Tuesday, 30 August 2016

fad diets vs veganism - let's clear up this confusion

A couple of months ago, the BBC released a documentary titled "Clean Eating's Dirty Secrets" which was basically just slamming plant based diets and clean eating diets. The documentary is presented by Grace Victory, popular lifestyle & fashion YouTuber. The idea of the documentary was that she would try out a couple of different diets and see what the big deal is, she didn't seem enthusiastic about or interested in these diets to start off with, so I knew right at the beginning it would be completely biased. The whole documentary was totally misleading and quite frankly it was unfair, it made vegans look like weirdos, who just follow a trend, which is totally not the case. I wouldn't have such a problem if she hadn't kept confusing "clean eating" with veganism.

In the beginning of the documentary she reads a list of things you can't eat on a plant based diet, some of the things listed were wheat, white flour, white pasta, white rice, flavorings, refined foods, chemicals & additives. I don't know where on earth she got that list from, but it's absolute garbage. I thought it was pretty obvious that wheat and rice came from plants. She obviously didn't actually do any extensive research on what plant based diets consist of. Surely you'd look into things like that a bit more, especially if you were thinking of changing your diet? I almost switched it off then, but I wanted to continue because I was genuinely intrigued to see how inaccurate the whole thing would be.

Although most of it was inaccurate information, there were some things brought up that I agreed with. How "clean eating" has become a popular trend and it can be detrimental to ones health if not researched correctly. Another thing was how easy it is for anyone to become a "nutritionist" with an online course. These are important issues, there's a lot of young, vulnerable and impressionable people with access to the internet, all they have to do is come across someone extreme like Freelee and they could cause themselves a lot of problems if they don't do their own research. Most 15 year olds aren't going to do extensive research on a healthy, balanced, fully raw, high carb, low fat diet, they'll just copy what they see. What people forget is that everyone is different, everyone has different bodies. What works for Freelee and Durianrider, might not necessarily work for you. I might also add that they are both vegan, but they certainly do NOT represent the entire vegan community. They are  just very extreme examples which the documentary decided to use, of course. That's not biased at all.

Another thing that happened in this documentary was, Grace went shopping for plant based foods at Planet Organic. Obviously a place like that is expensive, and I honestly don't know anyone that buys all of their groceries at Planet Organic. That's when she made the statement that the whole veganism thing is very "middle class" which is ridiculous. Veganism and clean eating are. not. the. same. thing.

A plant based diet is a diet is a diet which eliminates all animal derived foods. This is mainly meat, fish, eggs & dairy. People that are on plant based diets, are generally doing it for their health. They believe that a plant based diet is the healthiest diet and it works well for them, some might call this clean eating as well. That's what a plant based diet is, it has nothing to do with veganism. Veganism is a completely different thing. Vegans eat cake, chocolate, crisps, popcorn, cookies, burgers, hot dogs, sausages, pies, doughnuts, ice cream, burritos, tacos, pizza.. the list goes on. Vegan does not equal clean eating.

Veganism is a way of life, it is an ethical, compassionate way to live. Vegans eliminate all animal derived foods from our diets, including things like gelatine, honey and carmine. As vegans, we don't believe that animals are here for our food, clothes or entertainment. We have in a way, woken up to the real world, and one of the biggest injustices in the world. We take a stand against cruelty to animals and the human injustice that comes along with that, such as slaughterhouse workers not being treated fairly, families who have lost loved ones due to e. coli because of poor factory farm conditions, world hunger, people who have had their land or homes destroyed due to factory farming and so much more. Vegans are passionate about the environment and animal agriculture plays a big part in destroying the planet, there's a lot of things that contribute to global warming but giving up meat is one of the easiest things to do in terms of reducing your carbon footprint. Vegans are not following some fad diet, or craze, or popular trend. We are standing up for what we believe in, speaking out for injustices and important issues that affect everyone.

Not only do vegans eliminate animal derived foods from our diets, we wouldn't go to zoos, circuses, aquariums or anything that uses an animal for entertainment purposes. We oppose beauty products and cosmetics that are tested on animals or contain animal ingredients. A vegan would not purchase something that is made from or contains leather, wool, silk, fur, feathers or suede. Being vegan is way more than changing eating habits. Someone that is purely plant based might still do these things.

Veganism is definitely not restrictive in terms of food. There's 80,000 edible plants. That is a lot of variety. Whatever you can eat on a non vegan diet, you can eat as a vegan. Some all time favourite foods of mine are shepherds pie, spaghetti carbonara, bangers and mash, burgers & pancakes (not together). These are easily made vegan, and some might even agree that the meat free/dairy free & egg free versions are a lot tastier. Some of these foods aren't the healthiest of foods, but that doesn't matter, if you are vegan you don't have to eat clean, you can eat whatever the hell you want that doesn't come from an animal. There's so many snack foods that are "accidentally vegan" which are normal household pantry products that don't contain animal ingredients, my personal favourites are Bourbon biscuits, Walkers Worcester sauce crisps, BBQ texas Pringles (which are actually labeled vegan) Mr Kipling jam tarts & Lotus Biscoff spread.

I hope this clears up some confusion. Please don't tell off your vegan friends if you see them eating cake, they're not on a diet!

Useful Links:

Thursday, 25 August 2016

How do you know if someone is vegan?

Don't worry they'll tell you!

Yeah, I've never heard that one before.. 

Before I went vegan last year, I didn't really have a lot going on in my life, nothing interesting. I didn't really care that much about what I ate, or my environmental impact, I never really thought about it. When I finally started researching and watched Earthlings which made me vegan overnight (read my vegan story here) I found a new passion, finally something I can invest my time and energy into! I had realised I need to be more respectful to my own body as well as the environment and I didn't want to contribute to animal cruelty and injustice. Its almost as if I found a purpose, and something that people recognize me for, its given me a new lease on life. 

Because of all that, it is who I am, it is what I do, and it is my identity. I am incredibly proud of who I have become, because I decided to ditch animal products and reduce my carbon footprint, I decided to take a step back and open my eyes to what is really going on in the world. Before, I ate all kinds of food, but a lot of processed foods or foods that had a lot of ingredients which I can't even pronounce. I worked on a pizza counter for 2 years and I created a little thing called "pizza Wednesdays" where I'd have pizza almost every Wednesday, and to be honest, having a whole 10 inch pizza to yourself every week is far from healthy. The craziest thing is that all of the toppings I had were meat, I never had vegetables on my pizza. I thought that by having it only once a week it meant my diet was balanced, how wrong I was! I started getting really bad acid reflux and indigestion, I was in discomfort and found it hard to sleep, and I wasn't in very good shape overall. I had a very bland, boring, almost non-existent relationship with food and I didn't love and care about my body the way I should have. I'd get home from work and throw chips and chicken breast into the oven, or have macaroni cheese from a tin and think I was healthy if I had a salad alongside it. I rarely ate fruit, I'd buy a punnet of grapes and a week or two later I'd find them in the back of the fridge, mouldy! 

I never really checked labels, I'd just put things into the shopping trolley if they seemed healthy or looked nice, and if I had a roast dinner with my family I'd more often than not drown the vegetables in cheese sauce. Even when I thought I was eating healthily, I really wasn't. My last non vegan meal from what I remember, was a salad made up of cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce, with new potatoes (covered in butter!) & a Bernard Matthews (!) chicken escalope. It turns out the chicken was a couple of days past its use by date, and I was up all night being violently ill. 

The first time I went shopping for vegan food, I was so excited. I'd never been so excited to get groceries before, because it used to be a chore, and it was one of those things I had to do, now, its like an adventure. Every time I go shopping I find something new, whether its a vegetable I haven't tried, a dairy free yoghurt alternative, a vegan cheese or even baked goods. I have a great relationship with food, I know more about nutrition now than I ever did before, I don't think I even knew about any essential acids or vitamins when I was a meat eater, I just knew we needed protein and calcium, I didn't really care. I was putting myself at risk of deficiencies and all sorts of health problems. I was definitely not getting enough back then. The most amazing change is that  I now absolutely love cooking, creating new flavours and meals, making alternatives to classic meat dishes such as shepherds pie, spaghetti bolognese and carbonara, and realising how diverse plant based foods are, I never would've known you can make pulled "pork" with mushrooms or jackfruit, I don't think I'd even heard of jackfruit back then! I now eat a lot of healthy, raw, organic & nutrient dense meals. I make sure I'm getting enough of what I need, something I never did before.

People seem to forget that anyone is capable of becoming sick or deficient on any diet. I don't know anyone that checks labels as much as vegans do, how bad is that? People just throw anything into their shopping baskets without checking the ingredients, they have no idea what they are putting into their bodies. Most people will argue with me about how vegans don't get enough protein, without actually knowing anything about nutrition, they're just conditioned to believe that protein is something we need a lot of and the best source is meat. 

Not only has my health improved and my relationship with food, but my mental health has improved a lot. Sometimes I don't feel that good, or I feel a bit down, and all I have to do is remind myself that I am standing up for something, I'm causing the least harm I possibly can to animals and the environment & I actually have something to focus my energy on, that makes me feel so good, I feel so much better almost instantly when I remind myself what it is I am doing. Before I had veganism I honestly don't even know what I was doing. It's not even that I tell people I am vegan out of nowhere, sometimes I'll just say I am an animal lover, or I'll say "no thanks I don't eat meat" and people will ask me if I am vegetarian or vegan. If I meet new people and they decide we're going to go out for food, of course I'm going to tell them I am vegan. This whole how do you know if someone is vegan joke is really weird, because it makes it sound like vegans just tell people they are vegan for no reason? Or out of nowhere? No one does that! If the subject comes up, of COURSE I will take the opportunity to talk about how happy it makes me and how much positive impact it has had on my life. If I could inspire someone to change even a little bit, for themselves, the animals and or the environment, that's incredible.

All of this positive impact has made me who I am today, and I feel like I actually have something worth fighting for. My life changed in so many ways, for the better when I made that transition. I would love more than anything for it to inspire someone else, someone that could be like me, who needs something to pick them up and make them feel like they have a purpose. Even if its only in a small way. I know that by talking about it, it makes people think, and it influences people. My mum, has given up red meats, she only ever takes plant based milk in her coffee, she doesn't eat eggs anymore and she has lost weight. She looks and feels much healthier than before, to me, that is amazing. I'd never expect her to go vegan, I'd never expect anyone to go vegan by me talking to them, I'm not trying to force people or make them feel bad. I merely want to educate and inspire. The things I talk about when it comes to animals and environment are real facts, there's real things happening that I believe people should know, and then they can make that choice for themselves. Whether its now or in years to come. I will never stop speaking out for animals and the environment, I will always remind people that I am a happier, healthier, motivated person in comparison to my old self since going vegan. If that's not something to rave about then I don't know what is.

I know that people often think vegans can be "in your face" and honestly I can understand where people come from, because I was once a meat eater and I had a vegan on Facebook and I remember getting really annoyed when she shared videos on Facebook of animal cruelty. Now I'm so glad she did that, because she was one of the people that influenced me, and I never even realised it at the time. The reason the videos annoyed me, is because I hated what was happening to those poor animals and I was not ready to stop eating meat so I was battling with my own morals. Vegans do not expect the whole world to suddenly turn vegan, in fact we don't expect the whole world to turn vegan at all, because realistically its probably not going to happen and certainly not straight away, but we will never stop speaking out & educating. Put it this way, if you saw someone being mistreated, and it kept happening every day, and no one said anything about it, but you thought it was wrong & needed to change, would you just sit back and let it happen, or would you take action?  And, if you discovered an amazing way to live life, that made you feel good on the inside and the outside and could literally save lives, would you want to shout about it from the rooftops? Or would you just keep it to yourself and watch the world go by not knowing?

I know what I choose. 

If you are thinking of going vegan or want to know more, here's a few useful links :)


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Veganerie of Bangkok | A must try

During my last few days in Thailand, I decided I wanted to go back to Bangkok, mainly because its where I flew home from, but also because of the variety of vegan restaurants. I'd heard about Veganerie last year, but never visited Bangkok then, so this time around I made it my mission to find this amazing place.

After a little bit of research, I discovered that there's actually 3 branches in different parts of Bangkok. The closest to where I was staying was at the Mercury Ville shopping centre. If you go via skytrain, get the Sukhumvit line to Chit Lom, leave at exit 4 and it takes you straight into the building. Veganerie is one floor up! With it being so easy to get there, you'd be a fool to not go!

This is just a small branch, but quite a variety of snacks and treats! Ranging from savory breakfast snacks (scrambled "egg" on toast, wraps, burritos) waffles, ice cream, brownies, cakes, pastries, sandwiches etc. You will spend a while looking at the menu, and its hard to decide on one thing. I wanted to try everything!

In the end I settled for the breakfast burrito, made up of vegan pulled pork - made using oyster mushrooms, vegan scrambled egg - made using tofu, and vegetables with a creamy sauce. It was delicious, and I almost shed a tear over how delicious it was. I needed to try something else of the sweeter variety, so I went for the Red Velvet cake. It was the biggest, brightest looking specimen in the display. It was a pretty huge slice! It was slightly crumbly, but that didn't take away from the flavor, and the "cream cheese" icing was SO good.

As you can probably guess, this place is a little more expensive than your average Thai place. Even though it costs a bit more, it is still cheaper than what you'd get in the UK, and it is so worth it. I even went back the next day for more, naturally.

Its great finding places like this in an otherwise big meat eating country. Thailand is big on meat and seafood, everywhere you go, there will be a street food vendor with a whole chicken hanging upside down, or a seafood stall with tonnes of fish lined up on the ice. For a vegan its not very nice to see (or smell) so coming to this gorgeous place, you're getting away from all of that and the mall doesn't smell bad like the streets of Bangkok, so its got it all, really. I strongly advise that you go there on an empty stomach, because you will have a feast.

They also sell packaged food such as vegan bread, granola & brownies. The bread is a good idea, because in Thailand, their bread in supermarkets & 7 eleven is not vegan. Worth getting if you're backpacking!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Vegan food in Chiang Mai and Pai

Even though this is my second visit to Thailand, I've never spent enough time in Chiang Mai city to really experience it or the food. I'm okay with that, because I'm sure I'll return again eventually which means I'll have plenty of opportunities to really explore Chiang Mai. I have however had some really tasty food there during my stays, and even more so in Pai, but we'll leave pai for now, because I like to save the best for last.

During my short stay in Chiang Mai, I stayed at Green Tiger Vegetarian house, or just Green Tiger House. I stayed there last year and absolutely loved it!They have a restaurant, and all of the food is vegetarian, and can easily be made vegan, some dishes are naturally vegan already but some you just have to take out or change a couple of ingredients and you're good to go!

One of my favourite items on the menu, was tofu scramble.

It was probably the best I've had, whenever I make it at home I can't quite get it perfect, but this was really tasty, it had onions, tomatoes and herbs, it was nice and salty, but not too salty. Just how I like it, and I definitely saw people on other tables eyeing it up!

Book here:

Another place I love in Chiang Mai, is Taste From Heaven, which I'm sure you've heard of if you've ever researched vegan food in Chiang Mai. They aren't 100% vegan (yet?) but do some delicious vegan Thai dishes and Western dishes. You HAVE to try the vegan brownie with the coconut ice cream. They also have a cooking school!

Book here:

Another little gem I found in Chiang Mai, located in the old city, was a street food vendor/outdoor restaurant. I didn't know where to get lunch, so I decided to type the word "vegetarian" into maps.me and see what came up, and a restaurant located 5 minutes away came up! So I decided to give it a go, I'd never heard of it before and it wasn't on google, so I thought I'd check it out. When I arrived I realised it was basically street food, but with tables and chairs, and it all looked super tasty. The man there was really sweet and let me try some before I bought anything, I tried the potato curry, and it was the perfect level of spicy for my western tastebuds. The most amazing thing about it? It was 25 bhat, which is 55p. I paid 55p for a filling, delicious lunch, amazing.

Since its not on google, the name of it is "Traditional Thai Vegetarian Food" and its Located in the old city. I never caught the name of the road because I was in a hungry rush, but it will come up on maps.me, or you could go on an adventure to find it.

 Okay, so that's all I really ate in Chiang Mai that was remotely interesting. Now we move onto Pai, the holy grail of vegan cafes and restaurants. I actually ended up spending most of my time in Pai, eating. I loved the food there so much, it was really what kept me there for so long. I'd heard about Art in Chai from other bloggers/instagrammers, and I decided to give it a go. I woke up one morning, quite hungover, and what better than a full breakfast to cure it?

The vegan breakfast there is made up of baked beans, toast (homemade bread as bread in Thailand isn't vegan!), grilled tomato, mushrooms, potato, *chicken* and soy sausage. The soy sausage is the best thing, I could eat 5.

You also get a small bowl of mixed fruit and a choice of tea or coffee, I went with chai tea with coconut milk. If you haven't tried chai tea, you need to try it! Its very different, and if you like spices you'll love it. Art in Chai is a really mellow place, with calming music and people will often have their heads stuck in a book there, since they have their own library. They do live music nights/spoken word too where locals and travellers alike go to jam.

Such a nice place to chill and drink tea!

Right next door to Art in Chai is a place called Karsalong, they do a variety of foods, vegetarian dishes easily adapted. I had the vegetable fried rice and asked for no egg and instead he gave me tofu, I had that and a drink and paid around 85-90 bhat.

My next food quest was getting lunch before trekking up to The big White Buddha, and luckily for me, right down the bottom of the hill is Earth Tone. A vegetarian cafe and health shop, most of their food is vegan, but they still serve eggs. The organic shop sells all kinds of things, from beauty products, bamboo toothbrushes, herbs & even vegan and gluten free cakes.

The smoothies are delicious and fresh, and the vegan waffles are amazing. You can choose your own toppings, I went with mixed fresh fruit and chocolate sauce. They have set smoothies in the menu, but you can create your own, I asked for a coconut and pineapple, a match made in heaven!

I went to Earth Tone twice and absolutely loved it, the atmosphere, the decor, the staff. I even bought myself a bamboo toothbrush from there, which I'm so happy with as they're 100% biodegradable unlike plastic toothbrushes which are harmful to the environment.

Lastly, and probably my favourite meal from Pai, was at Om Garden, they have great vegan options, though not many, the BBQ tofu and potato salad was so delicious! I actually want to go back to Pai just to eat it again.. and again..

This was around 100 bhat, it was so flavourful and filling.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Elephant Nature Park Dog Project | ADOPT DONT SHOP

Last week I was lucky enough to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park at the Dog Project. It was my second time volunteering at ENP, almost a year later. I decided I'd like to volunteer with the dogs this time, because they need the help, and I love dogs! I knew it would be an emotional experience, but it was definitely one of the best things I've ever done, and I will do it again at some point!

The project resulted from the Bangkok floods towards the end of 2011, they rescued 2,000 dogs, and 155 were were bought to Elephant Nature Park, where they built large runs for the dogs with lots of things for them to play in, climb on and swim in. They also constructed a hospital for the animals, and employed a full time vet and manager. Since then it has grown, now home to over 400 dogs, rescued from all kinds of backgrounds, malnutrition, disease, abuse and even the illegeal dog meat trade in Laos and Vietnam.

The dogs are very well looked after, with weekly volunteers flying in from all over the world throughout the year to give a helping hand, and world vets visiting and staying for months at a time to give professional help and advice. Some volunteers extend their stay and end up staying for a month. The workload is quite intense if you're not used to physical work, early starts and lots of dog walking (sounds more like a dream to me). The main area of work is the clinic, where dogs go if they are ill or have injuries, not forgetting the cats! There will be one person assigned to the cats, which is just cleaning out their cages, feeding them and keeping their water topped up, with lots of cuddles included. The same with the dogs, cleaning out their cages, feeding them, water, and of course walking them. There will be a team of people doing the main area, depending on how many volunteers there are it may take longer.

At 11:30 its lunch time, where the queue can be quite long if there's lots of day visitors! But the food is of course amazing, 99% vegan, 100% vegetarian (some things have egg in) and at 12:30 its time to walk the dogs again. Once the clinic dogs have been walked, other dogs can be walked that are in the clinic runs, or steel runs. These are smaller runs, with few dogs in, so its nice to walk them from time to time, as this isn't a regular occurance, it only happens if there's enough help and time. Often the elephant volunteers will finish early and have free time to come and help walk the dogs, which is great! Its also important to spend time with dogs in different runs, as they may not have as much human contact as other dogs. My favourite thing to do was walk into a run, sit down and be swarmed by dog kisses!

There are two incredible women that work at ENP Dogs. Sabrina, who comes all the way from Austria, visited ENP in 2014 and decided to stay. She now manages the clinic and deals with all the adoptions, there are dogs that have been flown all over the globe thanks to her amazing work. She really cares about the dogs, and thanks to her, so many have found new forever homes.

And of course, Carolina. She is the volunteer co-ordinator at ENP, she comes all the way from Colombia, and she also visited as a volunteer and ended up staying. She's been there for 2 years now and she has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. She looks after the volunteers as well as the dogs, she loves them, and its so clear to see. Whilst I was there, she had adopted some baby rats, she accidentally killed their mother living in a filing cabinet and decided she couldn't abandon these babies, so she took them in and made them a little home in the office, she wouldn't even hurt a fly. She has a heart of gold, and she is vegan too!

Being around true animal lovers is such an amazing thing. Its wonderful to see people that care so much about animals and will do all they can to help them have the best life. There are so many people out there that want to harm them, so I personally am grateful that there are people like Carolina and Sabrina in the world, not forgetting Lek, founder of ENP and her husband Darrick. Darrick actually saw me wearing my vegan t-shirt at ENP and said "I love vegans" - which really made my day! (slightly off topic, but it was a big deal to me)

I really recommend volunteering at ENP dogs: It costs £109 for the week, food and accomodation included, as well as a transfer from Chiang Mai city (ENP office) to the park. The most expensive thing you'll pay for is the flight to Thailand, which is so worth it, especially since you get a free 30 day visa on arrival so can even extend your stay at ENP if there's room!

Now, with all of these dogs in just one sanctuary, can you imagine how many homeless animals there are including all the Thai street dogs, and strays all over the world? Thousands, millions even. In 2014 it was estimated that there were 300,000 street dogs in Bangkok alone. So many homeless animals, but yet, people continue to breed them.

I've heard every excuse there is to buy an animal from a breeder or a pet shop, and none of them are legit, valid excuses. The only excuses there are, are selfish, ignorant and vain. Its all to do with the type of breed, or tempermant, and some people genuinely just "can't be bothered" with the adoption process. I can shatter some myths I've heard, after having spent a week with dogs who have come from abusive backgrounds, have been known to be "aggressive" or even have PTSD.

Sometimes people think that certain breeds are aggressive, now I am no professional, but from my experience, this is false. Dogs are only aggressive if they feel threatened, a tiny chihuahua can be more aggressive than a rottweiler in certain circumstances, and vice versa. Of course there's different things that can make a dog feel threatened, you just have to be careful, like you have to be careful with anything, its almost like holding a sleeping baby, you will be as careful and gentle as possible not to wake him. Its the same with dogs, I never just briskly approach dogs I don't know, I'll always make them aware of me and let them approach me and sniff me before I pat them, and if they aren't interested, I'll leave them alone. Obviously some people don't do this, and they can startle the dog causing the dog to become frightened, resulting in an attack or a bite, which could easily be avoided.

You shouldn't be scared of dogs because they've had a bad past, dogs are friendly loving animals that love human interaction. Spending a little time with a dog in a shelter can change not only his or her world, but yours too. I am unable to adopt any dogs right now, sadly. Though if I could, I know I would have taken at least 1 dog from ENP home with me. I know there are those of you out there that feel the same, and those of you that CAN adopt, and if you CAN, and you really want a friendly, furry companion, then you really should consider adopting from a shelter. The price you pay is beneficial to you and the dog.

Often shelters charge a fee which covers spaying/neuturing and vaccinations, which could end up costing more if you did it through a vet. The vaccinations will protect your furry friend from disease, and spaying/neuturing helps to prevent even more homeless animals. When people pay £1,000 or more for "purebred" dogs, they often aren't vaccinated or spayed/neutured. Not to mention, a lot of these dogs have been inbred for centuries to make them look a certain way, pugs for example, have serious health conditions, as a result of the excessive breeding to get them to look that way. Owners often spend thousands on vet bills every year to help care for them.

The same goes with cats. There are so many that need homes, and they are just as loving as dogs, regardless of what people think, cats know when you've rescued them, just like dogs do, I get woken up by my rescue, Beau, every day for morning cuddles when I'm at home! We domesticated these animals, the least we can do is provide them loving homes.



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