Ninety Per Cent Vegan

“So what’s the other ten per cent?” asked Cousin’s Husband, “Do you eat sausages?”
I don’t think it was a serious question, and certainly he was quickly shushed by others in the room, but given the attitudes of some vegans, my other ten per cent might just as well be a love of rare steak.
It’s not though, it’s vegetarian. The odd bit of dairy, usually in the form of a hidden ingredient, still creeps into my meals. Then there are the eggs from hens kept as pets. I don’t have them very often, but they are there. A lot of my food is made from the same ingredients it always was, but used in different ways. I never used to eat butter beans in salads, or tofu in sandwiches. I didn’t have tahini spread on toast in the morning topped with fresh fruit, or with tomatoes, capers and olives. But the tahini, the tomatoes, the olives, the fresh fruit, the tofu, the butter beans were all staples.
The capers? I used to love capers, then suddenly, inexplicably, went off them. I haven’t eaten them in years. Then a neighbour brought some to our Equaliteas event, and since then I have eaten loads of them.
As I have said before, I don’t know that I shall ever be fully vegan. It is more of a lifestyle than vegetarianism. To reach nirvana all animal products including wool, leather and honey need to be excised. I still have quite a bit of honey inherited from Aunt. As I don’t eat it often, that statement will probably be true for some time to come. Equally most of my footwear is leather and unlikely to wear out overnight. Despite the best efforts of the moths (London has suffered a moth invasion this year) I still have some woollen jumpers. Now I am wondering about silk. I guess that might be on the forbidden list too. Maybe I am only eighty or eighty-five per cent vegan.
But back to the food.
I’ve been really enjoying the experimentation, combining familiar ingredients into new meals. I’m a simple cook; fussy recipes with a long list of ingredients, ingredients I have no room to store in my small kitchen, make me turn the page. Recipes and products that ape meat don’t interest me. I have had some fake cheese, but my feeling is that if I am not eating dairy I’d prefer to find other things that are equally tasty to eat, rather than trying to replicate the taste and texture of cheese. The exceptions are soya cream and yogurt. I favour Alpro. The dairy industry likes to dismiss these products with comments like you can only get milk from mammals. But the word milk has long been applied to fluids from plants.
I like vegan sausages when the sausage term refers to the shape rather than an attempt to make something from vegetables that tastes like meat, vide Linda McCartney products, which I avoid. The fashion of making burgers from vegetables with meat substitutes that seems to bleed is one I hope will soon pass.
For years I have been asked what I eat instead of meat. I don’t eat anything instead of meat. Meat is not my starting point. And I think that pinpoints what I find disturbing about so may of the mock meat products. They start from a very conservative, meat centric place, and so although they show ingenuity, they lack that appreciation of the raw ingredients that I believe is key to good cooking. Instead of looking at a lentil and wondering how to make it taste like meat, how about enjoying it as a lentil? Seeing where a dish that centres on the taste and texture of lentils leads you (top tip, try the vegan dish at Bay Root, SE17’s Lebanese restaurant to find out).
The hot summer has been particularly difficult for cattle farmers. No rain has meant dry fields. Many cattle are eating food intended for winter. Awareness of the cost of raising beef at both an environmental and financial level has risen.
This is a point when imaginative, forward thinking action is needed. If climate crisis is going to produce more summers like this one choices will have to be made. Maybe this will be the moment when some farmers start to explore the possibilities of growing more pulses, making the switch from farming animals to growing crops. But doubtless there will be some who want to dig in their heels, King Canute style, and insist on doing things the way they are now, which is not to say the way they always have been, since modern farming is more intense than it ever was. Animals and animal welfare will be an important aspect of this. We already have chickens and other poultry living short lives in conditions that should make us all ashamed; sows in farrowing crates; animals kept in conditions as far removed from the idealised picture painted in the adverts. Will we turn a blind eye to this and reckon the suffering of animals that are sentient (whatever the government says), is a price we are willing to make those animals pay for cheap meat and eggs?
What percentage vegan might you be in five years time?


10 thoughts on “Ninety Per Cent Vegan

  1. Thank you for this beautifully written post, Isobel. You’ve absolutely nailed the anachronism of taking a meat-centric approach to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

  2. Interesting read, Isobel – I confess I’m only about 60% vegetarian, so a long long way short of you. On a lighter note, I must say I’d love to see you in one of your wooden jumpers!

    • You don’t wear wooden jumpers Graham? Well, what can I say?
      In theory I am not against people eating meat so long as the animals are humanely raised, killed in a way that minimises distress and is respectful. In practice, I am revolted by the idea of eating meat, and increasingly alienated by It. As a lifelong vegetarian I have always liked bed in a meat eating world and alongside meat eaters. I have accepted their tastes are not mine. Quite when my tolerance changed to abhorrence I don’t know.

    • Not so long ago I was saying the same thing. I stopped eating it for a month initially as I overdid the cheese at new year 2017. I felt so much better for not eating it it gave me a surprise. I miss it much less than I could have imagined. Cottage cheese with chives is (oddly) the cheese I miss most. And I confess to eating a small piece of cider wrapped cheese not yet on the market last night.

  3. I agree entirely with your thoughts about imitating meat. There is such a wealth of variations in ‘kofta’ recipes that burgers are unnecessary. I don’t believe there is a humane way to breed and slaughter animals. The adrenaline from fear at their death must pass on in their meat. I have witnessed the happy murmur of a cow being milked on my brother’s farm but that was not a factory farm and her calf had her fill too.

    • I think if you keep a cow who calves then to take some of her milk is fine. Let her calf have all it needs. We have become greedy. Maybe that’s the wrong word. But certainly we take more from animals than we give and we take them for granted. If cream and cheese (I’m not mentioning milk as I don’t like it!) were rare treats we would value them more.

  4. My partner and I are about 90 percent as well (it’s the cheese and occasional egg that prevent us from being 100 percent–I have a Wallace-like affection for cheese). I am also a bit confounded by the meat substitute products, which we rarely use. As you note, I’m not sure most vegetarians start from a meat-centric place when they cook; most of our meals revolve around a grain or pasta and vegetables, then maybe something like tempeh or tofu (the latter of which we actually don’t use often, which surprises a lot of meat eaters).

    • I love tofu, and I eat lots of it. But lentils are my go to food, and now there’s a hint of autumn in the air I am back to making Walworth falafels. Last night Octavia cooked a beetroot risotto,the first I’ve had in ages, it was delicious. I made a mint and pea soup the other day which is definitely going to stay on this winter’s menu.
      But breakfast is my break out meal. Although I shall probably switch to porridge as the year cools down, currently my addiction is tahini on toast topped with sliced tomatoes, olives, capers, mint, black pepper and cucumber, or a mixture of fruits again with black pepper and mint. Tomorrow I am planning to have toast topped with avocado, watermelon, pomegranate seeds, and, as you have already guessed, black pepper and mint.

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