Thursday, 21 May 2015

On Vegetarianism

I've been debating vegetarianism for a while - on and off for about a couple of years. The last couple of months though, I've been thinking about it quite a lot and this year's Vegetarian Week has tipped me into making some changes.

There's quite a few reasons. The first is the cost of meat. I'm not a fan of low cost meat (the amount of additives, the quality, and frankly, how on earth can it be produced that cheaply and still allow a decent quality of life for the animal? Short answer - it can't.) so I buy outdoor reared, free range or organic when I can. The thing is though, that the cost of meat has risen hugely in the last ten years or so, and I'm not willing to compromise on how in order to keep eating it.

The second reason? I don't really like it that much. My parents didn't eat a lot of meat when I was growing up, so I never quite got into a lot of "comfort" meals. I can't stand cottage pie. I really don't like hot pot... so I never cook them anyway. I avoid pork and lamb (because - to me - they taste like farmyards smell) and beef, especially fatty cuts, triggers my IBS. What's with the national obsession with hot dogs and burgers that is currently doing the rounds? Not for me.

Bearing in mind that I don't really eat that much meat anyway, so why not just go the full whammy and go completely veggie?

Because I really like the "off cuts" of meat, the bits most other folk could do without. I can give or take bacon, but crusty bread smeared with pate and topped with fresh tomatoes? Yes please. There's no replicating the tang of chorizo, or the strong iron taste of black pudding with poached eggs, regardless of what spices you use. I'm also vainly attached to my leather jacket.

I've concluded... although full vegetarianism isn't for me, I can certainly choose more carefully. I'll still eat sustainable fish, largely because it's full of nutrients, and it has fewer ethical issues for me than 'meat' does. It'll also give me a few more options when I eat out - because there are only so many mushroom burgers or goats cheese salads that a girl can deal with (that is, of course, assuming that there isn't an interesting and healthy veggie option available). The other thing, which I've been doing anyway but need to focus more on, is choosing "cruelty free" beauty products. If I have an issue with the way my food is reared, I should also be mindful of how the products I put on my body are developed, so I'll stick to Leaping Bunny approved cosmetics too (a quick scan of my bathroom has reassured me that a lot of my existing products already are - three cheers for Sainsbury's, Superdrug and Liz Earle!).

So, off I go to rummage through and sticker my recipe books and read up on nutrition. Any existing veggies have any tips for me?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Live Below The Line: Reflections

Food for five days. Not pictured: 10 green tea bags.
When I sat down to work out my Live Below The Line menu, I was feeling pretty smug. Five portions of fruit and veg? Easy. Two portions of protein? Not a problem. Bit of dairy? Boom 
And then I began...

rice, peaches, yoghurt
pasta, kidney beans, tinned tomatoes
rice, 2 eggs, frozen vegetables
"I can totally do this. I'm so organised with my measured out portions and I'm not even hungry. What if I find it easy? Is that cheating? Ooh, someone sponsored me!"
Pretty tasty actually. The only thing I wasn't bored of by day 5.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
pasta, kidney beans, tinned tomatoes
rice, frozen vegetables, half a tin of chilli 
"My head hurts a bit and I'm desperate for some salt. Time to crack out the chilli. Urgh it looks like cat food.... Dear lord this is the best thing I've ever eaten."
Filling, but really dull.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
rice, 2 eggs, frozen vegetables
pasta, tinned tomatoes, very small apple
"Ugh, nightmares. Ugh, I have to buy cakes and fruit for a training course I'm running and not eat any of them. Ugh, egg fried rice for lunch, which I'm not able to finish because I feel a bit sick and dizzy. Desperate for something fresh tasting... I'll cash a tin of kidney beans in for an apple from the corner shop on the way home."
Rice with eggs and vegetables is as boring as you'd imagine, even if it is quite healthy.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
pasta, tinned tomatoes
rice, half a tin of chilli, frozen vegetables
"The only thing getting me through this bowl of pasta and the mild nausea it's causing is knowing that I have chilli to look forward to, and realising that I've hit my fundraising target."
55p a tin chilli - finally some salt and fat - marvellous.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
rice, 2 eggs, tinned tomatoes
"Ooh, I've somehow managed to under measure my peach rations and now I have loads left. Hooray! Ooh, I'm working from home, I'll make something more interesting for lunch. Oh. That means I only have plain pasta for dinner. Really didn't think this through..."
Baked eggs in tomato rice. Despite a lack of herbs or spices - pretty good.
Saving the worst until last...
What I learnt doing Live Below The Line:
- If you're looking for Asda smart price products on their website, you have to put in "smart price pasta" otherwise it won't come up. I tweeted them to ask why, and they said it's categorised differently. Found myself getting really cross about this - not exactly easy to find the products if they're hidden from a generic search, which I suspect is the point...
- One green tea bag will make 3 cups, if you use a tea pot. 
- Ready meals are cheaper than vegetables and beans. My disgusting chilli was 55p - cheaper than half a tin of tomatoes with half a tin of kidney beans. 
- I didn't crave the things I expected. I spent the first two days thinking about mackerel, and the final three obsessing over fruit.
- You can lose weight if your diet is 70% carbs. I did - I lost 3.5lbs in 5 days, because I physically couldn't ram in enough calories. I felt awful for it though, and put it all back on the week after.
- Food becomes fuel. I didn't look forward to eating, it was just something I had to do. I felt queasy during most of the week, which meant that forcing myself to finish a bowl of rice was really difficult.
- I listened to my body more the week after I finished the challenge. Instead of eating biscuits absentmindedly without enjoying them, I snacked on yoghurts and fruit - and I felt better for it.
- You can buy considerably more if you pool your £5 with a friend. I found myself debating whether I could do it for 10 days next year, and I suspect it'd be marginally easier because of the variety.
- Ultimately, the only reason I was able to eat "well" doing the challenge was because I had a full kitchen - I had a fridge to keep yoghurt in, a freezer to keep my veg in, and a hob to cook on. A colleague told me about a homeless hostel she worked in, where the only cooking facilities available were a kettle and a microwave. It's hardly surprising that people have poor health and nutrition in those circumstances.
- The thing that got me through? Support from my friends and colleagues. Every time someone sponsored me, offered to bring me a mug of hot water, or texted to ask what my dinner was, I was grateful. If I really was living in extreme poverty, that wouldn't be a reality.

I've raised £280 for Unicef, which I'm pretty staggered by. If you sponsored me, thank you so much. If you can chip in a couple of quid, the link's here

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Books: April Fifty Two in Fifty Two

"There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it" - Bertrand Russell
I've really struggled to find books that I've been absorbed by recently. I've started half a dozen - but just couldn't concentrate on them. April shall therefore be known as The Month When I Watched All The Box Sets. 

40. Marian Keyes, Anybody Out There? 2/5
Oh, Marian. I thought I'd give Marian Keyes a second chance after really not enjoying her latest - I was so optimistic that this earlier one would be as good as Rachel's Holiday - it's got quite a few of the same characters, but no. It was dire. 
There's a bit of a formula to Keyes books. We start in the present with a bit of a "mystery". Why is Anna at home? What's wrong with her? We then do a flip back to "the start" and work out how she got to the present. Then we see the after effects... It's formulaic in structure, and unfortunately in plot line. 
I just wasn't bothered about Anna - compared to her sisters and their pretty rediculous plot lines, she's a really one dimensional character. The elements about grief and loss were well written, but it's a shame that Keyes ended up overshadowing it with a massive plot about psychics and mediums. Really not for me. I won't be going back to her others. 

41. Margery Allingham, The Crime At Black Dudley. 2/5
I'd heard such good things about Allingham's Campion mysteries - as one of the golden age of crime authors I was expecting to adore this as much as I love her contemporaries. Sadly not. When an odd bunch turns up for a house party, you know something is going to go wrong- when a tradition involving a dagger is reenacted, you almost want to shout at the characters. 
Campion, our hero and detective, is a decided oddball, but he's also very much a background character, bumbling around without our knowledge to find the villains. At the risk of giving the plot away - it's not your average murder mystery. There's a criminal gang, someone gets locked in a wardrobe, and a major plot line involves the syphoning of petrol... I suspect the main problem really is that it's very much of its time. I'll give another of her novels a go, but probably pick a later one, when Campion is more established. This felt slightly more like a farce. Not my bag.

42. Louise Candlish, The Sudden Departure of the Frasers. 4/5
It took me ages to decide whether I enjoyed this month's Curtis Brown Book Group choice. You know there are some books which make you feel uncomfortable and a little voyeuristic while reading them, but you can't quite put it down? It's one of those.
Christy and Joe Davenport manage to buy number 40 at a bargain price - the previous owners left in a hurry, and no one on the street will tell them why. There's whisperings behind curtains, and people actively cross the road to avoid them. Clearly something is going on. The book is really two stories weaved together - as Christy begins to delve deeper into the mystery, we get to know Amber, who sold number 40 in a flash, and the reasons why she bolted. She's the opposite of Christy - manipulative, popular and flash with her cash. You just know something is going to go wrong - and it does.
I found it particularly clever how I was drawn to both sides of the story equally. There's an element of the 'haunted house' about the novel - Christy's dreams come tumbling down, and there's an unwritten question of whether it's because of her own actions, or because of Amber. Or did they both become victims of the house itself? There are parts which are decidedly difficult to read, as you see how the tale unfolds it's a bit like reading a car crash - but I was absorbed. It's hard to review properly without giving a major part of the story away, but I really enjoyed how Candlish handled a difficult subject and showed two sides of a situation incredibly well. If you're a fan of the current "female protagonist thriller" genre which is popular at the moment, I'd highly recommend it.