Category Archives: Blog

Welcome to the Great Vegan Challenge blog! Throughout November people taking part in the Great Vegan Challenge will be posting their thoughts, experiences and advice here, so check back regularly for updates. If you would like to contribute to this blog, please email veganchallenge@animalaid.co.uk.

Welcome to the Great Vegan Challenge blog! Throughout November people taking part in the Great Vegan Challenge will be posting their thoughts, experiences and advice here, so check back regularly for updates. If you would like to contribute to this blog, please email veganchallenge@animalaid.co.uk.

Sanctuary Visit 2014 – by Ben Martin

Last Saturday (22nd Nov) a whole host of people taking the Great Vegan Challenge joined us for our annual visit to The Retreat Animal Rescue near Ashford in Kent. This wonderful sanctuary provides a home for a whole host of farmed animals saved from salughter, including cows, pigs, chickens, goats, ducks and many others. Owned and run by vegans, we could think of no where better to take our Challengers to meet animals like the ones they were saving by going vegan.

Despite extremely muddy conditions, the rain held off and everyone had a wonderful time. Billy – who runs the sanctuary – was the perfect host and took us all on a full tour of the site. We got to meet all the animals, hear their stories and even play with them too. As ever, the pigs were the stars of the show and enjoyed many a back-scratch and belly-rub. One visitor, surprised by how friendly and affectionate they were, commented on how much they reminded him of his dog at home. The cows also made a big impression, with one of the children developing quite a bond with the Retreat’s largest resident, Arthur – a huge but very gentle Fresian bull.

The day ended with a vegan feast layed on by us – the Animal Aid staff – for our guests, as well as some of the staff and volunteers at the sanctuary (plus one or two cheeky chickens!) Given the requests for recipes, I think it went down well, especially the cake.

A huge thank you to everyone who came along and made it such a great day, and a special thanks to Billy and everyone at The Retreat for their kindness and the amazing work they do for the animals!

Daily Vegan 30: And now the end is near… and New Year resolutions – by Mark Gold

So how has it been for you? Interesting – even fun – we hope? Everyone at Animal Aid would like to thank you all for taking part, which we know you wouldn’t have done if you didn’t care about animals and the work we do. And I guess that if you’re reading this, the chances are that you’ve made it through to the end. Congratulations and we hope it didn’t prove too difficult.

More than 1,600 people signed up for The Great Vegan Challenge 2014 and it’s going to be fascinating to see how many of you intend to stick with the diet once we’re not pestering you every day.

For those who decide that they can’t commit themselves totally to veganism, we hope that you’ve at least got something out of the experience and will, perhaps, depend far less on meat and dairy in the future. For those who do want to stay vegan, please remember that we’ll still be available at all times to answer all your queries.

One other thing! Next year is General Election year. Whether or not you decide to adopt a 100% plant-based diet, can we please persuade you to make a New Year resolution to support our election campaign for animal welfare improvements? Please go to www.voteforanimals.org.uk to see our five aims.

So for now it’s au revoir from the Daily Vegan!

Daily Vegan 29: If slaughterhouses had glass walls… – by Mark Gold

Animals are routinely beaten

There are many good reasons for becoming vegan, but the one that inspires most of us is, of course, a desire not to have any part in the horrific exploitation of animals. This core belief was particularly reinforced for me by our undercover investigation inside UK slaughterhouses. Those who follow Animal Aid’s progress will know that we exposed routine cruelty, with laws broken and regulations ignored. Those images still haunt me – cigarettes stubbed out on the face of pigs, animals kicked, stamped on, cursed, hit in the face with metal shackles and tortured by electric shocks through ears, snouts and even open mouths. Few who have witnessed the footage could contest that slaughterhouses are probably the most barbaric institutions that are still legalised in our culture. These are killing factories where the worst forms of macho behavior thrive.

A slaughterman punches a pig in the face

One of our aims with The Great Vegan Challenge has been to show that an exclusively plant-based diet does not demand any kind of self-sacrifice. The food can be delicious and fun, as well as healthy and good for the environment and animals. But we have also been keen not to underestimate the difficulties that some people experience in adapting to change and overcoming social pressures from family and friends.

So, while we would like everybody who has taken part in the Challenge to remain 100% vegan, we don’t expect it. It’s your choice and we’re not planning to send the Vegan Police round to check the contents of your fridge and food cupboards!

What we would ask of all those who are unsure, however, is please to keep in mind (or better still look at) these slaughterhouse images one more time before you come to a final decision. Thanks.

Daily Vegan 28: It’s Christmas time… – by Mark Gold

Love it or hate it, it’s almost here again and, although it can be a bit of a tough time if you’re the only vegan in an unsympathetic family, it doesn’t mean going without. Nor, if you’re worried about it, does it mean causing too much disruption.

If you have space in the kitchen, and the inclination, there are an infinite number of possibilities for your main course on Christmas Day. Nut roast has become the ‘traditional’ vegetarian option, and there are hundreds of different recipes of varying complexity. Some can be very quick and easy, as long as you have a food processor to chop up the nuts. But nut roast isn’t compulsory and you’ll find countless other recipe ideas online.

If you can’t be bothered with cooking and enjoy convenience foods that imitate meat, you could always purchase a VBites Celebration Roast (RRP £5.89). It’s a ‘turkey-style’ roast that comes with a gravy mix and four vegan sausages wrapped in meat-free bacon. You just bung it in the oven for approximately 40 minutes and would probably serve two.

All the vegetables and accompaniments can easily be made vegan with a little thought – gravy, stuffing, etc – and the vegetables shouldn’t be a problem, provided the spuds are roasted in vegetable oil.

This year’s supermarket Christmas pudding choice isn’t too bad. The plainly titled Sainsbury’s Christmas Pudding is vegan, as are Asda’s Smartprice and Chosen by You puddings. Lidl’s version also appears to be suitable, apart from a question mark over the tiny quantity of sherry.

We also found mince pies suitable for vegans in Lidl, Morrison’s, Waitrose (Essential range) and Asda (Smartprice and Chosen by You). If you want to bake your own, most mincemeat is now 100% animal-free. Just check the ingredients.

Christmas cakes are more of a problem. You’ll either have to make your own (loads of recipes on the internet) or buy one from a specialist mail order company such as 1066 Cake Stand who are offering a collection service for pre-ordered cakes at our Christmas Fayre on 7th December.

Happy Christmas everybody!

Daily Vegan 27: The Vegan Ethic – by Mark Gold

The vegan ethic is not only about food, of course. It means questioning the clothes we wear, the hair and skin care products we use, and so much more. It’s about developing a thoughtful approach to the world around us and our place in it. And it invites everyone to share and to encourage the rejection of cruelty and exploitation wherever it is possible to do so.

It is now easy to find cruelty-free toiletries and cosmetics. In addition to specialist companies such as Faith in Nature and Honesty, several of the leading supermarkets’ own-brand labels now carry the BUAV leaping bunny logo, indicating that their products are not tested on animals. These include Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Superdrug, although only the Co-op and Superdrug list which items contain no animal products, too.

Most household cleaning products are tested on animals, but once again, the Co-op and Marks & Spencer lead the big retailers in marketing items that are not. Specialist cruelty-free companies include Faith in Nature, Bio D, Suma and Astonish.

For make-up, Superdrug’s own ‘B’ range is vegan and non-animal tested. Beauty Without Cruelty is also completely vegan and many of their products are available from the Animal Aid online shop.

My Vegan Journey Part Two: What Came Next – by Kate Hickman

After talking about her experiences of the Great Vegan Challenge 2013, Kate tells us what happened next on her vegan journey…

With Christmas not too long after the Challenge, I worried whether I’d feel ‘deprived’. Could I live without giant chocolate buttons or Malteasers? I must confess that it now seems very silly to me, but back then it was a real worry. I just kept thinking ‘one week at a time’. On my Christmas list to my family I put some vegan cookbooks and some Booja Booja chocolates, amongst other things, and when the day came I had masses to eat with no feeling of missing out at all.

I actually went away to Kenya to stay with my sister for 6 weeks at the beginning of the year (the Challenge came at the same time as the very horrible decision to divorce, so it’s certainly not been all plain sailing) and again, I wasn’t sure how I’d manage. Within a week, though, I realised that I would be absolutely fine eating vegan there and I became good friends with Patrick, the fruit and veg man in the market. Getting through Christmas, time abroad and Easter gave me confidence that being vegan is actually really easy once you get the hang of it.

I believe that what really worries you at the beginning ends up not being an issue at all. Though I liked cheese, I certainly didn’t eat it daily so that wasn’t too hard to quit. I’d bought some Cheezly, but didn’t try it for about 5-6 weeks as everyone was saying it wasn’t the same. I now enjoy it, but only occasionally. I’m more a fan of houmous, peanut butter, avocado, yeast extract, etc.

I’m not sure when it all fell into place and I became more confident regarding my lifestyle choice. I guess it’s been gradual. I joined Vegan Runners and I think that was probably a part of it. There are so many amazing athletes on the Facebook page that make me and my little marathons and 50k races feel a little diddy! Also I started reading the books of Rich Roll, Scott Jurek, the No Meat Athlete and reading up on Fiona Oakes. Vegans can be ruddy fit! And fast! I’m proud to now run in my Vegan Runners vest and hopefully just one or two people might think ‘wow, vegans have enough energy to run!’

People at work are only now finding out I’m vegan (I’ve always taken my own food in and not shouted about it) and when I was asked this week by about 8 people, I could clearly state that I don’t want to be a part of that industry any more. You can’t get dairy without the meat industry. I disconnected for long enough. I’ve seen a video of the male chics being thrown in the mulcher. I’ve seen pigs being stunned (if they are lucky ) and having their throats slit whilst they writhe from their leg hook. I’ve cried too many tears. The life of harm is not for me. Now, a year on when people ask where I get my energy from and how am I so healthy I say ‘because I’m vegan!’ .

The things that have helped me transition are YouTube – I watch Freelee the BananaGirl (bonkers and annoying at first), Kris Carr and Kathy Freston – and have repeatedly read the latter two’s books. It’ll surprise you who is vegan – I loved Jared Leto 20 years ago after watching him in ‘My So Called Life’, and now 20 years on he’s a vegan and I renewed my love.

The HappyCow app is brilliant for eating out. Giraffe, Wagamama’s, Thai, Indian have always been great. In places like M&S now I’ll get a bread roll and a little box of antipasti, some fruit and crisps. I’m far from starving or deprived! I just know where to look now.

The internet is an amazing resource. Years ago I imagine being vegan was tricky but now it’s never been easier.

Animal Aid gave me the nudge to get me started (they supported me no end when I was 12 and made the switch to going veggie too) and I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve now met a few fellow vegans for vegan lunches which has been brilliant. I’m so pleased and so proud I’m vegan now and imagine I’m here for life.

Thank you Animal Aid!

Daily Vegan 26: An obsession with shoes! – by Mark Gold

Why is it that when you tell people that you’re vegetarian or vegan, their first reaction is often to stare at your feet in the hope of spotting a pair of leather shoes? If they find any leather, it’s as if they feel vindicated in their meat eating: they think they can dismiss you as a hypocrite and get on with munching their steaks.

So, what should you do if you’ve recently given up animal products, yet you still have some items – shoes, furniture, bags or whatever – that are not vegan? Some will no doubt take them all down to the charity shop at the first opportunity. But perhaps you can’t afford to replace them immediately? Or maybe you have an item or two with which you feel some emotional attachment?

You don’t have to do everything overnight if you don’t want to, and I don’t think that it’s an issue that you should beat yourself up about. You may, in time, feel too uncomfortable about animal products to keep them. Or you may not.

So next time some Smart Alec triumphantly points at your leather shoes (or another remaining item containing animal products), I suggest you dismiss them with a reply along the lines of: ‘yes, I’m not perfect. But I think it’s much better to be inconsistently kind than consistently cruel’.

And if you would like to replace your shoes with vegan alternatives, you might like to check out these companies:

Animal Aid Shop
Ethical Wares
Freerangers
Veganline
Vegan Store
Vegetarian Shoes
Eco Vegan Shoes
Wills Vegan Shoes
Bourgeois Boheme
Beyond Skin

Daily Vegan 25: Time for ‘zero tolerance’ when eating out? – by Mark Gold

Some people are lucky enough to live in an area where there is at least one vegetarian restaurant serving a wide range of vegan options. (There are also a few around the UK that are completely vegan). Other ‘omnivorous’ eating-places also cater well for vegans, whether the menu is predominantly English, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Italian, Thai… or whatever. But sometimes there is nothing suitable on the menu.

If you call in advance, some chefs will welcome the challenge and create a really tasty meal. (After all, it beats the boredom of grilling yet another sirloin steak!). Others will fob you off with an overpriced plate of pasta, or worse still, will say they can’t do anything at all. Making do with salad and chips or the inevitable baked potato is a familiar experience!

Personally, I think that veganism has reached a level of popularity where, rather than be pleased to get anything edible at all (as we were not so long ago), it’s time for ‘zero tolerance’ of unimaginative alternatives. If a restaurant can’t provide a good vegan option, maybe persuade the non-vegans in your party that it’s not worth visiting!

As for puddings, the choice is just starting to improve slightly, but in the majority of non-veggie restaurants, you’ll still be lucky to find anything other than a plain fruit salad. And that’s fine now and again, I’ve got nothing against fruit salad. But if you’re a sucker for comfort puds, I think we should sometimes be able to demand more when we visit an establishment with any degree of regularity. A vegan crumble, for instance, is easy to make, but there’s so much more that could be on offer.

Vegan sticky toffee pudding – now we’re talking!

I’m lucky. There are good vegetarian restaurants near to where I live. At our busiest local venue (it’s not exclusively vegan), there’s a choice of vegan desserts – sticky toffee pudding, apple sponge, Bakewell tart, pecan and treacle tart, crumble, chocolate chestnut terrine, banana bread, chocolate brownies or ginger cake – served either with dairy-free ice cream, custard or cream. Ok, I know I’m spoilt and I probably have the waistline to prove it, but it just shows how easy it can be with a little effort. I’m not expecting every non-vegetarian eating house to be quite this creative, but nevertheless, isn’t it time to stop apologising to restaurants for being vegan?

Fortunately, there are now a few vegan hotspots in the UK – places where you’ll be spoilt for choice. From my personal experience, notable examples include London (of course), Brighton, Glasgow and Falmouth. To find vegan-friendly restaurants and shops near you, visit Happy Cow.

Daily Vegan 24: Chocolate galore – by Mark Gold

It’s amazing how many people think that vegans can’t eat chocolate, so here is a quick rundown of what you can and cannot eat.

Obviously Dairy Milk is out.

Some dark chocolate bars do contain butterfat, whey or lecithin, but plenty do not. Soya lecithin as an ingredient is fine.

It’s also important to reiterate that if the ingredients appear to be vegan, but it says ‘may contain traces of milk’ elsewhere on the wrapper, this simply means that the item was made on a production line where dairy products are also processed. So there is a slight risk of cross-contamination from the equipment, but otherwise there is no problem.

As well as ‘traditional’ dark chocolate, specialist companies are now marketing a lighter, ‘milk’ variety that is suitable for vegans. Look out for Organica, Vego, and Moo-Free, and many supermarkets stock their own ‘free from’ range. You can even get vegan white chocolate now.

Unfortunately, you’ll be hard pressed to find vegan-friendly boxes of chocolates in high street shops, though the delicious Booja Booja range is beginning to get a wider distribution.

You can, of course, buy a huge range of vegan chocolate from the Animal Aid Online Shop including most of the above mentioned. We also sell a wide range of delicious chocolate boxes. There’s something for all tastes, from ‘Mars‘ and ‘Snickers‘-style bars to truffles and creams.

Drinking chocolate can sometimes be a problem. Quite a few of the most common versions do include dairy products, often whey or milk powder. Fortunately, there are plenty that don’t. Cadbury’s Original drinking chocolate is vegan (though they have other chocolate drinks that are not) and the Co-op’s own label is also vegan (though not labelled as such, once again because of the cross-contamination risk from production lines). Both are also fairtrade. Just make them with a dairy-free milk of your choice.

Daily Vegan 23: Anyone for a cream tea? – by Mark Gold

Another British institution that you don’t have to miss out on is the cream tea!

First the bad news: most (though not all) shop-bought scones contain dairy products, so you are most likely going to have to bake them yourself. There are plenty of good recipes. The one below is slightly adapted from another excellent book available from Animal Aid, entitled Another Dinner Is Possible. I know this one works!

Ingredients for 15 scones

350g self raising flour
1tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
40g caster sugar (you could reduce it a bit!)
75g margarine
1tsp grated lemon zest
50g sultanas
150-175g soya milk, plus some to glaze

Pre-heat oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7.

Sift the flour and baking powder, then stir in sugar.

Add spoonfuls of margarine and rub it in with fingertips. Stir in lemon zest and sultanas. Gradually add milk to make a soft dough, and knead lightly by hand.

Roll out – not too thinly! – onto a floured surface. Cut into rounds with a cutter, place on greased baking sheet, brush with soya milk and bake for about 10-15 mins until golden and risen. Cool on wire rack.

Now to the big question: what do you use for thick cream? Well, there is a vegan product that you can buy from some healthfood shops called Soyatoo. It is marketed in two versions – one in a carton that you can whip up yourself, or alternatively, ready whipped in an aerosol can.

I’ve known some vegans use dairy-free vanilla ice cream on top of the jam. And there are lots of creative combinations using ingredients such as creamed coconut, silken tofu, icing sugar, cashew nuts, etc.

But my choice, without a doubt, is Tofutti plain cream cheese (also available from healthfood stores). It’s not sweet, but it combines perfectly with the sweetness of your jam and scone to provide just the thing for a Sunday afternoon summer treat in the garden.