I wrote a piece for the Independent about vegan and veggie stereotypes

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I wrote a piece for Independent Voices – although I didn’t choose the old Secret Cinema selfie – about the tired stereotypes surrounding vegans and vegetarians. I’ve been a veggie for most of my life for non-moral reasons (I hate it), but as I get older I start to see more and more sense in abstaining from meat. It turned out to be a popular topic, it got a lot of shares on social media. A few people got in touch via Twitter and I even got an email from PETA offering me some statistics in case I want to write about it again. Which was a bit of a surprise, considering.You can read the sleek and fancy one here, or my orig below. 

Like 3% percent of the UK population, I’m a smelly, tie-dye wearing lentil-muncher; an underweight, pallid weakling; a patchouli-scented carnivore-hater. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t eat meat. It’s no secret that, with the world’s population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, we all need to reduce our meat intake, yet ridicule of vegetarians and vegans is still par for the course.

Much like the old breast or thigh quandary, abstaining from meat, and perhaps dairy consumption too, is an entirely personal preference. It doesn’t directly affect the health of those around you in the way that, for example, smoking can, yet it’s sometimes treated with a similar level of hostility. Last week, the co-owner of an Australian burger bar, Mark Clews, came under fire for mocking a vegan diner who was “wearing a tie-dye t-shirt”, labelling her “single minded” and “Nazi like” on the restaurant’s Facebook page. In an exercise in customer relations that Ryanair would have been proud of, his comment went on to say that veganism “was inspired by some tragic childhood event, or a divorce, or a car accident or some crap” before securing his seat as Vegan Basher General by adding: “They lack physical strength because of zero red meat in their diet!”

These stereotypes are all too familiar. They would take pride of place in a round of defensive omnivore bingo alongside ‘but don’t you miss bacon?’ and ‘I don’t trust anyone who lives off rabbit food’. But the supposedly archetypal militant, sickly, non-meat-eater is just a caricature. Like most stereotyping, it’s part of a defence mechanism that protects a person’s – or in this case, meat-eater’s – belief system from being challenged and attempts to project a superior place in society. But recent decades have seen the meat consumption of rich countries increase, sending grain prices and obesity levels spiralling, causing widespread deforestation and adding unnecessary pressure to already strained resources. We have reached the point where beliefs need to be challenged.

Organisations such as PETA are no help in the matter. Their recent London ‘die in’ – which saw naked protesters lie on the floor of Trafalgar Square in a blood-smeared jumble in order to promote veganism – did little to highlight the important health and environmental issues connected to meat consumption, and everything to confirm suspicions that meat-free also means sanity-free. So although I’m not full-vegan, I’d like to address a few of these myths. I have voluntarily forgone the consumption of dead flesh for the best part of my life and eat little dairy.

For starters, while I was probably still supping from tippy-cups the last time I allowed a chunk of red meat to pass my lips, my physical strength is enough that I ran the London marathon this year (although it’s perhaps best if we don’t discuss run-times). I don’t hate carnivores, in fact, my boyfriend is a one and is free to practice that as he chooses – my home is not the scene of a fascist dictatorship. Not with regards to meat, anyway. I rarely eat lentils, have never, ever worn tie-dye and often cook Sunday roasts for my carne-loving friends. Perhaps, most shockingly, I can’t stand Morrissey. You see, veggies really are just normal people.

Until now, I’ve not preached to anyone about eating meat either. My choice not to eat it was born not from a tragic childhood event, but a genuine dislike of the stuff (yes, even bacon). But this month is World Vegan Month and what better way to celebrate than by trying to go without consuming animal products for just one day? You won’t turn into a hippy, I promise.

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A Fussy Eater Abroad: 20 of Your Tales of Vegetarian Travel Woe

Lunch in Mostar

Lunch in Mostar

Having been a vegetarian since birth, and a fussy one at that, I think I’ve just about heard it all when travelling. Mainly it’s met with utter disdain or incomprehension. Thank god I quite like dry bread, chips and crisps.

This article, 20 of Your Tales of Vegetarian Travel Woe, recently appeared on the BBC website and I had to share, it’s always nice to know you’re not alone. I’m pretty sure I’ve endured similar situations to all 20, but I particularly like number 9 (the entire waiting staff discussing whether the pink ravioli filling is spinach).

This is a typical scene with a waiter, especially in Hispanic countries (with a few more pathetic attempts by me to pronounce something from the phrasebook):

Me – “I’m sorry, I’m a vegetarian.” (I always feel the need to apologise.)

Waiter – “We have chicken.”

Me – “I’m afraid I don’t eat any meat.”

Waiter – “Yes… chicken is vegetarian.”

In Bosnia last summer exactly this scene happened for the umpteenth time. I ended up with a bottle of still water and a small bowl of brown-tinged iceberg lettuce. No dressing. My boyfriend was given a plate of fried meat the size of his head and a legs-worth of beer.

Veggies are not a popular folk.

Mission Burrito, Bath

Front of Mission Burrito, BathI know it’s bad, but I just love this place. It’s tasty, not too fatty or carb-ey, suitable for vegetarians and quick. I usually end up treating myself to a vegetable burrito after the gym – although I realise the irony there.

Because you can choose the contents of your wrap it’s perfect for a fusspotato like me and it usually costs between £5 and £6, which isn’t bad for dinner.

Mission Burrito, BathMission Burrito, Bath

A Fussy Eater Abroad: surviving Prague

Prague’s a pushover

As travel destinations go, Prague is not a tricky one to survive as a fussy eater. It’s a tourist hotspot so just about every taste is catered for.

In the most touristy areas such as the Old Town, it’s hard to come by traditional Czech food. The grandiose street are dominated by a mix of Turkish street vendors, American theme bars, curry houses and steak restaurants. If you like meat, cheese, or eggs, you shouldn’t have a problem anywhere, but there are vegetarian, and vegan friendly places too.

Omlette that is in fact, just several fried eggs.

“Egg Omlette Grandma’s Style”

The trusty omlette – like many European countries, the Czechs love their red meat and cheese. If that’s not for you then you may end up eating a few of these. ‘Grandma’s style’ is essentially chunks of potato nestling within some fried eggs.

Czech Goulash with Bread Dumplings

Czech Goulash with Bread Dumplings

Beef Guláš – tender, if a little fatty (so I’m told), beef goulash, a dish borrowed from the Hungarians. Bread dumplings however, or knedliky, are a traditional Czech side dish made from wheat or potato flour, boiled in water as a roll, then sliced and served hot. They’re quite doughy, but good for soaking up the tasty rich sauce.

Time For Tea

It can get pretty chilly in the Czech Republic (my whole face was chapped for a week) so hot drinks are a must and, well, GREAT!

Take a break from the cold in a swanky bar, or just warm your hands on a cup of something cheeky from a street vendor.

Hot Wine

Hot Wine

Hot wine – another delicacy shared with the Hungarians and almost worth a city break alone. It’s simpler and less sickly than mulled wine. I’ve found a recipe for it here, but it won’t taste as good without the dramatic gothic architecture.

Hot cherry or apple – fruit liqueurs with hot water.

Hot cider – I’m sure you can figure that one out.

Grog

Grog

Grog – rum, hot water and a squeeze of lemon or orange. This is quite strong and varies in taste depending on the rum used, it’s usually pretty horrible.

Hot milk with a lump of chocolate to melt on a stick

Hot Chocolate On A Stick

Hot chocolate – familiar to us all, but have you ever had it with a tot of amaretto or rum, or more bizarrely, on a stick?

* If your thinking of heading to Prague I’d suggest a cheap deal that will take you there out of season (some time around January). Not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll avoid marauding Stags and Hens, but no matter when you go you will get hassled by promo teams.

Wrapped mints named Bye Polar

Feeling a bit menthol

Tibits London: a fussy eater’s dream

Tibits London

Tucked away just off Regent Street, Tibits is the perfect spot to feed a hungry fusspot.

Think fast food meets swanky restaurant with a hint of salad bar. It’s a welcome break from tired vegetarian restaurant staples – not a single yoga mat or hemp jumper in sight.

Pick a table, grab a bowl and help yourself to any number of colourful delights from the food boat, a sort of buffet counter. So, it’s a bit more like a fancy canteen than a normal sit down meal but don’t let that put you off. Besides the plush fabric lampshades and trendy wooden furniture, refreshingly, it’s the food that makes this place special.

The buffet bar at Tibits London

Catching the Food Boat

Dishes vary in both ingredients and cuisine. Indian inspired dishes sit comfortably alongside Chinese and Mexican, and although it’s strictly veggie, there’s something for everyone with perhaps thirty different dishes on offer at any one time.

Definitely no mushroom mishaps

You can see the food before you commit to eating it, for a picky eater this is a godsend. No embarrassing ‘oh dear, that ingredient wasn’t mentioned on the menu’ moments – for once you can just relax and enjoy the meal.

Tibits are creative with their food and offer a well-rounded variety, which on the veggie food circuit is like getting Jamie XX after a lifetime of being fed Coldplay; vibrant ideas replace clichés, predictable ingredients are brushed aside for surprising ones and you’ll be more than happy to tell your friends you’re a fan.

Reservations are a no no as Tibits like to keep things simple. Just drop in any time between 9 am and 10:30 pm weekdays, midnight at weekends, and if they can’t find a table for you, there’s always take-away. The food is charged by weight, so you just pay for what you can eat and the drinks are reasonably priced for central London.

14-18 Heddon Street London W1B 4DA

020 7758 4110

(Thanks to Spoonfed and The Prickly Margarita for the pictures.)