treading lightly

hands painted as planet earthSometimes you get more than you bargained for. In January, I started this enquiry about switching from veggie to vegan in response to my growing awareness of the scale of industrialised methods in dairy and poultry farming. I gave myself a get out clause in that if I wasn’t able to manage my nutrition well, there were ethically run dairies and egg producers that I could support, but four months on, several books later, and a collection of browser bookmarks too numerous to count, the key learning is about the interconnectedness of my habits and choices.

At the same time as researching nutritional requirements and reestablishing the cooking habit after months of coping with family illnesses and bereavement, I added a few vegan FB page likes, subscribed to blogs and twitter feeds, and headed to the bookshop to replace my cookbooks and gather some associated reading. This for the most part has been a blessing as fellow vegans point me to their tried and trusted recipes, to stories about successful animal sanctuaries, and to answers to questions like, where do you get your protein? However, the other part of opening up the window on veganism is an exposure to the unadorned and brutal facts and practices of livestock farming from gender selection to slaughter, information that has driven me to tears of horror, disbelief and despair on several occasions.

Over and beyond the farming and welfare issues, I have learnt about the knock on effects of the contemporary globalised western diet with its links to poor public health; to pollution and degradation of localised water supplies and soil; to the blanket use of antibiotics in animal feed with its potential connection to untreatable superbugs; and to the concept of BigAg that along with other supersized lobby groups shapes global trade agreements that seek to ride roughshod over sovereign and local interests. The final connection that is gradually coming into focus is between large scale livestock farming and climate change. I can put my hand up now and say that I had not spent anytime in recent years contemplating in any depth the matter of climate change. I know that at home we take more showers than baths, only fill the kettle so far, have changed our lightbulbs, etc but the imperatives of climate change had been lost on me. Of course it is much more complex than farming and lightbulbs, after all there are vast sums of money spent on denying the climate change scenario. Only time will tell who is right, but looking through the vegan window is helping me shape a strategic vision for my household where we tread as lightly as possible on this little blue ball that revolves around the sun.

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a thousand times a thousand

it takes a thousand voices quoteI love the feeling of waking up, of surfacing. The mental state seems clarified by dreams and sleep. I love watching first thoughts bubbling up and popping. One caught me by surprise today inspired by listening to a podcast by a creative business coach. She unexpectedly found herself deciding she wanted to help one million people make a positive change in their life.

The question that came to mind as I lingered under the warmth of the duvet, disturbed only by bird calls in the trees at the foot of the garden was: what if I could inspire one million people to pledge one plant-based day per week? No animal products on the plate just for one day. And then, the free falling brain asked, what if those people then inspired just one other person to do the same?

The answer to that, according to my calculator, because I am not good with large numbers, is that one million x one million equals a trillion. That’s a far bigger number than the current population of the planet, which is somewhere between 7 and 8 billion. I realised with some relief that I wouldn’t need to directly inspire 1 million people, because heaven knows I’m an introvert and wouldn’t have a clue how to do that. If I downsize my aspiration to 1,000 people though, which feels a little less monumental as a collection of zeros,  and then they all in turn inspired just one other person, the million would be more achievable, and then if each of those inspired good people inspired someone else then we’d be right back at the 1 trillion mark, or at least all talking to each other about something that could change the planet forever.




the ripple effect

Ms Cupcake book coverEight weeks in and our household appears to be undergoing a sea change. We may soon be a one diet family. Teenage reproofs have suddenly and unexpectedly turned into enquiry and action. Cookbooks are being thumbed through with accompanying gasps of “this sounds good” and the mouth watering variety of vegan eating is realised through the fantastic food photography and ingredients lists.

Today the lure of baking has tipped the balance and I have been exiled from the kitchen to savour from an armchair the aroma of sweet vegan cake making; think chocolate, nut butter and vanilla all warming together in a moderately hot oven. I owe thanks to the cool and funky “The Naughtiest Cup Cakes in Town“, by Ms Cupcake for being too tempting for a teenager to resist trying. And further thanks to the inspiring Deliciously Ella as I’ve been promised a shopping list for recipe try-outs.

I am not sure what the exact motivation for this change is, I am just happy to feel it happening, and anyway whatever the reason it’s one more ripple in the pond of social and environmental change.



sugar blues (i)

sugar honey and fruit bowlNot that I am turning into a nutrition junkie or anything but I am reading a fascinating book by Dr Robert Lustig called Fat Chance. He is a paediatric endocrinologist which means he has spent many years trying to understand the reasons for infant and childhood obesity, and while he is supportive of the theory ‘eat less, exercise more’ he is on a mission to tell the world there is much more to learn from the biochemistry of fuelling up with food.

Hormones control our eating behaviour. Most digested nutrients from the small intestine go straight to the liver for processing but what the liver can’t immediately take up circulates in the blood. The pancreas is then deployed to secrete insulin which directs excess glucose to be stored by the liver, amino acids by the muscles and lipids by the fat cells. The more insulin activity, the more fat is being stored. Of course when the process is reversed and insulin levels drop then fat cells shrink as their energy supply is used. This whole energy balance is managed by the brain when it receives signals from another hormone secreted by the fat cells called leptin which tells it there is enough in the energy reserves.

Cutting a long and interesting story short, the villain of the modern diet is sugar in its multiple forms, not the glucose part which is an essential nutrient but the fructose part which you find in all sources of sweetness: honey, agave nectar, dried fruits and fresh. Too much of it interferes with the leptin signalling so that misinformation is transmitted through the body leading to all sorts of short and long term health issues.

I am only halfway through the book but it reaffirms my instinct to be working with a wide variety of fresh and unprocessed ingredients since most processed foods are riddled with sugars, especially the low fat kinds (thankfully we are not a soda household because they are absolutely toxic). Where there needs to be caution in my diet is not so much the odd craving for milky chocolate but regular fruit intake (fresh and dried) especially when it is stripped of its natural fibre. Dare I say it, but the whole smoothie/juicing trend is not as healthy as it sounds. Based on Lustig’s presentation of the sugar facts, if you’re thirsty drink water, if you’re hungry and thinking of your “5 a day” then chew the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit. Make that fruit smoothie or juice a treat and not a daily fix.

eats shoots and leaves

silverback gorillaLiving in small ‘troops’ of about 30 individuals in the mountains of Central Africa, mountain gorillas are on the IUCN Endangered Red List. Victims of human conflict, habitat loss and poaching, the total population is just a bit more than 600. An alpha male, or silverback, is responsible for moving his group around their home range, maintaining order, organising nesting and feeding. He can stand between 1.2m and 1.8m and weigh in at around 135-220kgs. He eats “roots, shoots, fruit, wild celery, and tree bark and pulp” (source National Geographic). Gorillas do not prey on other animals although lowland gorillas are known to eat termites (0.1% of total diet).

Admittedly a silverback probably spends a large part of his day eating to consume enough calories for his lifestyle, but the fact is that plant protein alone appears to be sufficient for maintaining his metabolic health and building his impressive physique. The UK’s daily recommended intake suggests 46g of protein for women and 53g for men is adequate, that’s about 10-15% of total calorie intake and for vegans this is super easy to find as protein is a factor in grains, pulses, legumes, soya products, seeds, and veggies. Yes, even a cup of spinach has 7g of protein.

So bang goes another myth: protein is vital for health but I don’t need as much of it as I thought and it doesn’t just come in animal shapes; animal protein has no supremacy over plant-based protein, and just eating a varied diet of unprocessed foods should be enough to keep me in tip-top gorilla health.

Interesting article here with facts, figures and research by nutritionist Amanda Woodvine for the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation

Image via Google Search.


a big blog hug (i)

liebster blog awardThe lovely Zoe at Feeling Vegan nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award, which is like an encouraging hug for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. It is actually quite gratifying to get those likes and comments from people enjoying my posts, people I’ve never met, never likely to meet, but with whom I share some common ground.

The process for a Liebster hug is a) to link back to the person who nominates me, b) answer their 10 questions, c) nominate 10 other bloggers, d) create 10 questions for them, and e) go to the nominated blogs and let them know about their nomination. This keeps the oxygen moving around our blogs. Simple

For the record,  here are my answers to Feeling Vegan‘s questions. I will fulfil the other part of the deal in tomorrow’s blog (as I typically like to keep my posts short).

1) What are the most noticeable changes in yourself since becoming vegan/eating healthier? I only started my veggie to vegan enquiry in January. The main thing I notice is my bigger social conscience and political awareness. Oh, and I’ve cried a lot of tears over farming and slaughterhouses.

2) What 3 courses would you make if I (or any other vegan) came round for dinner? I am a novice vegan chef but how about: Carrot, Cranberry and Walnut Salad with a citrus dressing, then Spinach and Potato Curry with homemade Naan bread and Mango Chutney. There wouldn’t be much room for pudding but maybe a Blood Orange Granita.

3) What is the toughest thing about being vegan/having an alternative diet? Being caught out by products that seem to be vegan but aren’t. In terms of food: butter.

4) What breakfast gets you going at the start of the day and keeps you full until Lunch? Porridge made with coconut milk and with any combination of dried fruits, nuts and seeds.

5) What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt about food/diet recently? That B12 is an essential vitamin and not easily found in a vegan diet.

6) What is your favourite alternative to sugar? To be honest I fall in the “beegan” group and do eat locally produced honey. I feel the beekeepers are doing their bit to preserve bees.

7) What is your favourite food documentary? Oh, I can just about watch the trailers. They leave me raw. I did see Food Inc all the way through.

8) How do you make sure you get enough B12? I take a vitamin supplement to be 100% sure as I am new at this game, but I know to look out for fortified cereals etc.

9) Do you follow the Raw ’til 4 diet? If not, what are your thoughts on it? I never heard of Raw til 4, but I know that I do like to eat warm/hot foods in the winter so I don’t think it is for me right now.

10) What is your favourite juice/smoothie recipe? Something simple like raspberries and kale with some banana and coconut milk.

Part 2 of Liebster blog with links tomorrow……

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.