Review: Food Choices (2016)

 

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What did people do before Netflix, eh? (don’t answer that question, they probably were a lot more productive!) At least when it comes to documentaries, it’s really the place to go! In the theme of Veganuary, I thought I’d watch a foody documentary that’s been sitting on my watch-list for a while. Food Choices follows Michal Siewierski on his journey to discovering the most healthy diet for humans. It felt like an extension of other Netflix food documentaries, featuring interviews with Joe Cross of ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead’ and Dr.T. Colin Campbell of ‘Food Matters’. Here are the stand-out points for me:

Whilst it has been made complicated through all manner of fads and ‘studies’, it seems the perfect diet for humans consists of the following 4 main food groups: fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The ideal foods are high in fibre and unprocessed.

Doctors are not trained in nutrition hence why they focus on treating health problems with medicine (what they are trained in). This only tends to control the symptoms and adds others. Especially in America, but across the West, corporations interfere and confuse the situation by trying to make money through false food information as theor primary focus is profit.

Myth= we (humans) are hunter-gatherers designed to eat meat

Reality= those closer to the equator and most of the planet relied on starchy foods (corn, potatoes etc.) to survive. Only in the far North and South in places such as the Arctic did people have to eat large quantities of meat due to the scarcity of other food options in the extreme cold.

Our bodies are designed to eat fruits and vegetables. Some animals ave sharp teeth and claws to kill and eat animals, whilst we see in colour to detect fruit and vegetables, and our hands are perfect for picking and peeling them.

Myth= you can only get protein from animal products

Reality= it is impossible to be protein deficient especially on a plant-based wholefood diet as long as you’re getting enough calories per day. Humans do not need a lot of protein, not nearly as much as we are made to believe. In fact we get health problems as a result of too much! Our kidneys, and liver are put under stress by over consumption of protein and we are at a far larger risk of cancers.

Myth= we need milk for calcium

Reality= the higher the calcium intake from dairy products, the higher the risk of osteoporosis. There is calcium in all sorts of food, such as oranges!

All of the nutrients generally lacking in the population can be found in plant-based foods, whereas all of the over-consumed ingredients come from animal products/processed foods

We are the only creatures on earth that consume the milk of another species AND that consumes milk after infancy- IT’S NOT NATURAL! It’s designed for baby cows to rapidly gain weight! High fat, high cholesterol, no fibre- it’s just like liquid red meat.

No wonder people are addicted to cheese! The casein used to bind cheese together has been proven to be as addictive as heroin! (paraphrased from Karyn Calabrese)

‘Eggs are the most concentrated source of dietary cholesterol in the average person’s diet’ Dr. Michael Greger

Cholesterol only comes from animal products, and additional cholesterol causes heart diseases.

Commercial chickens are fed antibiotics, genetically modified corn and soy.

We are the only species on earth that does not live in harmony with nature.

Anyway, those are my notes. If you haven’t seen any food documentaries, I would recommend Food Matters, Cowspiracy or Forks Over Knives. This one I enjoyed the first half of, but I’d say there are others that deliver the message a bit better. I did like the humble approach of the guy and the way he asked simple, common questions and tried to find the answer.

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Leather.

Okay, so let’s talk about leather. It’s pretty much been a staple of our wardrobes since the beginning of time, and I have to say I didn’t bat an eyelid about buying and using leather up until a year ago. I used to think it was the only quality, durable, smart material to go for, especially when it came to shoes and bags.

Lots of people justify buying leather for its long-lasting qualities and think that it’s a byproduct of the meat industry, however whilst I can’t dispute the first point, the second is an over-simplification. You can read about how the meat and leather industries have a bit more of a complex relationship here and here.

Now that I am a vegan, I try to avoid using animal products wherever possible, for environmental and ethical reasons. but I have had a few exceptions. For instance, I have a few pairs of leather shoes that I bought before becoming vegan that I wear regularly. I don’t intend to buy any more new leather, however I think it would be a waste not to continue using these shoes because the damage has already been done and I do value them. On the other hand, I have donated a few bags and pairs of shoes that I don’t make enough use of or that I no longer feel comfortable owning anymore. Basically, it’s up to you how you deal with the leather in your home. In my opinion there are no wrong answers.

As for buying new items of clothing and shoes, here are a few of your options…

Secondhand leather– there are plenty of leather products on the secondhand/vintage market with a heap of life left in them. If you really like the way leather looks/feels/performs, this’ll be your best bet as you don’t need to contribute to and encourage the leather industry by buying new.

PROS: you get leather, secondhand can be cheaper

CONS: may have to search longer/harder to find what you want, promoting leather by wearing it

New leather alternatives– nowadays it is possible get good quality, sustainable and ethical vegan leathers. This means that no animal skins went into the making of that material- woo! Buying new does mean more energy is required to produce it, but sometimes it’s necessary; besides, it’s good to support brands that are contributing positively to the fashion scene.

PROS: no cruelty, better ethical/environmental credentials generally, encouraging good companies

CONS: can be expensive, requires more energy to produce than buying secondhand

If you are interested in new vegan leather alternatives, here are some highlights from the places I’ve found online…

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Cream Kate Loafers, Beyond Skin, £99
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Citibag, Wilby, £70

 

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Melissa elastic heeled boot, All Sole, £72

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Ville- Carbon, Matt and Nat, £84

5 things this Monday…

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Hello friends!

Today I thought I’d change things up just a little bit with a Veganuary themed 5 things this Monday! I’ve been amazed at the hype surrounding Veganism this year and I think it’s really picking up steam! Here are some things that have crossed my path so far…

  1. First up, you can never have too many reminders of why giving up animal products makes a HUGE difference to the planet. According to this article from the Telegraph, even just going vegetarian can cut global food emissions by two thirds and save millions of lives! If more people make positive changes to their diets their could be up to a 10% reduction in global mortality! Say no more.
  2. For anyone just starting out on this vegan adventure, this is a list of simple tips that’ll help you transition more easily (complete with memes!). Take a look even if you haven’t taken the plunge, because even doing one of these is a step in the right direction.
  3. Here’s some really exciting news. There are so many restaurants and food places releasing special vegan options and offering deals on meals out! Now you’re speaking my language 🙂 It’s reached the point where wherever I go in the UK I can either find a vegan option or ask them to change the veggie one so that I can eat it, but having more than one option- let alone a whole menu!- makes me wanna go on a food tour of all of these places! This is the future!
  4. The BBC asks the question ‘is following a vegan diet for a month worth it?‘ and asks 2 experts from both sides of the spectrum to weigh in. It’s quite a balanced argument, covering the many health benefits of veganism as well as things to look out for and possible challenges. I enjoyed that read.
  5. Finally, I found this video of primary school aged children being shown pictures of animals in factory farms. Children are great for opening our eyes to things because they are not so accustomed to the images that adults come to accept and become desensitised to. It’s a perfect reminder of what we should feel when we see animals suffering.

2016. 2017.

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me feeling smug with 2 baguettes in France

Hey all. Sorry for kinda disappearing for a month (and then some). The end of the year gets so crazy!

I don’t know about you, but there seems to be a general feeling that 2016 was a pretty terrible year. Granted, lots of depressing things did happen in 2016- in politics especially- but I don’t like the thought of allowing some of the not so great things that happened this year overshadow the good. I for one am not willing to write this year off as a waste of time, 365 days I wish I could get back. So I thought I’d write a list of things I am personally grateful for from 2016 (off the top of my head!)

In January I committed to becoming vegan! That was a massive decision that I struggled with initially, because it meant reteaching myself how to cook, learning about food and nutrition and letting go of my addiction to meat. But it was so worth it! I don’t regret my choice at all and it gets easier by the day. Not eating animal products has lead to more compassion for animals, a healthier lifestyle and I’ve finally started living in alignment with my values (still got a way to go but this is a step)

I returned from 9 months in France in April, which was a massive learning curve for me. When I first came back I wasn’t sure if it had been a great experience or if I’d used my time well. But looking back I learned a lot about myself and proved that I could push through large amounts of fear to make a life on my own in another country.

This September I got round to organising therapy for myself. I’m still trying out different avenues, but just proactively seeking help and acknowledging that you need it in the first place makes a significant difference to your mental health. Also, the more you talk about it with others, the more you realise it’s not uncommon to need support.

The great thing about starting to look critically at your lifestyle is that it opens up your awareness to other good causes. Not 4 months after I learned about zero waste, I decided to be vegan, and now I’m learning about minimalism. They all go hand in hand. The materials and working conditions used to produce the things I buy have become factors that I now think about and I’m so pleased.

Looking to the future, I’m learning not to be so hard on myself. When you first start out with a new lifestyle/goal, especially around New Year, you want to have a clean slate and keep it clean. Like forever. But there’s nothing wrong with admitting it might be more realistic to think that you might slip up or need time to transition. Over this holiday period I dread to think how much packaging I’ve sent to landfill (some of it unwillingly, some of it I’ll admit I saw it coming) but I’m picking myself up and saying ‘let’s start again’. We’re human, and we have to gentle on ourselves.

Leading on from the previous point, I’ve learned that the best way to motivate is to learn why. It’s all very well knowing that recycling is better than trash, but I had no drive to change anything significant in my consumption habits until I had a personal connection to the people and animals who suffer most at the hands of climate change. The same goes for finding out the truth about animal welfare on mass farms and high street shopping. The key is finding out the whole truth, and then deciding whether to support or withdraw from contributing to that situation based on what you now know. It’s pretty cool that we are so empowered with all this information at our fingertips!

Anyway, that was me getting back on this blogging bandwagon 🙂 Happy New Year friends!

Vegan November feat. My sister

So last month, my sister Naomi decided to eat vegan for the entirety of November. I thought it might be interesting to ask her some questions for anyone wondering what it’s really like to switch diet, or anyone on the fence about the whole thing. Naomi kept me updated on how she was getting on during November, so I had an idea of how it was going, but her answers are pretty great and not what I was expecting! Take a read…

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Did I mention my sister’s an awesome cook, baker AND photographer? Here’s her vegan banana and chocolate cake!

Why did you decide to be vegan for November?

You’ve been a vegan for ages now! And I’ve been watching loads of documentaries over the last six months or so. I’d stopped drinking cows milk a few months ago, and I’ve tried to cut down on meat because of both the ethical and environmental impact meat and dairy production has on the environment, but I realised that I wasn’t really cutting down at all. Going completely meat and dairy free was the only way I could see that I would actually put the time and effort into searching for and trying out new recipes, and hopefully make a change for good.

What were your thoughts/reservations before you started this challenge?

I actually thought it was going to be harder than it was! I ate meat probably three times a week, and dairy every single day, and I couldn’t see how I was going to like food without these things in them. Also, most people I told said that they wouldn’t be able to do it, which I think added to my fears about it.

What’s been the hardest part of being vegan?

Cheese! I love cheese! I thought I’d miss chocolate and meat the most, but there are substitutes for both, I found finding cheese substitutes really difficult, and it was definitely what I missed the most.

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Vegan toad in the hole. Cooking and photo by Naomi 🙂

Are there any recipes or products that you’ll keep using?

All of them! Apart from one disaster lasagne, the rest of my meals turned out really well. I found they filled me up and were actually fun to make. I will definitely still be making my vegan toad in the holes and my macaroni for years, and the bean curries. I don’t think I will ever bake with dairy again either, my vegan baking was probably the most successful part of the month!

How did your friends and family react to your decision?

As I said earlier, most people said they wouldn’t be able to do it (some people said they would “die” if they had to be a vegan), which I sometimes found a bit annoying, but a lot of people were also very supportive. I took quite a few cakes into work and everybody loved them. It was definitely a talking point, people were always interested in what I was eating and how I’d made it. A lot of people thought I’d lose weight as well, but I actually put weight on!

What differences (health/mood/outlook etc.) have you noticed since you changed your diet?

I noticed a massive difference in my energy levels! I didn’t feel bloated or heavy after eating large meals (no laying on the sofa for the whole of Sunday afternoon!). Mood wise, I didn’t notice a huge difference, but I think overall consciously thinking about what’s going into your body, and knowing that you are eating things that are not only healthy for you but also making an impact on the environment would naturally improve anyone’s mood and outlook. I definitely feel healthier overall.

Would you recommend this challenge to others?

Definitely! A month isn’t a huge amount of time out of your life. It gives a goal to aim for which is manageable without committing completely, which is just what I needed. I was really surprised that I hadn’t had any chocolate or meat cravings after the first week or so, and so proved to myself that those things aren’t going to affect my mood negatively if I don’t have them in my diet. I really feel that I was stuck in a rut with my diet prior to starting the challenge, and I am really excited to keep trying new recipes, especially the cake ones!

 

Dinner.

Since I moved to France and especially after I went vegan in January, I’ve been turning into a foodie. The kitchen has become my favourite place, and whereas a year or two ago cooking was a chore and a source of stress in my life, it is now what I look forward to most days!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty abysmal at following recipes. But that’s okay, because it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re happy with the result. Here are a few meals that I’ve made recently:

 

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Broccoli and lentil soup – My hand blender was on the blink which I only realised as I got it out to blitz the broccoli up for this soup, so it ended up having some quite large bits of broccoli in it! But it was actually really nice to be able to taste all the elements and them not to be blended together. The key was putting onion and garlic in and seasoning it well.

Ingredients:

Broccoli

Green lentils

Onion

Garlic

Sea salt, black pepper, coriander

 

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Rice, plantain and lettuce – This one was easy. I am obsessed with plantain. Maybe it’s because it’s sweet and I’m a sucker for anything sweet. Maybe it’s because I fry them in oil, who knows (coconut oil is perrrffecct for this as it brings out the sweetness!). Also, brown rice is great. I made the switch a few months ago and I do not regret my choice one bit.

Ingredients:

Brown rice

Onion

Lettuce

Plantain

Coconut oil

 

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Roasted yellow peppers with quinoa – This one was a fun one. I started off by boiling the quinoa, then mixed it in with some black beans, chickpeas, tomato purée and some spices then filled a hollowed-out pepper and whacked them in the oven! It turned out really yummy.

Ingredients:

Yellow pepper

Quinoa

Tomato purée

Black beans

Chickpeas

Red onion

Sea salt, oregano, black pepper

 

As you can see, most of my dinners aren’t that fancy. They don’t involve too many ingredients and usually include at least one vegetable and some kind of grain. They are filling and pretty healthy, and it’s exciting to keep experimenting every day with new ideas. I haven’t included directions on how to make these, because I am basically just making it up as I go along, or I look it up on Pinterest and follow someone else’s recipe 🙂

Review: Live and Let Live (2013)

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This documentary in a nutshell is people telling stories about how they came to veganism. What makes it really special is that it draws from a variety of different people (activists, dieticians, ethicists, athletes, farmers) but feels like an honest, laid-back conversation.

Among the interviewees was a guy who worked his way up from washing dishes to cooking in restaurants to owning his own. At that point, responsible for the most minute details of his establishment, he realised he was authorising the death of animals needlessly. The life he now leads is not only cruelty-free, but he is passionate about organic, local produce that’ll bring nourishment to his customers and honour the lives of the creatures he shares the earth with.

None of the subjects claim to be saints, nor do they preach; they simply tell their stories. They explain how they used to live, the moment they realised that consuming animals was wrong, and why they continue to live that way. Often they mention health, but the overwhelming reason is that, to paraphrase from the film, they finally opened up their circle of compassion to include animals.

The concept of carnism (eating meat) is broken down in the documentary. It requires the covering up of the inherent violence involved in bringing meat to our plates, the denial of the logic that- at least in the west- we would be horrified to learn that the meat we were eating came from a cat or dog, but completely satisfied to hear that the burger we’re eating is made from the flesh of a cow. It’s good to be reminded that there is a whole system keeping people in this destructive practice, but that it’s completely possible to become aware and break free as well.

Watching people, in some cases decades on from the point I’m at, reminded me that my level of compassion still has room to grow and that I have things yet to learn- but in a really exciting way.

I could go on, as usual, but if you’re interested I hope you’ll watch it yourself. It’s available on Netflix UK now.

Unhelpful comments.

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Have a picture of the motorway in Spain in 2014, go on.

This is an issue that I was aware of, but never considered writing about until a pang of frustration hit me whilst scrolling down my Facebook feed and I read a post saying something like ‘you call yourself an environmentalist but you still eat meat HAHAHA’. The tone was very belittling and aggressive and I just don’t see the need.

I would be lying if I said knowing what I know now doesn’t make me want to shake all my friends and family and say ‘do you realise what this does to the planet?!’ but that would make me two things; 1) disrespectful of the fact that everyone comes to their own decisions. Just as they respect my decision to not eat meat, I have to accept theirs. 2) arrogant considering that less than a year ago I couldn’t fathom why anybody would want to stop eating meat.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have conversations about the effect of meat eating on the environment, it’ s just about adjusting your attitude. Until every aspect of your life is faultless, it is unfair for you to make anyone feel lesser because of something they do. No one wants to feel that someone else’s opinions are being shoved down their throat, and it doesn’t really work anyway.

So how do you challenge the people around you to think about meat consumption? Here are 3 ways that respect other people’s autonomy:

  1. Recommend a documentary- Netflix was the main source of evidence that convinced me to become a vegan. Unlike books or articles, most people will find it easier to sit and watch a documentary because it’s quick and passive. Whether you watch together or leave them to themselves, the hard facts speak for themselves and it could be the spark that gets their minds ticking. Netflix has a good range of documentaries to suit personality types, priorities (health, planet, animals) and depth of scientific knowledge. I’ll leave a list at the end of this post of places to start.
  2. Be an example- I don’t go very long without having to mention my dietary requirements somewhere, and at least half of the time when I do, someone asks me why. That’s your permission to -briefly- explain your reasons. It might end there, or it might be the beginning of a discussion; either way that person has registered the choice you have made and you never know if further down the line it might trigger a change.
  3. Make + bake- Food is the way to the heart, as they say, and what better way to demonstrate your lifestyle than by showing its best bits? I’m compiling a collection of cake recipes and have made 3 birthday cakes in the last few months for family members. Making food to share with others means that firstly, you can eat it (unlike shop-bought birthday cake for instance) and secondly others will see that veganism doesn’t require any more effort or sacrificing taste.

Basically, stay respectful and remember that when it comes to any subject, we are only ever responsible for our own decisions. A little creativity goes quite far though!

 

Documentaries to recommend:

Cowspiracy– focuses on the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, quite science-y

Vegucated– an all-round introduction to issues related to meat-eating. Follows a group of diverse meat-eaters as they learn more as an experiment to see if they change their diets.

Food Matters/Forks Over Knives/Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead– focus on the effects of eating meat  vs. plant-based (vegan) diet on health. Food matters is stats heavy with lots of case studies and graphs. Forks Over Knives is a bit more testimony based with facts to support. FS&ND follows 2 men’s dramatic journeys towards better health through a plant-based diet.

Earthlings (not on Netflix)– morality/animal focused, it goes through the main ways that animals are used in society (food, pets, experiments etc.) showing real-life typical scenarios for animals. It’s harrowing and exposes a lot of suffering that we are shielded from in everyday life.

Just V Show

It only seems natural to document somewhere I went over a month and a half ago now right?! Right?! That’s what I thought! On the 10th of July I headed down to Kensington Olimpia for Just V Show, a fair exhibiting vegetarian and vegan products (mainly food). Here are 3 brands I learned about that day:

Jollyum is a soya-based ice cream that comes in 4 flavours: strawberry, double chocolate, maple + pecan and passion fruit + chocolate. I may or may not have sampled all four for research purposes… As far as non-dairy ice cream goes, the texture and taste were up there with the best of them. I managed to pick up a tub from Holland and Barrett recently, but you can find a full list of stockists here.

Seeds of Change do pasta and pasta sauces mainly. They were handing out bowls of tomato and basil sauce on penne at the event, and I was expecting it to taste pretty standard, but you really do notice that they put quality ingredients in their sauces. They use organic produce, so you can put your money where your mouth is when it comes to supporting products that don’t damage the environment, and the prices are quite competitive. You can find their products in most supermarkets.

Finally, I impulse bought a MARSHMALLOW LOLLY from Ananda Foods partly because I couldn’t resist how yummy they looked, and also cos I don’t think I’d yet come across marshmallows without gelatine in them- plus I’ve never had a marshmallow lolly in my life let alone now! I meant to document the whole event and totally forgot, but surprise surprise I have a picture of this lolly!

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I can’t remember what flavour the actual marshmallow was, but there was a layer of caramel on top of it, then a generous slathering of chocolate AND SPRINKLES! 🙂 Ananda is based in Derbyshire, see her website here.