Shop well, live well

Last month I wrote about going vegan and some of the ethics behind that. I was talking mostly about vegan food and Veganuary but this month I want to focus on vegan products. Ethical consumption might seem like a contradiction in terms but living and functioning in a consumerist society doesn’t mean we have to totally discard our ethics. For a while now I have been using the product ratings on the site ethical consumer to try to support more ethically. I love this site because it makes buying more ethically that little bit easier. However, there are also some amazing ethical and vegan blogs out there covering a whole range of issues. Check these out as a few places to start. Links below:

Finny + Dill is a really beautiful ethical living blog / Likewise Char W is another blog I started following recently / Spend a bit less and have ethical makeup by making your own. I was suspicious at first but I’ve started making my own face powder and loving it. It feels so much nicer putting something with so few ingredients on my skin / Alternatively, I use a bunch of Lavera makeup. It comes out high up on the ethical consumer site and offers great makeup at good prices / ASOS has its own eco collection! I love these PJs so much / This avocado co-wash from Lush is the only thing I can use on my sensitive scalp right now

 

Black garlic pesto

Sweet, gooey, balsamic-y. Roast garlic is delicious, but the ghoulish-looking black garlic popping up now takes this to a whole new level. The cloves are sweet enough to eat as they are, or mash with a little ricotta and tomato puree to make an insane sandwich spread. The bulbs aren’t cheap (at least where I’m buying them) but this is no base-ingredient. It demands centre stage or adds the depth that makes something ordinary into something worth talking about. So of course my first foray into adventure with this little gem had to be something classic and delicious where the garlic could be both key and complemented…it just so happens to be vegan and a total comfort food to help you to the end of veganuary…

Chunky black garlic pesto (and the pasta dish to use it in)

Ingredients
40g pine nuts
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley
1/2 bunch basil
4 large or 6 small cloves black garlic
100ml olive oil
Pinch of salt

Place the pine nuts into a dry pan over a medium heat. Toast lightly until all lightly browned. Keep stirring as they’ll burn easily.
Add these to a large pestle and mortar.
Finely chop the herbs. Mash the garlic a little with the back of a teaspoon.
Add everything to the pestle and mortar. You can use a processor for this but I like to keep the texture chunky and there is a little more control this way.
Mash until it reaches the texture you like. I’ve kept it chunky with many of the pine nuts still whole.
Add any more salt to taste.

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Divine pesto pasta
serves 2
100g wholewheat spaghetti
About 12 frozen king prawns (omit for vegan)
3 tbsp black garlic pesto
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 small bunch basil leaves
a few sprigs of parsley

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the spaghetti, bring back to the boil, and simmer for 12 minutes. Drain.
Whilst the pasta is cooking: add the prawns to a large pan with a very thin layer of groundnut oil. Place over a high heat, stirring constantly. Cook for about 4 minutes or until cooked through.
Place the prawns and pasta into a large bowl and stir through the pesto and nigella seeds until everything is coated evenly.
Tear the basil and parsley and stir through.
Serve.

Vegan..?

At the end of last month I wrote about veganuary. By eating vegan for one month we can experiment with food, find new recipes, and lower our carbon footprint. However I’ve come across a lot of ethical vegans in my time, and whilst I find this admirable, I worry about the easy assumption that vegan = ethical.

Veganism is more than a diet, it is a lifestyle. I found my attention caught recently as I scrolled through websites searching for shoes. This company prides itself on ethics and here and there shoes were proudly labelled vegan. So where does this leave me in veganuary? In truth (more) ethical consumerism is something I aim for day-to-day but does this mean that I cannot buy anything without detailed knowledge of its source? Ideally yes. I should know all of the ethical implications of the choices I am making. But realistically this is impossible. Here in the UK we had a scandal about the recently released £5 notes containing trace amounts of animal fat. The notes are made of polymers and have numerous advantages over the paper ones but many were up in arms about it. The implications of this to me is that in fact there could be non-vegan substances lurking anywhere: in plastic and packaging of all sorts of ‘vegan’ products. Certainly there is information out there but to eat vegan with no research is simply not effective.

And I don’t here want to discourage anyone from good intentions but sadly, in this complex world I fear that doing good is not a simple process and taking an easy route may well be totally ineffective.

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Unfortunately, even being 100% vegan is not necessarily ethical. In the counterargument to the ‘unethical £5 notes’ the creator states that this note uses far less paper, thus reducing the requirement for deforestation. I know many people who promote the vegan diet for its environmental benefits, and certainly there are real advantages to cutting down on meat (here and here). On an individual level therefore, veganism is a great thing but sadly we can’t solve climate change on an individual level. Studies suggest that were everyone to eat in roughly the same way then to be most efficient we should be eating a vegetarian diet, excluding eggs but including dairy. Personally I am of the opinion that we are most effective in living ethically by leading by example. I know a whole lot of people who consider a meal without meat as incomplete so expecting them to go cold turkey on the meat (no pun intended) is unrealistic but perhaps by showing people how easy it is to cut down, by eating either less or no meat yourself, might be more effective.

But finally what of unethical vegan food? Eating ethically is great but it isn’t exactly the same as being vegan. Why do you think fair trade is an option? Cashews are an ingredient ubiquitous in raw vegan recipes but where are they coming from?

What do you think? I would love to hear some vegan and non-vegan opinions. Are you vegan for life, just trying for Veganuary, or a staunch carnivore? I’ll try to perk up the rest of the month with some fabulous and tasty vegan recipes so hold on in there (I’m working on ice cream sandwiches because vegan food isn’t all salad and green smoothies).

Until then, a couple more divine-looking vegan creations from elsewhere…

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Fudgy mint slice by This Rawsome Vegan Life

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Vegan teriyaki eggplant sushi burrito by Sweetened by Plants

Finally, on a different note: I have linked to a number of sources here for information and references. Mostly they are news articles. I chose these because they tend to be easier to read and understand but the scientist (at least to degree level) in me would much prefer to reference primary sources where possible i.e. scientific papers. But in the end, if you’re reading this then (thanks!!) I want to keep you happy. So what would you prefer? Primary/secondary sources. What, if anything, would you like to read?

 

To walk lightly

new-year

2016 has been…eventful to say the least. The world has lost some amazing people. Politically, it seems to have lost its mind. So many people have taken a hit in one form or another and the future is looking uncertain. However, after three months in the sun and a festive season full of good food and alcohol, I find I’m ready for a new turn.

“better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”

Each year, instead of new year’s resolutions, I try to write a list of things I want to do. This year, one of these is to share with you each month something little, but something good. Looking at the world as a whole, my choices might make no real difference but I want to make choices I feel good about. I also hope that by sharing these choices, I might make someone just a little more conscious of the choices they are making.

So without further ado: welcome to 12 months of good stuff, things big and small which will help you walk a little lighter in the earth – to live a little more ethically.

This January, I’m eating vegan. Veganism is an interesting choice. I’ll note here that I am not vegan and after January I will go back to relishing omnivory. In fact there is some debate about the impact of a vegan diet world-over, and suggestions that it is not in fact the most sustainable way to eat. There are certainly vegan foods which are not ethical. However I will cover the debate – both pros and cons – in a post later this month. For now I’m just want to give you all the opportunity to sign up with me to Veganuary at veganuary.com. Even if veganism isn’t a permanent solution, it may inspire you to eat meat, fish, and dairy a little less often, which in my opinion is  a good thing.

I also want to promise that eating vegan does not need to be dull! This seems obvious to me because I have grown up with a vegetarian sister and I have seen how many alternatives there are around, but as proof, here are some fabulous recipes and blogs to get you going…

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Vegan Mushroom Recipe

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Superfood hot chocolate with caramelized brioche

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Stuffed vegan potato cakes

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Raw vegan wagon wheels

Honey-tahini pancakes

I’ve been back in the UK for barely more than a week. I’ve been thrown from glaring sunlight straight to the grey and misty mornings of winter. It’s hard to find the motivation even to drag myself from my warm bed into the cold world. Good coffee and something delicious for breakfast is a must, otherwise, why get up? Here’s something fabulous (and really not that unhealthy). Makes 4 small pancakes.

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Ingredients
1 large banana
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp tahini paste
1 large egg
10g self-raising flour
cooking spray
1 tbsp maple syrup
Optional butter/icing sugar to serve

Method
Break the banana into 6 pieces and place in a heat-proof bowl. Microwave for 1 minute and leave to cool.
In the mean time, mix the honey and tahini into a smooth paste and set aside.
Once the banana has cooled, mash it with a fork until smooth. Add the egg and mix well with a fork. Finally add the flour and mix until a smooth batter has formed.
Heat a non-stick pan lightly coated in cooking spray. Add a tablespoon of the banana batter to the pan. Place half a teaspoon of the honey-tahini mixture on top of the batter, leaving a border of about 1/2 inch around the edge.
Cover this with a further half a tablespoon of banana-batter, and smooth out.
Cook over a medium heat for about 1 1/2 minutes. Use a spatula to lift the pancake and check the bottom is cooked and slightly darkened.
Flip (carefully!) and cook for a further 1 1/2 minutes until both sides are slightly browned.
Repeat with the remaining batter.
There should be a little honey-tahini mix left. Add the maple syrup to this.
If serving with butter, add it then drizzle the syrup over.
Enjoy with coffee ❤

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Autumn sweet potato swirled bread

sweet-potato-breadThe year is on the turn. My walk home smells like pine and dusty earth. For some reason it makes me think more of america than england. It’s drier here than normal but autumn clothes hang like leaves from the rails in the shops. I know in my body that autumn is here. My boyfriend laughed at me because I was sad I would miss most of it. “You’ll be in Tanzania. That’s going to be must more exciting.” I didn’t reply because I can’t put into words the sort of love and want so deep in my gut it makes me feel almost sick. The only word that feels really right for this time of year is mellow. It’s the image of a low mist hanging over a field on a bruise-blue morning; the first chill in the air; the first time you pull on a sweater; it’s the idea of the night around a camp fire. Not so long ago, autumn meant harvest time for most and that was a time of plenty but those people depended on that to see them through the winter. There would be celebrations of a successful harvest and they would be all the more meaningful because it was the ending of the warmth before a hard winter set in. Though we live in a time of plenty where imminent winter is no longer likely to bring the risk of illness and starvation, I still feel some sense of urgency in my will to enjoy the weather. Part of my love is a fear for how soon it will be over.

For all my ramblings, I have a recipe to help celebrate my love of this time of year. Cake is wonderful for celebrating but honestly, I think I prefer the wholesomeness of bread. This is soft, sweet and delicious. It is bread to make your mouth water and your house smell divine.

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Ingredients
For the sweet potato puree – 
150g sweet potato
50ml milk

For the dark dough –
125g plain flour
100g wholemeal self-raising flour
10g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
seeds of 5 cardamom pods, roughly chopped
25g margarine
1 tsp yeast
90ml warm water
pinch of salt

For the light dough –
225g plain flour
10g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
seeds of 5 cardamom pods, roughly chopped
25g margarine
1 tsp yeast
75ml warm water
pinch of salt

Roughly chop the sweet potato into slices of about 1cm. Place in a heatproof bowl and microwave for 4-5 minutes until soft. Add milk and sweet potato to a food processor and blend into a puree.

Place all the ingredients for the dark dough into one large bowl and all those for the light dough into another. Add half of the sweet potato puree to each. Mix, then knead each dough into a ball of smooth, elastic dough.

Place a clean tea towel over each and leave at room temperature to rise for an hour.
After an hour, knead each again a little then roll out into a sausage shape the length of the loaf tin. I use a 2lb loaf tin 21cm/8 inches long. Twist the two doughs together and roll a little on the board until they for a single sausage shape. Place this in a lightly greased tin. Place the tea towel over the top and leave at room temperature for a further 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 392°F.
Bake the loaf for 30 minutes. Cover the top in tin foil if it is browning too quickly and check it is done by tapping the bottom and checking it sounds hollow (all ovens are different).

I hope you love it as much as I do!

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GBBO and a note on shame

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There is a certain magic on pressing a button, feeling the whir of the food processor, and watching light breadcrumb pastry dough form before you eyes in moments. It’s all the more disappointing therefore when it doesn’t work out. The other day, I watched instead as a pale golden play dough formed in the bowl. I was my own fault – I knew immediately that it had been foolish to throw Lurpak into the mix when I ran out of real butter. But it is my instinct to make do when I am cooking and work it out as I go. Normally pitfalls like this would not throw me in the least but this time it was important that I got it right; I was cooking for my first ever supper club. I would host an evening for 12 family friends, serving 3 courses with all profits going toward my fundraising for Raleigh International.

For a moment I contemplated restarting my dough but for that I would need new ingredients, would spend more money, would take less profit for charity. Instead I threw in some extra flour, pulsed the processor, and hoped for the best. There must be other moments like this where getting it right counted but you couldn’t perfect it. The Great British Bake Off, a UK baking show, sprang to mind. “Would Paul Hollywood be proud of this pastry?” I pondered. So often, the stressed bakers are forced by their time limit, simply to make do. Paul Hollywood’s piercing blue eyes hold their gaze as he judges them. He will comment on their failings. The new series began on Wednesday. In the first episode alone, two bakers came close to tears. Any contemplation of applying for the show were washed away; I could not imagine placing myself under such pressure. My cooking is about throwing in whatever ingredients I find lying around in arbitrary amounts until I hit on something beautiful. My cooking is inspired by a quotation on the back of a sketchbook my grandma gave me many years ago: “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything”. We seem to be living in a culture of shame. Mistakes mean resignation when they should mean reform. Unless we are encouraged when we make mistakes, we won’t have the motivation to grow and learn from them. It seems wrong.

And how was the tart? The filling was rich and divine. The pastry was the most crumbling, melt-in-the-mouth that I had ever baked. Would Paul have been proud? Who gives a shit? I was proud.

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JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Healthy travel tips

In September I’m travelling to Tanzania for three months with the charity Raleigh International for a placement. I’m excited and scared. This won’t be a holiday. We undertake pre-departure training and training in country. Independent travel is not allowed and the projects we work on will be constantly under review. To add to the challenge, we will each live with a host family and an in-country volunteer but without other UK volunteers, meaning hosts may not speak much English. My Swahili still needs work… To top it off, our access to electricity and running water will be limited and to phones and wifi to call home: non-existent.

Staying healthy is such an important part of happy travelling. Obvious injections and hygiene are the first part but the internet is a boon of fab tips for new travellers. Here are a few of my finds…
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26 tips to help you survive a long haul flight

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How to stay in shape while travelling

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How to keep fit while you travel

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 15 Home made Travel Snacks

Finally, Raleigh is an amazing charity. As part of our training, we are all asked to raise money. This does not fund the trip. Instead, it ensures the valuable work of Raleigh can continue. To find out more about this amazing charity or the ICS programme, Click Here.

If you can donate, please consider doing so here: JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Athens: one week in the crisis

 

I’ve been putting off writing about this for a long time for fear that I could not do justice to the experience. However I finally think I may have digested enough. Politics seems to be taking the front pages of the newspapers – here in the UK at least – so the refugee crisis has taken a backseat in the public mind for the time being. This doesn’t change the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are displaced.

Near the beginning of this year I got the chance to join a group of students at my university in travelling to Athens to volunteer. The group was brought together by  a student at my university who lived in Athens and had spent Christmas volunteering in Lesvos. She had seen firsthand the people suffering and wanted to do what she could. People often ask whether I traveled with an NGO but the truth is, the situation is not that organised. Most of the work I saw is grass-roots, self-organised with little overarching organisation for an area.

We left home about 2.30am on a cold, misty night. We slept a four hour journey down to the airport and a two hour flight. We wondered zombie-like through the airport and metro and finally found ourselves in the blaring sun in central Athens. After dumping our bags at our AirBnB, we went out for a meal, fueled by the buzz of over-tiredness. Then we headed into the Athens night. This first walk through the humid, rainy city brought home what my week was set to be. None of us knew exactly where we were headed or what we would find. We were exhausted and got lost and I was near tears by the time we got back. But this was a rekkie. We had heard of a number of “houses” set up in abandoned buildings and providing space for as many people as they could. They were run by locals who had the bravery and initiative to make a difference. These places had space for only around 100 people at a time: tiny fraction of those who needed them.There were no maps or advertisements. We simply had to search. We visited two houses that night. Both had people sitting or standing outside, smoking or talking. Some eyed us with suspicion, some smiled. The houses were not built for people – one was an old tax office – and the narrow corridors were almost always full. Only one had any form of planning for volunteers that coming week and when we went to sign up, the schedule was empty.

The next couple of days, five of us took work at the house, while the others went elsewhere. Throughout the week we moved through the camps and home scattered about the city. Each place was so different yet our tasks were almost exclusively sorting, folding, and handing out donated clothing. The first day at the house, we spent hour after hour trying to get the piles, boxes, and shelves in some sort of order so people could find what they needed. I spent one afternoon literally up to my waste in baby clothes, close to despair as I tried to sort them into age groups and force them into the shelving space designed to take half the volume. At Piraeus, the port which seems to have become notorious for its camp, we sat in the dust on the floor of a huge, dark, cold, and grimy warehouse sorting and folding. At what had once been an Olympic hockey stadium, I spend two hours straight slicing bread and blistered my fingers in the process.

I only spent a week there and often I felt like giving up. Hours spent sorting would end in ten minutes of people, desperately searching for coats, scarves, basic clothing to protect them from the cold or replace what they had been wearing for days. By the time the panicked search was over, our hours of work would be totally undone. I can’t help but think of tales of Black Friday in America where violence breaks out over a good deal. Though searches here were desperate in some cases, the people took the clothing with such gratitude. These items were not only free but desperately needed yet those searching through would do all they could to thank us and if they spoke no English, to smile.

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Things weren’t always pretty. One morning we found the warehouse had been broken into overnight. One time we had to turn away a pregnant woman asking for shoes, because we had none in her size. When handing out donations, we had to place a limit on what we gave so that everyone got a chance. It isn’t the place of a group of students to deny donations to people in need but the truth is, we could see no better way when there wasn’t enough to go around. It is hard to know how to reconcile yourself with that. Yet there was no clear agency to oversee things. I saw little more of Red Cross and UNHCR than the odd medical van. That is not to say they are not doing what they can. Simply that there is more to be done than seems possible.

One hot day we stood in a shipping container set along the slab of concrete in Piraeus that had become the home of so many, sorting donations for distribution later. The container acted like an oven and we took regular breaks to sit just outside, gulp down water and wipe the sweat from out faces. At regular intervals, people would approach. Some spoke in English, others pointed, all asking for water. In some cases we had to hug our bottles protectively to us “It’s for me. I can’t give it to you. I have no more to give. I’ll have nothing to drink.” We pointed them to the other end of the concrete: “water is that way”. But finally, one of our group decided to make sure our second-hand information was right so we sent off. We had been told a blue shipping container was doing water distributions but as we neared the end of the camp, we found nothing. Several medical vans and charity workers were about. We started with Red Cross. “We don’t know. Check UNHCR.” UNHCR sent us somewhere else. We bounced from place to place seeing no sign of water and I began to feel I had stepped out of reality and lost myself in a Kafka novel. Finally someone came out of one of the canteen to speak to us. She seemed exasperated. “We’re not giving out water bottles” she said as though it was the thousandth time that day. “There’s water on tap that’s fine to drink. They just don’t want to because they’ve come from places where you can’t drink tap water.” I wondered why she wasn’t telling the people around us that. Then I wondered why I wasn’t telling the people around us that. I couldn’t speak there language in most cases and what good was telling one or two people in a few thousand? We traipsed back to the shipping container demoralized. Others came by that afternoon to ask for water and we told them they could fill their bottles from the tap but later that day, when we were gone; that night when more people arrived; next week when god knows what was happening, who would be there to tell people where to get water from?

The essence of the crisis seemed to be that no one could plan ahead. Everyone is so busy just about managing that there is no space to breath and plan, let alone to communicate and coordinate. Everything we did was so necessary but it would be necessary all over again tomorrow.

I was near tears several times during the trip but they weren’t always unhappy. The moments so vivid in my mind were moments of utterly beautiful human nature. One afternoon during our break a group of children asked us by gesture to join their game of catch outside their parents’ tents. A striking woman in a turquoise scarf looked on protectively from one and although she said nothing to us, she looked so glad that her children had these moments of joy. When we went to leave, she called to us and held up a phone to take a photo of us with the children.

The next day one of the little girls from the game of catch ran up to me and held out her fist. I opened my palm and into it she dropped two gold plastic earrings. They are the sort of things I would have treasured for dressing up when I was her age. I would have put up a fight before letting anyone else take them, yet this girl with so little insisted that I take them. After I hugged her she ran away seeming quite happy, tailed by her little sister, who had acquired a plastic viking sword and helmet from the donations earlier that day.

I don’t know what will happen to those people who had such an impact on me, or to the thousands like them. I can’t pretend to have any expertise or begin to make suggestions. I only hope that the generosity and goodness I saw both in migrants and volunteers can begin to counteract the ugliness and difficulty of the situation. Bad things are happening but the only way to act, it seems to me is with some patience and compassion.

If you are considering volunteering, donating, or doing anything for this cause, I urge you to do so. Plan carefully and stay safe if you want to travel to any of the camps. The best way is to contact current volunteer co-coordinators via Facebook or email  beforehand. There are a lot of people already doing incredible work but more is needed. Anything you can do is worthwhile. Expert help is especially treasured but the manual labour to get food and clothes to those in need is also great. I was there for a week and the situation varied from day to day so I can’t comment on how it compares now to when I went but if you are considering doing anything, I urge you to act.

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