looking good

isabella rossellini via www.rsi.chDelving deeper into this vegan enquiry, thoughts seem naturally to turn to items other than food that I buy or have bought courtesy of the life and service of a non-human animal. I have never been a big cosmetics user, I subscribe to the view that the less stuff you put on your skin the better, but I suppose I have been a bit a bit of a snob in my time for what I did buy was the best that I could afford. Best I interpreted as higher-end products that had sophisticated ingredients and were backed by some kind of branding or celebrity that I somehow aspired to. Isabella Rossellini was the face of Lancome for 14 years and I couldn’t imagine a more sophisticated looking woman to emulate.

I have been passively aware that animal testing for cosmetics was a continuing practice but along with farmed animals, was not aware of the extent or, not to put too fine a point on it, the torture that is endured. Fortunately since March 2013 there has been a European-wide ban on companies testing new cosmetic products or ingredients to be sold in the EU. The Leaping Bunny stamp gives consumers the peace of mind that not a single commodified creature has had their skin or eyes irritated, burned, scarred or damaged for the sake of what is in their make-up bag or in the bathroom cupboard.

As with most things in life their are exceptions and loopholes, that’s why we have discussions around corporate tax avoidance and evasion (is there really a moral difference?). Cosmetics companies who have markets beyond the boundaries of the EU can continue to test on animals outside of the EU and then sell those products everywhere, including inside the EU (all smacks of something similar to the dreaded TTIP). This let’s off the hook the global  brands especially those who sell to China, a market that has created a bit of gold-rush fever among multi-national corporations who are greedy for the massive profit potentials. The Chinese, you see,  insist on a variety of tests, including those on animals, before a cosmetic product can be launched into their expanding market. So if you want to sell a mascara or a moisturiser in Brighton, Berlin and Beijing you have to animal-test.

Moral of the story is that I look for the Leaping Bunny stamp and check brands on their website. Happily there is a great range of products from specialised brands to supermarket and drugstore favourites. Now, as I run out of a product I replace it with something from a UK or EU  firm that puts compassion at the heart of its business or at least is beginning to realise it’s important to some of us.

PS – Isabella Rossellini is now an active conservationist, board member of Wildlife Conservation Network and a completely wacky film maker – see Green Porno clips here.

Image via rsi.ch






naan better than homemade

naan breadThe sneaky milk powder ingredient has caught me out again. I put together a delicious, if I do say so myself, potato and spinach curry tonight with a fresh undercurrent of ginger. Not wanting to cook rice again this week, I decided to buy some naan bread on the way home to tear and share. They’re so soft and light I should have guessed there would be some milk in the mix.

This has highlighted two issues for me. Firstly, when buying processed or pre-prepared foods I have to think of them as a collection of ingredients and as such make sure I read labels before I buy, not as I am disposing of the packaging. Secondly, to think more in advance about what we are going to eat so that there is an opportunity for homemade options. I found some simple and varied vegan naan recipes on the internet that have far fewer ingredients than the shop bought ones, so I will give one of these a try on our next curry night.




from Russia with love (ii)

angel statueThis evening I found my own way from my workplace to my accommodation. It is only about a 15 minute walk but nonetheless it’s a bit scary in a city where it is hard to decipher the Cyrillic signs, and although I can say ‘excuse me’, ‘thank you’ and ‘good evening’, I have no idea how to say ‘I am lost’. So, it was hugely satisfying to get to the right front door.

On the way I ventured into the supermarket for some fresh veg. Wherever I go I find it incredibly grounding to go to the local supermarket and enter into the basic transactions of buying food or incidentals. The rules are universal: you pick up your basket or trolley, you wander up and down aisles and even if you don’t speak the language the context of the foods and the pictures on the labels help you with your choices, you join a queue, unload your items, the checkout staff offer you a bag, they scan your stuff, you pack, you pay. Today I had the added bonus of being served by the Check-Out Angel. I had not realised that you had to weigh your veg and get a price sticker before paying. This delightful lady halted my apologies and trotted off to do it for me, as if that was what she had been waiting to do all day. And in that moment I knew that big old, cold Moscow has a warm heart


shopping sweep

shopping trolleysI’ve never got into online food shopping. I like the physicality of going to the shops. I like browsing with my eyes and my feet, reaching or stooping to pick items off the shelves, and carrying the basket or pushing the trolley. I like to be able to feel the weight and shape of the unpackaged fruit and veg, and to sniff it if I want. I also like to pass the time of day with the check-out staff, makes it feel like a meaningful human experience rather than a robotic chore to be over and done with.

Supermarket trips however have become noticeably quicker over the last few weeks. List in hand, I do a typical hit on the fruit and vegetable aisles as usual, then make an arc towards the bakery section at the back of the store usually via the aisle that houses the herbs and spices, oils and vinegars – picking up something new for an untried recipe (juniper berries today). Sometimes I stop for some tinned supplies and then go to pick up alternative milks that we like, namely almond and coconut. That’s about it unless there are domestic goods to buy. I never did spend much time in the butchery or fishmonger sections but halting the dairy and processed foods has certainly trimmed shopping time and I am suspecting trimmed my waist. More of that when suspicions are confirmed.


no cheese, please

veal calfI have steadily eaten less and less cheese over recent times but it has always had a place in my weekly shop in some form or other. Favourites included, mild and creamy Dolcelatte, fresh and tangy nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg, and the nutty yet fruity firmness of Manchego. I didn’t realise until exploring the concept of vegan cheese that the majority of cheeses use calf rennet in the production process for curdling, that is separating the milk into curds and whey. Most softer cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese and paneer don’t. Calf rennet comes from the stomachs of new-born male calves who are slaughtered for veal. While I knew about the gender selection of animals at birth, if I did know about the animal rennet in cheese making, the fact had got lost somewhere in my broad and unthinking understanding of what constitutes a “dairy” product.

For years it seems I have been eating non-vegetarian cheese – this is an unexpected surprise that I feel quite stupid about. I am not sure whether I will try vegan cheese. I have not actually missed it over the last 13 days and I am not sold on the idea of substitute products. There are after all so many diet possibilities with common whole foods, vegetables and fruits that makes a vegan enquiry a time for new tastes and habits to develop. Let alone a greater awareness of what goes into my basket.



Image via HuffingtonBlogPost

winsome broccoli

chopped broccoliEvery time I opened the chiller drawer last week the broccoli from the veg box seemed to be begging for attention. When Sunday came, I knew it was only a day or two away from losing its vitality and bite so I set out to honour it’s gorgeous green nutty flavour with a new recipe.  I landed on a few tempting options: an earthy sounding soup with chestnuts which would help use a leftover pack from Christmas, a quinoa combo with lemon and rocket (arugula), and a tofu extravaganza with noodles. Excited, I went to the kitchen to discover that first of all there was in fact no leftover pack of chestnuts, that the only fruit in the citrus bowl were clementines and limes, and finally that there was no tofu left. Yes, no lemons left. No tofu left. The first is a travesty in any kitchen; the second unforgivable in a vegan one.

Downed but not defeated by my lack of store cupboard planning, I gathered up that winsome broccoli anyway, chopped it and steamed it, and then pulled it through some pilau rice adding some crunchy sunflower seeds that had been toasted and drizzled with tamari. A tasty meal was in the end enjoyed.  And then it was time to make a shopping list.

shopping (i)

0107 AsparagusThere is a treasure trove of vegan blogs out there with advice and recipes for ethical, plant-based living and I already feel grateful to all those authors who share their experience and creativity so readily. Yesterday, I was tempted by a lonely bag of unseasonal asparagus at the supermarket and a quick search soon gave me ideas for a sticky asian glaze with sesame seeds which made a change from the usual knob of butter and squeeze of lemon.

I find myself doing smaller more frequent shops that the usual once a week trolley dash. I think it is more economical but I haven’t done the maths. I have a veg box delivered once a fortnight, and do a whole food shop once every 6-8 weeks. So the supermarket is for topping up on fresh and frozen fruit and veg, and domestic products. It is also the place I buy animal products for the family, not a lot but I have to respect their choices too. I find it funny to notice how I need a deep breath to make a stealthy foray into those aisles and how I make the selections as carefully and quickly as possible. Very uncomfortable. Then of course I have to cook the produce too, but I find a small moment of blessing is the best balm.