Vegans and their Cafes

I’m making a Vegan Babka, but let me take out 5 minutes to reflect on Vegans Vs Vegetarians.

This week has seen vegan blogging god Sean/Fat Gay Vegan criticise a new Nottingham cafe being run by Vegans for not being completely vegan – he asked a legitimate question as to why two vegans wouldn’t open a vegan cafe when they’re in a big city with a diverse potential clientele, and instead chose to go Vegetarian only.

There’s been a lot of reaction to the post on FGV’s Facebook, some of which has boiled down to it not being nice to criticise anyone ever if you’re Vegan, especially small businesses, and I wonder how those people live their lives. I tweeted FGV to say I thought he should have given the business owners in question the chance to have a right of reply, because like him I can’t fathom why you’d do this. I think vegetarian food isn’t so mainstream and loved that it would bring in the hordes to make this business a success, with good vegan food now being popular with non-vegans sufficiently to make it work. I’d like to hear it from the owners of the cafe however – I suspect they’ve been badly-advised and got cold feed on how to make the cafe work.

The discussion got me thinking more widely about my attitude to Vegetarians. They identify as being in the same camp as us Vegans. and we’re usually placed in the same section of the menu in ‘general’ restaurants, with that section normally offering a handful of Vegetarian options and one cursory Vegan one that’s usually some roasted vegetables. Vegetarian cafes and restaurants often have decent Vegan options, but they’re rarely more than 25% of the menu at best, with the rest of the menu being Cheesified beyond sight, and with the pudding menu usually untroubled by a real Vegan option once the bought-in Vegan Ice Cream is discounted. I think the time has come – we need to distance ourselves from Vegetarians, with whom we have little in common when it comes to cooking in or eating out.

Vegan food is a different kind of cooking – when you can’t use cheese or eggs, you make different things. I think Vegan food is better-tasting, of course, but that’s not my point. Nor is this an argument that Veganism is the logical and more ethical end point of going Vegetarian – it IS, but that’s another matter. My point is that think Vegetarian food is completely different, as different as the Meat or Fish sections of the menu, and we shouldn’t accept their kinship in cafes as some kind of step towards wider acceptance of Veganism. It’s either Vegan or it’s not, and nothing else comes close.

By identifying too closely with Vegetarians, we say that Vegan food isn’t good or important enough to justify its own cafes and businesses. It’s not a question of ethics, it’s one of strategy, numbers and quality – basic fact is that there are enough Vegans to justify 100% vegan places to go to, and that doesn’t just mean in big cities. It’s not just that though – the vegans are just the core of Vegan businesses, non-Vegans will go there too – food-eaters are interested in nice cafes with nice food and good atmosphere, regardless of whether they identify with the ethos of the place. If it’s a fun place to go, people will go there. The vegan menu is only one attraction,

There’s a bigger point here. General restaurants don’t have enough Vegan options. Compare the number of Vegetarian or Gluten-free options on most restaurant menus to the Vegan ones. There are loads more. There are hardly ever any vegan options, because we’re not making ourselves known out in public for being different, and a group who need to be catered for. We need to send the message that we’re not like Vegetarians, and they’re not our brethren, so businesses with animal products shouldn’t think about us as being covered in their Vegetarian options, and they should try harder.

That’s the problem here – that by thinking a Vegetarian Cafe is good enough for Vegans, in this recent case and in all other ones where it’s been apparently OK to hide the Veganism in the Veg Menu, we send a message to the wider world that as Vegans we’re not a group important or strong enough to be catered to.

We’ve all been at parties and pubs where we tell people we’re Vegan and they’ll say “Oh I’m Vegetarian – great”, and we pretend we’re in the same boat. Now’s the time to say we’re not, and to demand our own public presence. This isn’t about self-righteousness, it’s about forcing the issue and getting more specifically-Vegan options everywhere.

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Travels with My Plant(s)

The Summer is apparently coming to the close, or so the weather seems to be telling us. So despite it only just being August Bank Holiday Weekend, I’m tying up some loose ends of the Summer. This is the CBMT review of the Summer…or, more accurately, an attempt to combine lots of posts that should have been separate ones into one giant one.

BEST VEGAN BEERFEST OF THE SUMMER

This blog made its debut after Fat Gay Vegan launched his Vegan Beer Festival at the Gallery Cafe, so returning for the 2nd one was a birthday party for CBMT, except that I haven’t written enough to justify any kind of celebration. 

However a vegan beer festival is itself a cause for joy, and we gathered in a packed Gall Caf garden to drink, eat barbecue, and listen to karaoke.

Vegans having fun at tables and on the grass

Vegans having fun at tables and on the grass

 

FGV holds court

Vegan Karaoke

Last year’s beer festival had blazing heat and a lovely sense of adventure. It was always going to be hard for this year’s to live up to that great day, with the temperature at a cooler 20’c and the event essentially being the same as last time. I had a great time and some excellent beer, and it wasn’t too busy, and that’s all you can ask for isn’t it? I thought the Barbecue was disappointing this year (a very rare moment of average food from the Gall Cafe, I don’t know why) and I wasn’t into the pre-karaoke music, but that’s OK, others seemed to enjoy it.

A beer stall

This man talked about beer a LOT

To the beers themselves, the overall winner was Stroud’s collaboration with Asaparagasm – a worthy winner, it was tasty and a good ale for those who don’t think they like ale. I also liked Stroud’s Big Cat beer, and as with last year, I love the cut of the Brass Castle jib, both taste and attitude of those who sell it. Proper Yorkshire Ale, I have a place in my heart for them.

Beer bottles

Some of the beers we drank

So, well done again to FGV and his co-organiser Messy Cook, the Beer Fest is a real anchor in London’s vegan year, and long may it continue. Albeit with better barbeque please.

SURPRISINGLY-VEGAN MALTA

It never surprises me that everywhere in the world has some kind of vegan scene, or at least a dining scene that is unknowingly vegan-friendly. Going to Malta, I’d had the usual warnings that as an island with an ancient and traditional history it’d be all fish and meat round those parts.

But of course it wasn’t. Mediterranean cuisine might be well into its fish but it’s also substantially into its oil, tomatoes, olives and capers. The classic Maltese beach snack involves a load of their unique and lovely Tomato Paste which Jamie Oliver bangs on about plus a complicated mix of herbs, capers, olives, all on crusty bread. Restaurants will generally have pasta plus oil and garlic on offer and it’s complex enough in its flavours to satisfy.

And even better, there are ice-cream places which do vegan ice-cream, including our local one in Xlendi on the idyllic smaller Maltese island of Gozo, Gelateria Granola, which did this vanilla vegan ice: 

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Waffling on about vegan ice cream

That tip, like lots of my finds in Malta, came from the excellent Vegan Malta Map – a new local organisation who were very helpful in advance of my holiday out there. We need these local tips for the places that Happy Cow doesn’t always go. It was surprising that Happy Cow was so light on Malta info, but I suppose when a place has a reputation of not being vegan-friendly, vegans don’t go there and don’t add their tips to HC, so the whole thing perpetuates.

Despite my finding it an amenable and beauriful place, Vegans in Malta do have it quite hard culturally – it’s a gentle place but it’s also one where songbirds are traditionally caught and eaten as they migrate, and the main island is densely built-up and populated which doesn’t allow a lot of room for nature. Seems things are improving though, especially in the mysterious capital of Valetta where we went twice to Soul Food, which is mainly vegetarian but apparently the only place that openly advertises vegan options anywhere in Malta. They do amazing wrap things with burgers enclosed in them:

Soul Food

It’s a wrap

The staff are friendly and the place is bright and airy. They do great juices too. We were told a cake was vegan when it wasn’t, which was a bit annoying, but the man who did it was very nice, so he’s forgiven.

One night we also went to Tate in Vittoriosa, an epic journey of two buses on Malta’s packed roads and good-but-erratic public transport system. It’s the only 100% vegetarian restaurant in Malta, but it doesn’t advertise itself as such. The reviews were mixed, and sometimes bad, but we had a gigantic bowl of fresh vegetable pasta and had no complaints. It was a cute place right by the water. Shame they don’t scream about their vegetarian status more, but they don’t have to if they don’t want.

We discovered right at the end of the trip that the ubiquitous Pea Pastizzis available from street stalls were vegan too, but the only time we got to try one was in our hotel for breakfast – like all of the food available for breakfast there, it tasted like it was baked a few months ago and then frozen. Maybe we can try the real thing another time.

So Malta – great for snorkelling, good for vegans if you know where to look. I’m a fan.

VEGAN TREATS IN CORNWALL

We took a trip to Cornwall too, and we were driven around by a generous friend, so we got to try lots of different places.

The highlight from a vegan view was Wildebeest, Falmouth’s 100% vegan cafe-bar. Falmouth is just the kind of place you’d expect to be vegan-friendly, with a large art-student population, a history of creativity, and a closeness to natural elements. It’s still surprising when you find a totally-vegan cafe anywhere though, and Wildebeest was a real joy. My driving friend Fraser posed outside:

Wildebeest

Beauty and the Beest

It’s a cafe with instant friendliness on its face and a giant menu of delightful-sounding things.

Wildebeest menu

A menu, partly obscured by a man’s head

I had a pot of hummous plus sourdough bread (obvs, it was sourdough, it’s the law). That sounds unadventurous, but this was no normal hummous, it was all garlicky and oniony and delicious. Plus a big green juice too.

Hummous and Juice

Hummousletov!

We’d chosen the lighter option so we could go for pudding too. That’s what you do at Lunch, isn’t it? And this is the kind of establishment where you know the puddings will be good, and the main course is a mere hurdle to jump before you get to the main characters in this piece, the puds. We shared a brownie with cream and a raspberry cheesecake with ice cream:

Raspberry Hooray

Raspberry Hooray

Yummmmm.

Yummmmm.

These were top puddings, homemade by the friendly Wildebeest lady. This is a great vegan cafe and one that should be an essential one to tick off for any vegans traveling round the UK.

They have a fun blackboard too, on which my status was confirmed:

Wildebeest blackboard

Chairman of the Board

We also had an incredible 3-course vegan dinner in The Gurnard’s Head which they whipped up for us on request. It’s in a wild location near where we stayed, a few miles from St Ives, and it’s visible from miles away due to its bright yellow building. I can’t remember what we had, which makes me a terrible blogger, but I know it was nice. Cornwall is full of these high-end gourmet pubs, and you might think they couldn’t cope with vegan requests, but hey, they can. 

AVEBURY – A BARROW OF LAUGHS

Then we went to Avebury, which is a great ancient place of chalk mounds and long barrows, and where tourists and druids roam free. We stayed in Avebury Lodge, a vegetarian B&B in the stone circle (it’s a very big circle, split by roads, in case you’re wondering how that works) which did us a decent if unspectacular vegan breakfast. Relying on public transport, we ate exclusively in Avebury’s two eating places – lunch in the National Trust’s supposedly-vegetarian cafe (it serves ham sandwiches….hmmm) where the best thing is the giant vegan flapjack, and dinner in the Red Lion Pub which was nice enough but had half the menu missing every night, sometimes including the only vegan options. Chips and Salads a-go-go. But it’s worth it for a spectacular location inside the thousands-of-years-old magical stones. I’m not into Hocus Pocus, but you do feel something in those stones and mounds.

BACK IN LONDON

 All you need to know is that the Gallery Cafe – my favourite, as you know – has a Diner Night every week where they do things like this mountain of hotdog, jalapenos, fake cheese and chilli. Oh yes! 

Hotdog at Gallery Cafe

Hot Dog, Jumping Frog, Alberqueque

 And the London Vegan World is going wild over a new Vegan Bar and Restaurant opening next week in Wood Green. Will it be nice though, that’s the question? I want more all-vegan places (though by the way, reading the blurb, it’s 100% vegetarian, not vegan, unless I read that wrong?) but I’ll reserve judgement til the food and drink is in my mouth. And will Wood Green attract big crowds? I like Wood Green, and it’s quite near me, but not everyone will want the schlep there. But good news, regardless.

 

The Ghosts in Our Machine comes to the UK

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When I’m not writing whimsical posts about Vegan food around town, I am part of a team running a big documentary film festival, and I spend my time watching a lot of docs.

It’s rare that these two things are combined, and when there have been docs advocating for better treatment of animals, most of the time they’ve been preaching to the converted or just plain preachy. Even when it’s being made in the name of treating animals with justice, I just can’t accept a badly-made or boring documentary which doesn’t think about how it will take its audience on a journey. I’ve been rambling for years, wondering when the great Vegan documentary was going to come.

However, next week, a doc challenging how we treat animals is coming to the UK and this one is different – The Ghosts in Our Machine is a new documentary about the uses of animals across all sections of world society, beautifully shot and poetically reflecting the injustice meted out to animals rather than offering one-dimensional advocacy. Made by filmmaker Liz Marshall, and featuring photojournalist Jo-Anne MacArthur, it’s the best set of visual arguments for many years about how we take animals for granted. 

It’s a doc that challenges the blindness which we all have (including us Vegans I’m afraid, no matter how hard we try) about the scale of animal exploitation making the modern world go round. But it doesn’t have high-horse talking heads wagging their fingers at us, it uses a deep parade of pictures and stories – often surreal and peculiar ones – to challenge our blindness to the ‘ghosts’ behind the things we have become dependent on in everyday consumption. 

It’s a damn good film and it’s going to make a big difference, upsetting some but motivating others to try going animal-free in their consumption and, even better, consume less as a whole. Importantly, it’s aimed at a mainstream audience and not only Vegans. But no-one on screen is going to tell you to do that, you’ll just feel it because this documentary will make you feel different when the lights go up. And that is incredible documentary-making.

I’m very pleased to say that I will be moderating a discussion after the London screening next week at the Hackney Picturehouse and I hope you’ll be there too. I advance of that screening, I interviewed the director Liz Marshall. You can read it after the Fox below:

Fox in fur farm

Fox in fur farm (The Ghosts In Our Machine_We Animals © 2012)

Charlie: What were your hopes for the film at the start?

Liz Marshall: The motivation behind the project  was not to be pigeonholed or ghettoised, and the two-fold motivation I set at the start still informs us as we look to the film’s impact and engagement:

Firstly, to help usher this complex subject to the fore, and help the movement for better treatment of animals to put it more on the radar. To say that this is moral significant and it needs our attention.

I make human rights and environmental documentaries, this is my first animal rights film, but I am aware of how stigmatised this issue has been historically. But a shift is happening culturally and in terms of celebrity culture too – it’s really good that culture, consumer culture, the green movement, the social justice movement, and people generally, are recognising factory farming is a dire situation.

Whether people then make the equation that animals have moral significance, that’s more difficult – the argument can be made that there’s a long way to go in terms of widening the core audience round this issue and also in educating the public around animal sentience.

But there’s a scientific movement of evidence that people can’t ignore, and people listen to scientists so that it significant.

So the first main motivation was to create a film on this issue that could reach a wider audience.

The second motivation was to create a bridge to other movements like the environmental movement, to not have these separate islands of social justice movements – I thought we could bring it all together. I hope the film helps to make those connections.

C: Tell me more about the Impact and Engagement Project you’re doing

LM: I just got a grant by the Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund , this is the European side to the new chapter in the film’s distribution phase, especially the community screenings that I’ve been immersed in for the last year. This fund will allow us to build online modules to measure the impact of the film on individuals over time. We’ll be announcing that this Friday.  

Working with a small team, we are creating impact and engagement tools that will be important to measure how the film touches peoples’ lives. It’s not a black and white film – not many watch it and then make radical changes, it’s not like carnivores come and see the film and then go Vegan…although that happens, it always happens, but for most people who see the film, it’s a journey!

It’s removing peoples’ blinders, that’s the first step. The blinders need to be removed so people can see the animals that are invisible, and hidden in these industries, and that we have such a pervasive use of them in our global system, and that we are all complicit – the collective ‘we’.

This isn’t a finger-wagging film, outing farmers and corporations and blaming them. It addresses the individuals in the audience, hence “In Our machine” not The Machine – it’s meant to inspire reflection in every person who see it.

We want to be able to measure how that will work in peoples’ actions, and attitudes in the long-term after they see the film. Step one is an awakening – a change in our attitudes to animals. Step two then follows in our behaviour.

C: How will you measure that?

LM: I can’t talk about it yet but we will release interesting information as we go, starting from early Autumn. We will launch a living engagement website.

 

Rescued Dog

Rescued Dog (The Ghosts In Our Machine_We Animals © 2012)

C: What were you trying to do that was different to other animal-based documentaries?LM: We were definitely trying to do something different to other animal rights films. In preparation for making this film, we watched everything else out there and I studied what worked from my point of view. I’m not negative about those films, but I wanted to do something different.

People shut down quickly and go into denial, they wear their blinders, they don’t want to see. People innately care about animal and most people recognise that they are innocent. They don’t want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. The film reveals this haunting chilling reality without it being grotesque and violent, though we do show animal suffering. But we don’t dwell on suffering, we dwell on empathy.

It’s the photographer Jo-Anne’s vision of the world…a 92minute journey to see the world through her eyes, and we meet a cast of animals and get close to them.

C: How will the release and impact of the film in Europe be different to North America?

LM: It’s interesting, you can gauge through the social media metrics where in the world the film is getting the most attention. Since we set up the Facebook page and started releasing Vimeo clips in 2011 our metrics on geography have been consistent  – the US is always the top fan as a country, but that’s strange, we are Canadian, and it’s a European-style movie, by which I mean it’s not a polemic, it’s not talking heads. It’s been interesting to witness how the US has championed the movie.

Now with Europe, countries there are further along on welfare and the protection of animals legally. You’re more advanced – the UK is the birthplace of animal rights, so we hope for a great response. 

Bird's head in laboratory

Bird’s head in laboratory (The Ghosts In Our Machine_We Animals © 2012)

C: Did you encounter any resistance from the industry when you first started making the film?

LM: Absolutely! The reaction was very polarised when I was making it. It was sexy to some, others wanted to distance themselves completely. It lends itself to that extreme reaction.

People look at our poster, it doesn’t matter who they are, they take a double or triple look and they can’t look away, you can see them reflecting and processing, thinking about the meaning of the image and the title, they either get defensive or shut down or they go “tell me about this”.

The film's poster

The film’s poster

It’s been fascinating to observe the reaction to the movie. We have had senior film critics who just haven’t reviewed it, they refuse, they react to the issue, they just can’t react to the film as a film!

C: So this is a good time for you to get this doc out there?

LM: The film has mostly been shown in urban settings, there’s an explosion happening in consumer movements to eat plant-based diets. People are starting to recognise they can cut down on their consumption of meat – something like Meat Free Monday is a household name.

This movement is catching on as ripple effect, there’s been a lot of momentum over the last decade, and even since we started developing the film in 2010. It’s great timing for a documentary about this issue. 

Tickets for the screening are available here

The Beautiful South

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I’ve been in London for 12 years, and spent most of those in complete ignorance of South London. I wasn’t disrespectful of it, I just didn’t have much of a reason to go there. Everything interesting seemed to be in North London, especially North East.

That’s nonsense, I realise now. I’m not even talking about New Cross or Deptford, which I know have had the Goldsmiths effect of interesting things happening for years. I’m talking the more suburban bits in the environs of the South East. Friends live in Camberwell, Crystal Palace, and Beckenham, and they’re brilliant. Lots of space, good cafes and bars, and apparently loads of woods, parks and other greenery.

I’m being patronising here, but I don’t mean to, I feel bad I’ve not realised how interesting it is down there. The mixture of suburbia and artisticness makes it a cute world of hidden surprises. This is traditionally where new wonderful eccentric things happen in creativity in the UK, not the forced open-plan creative spaces of Shoreditch.

Anyway, to the Vegan angle here. I had a walk yesterday from Crystal Palace Park to Nunhead Cemetery along the Green Chain which takes you through woods, two cemeteries (both active – one even had a funeral happening as I walked through it. What do you do in the modern age? I removed my sunglasses in lieu of having a hat to remove  – was that OK?), and the lovely Horniman Gardens, en route to one of London’s old elaborate overgrown 7 graveyards. The Horniman Gardens include the Horniman Museum which I feel like I should have a Vegan Problem with due to the large amount of taxidermy, but which I actually think is a good source of knowledge for learning about, and having respect for, how spectacular animals are. Entirely inconsistent with my general hardline view that taxidermy is awful and disrespectful to animals, but I’m allowed to be inconsistent, I’m only human. Perhaps that’s for a future post.

Anyway, get to the point, Phillips. On this walk, I diverted to the Blue Brick Cafe on Fellbrigg Road in East Dulwich, which had seemed like the best option in the advice of our Vegan Deity, Happy Cow. I sat next to a small barky dog, and ordered the “Vegan Salad” – always nice when you don’t need to check it’s Vegan and the food’s name tells you. They even chucked in a sausage to go with it, which is strange but wonderful, and was in response to me dilly-dallying over whether a starter portion would be enough. You just never know do you?

Sausage and Salad - A Classic comboSausage and Salad – A Classic combo

The salad included squash, tomato, leaves, seeds and walnuts. It was a fine salad, and it wasn’t the only Vegan option on show at this little local cafe. A great laidback gem, although I bet it’s a lot more manic on the weekends.

So if you’re dismissive of South London like I used to be, don’t do it. Go walk through some woods and graveyards and eat a brilliant lunch.

(You probably realised South East London was great years ago, and this blog is really embarrassing)

Footnote – I now realise I did go to South West London a fair bit over the years, but Richmond, Twickenham, Kingston, Kew and all that are too close to the River and too Surrey-ish to actually count as London, right?

Footnote 2 – I had this excellent Polenta slice salad in the Gallery Cafe today. It’s strange including it in this blog post, but I didn’t think it needed its own blog post and I took a photo of it which shouldn’t go to waste, so…here it is! Yum. Hurrah.

Polenta and Salad - A More Traditional comboPolenta and Salad – A More Traditional combo

Lamington Hurrah

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I break my extended silence (sorry about that) to bring news of a Vegan Lamington to you.

You know the Lamington – sponge, chocolate, coconut. Allegedly tasty, though they’ve only become hip since I became Vegan. A thousand Australian and New Zealandish cafes have opened and served Lamingtons to hipsters on demand. Many times, I have waited for a Soy Latte at Workshop eyeing up the Lamington and wishing it could be mine, wondering how it would be to bite into its spongeyness.

I assumed a Vegan Lamington would never be invented. I don’t know why, I just thought of it as Forbidden (Coconut) Fruit, it would break the natural laws of yearning if someone invented a Vegan Lamington.

But now they have! There’s a bakery called Hackney Bakery who’ve come on the scene and they’re selling these fellas exclusively to Black Cat:

It's the Lamington!

It’s tasty, so tasty. They’re only stocked at Black Cat and you’ll feel like you’re having something illegal. I’m fixated on this point, I realise, but there are some cakes which are in the “never for Vegans” category of my brain and the Lamington is one. But here it is, and it’s delicious and spongey as anything. The World Turned Upside Down.

Whilst I’m on the topic of the Black Cat, I’d like to check that you’ve been there since it took over from Pogo and got its full menu and decor sorted. This isn’t the Pogo of the past, which I loved for its muddled way and its sense of DIY cooking, but would never get the more hoity-toity end of Vegans in, let alone non-Vegans. There were metal grills across the windows for one thing. Black Cat is a modern cafe in the classic 2010s Faux-Scandi Hackney Style that looks like it wants you, with a lot of light and a big range of food and drink. It’s still political, it’s still not-for-profit, but it knows how to compete with the other 10,000 silly cafes of Hackney, and it’s beautiful.

I had a Gramlette last time, a kind of Omelette with loads of veg in. It was amazing. I even ate the delicious Coleslaw on the side, and I hate Coleslaw. This wasn’t like normal Coleslaw though, it was fresh and had good mayo in it. Another World Turned Upside Down moment. The times are a-changing.

Speaking of good cafes, seems likes a good place to show you how ace Moose’s Kitchen in St Leonards is. St Leonards inexplicably seems to be a small place with a lot of Vegan and Vegan-friendly businesses. There’s only 3 main streets and there’s 5 good places for Vegans to go.

It could be because the Vegan Society was based nearby, although one local Vegan told us that everyone hated the Vegan Society and were glad when they left. How strange if true – mysterious. Perhaps Birmingham will show them the full love they need.

Anyway, Moose’s is a delicious cafe, fresh salads, sundaes and bottles of local beer all agogo, and some very kind staff to boot. It was a sunny seaside day to cherish. Doesn’t take long to get there from London, and it’s right near the station, so go and eat it all.

The Cafe

The Cafe

Sundae Choccy Sundae

Sundae Choccy Sundae

On The Menu

On The Menu

Local Beer in the Photograph

Local Beer in the Photograph

This month, like any other month

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Hello. This isn’t a post about Veganuary, but I’m going to start by giving you some context.

Just before the new year I tweeted about my irritation with the concept of Veganuary – the idea that people who aren’t vegan try it for a month and see how they like it.

I got into a dialogue with a nice man called James who’s working on the campaign and put his view across

My friend Joseph also contributed

And we all went on our merry way. It wasn’t a scandal on the Morrissey and Auschwitz level (which I’ll write about another time because the hysteria about his public advocacy of animal rights is really weird to me even if I disagree with his language) but clearly it was surprising to some that I wouldn’t support a campaign for more vegans.

So I’d like to explain a bit more about my dislike for these monthly fad campaigns. I feel the same about Dryathlon and Stoptober, and I definitely feel the same about Movember. I’m suspicious of the idea that you make a temporary change to your lifestyle because other humans happen to be doing it as part of an organised campaign, especially when that change relates to buying or not buying something, or a (literal) cosmetic change to your appearance. There’s something meaningless about it, an empty change motivated by following the crowd rather than any real shift in consciousness.

Change is good. Radical change to your way of life is really good, as long as you believe in it and it’s a wholehearted shift motivated only by your own need for change. Change that you do as a result of your own decision to resolve something that feels wrong in your lifestyle – I approve of that wholeheartedly. But it should be your own choice and it should be intended as permanent, or I think it’s indulgent and meaningless.

Harsh? My problem is the arbitrariness of it, the faddy decision to do something different for a month, making a wild intervention in your lifestyle for the sake of it, with no future impact. You could be going vegan, you could be eating more meat, you could be growing a moustache, you could be removing a moustache, you could be giving up booze or you could bingeing for a month. It’s all arbitrary, because after a month you reset the clock and go back to where you were before. What you did in that month is completely irrelevant.

This is classic comfortable liberal behaviour – minor tweaks in your life masquerading as radical change. The illusion of choice in a world of limited consumer options. Following the herd to a big marketing campaign for the sake of feeling like you’re still in control of your life. Notice these campaigns are never for big social changes either – “DontBeSexistuary”, “Socialistember”, “DontGoOnTheMailOnlinegust”would be improvements at least.

Why I am so annoyed about this? I think it’s because I want people to feel happy making big long-term changes in their lives, and temporary campaigns like these fill that need but create no real satisfaction.

If you’re concerned about the ethics of exploiting animals and want to go vegan, do it now, do it as an individual, and do it forever. You’ll feel a lot better.

If you think you’re drinking too much, acknowledge that as a problem that you as an individual have, and give up or drink less now and forever.

And if you think you want a moustache, go ahead, grow a moustache. Do it for you. Make it a nice one though, OK?

If you’re feeling an urge that something is wrong in your life, then I don’t think you need permission from an organised campaign to make a big change in your life, and I don’t think the changes you make should be small.

But if you don’t feel like your life needs change but you just want something new to do in the dark hours of January, then I don’t see why you need these fads. Do something bigger.

 

Christmas in Vegan Land

Christmas has been and gone, but it’s only been two days, so I can still belatedly shoehorn in my three excellent vegan discoveries of the period:

1. Caffe Nero’s Mince Pies are vegan

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Hi there, I’m a vegan MP.

Really they are. The label says so

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Labels don’t lie

How brilliant that a big coffee chain lets the vegans play the mince pie game, and is daring enough to label their goods as vegan. It’s radical!

…except this pie wasn’t very nice. It was dry and lacking in filling. So having excitedly scooted to my nearest Caffe Nero after QuarryGirl revealed the news of the VMPs, I haven’t been back since. Sad times. At least we can take solace in all those customers fooled into accidentally eating vegan.

2. I had an amazing Christmas Dinner courtesy of Fay Gay Vegan and The Gallery Cafe – finer than most vegan dinners you probably had in the last few days.

We started with a mushroom pate

Mushroom Pate

Mushroom goodness and toast

Which isn’t at all a traditional christmas starter, but I like that. It was just good to eat.

We admired the Christmassyness of the brilliant cafe and had a beer

Beer and Christmas

Beer and Christmas

We ate a main course of a lot of roasted food with a superb gravy and homemade chutney and I was very full.

A LOT OF DINNER

A LOT OF DINNER

We met good people – most not exclusively vegan but just interested in trying it, which is surprising but an excellent marker of how the friendly arm of veganism is embracing more people all the time

Not all these people are vegan

Not all these people are vegan

And then I took a terrible photo of FGV and the staff getting a well-deserved round of applause

Can you see the chef in his hat?

Thanks to all the food-makers and servers and, of course, Sean for putting it together. A great sociable and delicious evening.

3. My girlfriend’s brothers made a very good Vegan christmas dinner for us, and her dad ate a nut roast and a rhubarb-apple crumble I made and enjoyed them both. Veganism embarks on its toughest challenge – breaking Cheshire. Updates to come in this war, sure to be hard-fought.

Bodega 50 – The London vegan cafe no-one knows about

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I have a tendency to be judgemental. I admit it.

So when I passed a new cafe called Bodega50 on Allen Road in my neighbourhood, Stoke Newington, a couple of years ago, I peered in and quickly dismissed it. Stoke Newington gets a lot of new cafes and they’re usually too small, full of N16 parents and absurdly expensive. I didn’t spend long assessing this new cafe, I glanced at it and thought “it’s probably like all the others” and thought nothing of it for the last couple of years.

Cut to a couple of weeks ago and I bumped into a friend who lives near Allen Road on the bus. We talk about my blog, and she casually asks if I go to Bodega 50 much, with it being the closest vegan cafe. She’s then shocked when I tell her that I’ve never been in and I didn’t know it was vegan. She doesn’t know if it’s definitely always been vegan, but she thinks it has.

So we went – and it’s unbelievable. Good value vegan food (well, 99% vegan – the croissants aren’t) including lots of lunch options and 8 different vegan cakes plus an array of vegan cupcakes.

Bodega 50 interior

Bodega 50

Bodega Menu

The amazing menu

They don’t advertise themselves as being vegan, they just (mostly) are. They don’t advertise themselves as anything in fact – I’ve never heard anyone in my area talk about them, whether positively or negatively. There’s only a tiny trace of them online including this review which, unsurprisingly, says not to tell anyone else about it. I had a superb tofu and mustard toastie, my companion had humous and gherkins – why are they not shouting to the vegans through a megaphone about themselves? They have gherkins with hummous. That’s amazing!

Food

What we ate

Good thing they’re a secret, mind, from the perspective that you get to spend more time with Bruce, the cafe dog, who seems to be its real owner, judging by the way he prances about the place demanding attention, and commandeers his chair. Bruce is a beautiful dog, you’ll want to spend a lot of time with Bruce

Bruce

The guv’nor

I suppose if you’re a dog, it’s hard to market your cafe. Nevertheless, this is a top-class vegan cafe which no-one seems to know about and it’s a 10 minute walk from my house. Maybe there’s one 10 minutes from you too and you just don’t know? It’s a scary but very exciting thought.

Brecknock Road Lover

Today was the Brecknock Road Vegan Festival in Kentish Town where a collection of London vegan businesses gathered to have a little knees-up. It was a fine do.

Our time there started rainy, with the selection of stalls next to the Admiral Mann, just off Brecknock Road, keeping spirits up excellently – it was all very British, as you’d expect from a street fair in November.

We ate very good burgers in the heavy rain, one made from sweet potato, one from mushroom, courtesy of Rupert’s Street

Everyone knows its name

Everyone knows its name

It was my first time trying Rupert’s, so it’s unfortunate it was in such a downpour. I liked the burger but I’d like to go back and try something from there when I’m not so damp and grouchy. Everything looked special.

We took our burgers into the Third Estate, got free Yorkshire Tea from the nicest vegan shop-owners in London, and were instantly a lot happier, partly because the tea was Y.Tea, as is compulsory for any former Leeds-dwellers such as them (and me too – it’s the law).

The Third Estate was packed, and not just because of the rain – Will was launching Will’s Vegan Shoes

Will's Vegan Shoes

A busy shoe showcase

His shoes are high in quality and style – I know we all like to drone on about how hard it used to be to get good vegan shoes, but IT WAS REALLY HARD and it’s so good to have another vegan shoeperson enter the ring with the good stuff. And his shoes are damn good, appearing to be flying out the door. No men’s shoes for me to try today (though the boots on his website look amazing) but the ol’ vegan lady companion tried a couple

A shoe being tried on, a mere few hours ago

A shoe being tried on, a mere few hours ago

Will seems like a pleasant and passionate chap, and he’s doing good business with his shoes – not just vegan but fair trade too. I’m impressed.

The launch of Will’s shoes was the centrepiece of the day, but the most enjoyable part of the Brecknock Road festival was its mere existence – the fact that a street held a busy vegan festival full of all different sorts of people just having a good vegan time. A street of happy vegans – it’s one of Earth’s finest wonders.

Clearly, even though we’d had a burger lunch already, we had to also have a hot dog from The Mighty Fork because life isn’t complete without their incredible dogs at every opportunity. I went for the Yasai Dog and it was like eating curried wiener heaven.

Even though there weren’t a ridiculous number of people there, the queue was massive because where The Mighty Fork go, queues follow due to the cult popularity they’ve already built up. These guys need their own premises ASAP!

Mighty Fork

The sun came out so we all queued for dogs

A small mention too for the lady with the usherette tray of flapjacks who was launching The Flapjack Girls and handing out free flapjack bites – a nice touch from a new vegan business. Keep an eye out for them.

A successful day, despite the weather, for a perky local festival, filled with good shoes and the best sausages in town. Worth getting damp socks for.