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.

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.

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! I didn’t find any, (though I was recently told that if you buy croissants ‘ordinaire’ in France, they are always suitable for vegans! This remains unconfirmed!)

In the UK, almost all supermarkets sell Jus-Rol croissants from their chilled or frozen 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 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.

Daily Vegan 21: Blessed are the cake makers – by Mark Gold

After a few days on the worthy environmental stuff, we’re now going to focus on some unhealthy food indulgences!

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. Non-vegans are often amazed by the quality!

A good, cheap and easy introduction to the wonderful world of vegan cakes is the delightfully unpretentious Return of the Cake Scoffer by Ronny. It’s available from the Animal Aid Online Shop priced £1.50.

One of the best vegan cake makers I have come across is Clare Persey, who runs the catering company Fairfoods. (I’m sure there are others equally impressive, such as our friends at The Heavenly Cake Company, 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. She also manages to make near-indistinguishable gluten-free varieties.

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
Vegan Cake Direct
Hannah Banana Bakery
Ms Cupcake
The Heavenly Cake Company
1066 Cake Stand

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

Daily Vegan 20: Veg Aid – by Mark Gold

What happens if you want to give financial support to long-term projects for sustainable development in poorer countries? You might (or might not, of course!) be put off giving money to organisations like Oxfam, who have so blatantly encouraged donations to animal farming with their ‘Send A Cow’ schemes and similar. (You can read more about the problems with such schemes here).

If you are unhappy with the animal farming link of some charities working with people in poorer areas of the world (even if you admire some of their other work), then you might be interested in two small charities committed to vegetarianism.

Projects funded by Vegfam in 2012 included the setting up of organic urban agriculture in Columbia, agricultural improvements in Mozambique, and floating vegetable gardens in India and Bangladesh. You can find fuller details at the organisation’s website. Vegfam claims that in recent years their famine relief projects have benefited flood and earthquake survivors (including tsunami), HIV/AIDS sufferers, homeless people, marginalised communities, maternity homes, orphanages, refugees, schools and colleges. Villagers and tribal people have also been helped. From 2008 to 2012, Vegfam funded 39 projects in 23 countries, helping over 950,000 people.

HIPPO is run by one dedicated family and is involved in projects mostly in Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda). It has also sent vegan food aid to Russia, Bosnia, and Croatia. HIPPO has been heavily involved in feeding members of the Samburu tribe in Kenya – nomadic people whose animals starved during famine caused by severe drought. 400 of the most needy people were supplied over a sustained period with maize meal, beans, cooking oil and TVP (textured soya protein). The charity is now helping with long-term projects for the Samburu people, helping them to move away from unsustainable animal farming, towards smallholdings growing vegetables and beans. HIPPO is supplying tools, wells, seeds, water storage tanks and strong fencing.

Daily Vegan 19: Water Crisis – by Mark Gold

The amount of water used to produce animal foods is a particularly acute environmental problem. 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.’

Richard H. Schwartz also notes in Judaism and Vegetarianism that ‘The standard diet of a person in the United States requires 4,200 gallons of water per day (for animals’ drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.). A person on a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons a day.’

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.

Daily Vegan 18: It’s the Environment – by Mark Gold

There can be no doubting the positive impact that plant-based diets could have upon many of the worst environmental problems we face – global warming, water shortages, desertification, feeding a growing human population and land and water pollution amongst them. Put simply, we can feed far more people on a plant-based diet, cause far less pollution and use far less land.

A recent US study at Bard College, New York, was particularly critical of the environmental impact of beef, as well as reporting how plant-based foods are generally far more environmentally-friendly than any animal products. The Guardian (21 July 2014) reported the main finding as follows:

‘Beef’s environmental impact dwarfs that of other meat including chicken and pork, new research reveals, with one expert saying that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to cut carbon emissions than giving up their cars.

‘The heavy impact on the environment of meat production was known but the research shows a new scale and scope of damage, particularly for beef. The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases.

‘Agriculture is a significant driver of global warming and causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock. Furthermore, the huge amounts of grain and water needed to raise cattle is a concern to experts worried about feeding an extra 2 billion people by 2050.

The New York study mentioned above is by no means an isolated example of the destruction caused by meat eating. A research project conducted by University of Oxford scientists – also published this year – studied tens of thousands of British people’s daily eating habits. It concluded that meat based diets – defined as more than 100g per day – create twice as many climate change emissions as vegetarian diets.

According to the same Guardian article:

‘The study of British people’s diets found that meat-rich diets – defined as more than 100g per day – resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, both vegetarian and fish-eating diets caused about 3.8kg of CO2 per day, while vegan diets produced only 2.9kg. The research analysed the food eaten by 30,000 meat eaters, 16,000 vegetarians, 8,000 fish eaters and 2,000 vegans.

Tomorrow, I’ll focus on another environmental problem created by meat and dairy consumption.

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

A really good way of getting to try different foods and learn more about vegan diets is to visit one of the growing number of fairs and festivals held around the country. Some of these are now well-established events, attracting thousands of people (Brighton in March, Bristol in May, London in September, and Wolverhampton in October spring to mind). Others are smaller, but equally effective. There are nearly always vegan savoury foods to sample, provided by generous companies such as Fry’s, Bute Island 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 22 November at Exeter Corn Exchange, Market Street, Exeter, EX1 1BW from 10am-4pm.

Two weeks later on Sunday 7 December, we hold Animal Aid’s Christmas Fayre in London at Kensington Town Hall Hornton Street, 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 lectures from speakers including campaigner Peter Tatchell and Green MP Caroline Lucas. As always, there will be plenty of cakes, chocolates and chilled meat-free goods – as well as shoes, clothes, cosmetics and more.

At Exeter, there are 40+ stall holders, plus a fabulous restaurant, and a seasonal World Music choir. One of the event’s fans is leading poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who, after visiting in 2011, 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’s special guest is Molly Scott-Cato, who became the South West region’s first Green Pary MEP in May.

Do try and come along to one of our Christmas do’s if you can.

Here endeth the shameless commercial break!

Daily Vegan 16: Blogs and Yorkshire Pudding! – by Mark Gold

Its funny how some vegans get obsessed with finding alternatives to some food that they enjoyed in a previous life! Animal Aid staff were amongst those who went in search of the animal-free Yorkshire Pudding. They eventually found what they were looking for at Maple Spice.

Here’s the recipe:

Yorkshire Puddings – makes 8

1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp potato starch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp oil (I used peanut, veg should be fine)
just under 1/2 cup water
————————-
3/4 cup rice milk (180ml)
1/4 cup sparkling water (60ml)
1 Tbsp vegan margarine, melted
1 cup minus 2 Tbsp flour (120g)
1/2 tsp salt
more oil for the muffin tin

Place 1/2 tsp of oil into each of the muffin tin holes and place the tin in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375F/180C to get the oil hot. Next, in a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, potato starch, xanthan gum and baking powder. Add the water and whisk well until there are no more lumps (there may be a few, that’s ok). Add the oil and whisk well again until slightly frothy. Whisk in the rice milk and sparkling water until well incorporated. While whisking pour in the melted margarine in a steady stream until all added. Add the flour and salt and whisk until combined but lumpy. Remove the pan from the preheated oven and pour the mixture in until almost full. Pop back into the oven and bake for 20 minutes, remove and slice the tops and slightly open, then bake for another 20 minutes. Check after they have had 1/2 hour, but they may need longer for the bottoms to fully cook. Let them cool slightly in the pan, then remove and serve with lots of vegan gravy of your choice!

If you’re having trouble finding xanthan gum and potato starch, you may like to try this alternative Yorkshire pudding recipe from the Animal Aid blog.

Whether or not you’re interested in Yorkshire pudding, you may well be interested in this and other blogs, because somewhere out in cyberspace there is probably the vegan answer to almost every dish you can imagine. I’ll mention only one for now – Little Miss Meat-Free – since Katy, who writes it, also provides recipes for our Animal Aid magazine, Outrage.