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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

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

Daily Vegan 25: Good companies – by Mark Gold

At the end of The Great Vegan Challenge (now less than a week to go!), we’ll be asking participants to fill in a questionnaire about their experiences, and giving them the chance to win prizes generously donated by VBites and Fry’s Family Foods (more on that to follow).

Like the vegan cheese companies we mentioned earlier (Bute Island and Vegusto), these two companies have always been unstinting in their support of Animal Aid. VBites (formerly Redwoods) rose from small beginnings and is now, of course, owned by Heather Mills. Fry’s is a South African company and is now one of the leading vegan food manufacturers in the world. It reamins in the hands of the Fry family who founded it.  Both companies market a wide range of vegan convenience foods, but Fry’s sausage rolls and the VBites Lincolnshire style sausages are my particular favourites.

There are several other food companies who have helped Animal Aid greatly over the years. You may have seen that some of the popular Nak’d bars (a delicious raw food snack, now available in many supermarkets) even include Animal Aid’s logo on their packaging.

Amongst non-food vegan companies, a special mention must be given to Honesty Cosmetics (who manufacture the Animal Aid skincare range), while the Lush chain has also always been very keen to support Animal Aid and many other animal and environmental charities.

(There are bound to be companies I have overlooked. Sorry, and thanks to them as well).

Daily Vegan 24: 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?

Well, 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.

If you would like to replace your shoes (or belts, bags, etc) with vegan alternatives, you might like to try these companies:

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

Most high street shops also have some shoes made from synthetic materials. And for the sporty amongst you, it’s no longer difficult to find non-leather trainers, football boots and astro turf shoes from the leading brands. You can check which ones have vegan options here.

But 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’.

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 an 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. Another brand of ‘squirty’ soya cream that has recently appeared in the UK is Schlagfix, which is available from some health food shops, as well as online from Alternative Stores and other specialist websites.

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 health food 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.

Daily Vegan 22: In search of the elusive croissant – by Mark Gold

There is a small number of ‘luxury’ foods for which there has been no vegan alternative. The list is narrowing all the time, but for me, the great Holy Grail was always croissants! I once spent three hours searching Paris, after rumours that there was a bakery that sold a vegan version. I could have gone to Montmarte or the Louvre, but these could not have compared to the sight of a fresh warm croissant to eat with my coffee! Sadly, I didn’t find any.

However, in the UK, almost all supermarkets sell Jus-Rol croissants (and Jus-Rol Pain Au Chocolat) from their chilled pastry section – a ready-to-bake product, suitable for vegans, that you just pop in the oven for a few minutes. Obviously, they are not a health food, but they’re pretty good on a Sunday morning with strawberry jam, a big pot of fresh coffee and the papers!

Marshmallows enjoy a similar status. Sweet and sticky, they might not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s terrific that vegans can now enjoy them atop a cupcake, hidden within a rocky road slice, floating in a mug of hot chocolate, or straight from the packet. You can order them online from Vegan Store, which also sells many other hard-to-find vegan products.

Daily Vegan 21: Water crisis – by Mark Gold

Veganism has many environmental advantages over animal-based diets. It has a lower impact on global warming, deforestation, and water and land pollution for a start. But possibly the most important advantage nowadays is that it uses far less fresh water. The influential Washington DC based Worldwatch Institute puts it like this:

‘… we humans are now taking half the available fresh water on the planet — leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. Since we depend on many of those species for our own survival (they provide all the food we eat and oxygen we breathe, among other services), that hogging of water poses a dilemma. If we break it down, species by species, we find that the heaviest water use is by the animals we raise for meat. One of the easiest ways to reduce demand for water is to reduce the amount of meat we eat.’

In Europe, the Netherlands-based Water Footprint Network has made similar recommendations based on the research of respected scientists. It states:

‘Per ton of product, animal products generally have a larger water footprint than crop products. The same is true when we look at the water footprint per calorie. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. When we look at the water requirements for protein, it has been found that the water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is about 1.5 times larger than for pulses. For beef, the water footprint per gram of protein is 6 times larger than for pulses… From a freshwater resource perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.’

A report from the International Water Management Institute recommends finding ways to produce more food using less water, noting that ‘840 million of the world’s people remain undernourished’. The report points out that it takes 550 litres of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread in developing countries, but up to 7,000 litres of water to produce just 100 grams of beef.

Put simply, going vegan saves water and ensures there is more food for starving people around the world.

For more on the environmental impacts of animal farming, have a look at this recent article from The Guardian.

Daily Vegan 20: A fishy tale – by Mark Gold

I think it’s true to say that most vegetarians and vegans find it easier to give up meat than fish. It’s not hard to see why. Given a terrible choice, even the most sensitive could probably more easily kill a fish than a mammal. They are more alien to us than cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. And, perhaps more significantly, they are silent creatures, who cannot articulate pain and suffering. But they do feel pain – that’s now well established. Official recognition of this fact comes from the government’s own advisory group, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC), which has recommended that, due to the overwhelming evidence that they do feel pain, farmed fish should be granted similar legal protection to other farmed animals at the time of slaughter. There are currently few regulations governing the killing of farmed fish, only the loosely worded generalisation that they should be ‘spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering’.

There is also mounting certainty that crustaceans experience a much richer emotional life than was previously recognised. A researcher in France announced last year that crayfish (small, lobster-like animals) can experience anxiety following a stressful situation, whilst other scientists around the world have reported that crabs and shrimp show signs of distress after painful stimuli. This research adds further weight to the call from Animal Aid and other organisations for crustaceans to be added to the Animal Welfare Act, which currently only covers vertebrates.

Another reason why fish might be more of a temptation is that they have a reputation for being a health food. This is particularly true of oily fish, who are seen as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.

But it’s worth pointing out that a vegan diet is even more emphatically linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. And neither is there any problem with a lack of omega-3 in a plant-based diet – though a bit more care is necessary. The main sources of plant-based omega-3 are not obvious foods for everybody to include in their diet. As noted before, they are walnuts, linseed (flax), rapeseed, hempseed and dark green leafy vegetables. Soya milk and tofu are further sources. And there are always supplements if you are worried. One obvious move is to use rapeseed oil rather than sunflower for cooking.

There are also, of course, health risks associated with fish. They may contain mercury, which can affect the developing nervous systems of infants. Freshwater and farmed fish may have high levels of chemicals due to polluted waters, particularly dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The former occur as a result of polluted waters and the latter because farmed fish are fed chemicals to prevent the diseases caused by overcrowding.

Approximately one billion people worldwide rely upon fish as a main source of protein, and it is a valuable food for many of the world’s poorer communities. But in all, fish provide roughly only 1% of global food supply and 5% of protein. And there is little prospect of increasing this because there are simply not enough available fish to do so. In fact, overfishing has become a real problem, with fish availability threatened in many of the world’s oceans.

If you enjoy the taste of fish, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a growing array of convincing vegan substitutes available. This includes the VBites ‘Making Waves’ range, which features fish-free fingers, fishless cakes and vegan ‘tuna’ pate, and is available from many health food shops.

To find out more about the impacts of fishing on animals, the environment and your health, you can read Animal Aid’s report Dark Waters.

Daily Vegan 19: Guinness will soon be good for vegans – by Mark Gold

A story that has hit the newspapers this month is that, after 256 years of brewing, Guinness is to change its processes to ensure that its famous stout is suitable for vegans. Previously, it used isinglass (obtained from fish swim bladders) as a filter in the clearing process, but it is soon to switch to one of several modern alternative methods. The change is due to take place some time in 2016.

Unfortunately, Guinness is not the only alcoholic drink that uses animal ingredients in processing and filtration. In addition to isinglass, gelatin, egg whites, and the shells of crustaceans are all fairly commonly used for filtering. And dairy, honey, and other animal ingredients often find their way into the final recipes of beers, wines and some spirit-based drinks.

Fortunately, the situation is improving all the time. There’s also an extraordinarily comprehensive website called Barnivore that lists more than 22,000 alcoholic beverages and tells you whether they are suitable for vegans. They even have a range of smartphone apps that you can use whilst out and about — especially handy when you’re at the bar.

We should add that an organic, vegan brewery — Pitfield’s — will be amongst stallholders at both Animal Aid Christmas events this year and that their beers are also available from the Animal Aid online shop, along with a range of other vegan alcoholic beverages.

An appeal to chefs – by Mark Miley

Great Vegan Challenge participant Mark provides some feedback to restaurants on their provision for vegans and vegetarians…

To all chefs, cooks, restaurant managers and menu planners; an appeal on behalf of vegetarians and vegans.

As a long-time vegetarian and now vegan, it is wonderful how far restaurants have come in recent years in catering for those who don’t consume meat or fish, and I commend you for this. Unfortunately there is still a long way to go for those of us who have also chosen to not eat eggs and dairy. The following is just some thoughts you may want to consider when devising your menus. This is not intended as a criticism of your skills as chefs, particularly those of you I know personally who are all wonderful.

1. Goats cheese is not an exotic superfood that vegetarians have to or want to eat at every meal, and neither is haloumi. In the past it was ricotta and spinach cannelloni that was served almost everywhere, now it is goats cheese. It doesn’t matter how many fancy ways you dress it up – it is still goats cheese.

2. If you have more than one vegetarian option, is it really necessary for them all to contain cheese? I have seen this on so many menus.

3. If you are going to have more than one vegetarian option could you please make one of them vegan? There are thousands and thousands of vegan recipes out there – in fact many vegetarian recipes are or can be vegan – just not the ones with cheese in! Vegetarians will order vegan options if they are good enough. Jamie Oliver dedicated a whole section of his website to vegan food.

4. Also, if possible, please consider vegan starters and desserts – particularly desserts – as these are rarely, if ever catered for. Again, vegetarians will order vegan desserts. I went to a restaurant recently that offered a vegetarian chocolate brownie – this can easily be made vegan instead – there is also a Jamie Oliver recipe for this, which is superb.

5. I know that many of you will say that if I ring ahead then the chefs will be happy to adapt something or create something vegan – this is very nice of you, but it is something I am unlikely to do – I am more likely to choose somewhere else.

6. Some of you will no doubt say that that is my choice and you will not miss my custom, however, if I am arranging a night out for friends, most of whom are not vegetarian or vegan, I am going to choose a restaurant where there is something I can eat and therefore you will have lost the custom of a whole group of people.

7. From a purely business point of view, if you offer good vegetarian and vegan food then there are websites such as Happy Cow where you can advertise. These are seen nationwide and, because vegetarian/vegan restaurants are so hard to come by, people will often travel to see you. If I go to a new town or city I will always look on sites like this to find places to eat.

8. Finally, please change your vegetarian and vegan options every now and then. If there is only one thing on a menu I can eat then I will only visit once, maybe twice if it is really good.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you know, I would like as many people connected to restaurants as possible to see it and consider whether they might like to make eating out for vegetarians and vegans a little easier.


Daily Vegan 18: Blessed are the cake makers – by Mark Gold

In the beginning there was very little cake for vegans, and then there was mostly only very worthy wholemeal (and rather heavy) fruit cake. These were/are fine in their way, and can be delicious, but they are unlikely to convince those accustomed to light and fluffy sponges and the like. Besides, variety is the spice of life!

In recent years, however, the vegan cake makers have gone into creative overdrive, and nowadays you can find recipes galore for many of the most popular types of cake. There are various combinations to replace eggs, e.g. oil, soya milk, egg replacement powder, baking powder and so on. There’s also the new wonder-ingredient aquafaba. Non-vegans are often amazed by the quality!

A good, cheap and easy introduction to the wonderful world of vegan cakes is the delightful Yummy Cakes Vegan Cake Book. It’s available from the Animal Aid Online Shop priced £2.99. For more simple and reliable cake recipes, I can also recommend the website Parsley Soup.

One of the best vegan cake makers I have come across, however, is Clare Persey, who runs the catering company Fairfoods. (I’m sure there are others equally impressive, such as our friends at The Vegan Cakery, but I have more personal experience of Clare’s delicious baking!). Clare’s range includes tarts, slices, muffins, scones, cupcakes, cheesecakes, sponges and raw food cakes, and she generously provides lots of the recipes on her website. Fairfoods will also be one of the caterers at the Animal Aid Christmas Fayre in London and the main caterer at the South West Christmas Without Cruelty Festival in Exeter.

If, like me, you’re much better at eating cakes than baking them, there are several companies like Fairfoods who provide mail order vegan cakes, including:

The Vegan Cakery
Hannah Banana Bakery
Ms Cupcake
The Heavenly Cake Company
Vegan Antics
V Delicious

You can also catch up with many of them at vegan fayres and festivals.

Daily Vegan 17: Animal Aid’s Christmas fairs – by Mark Gold

A really good way of getting to try different foods and learn more about plant-based diets is to visit one of the growing number of vegan fairs and festivals held around the country. Some of these are now well-established events, attracting thousands of people, such as the huge Vegfest events in Brighton, Bristol, London and now Glasgow. Others are smaller, but in their way, equally effective. There are nearly always vegan savoury foods to sample, provided by generous companies such as Fry’s, Bute Island, VBites and Vegusto. And the catering at such events is a great way to discover some of the range of dishes you can create.

We try to publicise as many vegan fairs as we can in the diary dates section of our quarterly magazine, Outrage, but you can view a more complete and up-to-date selection on our diary dates webpage.

Animal Aid runs two such annual events itself in the run up to Christmas, so – surprise, surprise – here comes a plug!

This year’s South West Christmas Without Cruelty Festival will be held on Saturday 21 November at Exeter Corn Exchange, Market St, Exeter, EX1 1BU and runs from 10am-4pm.

Then on Sunday 6 December it’s the Animal Aid Christmas Fayre, held at Kensington Town Hall, Hornton St, London, W8 7NX from 10am-5pm.

Both events offer a great opportunity to buy Christmas gifts and cards from companies and charities that are trying to make the world a kinder place. London is much the bigger, with more than 100 stalls, several vegan caterers, and interesting talks from campaigners, vegan chefs and others. As always, there will be plenty of cakes, chocolates and chilled meat-free goods – as well as shoes, clothes cosmetics and much more.

At Exeter, there are 40+ stallholders, plus a fabulous restaurant, and a seasonal World Music choir. You can buy everything from vegan beers, cosmetics and food to crafts, cards and fairtrade clothes. One of the event’s fans is leading poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who, after visiting called it ‘very special’. ‘The food is great, the goodies are great, and the place is full of loving, compassionate people… It’s the best event of its kind,’ added Benjamin. This year, the first 50 visitors will receive a free gift from Lush and everybody who arrives before 2 pm will be entered into a free prize draw. Two winners will win a vegan food hamper, each worth £50.

Do try and come along to one of our Christmas events if you can. Here endeth the shameless commercial break!