Wednesday, 26 March 2014


Atwood, M, The Edible Woman, Canada, 1969, (McClellan and Stewart)

Clare, J, Badger, London, 1848

Ritson, J, An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food, as a Moral Duty, London, 1802, (Kessinger Publishing, 2009)

Toklas, B. A, Murder in the Kitchen, Paris, 1954, (Penguin, 2011) 

Vegan Videos

To round off this blog, I wanted to post something you could take away with you. Perhaps you are interested in finding out more about this lifestyle, or maybe you want to know how you could reduce the animal suffering and your carbon footprint? Below are some great documentaries that I urge you to watch. You never know, they could be the start of something beautiful!

( P.s most of them are on Netflix)

Food inc. By Robert Kenner. (Trailer

Forks over Knives by Lee Fulkerson. (Trailer

Vegucated by Marissa Miller Wolson (Trailer

Earthlings by Shaun Monson (Trailer

The Raw Truth: Part 2

The truth is hard to stomach, especially when it comes to our food. The simple fact is, we have become disassociated with what we are eating. How many of us know the journey of our food? Where it comes from? What’s its story?

Perhaps we just don’t want to know. Like Marian in the previous post, you would think twice about tucking into that steak if it suddenly became gristle and sinew. Despite this, a number of chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, believe knowing the truth is an important part of appreciating your food and have slaughtered animals on air in order to provide an insight into the world of meat manufacturing. Surprisingly it was vegetarians and vegans who praised this the most, because they believe in the necessity of educating people about where meat comes from, whereas meat eaters everywhere were outraged by what they were watching. However, exposing the truth behind our food isn’t a modern phenomenon and we have seen examples of it on this course, especially in Alice B Toklas’s food memoir Murder in the Kitchen.

In the following extract she talks about killing a carp:

“The first victim was a lively carp...I carefully, deliberately found the base of its vertebral column and plunged the knife in. I let go my grasp and looked to see what had happened. Horror of horrors. The carp was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree. Limp, I fell into a chair, with my hands still unwashed reached for a cigarette, lighted it, and waited for the police to come and take me into custody.'

The description is reminiscent of crime literature. The animal is a “victim” and Alice is the murderer, given the task of its assassination. To distract the audience from the gruesome task in hand, she adopts a comedic tone. She lights a cigarette after the deed, much like a hardy and satisfied criminal, then awaits her arrest.

Despite the humour, she draws attention to our discomfort around the killing of our food. We laugh while inwardly cringing, wondering whether we could stomach the process itself. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Raw Truth: Part 1

Food is an emotional business. You hear it all the time; scary tales of women who have gained 20lbs because of depression, scary tales of women who are nothing but bones after heartbreaks and every chocolate laced, pastry encrusted story in between.

One such woman is Marian from Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Stuck in a lover’s limbo, she finds she cannot stomach a lot of the food she once could, particularly meat. The question we must ask (being a vegan blog and all) is why does this happen? What is it about meat that especially that turns Marian off and how does it fit in with her emotional state?

Whilst out at a restaurant, Marian watches as her “half-eaten steak” becomes “a hunk of muscle.” She describes how “it was flesh and blood, rare, and she had been devouring it. Gorging herself on it.” What had once been natural to Marian, the eating of the steak, has now become an unnatural act because she identifies with the food on her plate, realising that it used to be “part of a real cow that once moved and ate and was killed.” Unlike the synthetic rice pudding she ate earlier, this steak once had a history, a life and felt pain. It is possible that Marian sees herself in the steak (strange, I know) as she is being treated as a lifeless form too, only existing for one purpose, to be a wife and mother. When Marian rejects the steak, she also rejects that version of herself.

As the book progresses, she continues to give food human characteristics. She talks about chicken and how “it came with an unpleasantly complete skeletal structure and [how] the skin…would be too much like an arm with goose bumps”. It’s not unusual that the first food Marian rejects is meat- it is the most primal of food sources. Confronted with meat, Marian cannot hide. She is reminded of her real emotions and wants to disassociate from them. The truth is easier to hide in puddings and stews. In fact, Marian does exactly this at Trevor’s dinner party. She “scrape[s] most of the sauce from one of the hunks of meat…and tossed it over the candles”. The meat represents her unadulterated emotions and the domestic version of herself. I argue that, here, she is rejecting them both. She doesn’t want to get married but she doesn’t want to admit that to herself. She cannot stomach the raw truth. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Vitao Organic: Vegan Restaurant Review!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a rubbish cook. For me, the kitchen resembles a kind of torture chamber with utensils meant for slicing, peeling, boiling and crushing. Unfortunately, my housemates don’t share my fear and insist on making extravagant dinners most nights while I hide in my bedroom, the intermingling stench of frying meat and exotic spices seeping underneath my door.

My diet is simple. I like: fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes and pasta. I like it all the more if I don’t have to cook it. When I first started this blog, I had hoped to construct fancy vegan recipes and show off my superb cooking skills. Realising this wasn’t going to happen, I thought I had better come up with some other way to showcase the variety of innovative dishes that are often not associated with a vegan diet.

I decided to book a table at a popular vegan restaurant in London. Now, as you may have gathered I’m not a food snob. I don’t like it when my dinner looks like it could belong in the Saatchi Gallery. So despite being a vegan, I had never actually been to a vegan restaurant before. This was an entirely new experience for me. For comic value and moral support, I decided to coerce my meat eating boyfriend, Chris, into coming too.
We arrived at Vitao Organic ( in time for our 6:30pm booking. Quite frankly, I was terrified. I was wearing a faux fur leopard print coat and only realised my mistake after leaving the house. Plus, I had a few glasses of wine beforehand and, being a restaurant that doesn’t sell any alcohol, I was certain they could smell it on me. 

Anyway, the best thing about a vegan diet is you get to eat a lot. Most of the food is low in calories and fat, so it takes more to satiate you. Luckily, my boyfriend and I have huge appetites and we got a load of dishes to review particularly for this blog! So enjoy!

Ash: Before ordering from the menu, we decided to hit the buffet. There was a variety of colourful dishes to choose from, both raw and cooked. I went for a generous helping of salad and brown rice with curried chickpeas and stewed black beans. I don’t usually eat pulses because I find them bland, but I was surprised at how flavoursome these ones were. The black beans had a rich earthy taste and really worked with the nuttiness of the brown rice. They were not watery either, which can be common in vegan cooking because of the lack of cream, milk and yoghurt in sauces. In fact, the yellow chickpeas had a very thick and rich sauce. I assume they used coconut milk to achieve this. The red chickpeas were more tomato-y and included sizable chunks of soft aubergine. All in all, this was a very good fresh first course. The only drawback is that they charge by the weight, £1.80 per 100g. I think mine came to about £12. 

Chris: I must admit that, despite my revulsion at the concept of paying for a buffet by weight, the selection of vegan dishes available was diverse and the quality impressive. I would have bet my arm that the mash had contained butter and milk and I found the lentil and bean dishes extremely pleasurable to eat. What made it all the more enjoyable was the fact the dishes were clearly all low salt. I was thus able to eat a large plate- worth 14 pounds- of food and not feel uncomfortably full or thirsty afterwards. I was left wanting more and feeling energetic. 

Ash: Next, we decided to try out a couple of the dishes from the small plate section of the menu. What we have above is the pitiful imitations of “pizza” (left) and “nachos” (right). They are both raw dishes which means no cooking was involved at all in the making of them. I’ll start with the nachos. The nachos themselves are described as “flax seed tortilla chips with pineapple salsa, guacamole and tomato salsa”. They were, to be blunt, hideous. The flax seed crackers were airy and bland, the salsa packed no punch, the guacamole was a tasteless blog of green goo and god knows why there was pineapple. Then we have the “buckwheat pizza with tomato sauce and seed-cheese”. When my boyfriend saw these, he genuinely thought someone had spread a bit of tomato puree on ryvita crackers. The buckwheat based was strange, very dense and chewy. The seed cheese was just gross and added a sourness to the whole dish plus I couldn’t taste the tomato topping or the olives.  Every tentative bite was worse than the last.

Chris: When it came to the a la carte menu, we decided to order what we thought would be safe dishes: vegan nachos and pizzettes. It was my contention that these dishes would be exemplary of the geniuses of vegan cuisine and would demonstrate how, despite the lack of cheese and cream, food as comforting and pleasurable as nachos and pizza were still accessible on a vegan diet. How very wrong I was. I will deal with the nachos first. They were tiny and resembled crushed, ‘dehydrated’ green leaves in triangle shapes with three small mounds of dips. The first dip was salsa and bitter tasting. The second was guacamole but tasted nothing like it. The third was the worse of the three. Crushed pineapple does not belong on nachos.

The pizzettes were equally as poor. Not only did they resemble ryvita with a salsa spread, the actually tasted like it as well! Moreover, the pitiful amount of fake vegan cheese and olive in the middle of the cracker tasted so bland it needn’t have been there. The only redeeming factor was the fresh rocket decorating the plate which I ate and which contained more flavour than the vast majority of the dish.

Ash: As you can see, I’m no food photographer. By the time our main dish came, we were so hungry we pretty much started eating straight away. Luckily, I remembered the task at hand and got a photo of the dish before we completed devoured it. This was the strangest thing we ordered, the mysteriously named Oasis of Sahara. It was described as “Wrapped avocado, squash hummus, brazil nut falafel, coriander and sunflower seed cream”. It was another raw dish and I’m not sure how to describe it. It was a wrap, a dehydrated falafel sort of wrap. It was like they rolling pinned falafel and made a chewy sheet out of it, then shoved it full of cucumber and onion and then covered it with a mustardy, avocado sauce. It wasn’t actually that bad. It had the same sourness that permeated the other dishes, but at least there were some strong flavours present. You could taste the falafel and the mustard type dressing was spicy and made you smack your lips. However, once again, it was not worth the money. Three small wraps for £12.95…ouch.

Chris: I was left, after these two starters, in a daze but eager to see if the place could redeem itself with a decent main course. We had ordered what we thought was falafel in a wrap with various veg and sauces. The menu, it seems, had tricked us again. What we received was not falafel in a wrap but wraps made of falafel with cucumber and onions inside. It was essentially falafel skin without the soft, tasty bit on the inside. It was unimpressive and frankly a rip off. For at £12.90 I wanted more than a small- no bigger than a Sainsbury’s basic- wrap filled with cucumber and onions. Couldn’t they have packed a tomato in there for a bit of variety?

Ash: I don’t usually have vegan desserts because they are notoriously tricky to make and find, so this was a real treat. It was a “raspberry chocolate mousse torte with a cacao nib crust, served with mixed fruit”. The chocolate mousse was actually a cacao avocado mousse. It was creamy and very, very rich. It tasted like a dark chocolate cream. Actually, the whole thing tasted a bit like a raspberry ripple bar, if you’ve ever had one of those. The raspberry flavour was very prominent but it wasn’t sharp, which is good because cacao can be quite bitter in itself. The cacao nibs were interesting; you can’t really see them but they were like a thin crispy base. They were crunchy rather than biscuit-y and it offset the creaminess of the mousse perfectly. 

Chris: Next there came dessert: avocado cake with cocoa, a chocolate type substance, and raspberry. I must admit, I was amazed by the result. It didn’t taste anything like avocado and it did taste like a chocolate cake, albeit a very bitter one. Nevertheless it was with admiration and amazement that I lapped up the dish although I’d take a normal chocolate cake any day. 

All in all it was an experience and the food wasn’t a complete let down. I felt that it did show the inventiveness of vegan cooking despite the fact that I found myself craving a big bowl of plain rice several times throughout the meal. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Veganism and the Romantics Part 3: The Representation of the Body

During the Romantic era, everyone seemed to be fascinated by physiognomy and anthropology. Connections were being drawn between human and non-human bodies and, for some, the similarities were too great to ignore. The man we will be studying today, Joseph Ritson, even believed that the consumption of animal flesh would eventually lead humans to eat their own kind: “As human sacrifices were a natural effect of that superfluous cruelty which first produced the slaughter of animals, so is it equally natural that these accustomed to eat the brute, should not long abstain from the man”. This quote was taking from his 1802 “Essay on the Abstinence from Animal Food as a Moral Duty”, a text that covers everything from the history of man’s diet to the moral implications. However, this post will focus specifically on Ritson’s idea about vegetarianism and the body, both in terms of physiology and health.

According to Ritson, “the two most general distinctions of the carnivorous type of quadrupeds are deduced, one from the conformation of the teeth, and the other from the conformation of the intestines”. He argues that the conformation of the intestines is too short to digest meat easily and that our “blunt teeth” resemble “the horse, the ox, the sheep, and the hare”, rather than “the cat, the dog, the wolf and the fox”. Ritson believed that humans essentially lacked the biological tools to be carnivores and instead were conditioned by habit. 

In 1809, Darwin was born. Years later, in 1871, he would publish his controversial work The Descent of Man, where he outlines human evolution from apes. However, seven years before he was even born, in Ritson’s publication, parallels between the two species are being explored. As a result of the similarities between man and ape, Ritson believed that their natural diets would be the same. He discusses “the ourang-outang which resembles man” and “never meddles with animal flesh, but lives on nuts and other wild fruits”. He also talks about baboons “principally feed[ing] upon fruits, roots and corn”. He believes that a plant based diet belongs to “all the ape or monkey genus except man”.

Ritson was also a great believer in the health benefits reaped from a plant based diet. He noticed that in cultures where less meat was eaten, there was also less disease and death. He claims that the “Orientals live to a great age…owing to their abstinence from animal food”. In fact, he was on to something there. Nowadays, out of the ten countries with the lowest obesity rates, eight are in Asia and the remaining two are in Africa. This is undoubtedly because their diets consist of plain starches such as rice, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

If Ritson thought things were bad then, he should have a look at this

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Veganism and the Romantics Part 2: Battle against Consumerism

Food and consumerism are irrefutably linked and we are all slaves to the system. Today, unsurprisingly, the lowest wealth bracket suffers the highest rates of obesity; after all, good quality food just doesn’t come cheap. However, what we are experiencing today is not an anomaly. We can trace this trend as far back as the 18th century, where meat prices soared and the poorest people were left without. A working class diet consisted mainly of bread, milk, porridge, potatoes and vegetables; no meat involved. In fact, it’s ludicrous to suppose a poorer person would have access to meat when they could, at times, barely afford bread. As a result of supply and demand, a free market philosophy and poor regulation, the price of bread could rise rapidly, resulting in “bread riots”!

As a result, eating meat became a symbol of greed and extravagance and it was an act only reserved for the upper classes.  The Romantic poets were outraged by the situation and saw a meatless diet as a way to distance themselves from a consumerist society.

Many poorer people were driven to workhouses in order not to starve. Ironically, they received a more balanced diet here than they were able to afford otherwise. The table below was taken from a workhouse in Hertford, 1729.