Thursday, 31 May 2012

Stumbling-block-of-cheese Part 1: What's wrong with dairy?

By Cathy, Vegan Pledge Buddy 2010, 2011 & 2012, and Vegan Campaigns volunteer since 2009

Lots of new vegans say cheese is their biggest stumbling block. This two-part post is here to help.

The first thing to say is you are not alone: many have been through this before and found the way through. You will too! If that sounds like advice for people afflicted with some kind of addiction, well that’s not so far from the truth, seeing as cheese contains casomorphins, which have an opioid effect on the brain. The good news is, the addiction subsides and then vanishes once you wean yourself off it, and there are many great reasons to do just that.

This first post gives a very quick insight into those reasons. Tomorrow’s post will be on the more upbeat subject of how to live happily without cheese.

Since I mentioned weaning, let’s start there.

Suffering for cows and their calves…

Image from
No calf = no milk, so cows are kept almost constantly pregnant throughout their curtailed lives, with each birth followed by an agonising separation of mother and calf. The ‘lucky’ female offspring get to follow in their mothers’ footsteps: their reproductive systems exploited without respite from the moment they reach sexual maturity. As well as the loss of their calves, they suffer routine mutilation through the widespread practice of ‘disbudding’ (the industry term for burning off young horn tissue), as well as being subject to lameness, metabolic disorders, and mastitis due to being selectively bred over generations to massively overproduce milk.

Photo from Animal Equality 
The young males are either shot at birth or shipped to Europe to be incarcerated in veal crates which induce anaemia in the name of producing pale flesh for human consumption. Continental veal production is banned in the UK because it is deemed so cruel. However, some UK dairy farmers, keen to cash in on the flesh of their male calves, are now trying to promote ‘rosé veal’. Obviously profit is their true motive. The young calf is still taken from his mother, castrated, disbudded, reared indoors, and butchered after a few months. It is clear that the only way to have no part in the suffering of cows and their offspring is to say no to all forms of dairy. 

You can search ‘dairy farm cruelty’ on Google, YouTube, etc, and sadly you will find countless hits that illustrate the suffering that takes place in the production of cheese and other dairy products, much of which is very upsetting to witness. For easier watching, I recommend this watchable short video, in song form, recently released by the comedian Vegan Smythe, which uses humour to make some important points in an very accessible way, without any distressing footage.

Environmental costs

As with all animal products, cheese and other dairy products take a heavy toll on the environment. Dairy farms are one of the most significant contributors to water table pollution (this was actually one of the main reasons for refusal of permission for the controversial Nocton mega dairy). As ruminants, cows contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions as their digestive systems emit large quantities of methane. Together with emissions from feed production and fertilisers associated with dairy production, the industry is responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The dairy industry is also responsible for 7% of the global water footprint, in addition to its vast land footprint for both grazing and the production of feed crops.

Human health issues

Using cows' milk as food for humans doesn't just hurt them and the environment – it is not a healthy choice for us either. This is perhaps unsurprising, when you consider that we are the only species that drinks the baby food of another, or indeed consumes milk after infancy at all. Although the industry spends millions trying to convince us that dairy products are good for us, we can meet our calcium needs from plant sources in a form that is more accessible to our bodies, and without the health problems associated with dairy. These include links to higher rates of osteoporotic bone fracture, some cancers, autoimmune diseases, and ear infections and allergies in children, as well as the prevalent symptoms of lactose intolerance. The overuse of antibiotics in dairy cows is now also being linked to antimicrobial resistance, with worrying implications for human health too.

So, the case against dairy is compelling - but, once you’ve realised that dairy-free is the way forward, how do you make the transition? This is what tomorrow’s post is all about, focusing on the one that people tend to find most challenging: cheese.

Further reading

Dairy - Vegan Peace

Milk is cruel - 
Occupy For Animals warning: includes links to upsetting short videos

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

London Vegan Restaurants

By Cameron, London Vegan Pledge Buddy 2009, 2010, 2011; now mentor for the Vegan Easy Challenge back home in Australia. 

I'm an Antipodean vegan who has spent far too much time investigating London's vegan havens. Initially motivated by compassion, my veganism has extended over time from protest to celebration. 

London is one of the best cities in the world for vegan epicureans. With over 160 vegetarian restaurants, all of them with vegan options, you can go to a new one every week for three years, and by then a few more will have opened up.

The best online source to explore which vegan friendly restaurants are in your area is Vegan London, and for London and beyond there is the wonderful Happy Cow, though be warned it can sometimes get out of date so ring first. If you prefer a book you can read through and take with you, Vegetarian Guides are great too. You can also have a look at my review of the best Vegan Restaurants in London.

Diwana, Drummond Street © Copyright Stephen McKay;
licensed for 
reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
London has so many vegan friendly restaurants, that I might classify my favourites into two categories. First is the day to day places, offering inexpensive good food. Beatroot in Soho, you fill up a box from the selection of tasty dishes and pay for the size of the box. Drummond St in Euston has three Indian all you can eat buffets, and having tried them all many times I couldn't decide if I like Diwana (above) or Ravi Shankar better. VitaO in Soho is great; you purchase a plate and then fill it as high as your engineering skills will allow. 222 in West Kensinton has an all you can eat buffet that is amazing value. I'll finish with Maoz falafel, the cheapest of all these and simply just fantastic falafel.

Saf cocktail
Now the more upper market places. Manna in Chalk Farm, London's oldest vegetarian restaurant, now fully vegan: just amazing. SAF above Wholefoods in South Kensington, again a must visit place. Itadaki Zen, organic Japanese in Kings Cross – what more do you need to know. Mildred's and Tibit's, both in the Soho area, are places you can take your most discerning friends.

Hope you enjoy checking out the great restaurants in London, and realise how lucky you are to live in one of the best places in the world to find delicious and interesting vegan food.

You can read more by Cameron on his website at

Monday, 28 May 2012

Ms. Cupcake, Brixton

By Emily, Pledge Buddy 2012

If you have a sweet tooth, Ms. Cupcake is a must visit. London’s first vegan cake shop, Ms. Cupcake is located 5 minutes from Brixton tube station. The company are endorsed by The Vegan Society sunflower trademark so you can be sure that all the treats you buy from here are completely animal-free. 
Counter-top spread at Ms Cupcake, Brixton:
"The naughtiest vegan cakes in town"
Treats are freshly baked on the premises each day. These include a number of cupcakes (over 120 flavours – see the website for details), sweet/savoury muffins, cookies, brownies and doughnuts. Gluten/wheat-free cupcakes are also available as are a selection of flapjacks and chocolate bars to go. Birthday and wedding cakes can be made to order for special occasions. See the website for more details:

Sunday, 27 May 2012

My Vegan Story ~ by Martin

By Martin ~ Vegan Pledge Buddy 2012

The Vietnam War was over. Margaret Thatcher's reign had begun. Microsoft became a registered trademark. NASA launched Viking 1 on its mission to Mars. Jaws was instilling a fear of water in terrified cinema audiences, the film version of The Who's Tommy had just premiered in London, and Rod Stewart was sailing. 

A young dad was walking home with his son. Just like any other day. Except that this day the child made a discovery. He saw something in the road. An unfortunate hedgehog had met a untimely end. But something was strange about the hedgehog, the child thought, his natural curiosity drawing him to the creature. "Look, dad, this hedgehog has meat inside it!" Why was there part of someone's dinner inside a hedgehog? No peas, no potato, no gravy, no salt and pepper, but lots of meat. Very curious indeed. 

Around the same time a young mum was shopping for her family's groceries. She walked past the grocers, past the bakers, past the butchers. Butchers? She thought about the word. Butcher, butchers, butchery

"This house is but a butchery;
Abhor it, fear it, do not enter it"
Shakespeare, As You Like It, ii, 3

Not the words she'd associate with delicious home-cooked food for a family meal.

The year was 1975, the young man and woman were my parents, and I was the little boy. Together with my brother we began our family journey into meat-free living, allowing our love of animals to extend to those often forgotten about by the animal lovers. Not just cats, and dogs, and hamsters, but cows, sheep, lambs, hens, and pigs. No different to any other living creatures, with feelings, emotions, fears, thoughts, happiness and joy. 

Some time later, my parents attended a lecture entitled Amazing Discoveries in Bible Lands. What began as an insight into archaeology in the Middle East led to a friendship with the host, David Currie; an author, a member of the Seventh Day Adventists, and a vegetarian, which in turn opened the door to a whole range of exciting new recipes and culinary delights.

At home we (mum!) cooked new and interesting meals. Out and about we ate at Nutters vegetarian restaurant. I remember nut cutlets and chick pea patties. The smells of wholesome food cooking, and the bright colours of the salads.

We learned about farming practices and animal welfare, about the environment, about health, about world cuisine. We heard of rennet in cheese and finings in wine. We discovered soya milk. Mum always kept a pantry full of dried pulses and fresh vegetables. The fridge was a cornucopia of supplies for delicious home cooking.

Then, at 18, I left this vegetarian's paradise for college. Freedom. And, at the same time, both a feeling of trepidation at fending for myself, and the beginning of my real love affair with food. I discovered that not only was it amazing to eat delicious food, but it was also amazing to make delicious food. I discovered the joys of food shopping, since an addiction. I read the labels on everything and learned a whole lot about what is put into food. And I prepared great feasts of colourful food. I remember spending my last £35 on a week's groceries (a lot of money in 1992) and loving every minute of it.

Autumn of 1992 saw me starting my new job in London. Although we'd kept rescue hens at home, or perhaps because we'd kept rescue hens, I began to go off eggs. I would never eat eggs in restaurants as they couldn't guarantee that they would be free range. I avoided cheese too, because of the possibility of animal-based rennet ingredients. In November 1993 I travelled to California with my brother, to visit his girlfriend during her American Studies degree placement. After considering how to book an airline meal which didn't include battery eggs and rennet-based cheese, I just booked a vegan one. Simple. I didn't actually get the meal ~ "Could you put your tray table down please, sir. Er, sorry? Mr Vegan? How do you spell that, sir? You're not listed on the flight manifesto...etc" ~ but it was the day that I officially became a vegan. 

After two weeks of California sun, tofu burgers in home-baked buns at the Saturn Cafe, and belly-filling wholesome vegan buffet at Garangas, I was primed for another leap into an exciting new cuisine. Saying goodbye to my beloved cheese and tomato sandwiches, and my chilled summer fruit yogurts, was a small price to pay for the entry ticket to this new vegan world. 

And I got a refund on my ticket price when, 3 months later, I discovered vegan cheese and vegan yogurts. And the versatility of tofu. Or, perhaps, the versatility of the vegan chef. 

Goodbye dairy and hello cow-friendly zero cholesterol dairy-free. Hello vegan pizzas, quiches, pasta bakes, and toasted sandwiches. Hello vegan ice cream, vegan chocolate, vegan mousse, and vegan whatever-you-fancy. Hello delicious egg-free scrambled tofu breakfasts, super-quick tasty gram flour Spanish omelettes, mouth-watering crispy sautéd tofu & tangy tomato relish sandwiches, and divine melt-in-the-mouth chocolate cheesecakes. 

Hello too to new recipe books, new cultural influences, and new cuisines. Hello to an even greater love of food, and shopping baskets bursting with fresh, tasty, colourful, nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables. And knowing that no animal has suffered for the karma-free food on my plate makes it taste even better.

Catering for friends has never been so much fun ~ an excuse to try a new recipe, play host, and share great times with great food. 

So eating at home ~ no problemo. How about eating out? Difficult? Not really. Interesting, sometimes challenging, sometimes entertaining, but not really difficult. A two-minute phone call with the chef of the local restaurant can work wonders. A little bit of web research opens the door to a host of treats, from local bars selling vegan wines, handy falafel stalls, and wow-are-they-really-vegan cupcakes, to dairy-free chocolate gateau in that amazing little cafe tucked in the bohemian part of Brussels, and beach-bar tempeh and tropical pineapple pancakes in Indonesia. With the internet at our fingertips the world really is our oyster (mushroom).

Whenever I'm at dinner with people that don't already know me, I'm asked about my diet. Every time. Which is great. We grow by communication, by sharing our knowledge and experience. It's a chance to share how our dietary choices effect the world, the animals, people, and of course ourselves. And of course it's also a the chance for me to talk about food. Which by now, you must realise, is something that I love doing.

The further I've travelled on my vegan journey, the better it has become. Better for the animals, the planet, and me. What can be better than enjoying delicious nutritious food and knowing that you're doing a little bit more to make the world a better place?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

7-day Meal Plan Part Three: Dinner ~ including Easy Pizza Recipe!

Compiled by Clare from, caterer at the Vegan Pledge 

7 evening meal ideas

1- Traditional night

Vegan bangers, mash and gravy with steamed broccoli and peas.

2 - Mexican night

Burrito with freshly cooked refried beans with lettuce, tomato, avocado and seasoning in a wrap.

Quesadilla - place thinly sliced vegan cheese and tomato between two wheat tortillas making a sandwich (no margarine is required). Toast on both sides in a dry frying pan, then cut into quarters.

Serve with rice and salad.

3- Italian night in

Pasta with broccoli, mushrooms and olives or other favourite veggies in your favourite pasta sauce (most are vegan but check the ingredients).

Or make your own pizza simply and easily: recipe at the end.

4 - Italian night out

At Pizza Hut the pan pizza, mia, Italian and Tuscani pizza bases are all vegan if you ask for them without cheese. Their website has allergy information that lists the items suitable for vegans.

At Pizza Express the pizza base and tomato sauce is suitable for vegans. Create your own pizza by removing the cheese and adding an extra topping. Some restaurants are happy to add vegan cheese to your pizza if you supply it.

5 - Chilli night

Home made shepherd's pie 
using pinto bean chilli 
Make a quick chilli with frozen veggie mince, a can of tomatoes, a small can of kidney beans, plus any other vegetables you fancy. Add chilli, marmite and cocoa powder to taste, plus a pinch of cinnamon. Serve with rice. If any is left, use as a topping for baked potato the next day. 

The same basic veggie mince and tomato sauce base can be used for spaghetti bolognese, lasagne and shepherd's pie (leave out the chilli, cocoa and cinnamon).

6 - Indian night

Do you fancy takeaway, shop-bought or from scratch? There are plenty of choices. Indian takeaways tend to have a good choice, but check that your dishes are cooked with vegetable oil rather than ghee (clarified butter). There are a number of shop-bought curries, from Innocent 'Veg Pots' - six out of the 8 are vegan - to Sainsbury's own and more. Or, choose your favourite recipe and enjoy with rice.

7 - Chinese night

Stir-fried mushroom, beansprouts, red onion, spring greens and marinated tofu with rice noodles and soya sauce.

Quick and easy crusty pizza recipe

Photo by
1. Mix 90g tomato puree, 3 tbsp olive oil and ¾ tsp mixed herbs together (and give it a mix again just before using).
2. Mix 100g vegan cheese and 3 tbsp soya milk in a blender or mash together with a fork until you have a paste (or use 100g melting cheezly, sliced).
3. Split a large vegan ciabatta in half and spread tomato mix onto the top of each, followed by cheese mix. Add your favourite pizza toppings: sweetcorn, tomato, olives, red onion, red peppers, pineapple, vegan sausage, chilli etc.
4. Bake at 220C for 10-15 minutes.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Pictures from the first Vegan Pledge meeting

Thank you to everyone - pledgers and volunteers - who attended the first Vegan Pledge meeting on Sat 19th May. The day was enjoyed by all. The morning consisted of three rotational workshops centred around a cookery demo with Liz Hughes, group discussions with vegan mentors and the Vegan Society's film, Making the Connection. After a superb buffet lunch - including dishes made in the cookery session, salads and loads of yummy cakes - there was a talk from Dr Mike Hooper on vegan health followed by a talk from Johanna Best on vegan nutrition. Robb introduced us to the London vegan social scene and Alex Bourke from Vegetarian Guides finished the day with a slideshow of all the veggie and vegan cafes and restaurants in London. Below is just a small selection of some of the photos taken on the day. Hope to see you all for another great day at the second meeting on Sat 16th June.

Liz Hughes shows a pledger how to make vegan spinach filo parcels

Liz Hughes demonstrating a dish in the cookery workshop

Johanna Best and Dr Mike Hooper answer questions about vegan nutrition and health

Two happy pledgers!

Lunch time!

Pledgers enjoying a range of vegan food 

A pledger helps herself to a cupcake

Volunteers preparing a spread of vegan desserts

Volunteers show the selection of vegan milks on offer

The team that made it all happen.


7-day Meal Plan Part Two: Lunch

Compiled by Clare from, caterer at the Vegan Pledge 

7 easy lunch ideas

1 - Vegetable spring rolls, samosas and onion bhajis with dipping sauce. These items are usually vegan but check the packaging to make sure.

2 - Hummus, avocado and salad sandwich.

3 - Jacket potato with baked beans and salad. Also look out for other suitable fillings such as sweetcorn or veggie chilli. These are available from most cafes, or buy from a shop and make your own if you have access to kitchen.

Photo by
4 - Super salad... Greens, beans, and sliced salad veg tossed with bottled dressing or some oil, tamari and lemon juice or vinegar. Make it extra-special by adding avocado, toasted nuts or seeds, fresh or dried fruit, or grated vegan cheese.

5 - Vegan cheese, pickle, sliced apple and lettuce sandwich.

6 - Vegetable Indian meal and rice. These are available from most supermarkets – check the ingredients. You will need access to a microwave or oven.

7 - Toffuti cream cheese on bagels. Add cucumber or other salad. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

7-day Meal Plan Part One: Breakfast

Compiled by Clare from, caterer at the Vegan Pledge 

Clare has compiled a 7-day vegan meal plan to inspire you! Keep a eye on the blog to see the lunch and dinner ideas in the next couple of days :)

7 breakfast ideas

1 - Toast, bagel or crumpet with jam, peanut butter or yeast extract.

2 - Weetabix or oatibix with rice milk, soya milk or almond milk

3 - Full breakfast with Linda McCartney sausages, beans, breakfast potato, grilled tomatoes, toast and mushrooms.

Photo by
4 - Rice krispies or frosties with rice milk, soya milk or almond milk. 

5 - Scrambled tofu on toast (Fry half a finely chopped onion in a little oil. When lightly brown add half a level teaspoon turmeric and 1 clove crushed garlic. Stir well for 1 minute. Add 350g tofu and stir well, mashing it down. Add 1 tsp soya sauce and if desired, some vegan vegetable bouillon to taste. Serve.)

6 - Flavoured soya yoghurt and fruit with a handful of nuts.

7 - Porridge made with oats and your favourite vegan milk.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Easy vegan recipe - soups!

By Asa, Vegan Pledge Buddy 2012!

One of my favourite easy vegan meals is the general ‘soup’. Unfortunately it is a bit tricky to offer soup at the two Pledge days – even more dishes! – so we don’t. For that reason it seems appropriate to say something about this magically quick meal.

Soups are easy to make and are perfect for old tired vegetables. My most basic recipe would be ‘fry some onion (in pieces or rings) in oil, perhaps with some garlic, and/or ginger, and/or cumin, caraway/cinnamon/cardamom/curry powder/paprika – basically any spices you like on low heat. If you leave it for a while it will caramelise – nice! If you want herbs, I normally add them later on.

Rinse/peel/cut other vegetables in pieces – you could use any root vegetables, courgettes, peppers, spring onions (they can also be added from the start), cauliflower, leek, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, red lentils, split peas, green or yellow, beans from cans...

Add stock (boil water in your kettle and add to the stock before adding to the pot – even quicker), then add vegetables in or
der of how long they need to simmer; so root vegetables first, wait for a while and then the other ones. Spinach only needs a few minutes, same goes for beans from cans. It also depends on how big pieces you’ve cut them in. If you add lentils or split peas they will need to simmer for quite a while (20-45 minutes depending on, check the packaging!); if you don’t, it’ll be quicker. But you can just leave it on the stove and get on with other stuff, it’ll take care of itself!

The beauty of this is that you can finish off by blending it all, in which case it does not matter if the vegetables are overcooked :-) Normally I really don’t like overcooked broccoli e.g., but when blended it all comes together... Blend as long as you like or just for a minute and leave chunks. Then season with salt and pepper and perhaps more spices. Enjoy with a piece of bread!

This web site has many other recipes for vegan soups, all with pictures:

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Loving Hut, Archway

Restaurant review by Emily, Vegan Pledge Buddy 2012

The Loving Hut in Archway is probably my favourite vegan restaurant in London. It is a part of a chain and there are many Loving Hut restaurants all around the world, all of which are 100% vegan. 

With other Loving Hut restaurants nearby in Camden and Edgware with slightly different menus, the Loving Hut in Archway serves excellent Chinese food. Dinner can be a la carte – either a set meal from £14 per person, or alternatively you can choose items from the extensive menu of around 100 different dishes. 

Many items on the menu contain tofu or soya imitation meats. Veggie Lemon Chicken is one of my favourites, along with Veggie King Prawn in Black Bean Sauce. Crispy Aromatic Veggie Duck (served with Pancakes) is also available as is fish & chips – again, vegan. 

For those who prefer not to try imitation meats, there is plenty on offer in the way of vegetable dishes, noodles, soups, rice, curries and tofu. No MSG is used and there is always a selection of vegan desserts including ice-creams and cheesecakes. 

This link will take you to the extensive menu on their website: Good prices and definitely worth a visit.