flour are measured by volume rather than weight) and Fahrenheit. But as it happens, we’d already made sure to buy a measuring jug that had cups marked on it, and converting from Fahrenheit to centigrade (or gas mark) isn’t too hard. (And as @luciddestiny remarked when I mentioned the latter issue to him, “There’s an app for that”).

We didn’t have all the ingredients. We had no idea what turbinado sugar was, so we just used regular sugar. We didn’t have almond milk, so we used regular soya milk. And we didn’t have vanilla extract, so we just left that out.

But the results were still awesome. The muffins rose up wonderfully, and had a lovely, moist, creamy gooey consistency (plus a really nice flavour) that everyone (vegans and non-vegans alike) loved. We think maybe it was the bananas that provided the extra special texture.

Anyhow, here they are. (To right).

If you’re a vegan, I’d strongly recommend this app. The recipes look really good, it’s well-written (you can save your favourite recipes, email a recipe to someone, or send a link to a recipe to Facebook or Twitter), and it’s going to be very handy for those occasions where we’re in the supermarket, thinking on what we should buy and what we should cook.

And I can’t wait to try the vegan french toast recipe I found.

My God! It’s Full of Cakes!

Last weekend my other half and I took the dog for a long walk down the sea front to Hove Actually (old joke: Brightonians refer to Hove as “Hove Actually” because if an inhabitant of Hove is asked if they come from Brighton, they invariably reply, “Hove, actually”) and ended up having breakfast at Heather Mill’s new vegan cafe, VBites.

(Yes. That Heather Mills. And whatever the rights and wrongs of the marriage, the split, and the resulting divorce settlement, if forced to choose between Paul McCartney spending Paul McCartney’s money making songs about frogs and Paul McCartney’s ex-wife spending Paul McCartney’s money making vegan cakes, as someone who’s both a vegan and a glutton I’m going to vote for the cakes. Every. Single. Time.)

Anyhow, we’d been down a couple of times before, but this was the first time I remembered to take some pictures. The previous two times had both been around lunchtime on sunny weekends, and the place was packed. (It’s next to a very popular children’s play area). Even sitting at some of the many tables outside, we’d had to wait for a spot, and then when we did sit down, the waiters were run off their feet.

This time though, at 9:30 am on a much colder day, we sat inside a near-empty cafe, leaving the dog snoozing under an outside table where we could keep an eye on her – which meant we ended up at the conveyor belt cake counter/bar. (Like Yo! Sushi!, but with vegan cakes).

It’s quite an entrancing addictive sight, and talking to some of the waiting staff, it can apparently be quite funny when children are involved. As I ate my rather nice cooked breakfast (veggie sausage, veggie bacon, hash brown, mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, scrambled tofu), I had my eye on a rather cute green number that was heading past me every thirty seconds or so. But then, when Jules got the waitress to explain what each cake actually was, I found myself equally tempted by a chocolate fudge cake. I did briefly float the possibility that I could have two cakes, but this was apparently unacceptable at any time, and certainly at 10am following breakfast. I settled in the end for eating the green cake and merely waving at the chocolate cake each time it went past.

“Hello chocolate cake. Mummy won’t let me play with you. Goodbye chocolate cake.”

This was apparently behaviour worthy of a six-year old child. Oh well. Go figure.

Anyhow, I should probably say something about what I think of VBites. Well the quick summary is that I like it a lot, but other people might not. It depends what you’re looking for. This is a place that’s a long way from the traditional, stereotypical vegan or vegetarian eatery. No sandals here. It’s a fun, slick cafe serving food that’s one level above fast food. If I was to compare it to a meat-eating equivalent, I’d be looking at things like Pizza Hut or Frankie & Benny’s. To review it as a “restaurant” would be unfair (not that this has stopped some national newspapers sending their food critics there – I await their review of the latest Pizza Hut).

There are some “proper” meals, such as spaghetti bolognaise and a couple of curries, as well as a host of salads, but a lot of what is on offer is some variant of burger on chips. (You can see the full menu here). Being very much a junk food man, I like that, a lot. But others might not.

I’ve also heard some criticism of the way the interior is laid out. A lot of the seating is of the bar-stools at a counter type; there aren’t that many tables suitable for a large group wanting to eat a sociable meal. It will be interesting to see what the second VBites is like – and I do hope there will be a second VBites, and then a third. This is the sort of “formulaic” setup that could be replicated as a chain, and as a vegan I’d really like to see that happen. (My suggestion for a second site is the Marina, right at the other end of Brighton, which currently has nothing for vegans beyond going to Pizza Express and asking for a pizza without the cheese).

I like it, and I’ll certainly be going back. I haven’t tried the Mrs Swirly Soya Ice Cream yet!

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