Tag Archives: vegetarian

And lo, the scales fell from my eyes.

“Money is the root of all evil.”

That is a phrase I have heard bandied about my entire life, but I am only now truly beginning to appreciate the actual depth of it. What has truly hit me hard recently are the things that I am still learning about the extent of the way animals are allowed to be treated within the food industry, purely for the purposes of turning a profit.

Vegetarianism on ethical grounds has been around so long now that everybody knows about it, and the basic moral question being asked; “Am I comfortable with the idea that something else was killed so that I could eat it?” We’re all grown-ups here, we all know what eating meat entails, but it’s such a normal part of life these days that most of us see that death as an acceptable side effect of being able to have bacon, and steak, and Sunday roast dinners. Besides, it really is more of a hypothetical question, when someone else has actually done the dirty work, and all we have to do is wander into a shop and pay for it.

There are, and always have been, people who have found at some point in their life that the answer to that question is actually no, and I became one of those people earlier this year. I wrote a blog explaining my reasoning here – for me, it had become a very simple choice between dead animals, and living animals.

What I was not prepared for was the horror story that has been unfolding in front of me ever since then.

Due to the fact that a) I am exceptionally lazy and b) I have frequently been very poor in the past, I haven’t really drunk milk since I was at college. I still cooked with it occasionally, because Yorkshire Puddings are the food of the Gods, but given the scarcity with which I used it, I began to think about cutting it out entirely. Reducing reliance on animals seemed like a good way forward, so I started looking more and more into Veganism… and that is when the layers of the seemingly harmless food industry onion really began to start peeling away, to reveal a far more unpleasant core than I was expecting.

Happy-Cow-800x600

We’ve been brought up with this idyllic country farm image, where Daisy the cow grazes in the fields in the glorious sunshine, and comes wandering in to be milked when the farmer calls. A peaceful, calm partnership in the dairy industry. Well, of course that’s what we’ve been presented with, because the truth of what actually drives milk production is fucking horrible.

Logically, I could have pieced the truth together myself if I’d thought about it, but it’s one of those things that you just accept without question because that’s the way it’s always been. Female mammals produce milk in order to feed their young, we all know that. In order to produce milk therefore, the female has to be pregnant, we all know that. What hadn’t really clicked with me is that to keep a cow constantly producing milk means subjecting the cow to repeated pregnancies, which in turn means regularly impregnating her, whether she likes it or not. Starts to get a little bit icky there for me, when you expand that as a concept.

Of course, as a logical outcome of being pregnant, the cow has a baby, we all know that. But hang on a minute, if the baby is drinking the milk, how are we supposed to get any?! Well, her baby gets taken away from her, normally within hours. The mother has the milk sucked out of her while she mourns for her absent calf. As for the babies – if they don’t get killed straight away – they don’t get to drink the milk their own mothers produce for them. No no, that’s for humans of course; the baby cows get to drink a substitute…

What the actual fuck? When did we buy into this? We know what repeatedly losing babies does to a woman, who was the first person to decide that it was OK to do that to cows? And that’s ignoring the fact that cow’s milk isn’t meant for us in the first place.

After milk, I started looking into the Vegan arguments about eggs. Not eating meat was easy for me, but eggs were a different matter – similar to milk, they were pretty key to the things I cooked. So again, I started looking into it, because chickens produce eggs without our intervention, so were does the harm come in?

Baby Chicks

Hens in battery farms and cages are bad, we all know that. Free range chickens, that’s a much better deal! Chickens can run around outside and have fun in the sun! Well actually, maybe not. Free-range just technically means ‘not in a cage’; they can still be stuffed in a barn with thousands of other chickens. They can still have their beaks cut off so they can’t peck their neighbours. And then there’s the fact that regardless of whether you choose free range eggs from an ethically managed brood, or settle for cheap eggs from caged hens, there are inevitably male chicks that are hatched during the breeding process. They are by their nature surplus to requirements since they don’t produce eggs, so they are separated off and killed. They are either minced up alive, or they are gassed.

...brilliant. No Child Born To Die and all that.

At every turn in the food industry, there is some hidden truth about the treatment of animals that is deeply, deeply unpleasant. But Veganism isn’t just about food, it’s about not using products or clothing that has been linked to animals either. Leather’s easy enough to understand; it’s skin that has been taken off of an animal that has probably been killed for food  – we all know that. But what’s wrong with wool? That grows out of sheep regardless, and if we didn’t give them haircuts, they’d end out like that nutter New Zealand sheep that was on the news! Right?

shrek-the-sheep

I was interested in the wool piece, because I do quite a bit of knitting. Turns out, that most wool comes from Merino sheep, which have been deliberately bred to a) produce more wool than they naturally would and b) have excess folds of skin, producing more wool per square sheepage. Trouble is, more skin folds = more chance of getting flies doing nasty things in there. So they have developed a practise called mulesing.  Mulesing is the removal of strips of skin – without anaesthetic – from the buttocks of sheep, leaving bare raw flesh exposed so that it turns into scar tissue and stops flystrike. Try Google image searching it. On top of that, the wool is sheared off whenever’s convenient for us, and not when would be critical from a temperature perspective for the sheep, plus there are all of the injuries suffered during the shearing process itself.

For fuck’s sake, seriously? Is nothing sacred? I even found out recently that some beer and wine producers use animal products as finings – gelatin and isinglass (fish swim bladders). IT’S BEER. How the fuck are we even shoe-horning the use of animal products into BEER?

As for using animal skins, we have largely accepted that the fur trade is a Bad Thing. You know, they hunt tigers, and club cute baby seals to death and everything. We all know that. However, there’s a 2005 film called Earthlings – which I don’t think I will ever be brave enough to watch – which uses hidden camera footage to show the real activities that happen within industries that use animals for profit. I am quite reliably informed that there is a piece of the film that shows foxes – kept for their fur – being electrocuted IN THE ARSE to preserve the quality of their coat.

What the fuck?? Take an already cruel practise, and then turn the barbarism up to 11?

We have taken what was once a reliance on animals for food and clothing, and turned it into industry. It’s been monetised, consumers demand ‘value for money’, and therefore animals are being wrung for every penny that can be squeezed out of them. It’s out and out exploitation, and animals are treated like commodities, things to use for our own ends in any way that is convenient and cost effective for us. Above and beyond this, when ANY beings are reduced to THINGS in peoples’ minds, that can often come with an inherent cruelty, and bullying behaviour.

Even just taking these few examples, if you substitute humans into the scenario in place of the animals, it would be the plot of an awful and gruesome horror movie. The milk one would be especially twisted… We are talking about Nazi-level evilness, or medieval torture. It would be completely unacceptable – but it’s allowed to happen, because it’s not happening to people, it’s happening to animals.

I am sure there are people who are not concerned about the mistreatment of animals, who perhaps are desensitised. I however am not cool with any of it. I don’t draw distinctions between species’.  As far as I am concerned, if it’s not acceptable for one group of living beings on this planet, it’s not acceptable for any.

There’s another element to all of this, beyond the actual animal cruelty. There’s a message about capitalism here, about the focus on making profits, about draining our resources to their limits for financial gains, and about blindly buying and consuming.

I am truly and profoundly sad that it took me this long to get here, and to actually open my eyes.

Vegetarian food for non-vegetarians

I have mentioned in a previous blog about my poor short term planning skills, specifically in relation to food. Food is simply not a big area of interest for me. I only think about food when I am hungry, bored, or procrastinating, and all of those states are quite immediate. I just don’t possess the forethought to anticipate eating requirements in advance.

I have also never been any good at doing the whole balanced diet thing. Therefore, if I am going to make not-eating-meat a serious part of my life, realistically I am going to have to rely on someone else to do the legwork to make sure I don’t end out a) massively overweight due to reliance on simple carbs and b) utterly deficient in vital nutrients.

Pearl

“You NEED me, Frost!”

To this end, I have been trying loads of meat-free products which I have never eaten before, just to see what works and what doesn’t. Another really important qualifier is that they need to be easily available, so everything I have tried has been on regular sale in Tesco.

Meat-substitutes have always gotten a lot of stick for being frankly awful, and while I would agree that some of them are indeed grim, in the process of investigation I have found a few I really like, and so I wanted to stick up for them. Which I have, plus said unpleasant things about the stuff that mings. For good measure, I’ve also thrown in a couple of my pre-existing favourites that just so happen to be vegetarian.

Good

These are all foods that I would be genuinely happy to consume in their own right, irrespective of the fact that they are meat-free.

  • Beer It goes without saying that I am absolutely delighted to announce that my favourite thing in the whole world is actually both vegetarian and vegan. Oh the joy!
Beer

“No animals were harmed in the making of this thing of absolute beauty.”

  • Alpro Dark Chocolate Almond Milk (vegan) Oh god yes. This is just like chocolate milk, although personally I think it tastes way nicer, and doesn’t leave that sticky coating in your mouth when you drink it. Let’s be honest, the last thing you want is a sticky coating in your mouth.
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£1.45 for 1 litre.

  • Alpro Devilishly Dark Chocolate Dessert (vegan) Not as firm as chocolate mousse, but rich, gooey and thoroughly tasty. I bought four packs less than an hour ago because I noticed they were on sale; I can’t promise they will still be there in a few days. Nom nom nom.
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£1.50 for 4 desserts

  • Quorn Picnic Eggs These are properly nice. The consistency of the ‘sausage meat’ is pretty much spot on, and the balance of taste with the egg is really authentic too.
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£1.70 for 10 ( I think )

  • Quorn Cheese & Broccoli Escalopes Very convincing; if I’d been given these without knowing what they were, I wouldn’t have guessed that they weren’t chicken. This is the only hot Quorn product I have tried that isn’t horrible. Plus, broccoli, hurray!
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£2.00 for 2

  • Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages These have a great texture and tasted really nice; they reminded me of the fancy-pants sausages you get from the ‘Finest’ section of a supermarket which is trying ever so hard to convince you that it really DOES cater to middle class shoppers.
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£1.70 for 6

  • Tesco Soy Burgers Not going to lie, these are very good. Again, great texture and nice taste.
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£1.75 for 8

  • Quorn Sausage Roll Much like the Picnic eggs, they have hit the nail on the head with these. The ‘sausage meat’ has that same great consistency, and also has the same herby flavour as you get in normal sausage rolls. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
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£1.70

  • Broccoli This is kind of a cheat, because I have always loved broccoli and so it’s not something new. I have however discovered how quick and easy it is to cook chilli, garlic and soy sauce broccoli, and that has made my life a better place, so it totally qualifies.

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49p for enough broccoli for two people. Or for one me.

Bad

While I am talking about my discoveries, here’s a few on the less enthusiastic end of the spectrum that are worth mentioning. On The Sliding Scale of Fail from ‘insta-barf’ to ‘not great’, here are the products that I really wish I hadn’t spent money on.

  • Quorn Sausages Oh my fucking god NO. These are truly, truly awful. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am not sure I could eat another one of these, regardless of how hungry I was. The taste and texture are way off. They are hellish tubes of Wrong. I really can’t stress enough that you should stay well away from these.

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  • Quorn Bacon Slices Smelled like smoky bacon crisps with a cheesy twang, and looked like worn shoe insoles. Whilst they were hot they were palatable,  but got weird as they cooled down. I definitely wouldn’t recommend them, but they didn’t make me feel queasy like the sausages. Oh my GOD, the sausages…

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  • Quorn Steak Strips Bleurgh. Vaguely savoury compressed marshmallows. I drowned them in soy sauce, and they passed as edible largely because I love soy sauce way more than is normal or healthy.
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£2.00 for two meals for 2 people.

  • Quorn Chicken Pieces There is no way you could ever pretend this was actual chicken. The texture is better than the steak strips, and to their credit the pieces pick up flavour well, although they totally miss the lightness of chicken. So far I have tried them in fajitas, Thai green curry sauce and pad Thai noodles and they took up space where the meat would normally be, while substituting in protein. That’s the nicest thing I can say about them.
£3.00 for two meals' for 2 people.

£3.00 for two meals for 2 people.

This isn’t definitive, I have more stuff in the freezer to try, so expect some revisions in the future. In the meantime though, I can recommend giving some of these things a go and see what you think.

Except the Quorn sausages… oh god, the sausages…

"...you weren't THERE, man..."

“…you weren’t THERE, man…”

Why aren’t more vegetarians fat fuckers?

How are your arteries feeling, bitch?

How are your arteries feeling, bitch?

I don’t profess to be a vegetarian, but for the last week I have eaten a meat-free diet. And bugger me if as a consumer society we don’t make that a surprisingly hard thing to do, in the 21st century.

The first question you would probably ask me is “…why?” and that’s a perfectly valid question. Because I do like meat (fnarr fnarr). In fact, from a very young age I have been borderline obsessive about bacon and eggs. However, there has been a quiet, internal conversation happening within me for many years, and it has been getting persistently louder recently.

I am aware that a lot of the issues in my adult life have come about because I have held myself to frankly impossible standards of personal behaviour. In the last couple of years I have learned to accept that I am subject to the workings of a brain, and since brains run on chemical reactions, they are subject to fuck ups and sub-par responses, and sometimes I make bad choices. Sometimes I make bad choices, and that’s OK.

Now, while I have stopped giving myself an unnecessarily hard time, I do strive to live my life in such a way that I feel that I can justify myself to myself. I don’t live my life for, or by the standards of, others but I do need to know that I am doing right according to how I believe I should conduct my shit. One of the things I simply will not tolerate in my own thinking and behaviour is hypocrisy…and I have to say that I have had a few uncomfortable moments with that.

A video appears on Facebook showing what any reasonable human being would consider intolerable cruelty towards dogs and cats within the meat trade in Eastern countries. I find myself outraged and upset that some assholes are shoving these beautiful, sweet creatures into horrible conditions in cages, to then be killed for food and…hey, wait a minute

The hypocrisy of my response troubles me. Not the reaction itself, because that is the correct way to respond to the situation if you have any degree of empathy. What bothers me is that I don’t bat an eyelid at the beautiful, sweet creature who was shoved into horrible conditions and killed to facilitate me chucking a slice of its arse into my basket at Tesco, and calling it a steak. If I don’t think that it’s right to do that to an animal, then it shouldn’t be right to do that to any animal.

The other thing that bothers me is that I could not kill anything in cold blood myself. I always defend little creatures like spiders and moths from death wherever I can, and I know full well that I could not look at a living, breathing, feeling animal and be the direct cause of its death. So how can it possibly be OK for me to cover my eyes and ears and have bacon for my breakfast, knowing that I am letting the blood of an intelligent, personable and fun creature be on someone else’s hands?

Let me be clear here, I am not making a judgement about anyone else’s choices. I mean seriously, if you could live in a forest and track, hunt, kill and butcher an animal to provide for yourself then I honestly tip my hat to you. You have a whole level of survival skills that are simply not available to me. I know that vegetarians – and even more so vegans – get a real hard time about advocating their choices; I am certainly not about to put an evangelical hat on, and wag my finger about right and wrong – not with some of the shit I’ve got up to in the past. I really don’t feel qualified.

Anyway, I digress. The nagging little thoughts that I am not doing right by myself are bothering me more and more as time passes. A few months ago, I was getting the bus into town, and there were some teenaged shitbag kids sitting at the back. They were being loud and obnoxious, and I put my earphones in so that I could retreat into my musical bubble and merrily ignore them. A woman got on shortly after me with three kids – although I don’t really have much experience of people who aren’t yet legally allowed to buy a round in a pub, I would guess they were probably aged between 5 and 12.

When they got off, the mother walked past me with obvious liquid streaks across the back of her clothes, and she angrily confronted the bus driver, pointing back towards the kids at the back of the bus. In my gut, I felt like an utter cunt. I had known that those kids were trouble and I had bowed out of that situation. In doing so, I let someone else suffer what was probably a scary and humiliating experience with her children, and she should not have had to do that alone. I was capable of being a better human being in that situation and I SHOULD. HAVE DONE. BETTER. That is the same gut-deep disappointment that I feel about eating meat at the moment.

I haven’t really mentioned to anyone that I’ve been doing this, mostly because it’s a point-of-sale decision for me alone. I am not doing it for any politically motivated reasons, or because I want to receive or change anyone else’s opinion. I did mention it to one of my friends in passing the other day, and she pointed out that me not eating meat wasn’t going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things; no animals were NOT going to die because of my choice to not have sausages for lunch. It kinda stumped me at the time, because she was technically right, but in retrospect – that’s a really shitty reason to not do the right thing. “My contribution is so small that it’s not worth even making” is about the very worst reason not to do A Thing. In my world, at any rate.

So anyway, skip to last Friday and I just decided on a whim that I wasn’t going to have bacon for breakfast. Then I decided I wasn’t going to have the beef soup for lunch. I queued for a sandwich and decided that I wasn’t going to have ham…

Let me familiarise you with one major flaw about me; I am really bad at short term planning. I have the attention span of a toddler with a belly full of Irn Bru. I eat when I am hungry and don’t think about food the rest of the time. I end out buying most of my meals from the canteen at work, because the level of planning and shopping required to sort out food from home just escapes me. Besides, on the odd occasions that I do manage to take dinner to work with me, I always end out eating it before 10am….and then still wind up buying the normal amount of food from the canteen anyway.

What I have discovered, in this week of leaving meat out of my diet, is;
If you are like me (unless you are a fan of intensely plain salad) your options are ALL OF THE MOTHERFUCKING CARBOHYDRATES IN YOUR FACE.

I have been putting some nice meals together in the evenings, but when I have been out of the house, my diet has pretty much consisted of bread, potatoes, chocolate and cheese. Oh yeah, I also had a pastry in the café at university… I’m at the train station and I’m hungry – “Cheese sandwich, asshole. Oh that’s plain and boring, is it? Here, have some crisps.”

A major problem with carbohydrate-dense foods (for me at least) is that I process them really quickly and then just as quickly end out hungry again, despite doubling my daily calorie intake.

Seriously, how are you vegetarian motherfuckers not all the size of small cars??

I really need to learn to plan ahead, or this might be the death of me.