Retreat Lyf @ Vale de Moses

“Vegan yoga retreat”. I typed these words into Google as I was hunched over my desk eating some sad looking salad. I was working through the last of my notice period with a looming stretch of free time ahead of me to fill. I’m not sure what prompted me; I’ve never been able to get into yoga (despite trying), yet a small suggestive inner voice reckoned that this was the thing that I needed. Yoga retreats are where you go to relax and get your life together, right? I needed to relax and get my life together. And of course, it would have to be vegan!

A few clicks later via some kind of listicle and a TripAdvisor page, and I found myself on the website of Vale De Moses, a beautiful retreat stationed in a mountain valley in a remote part of Portugal. I quickly discovered that not only did the food look freaking delicious, but it was 100% veggie and pretty much vegan if you wanted it to be. That was it—I was sold. Big bonus points that I could stay in a giant tipi WITH A HAMMOCK and simultaneously fulfill my long-held dream to do “glamping”. The whole yoga part just didn’t really occur to me.

Fast-forward a few months, and I’m on a coach from Porto to the nearest town to the retreat, where we were picked up and driven to the valley. It was late at night, so the first thing that struck me were the stars. My god, I still cannot get over those stars; by the end of the week I actually had a strained neck from the amount of time I spent staring at those twinkly constellations. You could see the Milky Way for reals. Add that to the continual murmur of the crickets chirping and the scent of pines and eucalyptus and you get the idea. This was already too much.

Then the food came out. I could have cried. A big rainbow of a buffet, to list a few dishes: salad greens grown in the onsite garden, hot lentil soup, veggie curries and those juicy cherry tomatoes that always taste so much better grown in the Spanish/Italian/Portuguese sunshine. After surviving on beige food for over a week (the French think a veggie burger is a hash brown in a bun FYI), the array of colours and aromatic spices looked like a dream that I had lucidly engineered.

If you know me, you’ll know that I loooove Indian food. And you’ll probably also know that my favourite Indian dish is Tarka Dahl. So it was about 9.30pm on Saturday 3rd September 2016 that I tasted the best Tarka Dahl I’ve ever had, and at that moment, I knew this week was going to be amazing. (And that I had to get that recipe).

After a few rounds of food, the word satiated took on a whole new meaning and I was shown to my quarters—a large soulpad tent in the forest. The tent had two single beds and all “mod cons”: mosquito nets, electricity, lighting and a radiator. Not that it would be needed that week—we were in for a heatwave of 40 degrees+. Bring. It. On. Outside were two hammocks for daytime shade-seeking. A tap (pure mountain mineral water, no less), a sawdust toilet and an outdoor solar-powered shower were also nearby (with the option of regular hygiene facilities further afield if desired). It should also be noted that Vale de Moses has a number of stone cottages with more conventional rooms if the outdoors life is not for you!

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It turned out that the outdoors life totally was for me. I took a secret pleasure in navigating by torchlight and receiving minimal 3G signal (don’t worry, there was WiFi at the main cottage!!). Having no mirrors for a week was also a welcome break—I let my hair explode into its natural curls and wore zero makeup to give my skin a breather. And ohhhh!—the outdoor shower was a magical experience. The temperature may have been impossible to influence and completely unpredictable (i.e. mostly cold), and the curtain was basically a pointless endeavour since the wind blew it anywhere but the doorway; but when the water sprinkled down, the sunlight refracted into hundreds of rainbow droplets and I stood amongst the pines lathering my hair and wondering if I was secretly a nudist-hippie tripping on LSD.

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Each day followed a similar pattern:

7.30: herbal teas and fruit (if you could make it out of bed. I did not)
8.00: meditation walk around valley (see above side note)
8.30-10.30: yoga morning session – Ashtanga sun salutations and pacey Vinyasas
10.30: breakfast – yes oh my god yes.
14.00: lunch – mother, may I?
17.00-19.00: yoga afternoon session – more languid yin style and strength/endurance based
19.00: dinner – round three, ding ding!

I’m really an awful person in the mornings. On a good day it will take around 8 alarms to get me conscious and I don’t tend to like people very much. So I was onboard with the etiquette which encouraged silence pre-10.30. It was even deemed appropriate to ignore people until then! Perfect. I just had to pretend like I was introspective and meditative vs. bumbling around in a groggy stupor. For this reason I couldn’t really get on board with the morning meditation walks. It seemed like a lovely idea, it really did; but in practice I couldn’t cope with the group-ness that soon after waking so I mostly sacked it off for a few glorious extra rounds with the ole’ snooze button.

Yoga was an entirely different shout, however. Now as alluded to, my dealings with yoga have been somewhat limited in the past. I have in the course of my adulthood, signed up to three or so yoga schools, always taking out the unlimited trial pass but never going to more than one session each time. I also flirted with the idea of doing yoga every morning at home via YouTube. Again my good intentions lasted a few mornings at most. I had no patience, mainly because I didn’t feel like it was “doing anything”. I always favoured more intense exercise like long-distance running, HIIT programs and errr…. Beyoncé dance workshops since my fitness goals were always geared towards cardio fitness and weight loss (or in the case of the dance, feeling like a Bo$$ A$$ B*tch). So I came to the retreat with the view that yoga would be like a nice little ‘add-on’ to this indulgent week of relaxation. More like a nice side of potato dauphinoise than the roast rump of beef (I’m not sure why I’m using a carnivorous metaphor here).

But I was mistaken. Getting through a class was quite a struggle at first. By about the third session, my whole body ached—but in a reallllly good way. And by the middle of the week, I could already feel that I was getting stronger. My pathetic right wrist, which usually buckles in pain if I push a door too hard, was soon capably of supporting most of my body weight. My thighs actually changed shape. My middle section that I lovingly refer to as a lava-lamp was slightly less lava-lampy. I felt more flexible and fluid too. I was happy to discover that I was able to get into some of the more difficult poses with relative ease; and simultaneously bemused that some of the most basic stretches were near-impossible for me. Of course it didn’t matter, our gorgeous teacher Vonetta was always on hand to offer alternatives and encourage us to take it at our own pace, even if that meant just laying down in Savasana for the whole session.

By the end of the week, I was looking forward to yoga practice more than meal time, which says it all really. It helped that the sessions took place in the most beautiful Shala: it was suspeneded over the valley with windows for walls, so you could see the sun climbing over the hills as you sweated through the sun salutations. But the best transformation I experienced was emotional. I was already pretty calm and happy before the week, but by the end I was elevated to another level of serenity. Life was just something that seemed to be happening harmoniously around me…

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The food really was incredible. Raul, The Chef, was a slightly crazy Spaniard who was big on South Indian food and Ayurveda principles, which basically meant a hell of a lot of turmeric, cumin and ginger. I will save some words here and instead let the glorious photos do the talking.

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Being vegan, I rarely have this much choice for one meal a week, let alone 3 meals per day, every day. My digestive system was on cloud nine all week thanks to all the veggies and minimal wheat and gluten. If I could have my own personal chef and eat anything, this is literally what I would choose.

A special call-out goes for Breakfast: every day we tucked into heaps of cinnamon & cardamom spiced quinoa and millet porridge with a fresh fruit salad. The best part was Raul decided to give an impromptu cooking workshop, and I managed to get that Tarka Dal recipe.

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If we weren’t eating or yoga-ing, we were free to spend the day as we wished. The first couple of days saw scorching, dry heat that meant that doing anything other than drinking water or sweating in a hammock was simply not an option; forget “Eat, Pray, Love”—this was “Eat, Sweat, Pee”. I attempted a hike but barely lasted an hour in the prickly sun. The rest of the week was more late-twenties temperate, but I still spent my downtime reading or catching some rays by the irrigation tank, which served as a poor man’s infinity pool.

A 90minute treatment was included with my booking, and I was scheduled for Thai massage and acupuncture with Peter, the resident holistic therapist and an alluring ‘free spirit’ type. I didn’t really know what Thai massage involved, so I was a little surprised when he used his full body weight to knead and press and twist and stretch and pummel me into oblivion; and even more surprised when I found our bodies intertwined in positons that could be construed as downright sexual to an unsuspecting observer.

Being very British I kept my eyes shut the whole time to avoid any awkwardness or acknowledge the situation, but I nevertheless managed to transcend the physical and enter a state of meta-relaxation. For the first time in forever, energy surged through my dead-weight calves—it was like someone flicked the “calf muscle” fuse switch that had been flipped the wrong way for years. By the time he whipped out the Chinese head massage I swear I was one step away from levitating. (A few needles inserted into my feet confirmed that I still have a terrible phobia of needles, so we skipped the acupuncture part). For the rest of the day it was as much as I could muster to wobble back to my tent and have a long, leisurely nap.

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On the final day we were bundled into vehicles and driven to the nearby lake. And what a lake: a sparkling turquoise expanse steeped by green mountains, and one of the purest sources of water in Portugal (it’s part of Lisbon’s drinking water so its protected by stringent anti-contamination laws). Being an Aquarius, I’ve always been a water baby but swimming in this bad boy was unreal. Now forevermore, when some new-age guided meditation asks me to go to my “happy place” (which was previously at a techno rave in Croatia), this is where I’ll be.

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Other activities at the lake included bathing in mud and mud-wrestling. I got stuck in but lost quickly to my opponent, a feisty girl who is more competitive than me (rare) and whose surname is legit the Polish word for Thunder (she’s basically a WWF wrestler is all I’m saying. Magda, I love you!).

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This pretty much concludes my week. Yes, it was perfect in every way; and yes, it truly restored my mind, body and soul—as cliché as that sounds. Not that I’ve been to a host of yoga retreats, but the real selling point of this place was that nothing felt pretentious or contrived or “yoga retreat-y”. It was just the home of two wonderful people (and their even more wonderful dogs!) who wanted to share the breath-taking beauty of the place they built from scratch, and for you to have the most blissful week forgetting the demands of the real world while doing so.

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Even better, I’m totally inspired to use yoga as a resource to power my every day life. I’ve concluded that retreat life is the dream, but retreat mindset is also attainable wherever you are, if you let it. Since I’ve returned home I’ve treated myself to a giant spice rack (I bought bulk from an Indian store and decanted into Kilner jars), embarked on an ayurveda rice-and-dahl cleanse and practiced yoga for an hour or so almost every day. I don’t feel guilty if I don’t hit the gym or run three loops of the Vondelpark, because I feel the benefits more richly in my mind and body. Sleep and meditation comes easier and I’m ready and braced to take on the crazy tornado of my new job with more poise and self-confidence.

Vale de Moses, I will be coming back for you. Namaste!

 
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Munching my way around the Big Apple…

New York, New York. A sleepy little city bursting with glittering lights, towering skyscrapers, steaming hot dog kiosks, next level coffee, cool-as-fuck hipsters and like, a whole bunch of brilliant vegan food joints with serious VIBES. I paid my first visit a few weeks ago, and it did not disappoint. In between all of the action, I managed to eat some decent stuff; so here is my round-up of some of the best vegan shizzle in town.

Beyond Sushi, Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

When a foodie dies (and goes to Heaven), they end up in Chelsea Market, the food court-cum-Mecca that houses the crème de la crème of New York food traders and casual dining. And they will never run out of divine things to eat—even if they don’t make it out of The Lobster Place (my GOD there was a lotta lobster to be had in that hall of dreams… lobster rolls, lobster bisque, fresh lobster, lobster sashimi). I realise none of that is remotely vegan so I will leave it riiiight there…

Beyond Sushi, however, boasts an all-vegan lineup of insane sushi to take-away. This is no joke. Each roll is made to order and meticulously crafted out of a handful of perfectly-chosen ingredients and topped off with its own specific accompanying sauce. Every detail is crazy-on-point; for example, their signature six grain rice is a blend of red rice, short-grain brown rice, black rice, rye berries, hull-less barley and pearl barley. That also means slow-releasing energy vs. the short-lived spikes from sticky white rice (which is looking so basic right now).

There are nine varieties on the menu, and you get six pieces per roll for $6.95. (The store also sells individual made-to-order pieces, as well as salads, wraps and soups; but the rolls looked good enough on their own for my lunchtime indulgence).

I perused the menu, and put in an order for Mighty Mushroom (six-grain rice, enoki, tofu, shiitake, micro arugula & shiitake teriyaki sauce) and Spicy Mang (black rice, avocado, mango, cucumber, spicy veggies & toasted cayenne sauce). After making my order, I quizzed the guy behind the counter on what the best combos were. He told me that Mighty Mushroom and Spicy Mang were indeed the best thing on the menu. Now either I have impeccable taste, or he was working his NYC charm (and definitely not trying to butter me up for a bigger tip).

I think you’ve got the message by now that this sushi was pretty special: each mouthful was a true “taste sensation” if there ever was one. It made me mourn all the average avo & crab rolls that ever existed and never got to know true sushi greatness.

Whilst we’re on the subject of sushi-kind, did you know that vegan sushi is still ‘real’ sushi? Sushi means rice cooked in vinegar and not raw fish. And skipping the fish means you get to sleep a little easier knowing you are doing the eco-friendly thing. (It’s uncomfortable reading, but if you were served a plate of fish sushi & sashimi alongside all the sea creatures and animals that had to die to get it to your belly, the plate would have to be 5 whole feet wide).

Back to Beyond Sushi. Just seriously go to one of their three locations if you ever go to New York City.

5/5 Big Juicy Apples.

Things to do in the ‘hood: Chelsea Market (obvs), boutique browsing in SoHo, bar hopping in the Meatpacking district, The Highline Park/urban renewal project.

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Chipotle
Everywhere

Chipotle probably doesn’t belong on this list—with its meat-tastic menu and USA ubiquity—but I needed something quick, filling and cheap before a dance class in a part of town that wasn’t overflowing with cutesy vegan bistros. So I got stuck into my first Chipotle experience.

In the U.S. at least, Chipotle is surprisingly vegan-friendly, since the addition of Sofritas to their list of proteins. Sofritas is/(are?) organic shredded tofu smoked with chipotle chillis, polblanos and their signature spices. Firm and flavourful, the fact that it’s not meat is arguably undetectable when added to your burrito/taco stuffed full of other tasty ingredients.

I went for three soft corn tacos, filled with black beans, coriander-lime rice, tomato salsa, guac (who can resist heapings of guac?), romaine lettuce and the afore-mentioned Sofritas. Aside from the taco formation, the combo of rice, beans, veggies and tofu is what I would eat for dinner on the reg; so it was quite a safe bet for me. I have to admit, I was expecting to feel more satiated and glowing than a heavily pregnant and oiled-up Mariah Carey (thanks to this Meme)—and this wasn’t that.

But it’s worth a stop if you’re all outta veg options… plus the chain’s provenance and sustainability credentials are supposedly very good (despite being marketed the fuck out of). I wish other fast food chains would take a leaf out of their book in this department.

2.5/5 Basic Bitch Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood (Union Sq branch): Union Square night market, Wholefoods, Peridance Dance Centre.

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Champs Diner
197 Meserole St, New York, NY 11206

If you are vegan you will certainly know the struggle that is eating out with your non-vegan pals. It goes something like this: 1) you sit down, and quickly scan the menu for anything not containing meat, then 2) wonder what substitutions you can make for the ricotta/feta/cream/other unescapable dairy perpetrator, 3) feel like you’re being the biggest douche by being fussy and asking the waiter to go off-piste and 4) end up with a sorry-looking plate of rice and vegetables. Or you go to a vegan/veggie restaurant, which obviously delivers on the food part, but can be a little lack-lustre (or at least predictable) in terms of the setting and ambience.

Champs in Brooklyn made my life because it is a classic American diner, with cute retro booths, a checker-board floor, 1950’s Sundae glasses, a jukebox and a classic American diner menu… but everything is 100% vegan. 100% I say! So browsing the incredibly extensive menu was akin to being a kid in a candystore with a crisp $20 in your pocket and a serious thirst for sugar. We’re talking 8 different types of pancakes, 5 types of waffles, enchiladas, mac n cheese, salads, philly cheese steak, chili, wings, burgers, sandwiches, ice cream floats, milkshakes, sundaes, pie and veggie/grain bowls. All with clever vegan meat subs (well, apart from the desserts – ain’t nobody wanting pulled pork on their banana split). Suffice to say I was very excited to have so much choice because this pretty much never happens.

I probably should have jumped on the theme a little more and gone for a stack of waffles with chick’n, melted butter and syrup, but I was feeling wholesome and opted for the Soltero Bowl—crumbled chorizo, garlic sautéed kale, quinoa, onions, mushrooms with chunks of potato and smothered in sour cream. My friend went for another awesome bowl containing a shit tonne of mac n cheese (as well as some veggies etc.). Both dishes were as delicious as they were bountiful and set us up nicely with enough fuel for our long cycle around Brooklyn.

The best part is this is for sure somewhere that carni and herbivores alike can get on board with (my meat-loving friend gave it a big thumbs up and she is not usually very complimentary of vegan fare). This is just the ultimate all-day, lazy brunch spot.

4.5/5 Golden Delicious Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood: rent a bike and cycle over Brooklyn Bridge, take some amazing photos @ DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) have a wander around Williamsburg checking out the coffee shops & thrift stores (hipster central), Artist & Fleas vintage & craft market.

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Dunwell Donuts
222 Montrose Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Dunwell Doughnuts is located on the road parallel to Champs, so try and save a tiny bit of space for a donut or two after your epic brunch. Or you can do what I did, and take a selection for later and carry it around in your bike basket all day.

So here’s the thing: Dunwell Doughnuts make… ALL VEGAN DONUTS. This is not a drill. They don’t even overly-advertise the “vegan-ness” of the donuts, they just make some of Brookylyn’s finest donuts (200 rotating varieties) that happen to be vegan. Okay, I’m going to stop saying donut now because I’ve said it plenty, even though you can never have too much of a good thing, right? ;-).

The shop itself is a dark respite full of ornate antique furniture and dark-paneled wood; more like a Victorian apothecary than a place to get America’s favourite dunkable baked good. The flavours are pretty cool: s’mores, key lime, orange-pistachio, crystallized ginger and PB&J. You can of course get a cup of Joe to go with your order: fancy French-press coffee is here to satisfy all your caffeine needs.

I only ordered one (“why oh why?”, I lamented later), a classic maple-glazed bad boy. Which was sticky, springy and very more-ish. Kind of like crack a Krispy Kreme but with more substance and fluffier. I polished it off beneath a giant twinkly Christmas tree in Downtown Manhattan (after cycling over the bright pink and graffiti-ied Williamsburg bridge by sunset!), feeling very high on life and maybe some of that sugary goodness too. Highly recommended.

4/5 Apple Pie Donuts

Things to do in the ‘hood: See Champs above.

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Hale and Hearty
Multiple Locations

Hale and Hearty is a New York chain with over 30 locations to boot, specialising in chunky, comforting soups and mammoth salads. The place itself is all no-frills and speedy service, but the food carries its own and ten dollars will get you a nutritious and filling lunch. Which isn’t bad in a city where a latte will set you back $5.

The menu has plenty of veg and vegan options, and the emphasis is on slow-cooked one-pots and warming soups packed full of veggies and pulses, such as the Bourbon Butternut Bisque, Ten Vegetable soup or Three Lentil Chili. I sidled up to the salad bar and picked several ingredients (avocado, edamame, mixed leaves, carrot, quinoa, walnuts, cherry toms, seeds. carrot & ginger dressing) which were then tossed and finely diced and served in a take-out container. Portions were NYC-sized (i.e., big) and I couldn’t finish my salad despite it being very yummy. Nothing to really write home about, but I do really wish there was one of these branches on every corner in Amsterdam.

3/5 Grated Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood (Hudson Street branch): 9/11 Museum & Memorial, Century 21 Department Store

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Jungle Café
996 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

Saving the best for last because Jungle Café is LIFE and life is Jungle Café.

I was in the Greenpoint neighbourhood visiting my friend Grace (who is a total Brooklyn babe!) and she suggested we go to one of her favourite haunts, Jungle Café. Now, Greenpoint is perhaps a little off the trodden tourist path, but it is definitely worth a visit if time permits—if not for the perfect blend of bijoux-grunge buildings (industrial warehouses meet charming coffee spots, such as Café Grumpy where Lena Dunham’s Hannah from Girls worked), fucking fantastic panoramic river views (all that pollution makes for a better sunset don’t ya know!) then for Jungle Café alone. I basically knew I was in the right place when I saw a sandwich board suggesting it was about time I tried a broccoli taco. (I still didn’t though).

What is so great about Jungle café? It is another all-veggie, mostly-vegan find, with an à-la-carte menu as well as the mother of all-u-can-eat vegan buffet. It is the latter where it really comes into its own, as you may have guessed. Tray after tray of vegan amazingness: ground meatballs, tofu-tumeric scramble, rice cooked to perfection, so.many.curries, sprouted lentils, tender-cooked bok choi, spinach and cashew lasagna, marinated kale, Bombay potatoes, buckwheat pancakes, blueberry coulis.

If that wasn’t good enough, all the food is also sugar free and gluten free. You really can eat as much as you want because it is all plant-based and bursting with nutrients and therefore so freakin’ good for you! I think I tried just about everything over the course of four trips to the buffet (yep, four… the fourth trip was just embarrassing!).  For the set price of $16.50, I had enough food to tide me over for brekkie, lunch and dinner. I really challenge anyone to find more amazing vegan food for this price.

The café itself blended well into the rest of Greenpoint, brightly-coloured, unpretentious and clearly well-loved amongst the local crowd. On one wall was a photo collage of famous veggies, everyone from Gandhi to Pammie A; Johnny Depp to Lisa Simpson. And when one of our party ordered a hot chocolate, the waitress came over to explain how they’d spent ages finessing the ratios of cacao, coconut oil and cashew milk to make it the silkiest, richest cup of coco in town. (I had a sip, she spoke the truth). They also had an extensive range of juices and smoothies, but after stuffing my face I couldn’t really fit anything else in, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume those are awesome too.

Oh Jungle Café, it doesn’t get much better than this, and I will be dreaming of you forevermore <3.

5/5 Awesome All-u-can-eat Apples

Things to do in the ‘hood: finally trying that god damn broccoli taco, take in the views of Manhattan over the water, catch a hipster art fair.

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Thank you, New York. Until next time…

Truthbomb Tuesdays: Cowspiracy

 

I know it’s not a Tuesday, but I couldn’t wait to write about this (and I really like alliteration okay).

Upon my vegan travels, I have of course encountered lots of compelling reading material advocating the benefits of the lifestyle. Books, films, blogs, BuzzFeeds… I’ve covered quite a bit of ground over the last year.

However, nothing is quite as game-changing as the truthbomb that is “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”. It’s a feature-length documentary that explores the global environmental impact of animal agriculture, executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. While every 90’s schoolgirl crush may not be in the business of winning Oscars (yet… hang in there Leo!), he has done something pretty amazing and managed to bring the film to Netflix and its 30m subscriber base. *Worship hands emoji*.

Make no mistake, this is not one to stream during your next Netflix ‘n’ Chill. Described as the next Blackfish, this is a wake-up call to the world. And we all know what happened to SeaWorld profits post-Blackfish…

I can see why this might be off-putting already to the casual meat eater. No one wants to be told their way of life is wrong, or destroying the Earth that we hold so dear (but should probably hold dearer). Plus we all know that mass-scale industrial farming is not great for the environment – thanks, GCSE Geography.

But the sheer scale of devastation caused by raising animals for food is not common knowledge because nobody is talking about it. A few soundbites…

  • There are 7 billion people on the planet and 70 billion animals used for food.
  • At 51%, animal agriculture is the leading cause of all greenhouse gases.
  • Animal agriculture is directly responsible for 91% of all Amazon rainforest destruction.
  • It takes 2,500 litres of water to make one quarterpound beef burger.

Maybe these are not new statistics, and maybe they aren’t going to change your feelings overnight. But I really think we owe it to ourselves, our future selves and our very adorable chubby offspring to at least be educated on the broader consequences of our actions.

Following one guy’s personal journey, the film does a good job of pulling together a lot of information on the subject; yet crucially never feels pushy, moralistic or judgemental. Not only that, but it’s beautifully-crafted, the narrative pulls you right in and the guy in question can best be described as “a really decent chap”.

A few of the inquiry lines within the film could be deemed sensationalist and unsubstantiated–most notably the insinuation that certain environmental charities get black money from the meat and dairy industry. Whilst I wouldn’t actually be surprised if something like this were true (please name an industry that isn’t swimming with corruption in this day and age), the film doesn’t suggest this explicitly. The icy silence and complete lack of engagement from the likes of Greanpeace et. al. lead the viewer towards this conclusion.*

Aside from this slight ambiguity, one cannot ignore the prominence of cold-hard-fucking-facts the rest of the film is built on. And even if the film’s critics (who are, lo and behold, members of the meat and dairy industry! 😉 ) may dispute some of the data points, the general themes and sentiments can’t really be argued. Our current consumption levels of meat and dairy just aren’t sustainable in the long term. Not for ourselves, the animals, our land mass, our biodiversity, our rainforests, our environment… you get the picture.

Of course I am going to tell you to watch the documentary yourself, but if you really cannot spare 85minutes away from binge-watching Breaking Bad, then at least watch this 1.5minute video (and please forgive the ‘click bait’ title):

 

Yes, both pieces do land on a vegan lifestyle being the ‘answer’: “You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and eat meat,” ex-dairy rancher Howard Lyman concludes. But for me, awareness and education is the more important piece right now; so we can make better informed choices and that doesn’t necessarily have to mean going cold-Turkey on your regular diet. Although a small word of warning that that you might just want to once you see the film!

 


 

*For what it’s worth, I think it’s more likely that major charities play down the environmental impact of animal agriculture because they know it will rub their regular donors up the wrong way. So instead, they focus on promoting less-‘offensive’ behaviour change, like taking fewer showers and guzzling less gas. Greenpeace also recently broke their silence on the topic with a PR blog post. Too little, too late if you ask me :).

 

“HI, my name is…”: Vegan Speed Dating

So this blog is going from 0 to 100 real quick.

Vegan Speed Dating is why.

It happened and I really don’t know where to begin. Although this isn’t the sort of thing I pictured myself blogging about; you can’t really have a vegan blog, go vegan speed dating and NOT write about it, right?!

It’s important to flag that I happened to stumble across vegan speed dating and thought it would be novel to give it a go; I am by no means exclusively dating vegans now or on some desperate quest to find a vegan soul mate. It’s hard enough to track down a decent guy as it is, let alone if you were to take away 95%+ of the male population on the grounds of their meat consumption. That would be literal madness.

Back to the vegan speed dating. I text my girlfriends. Do it, they said. It will be ‘an experience’, they said. Dutifully I agreed and patted the yellow name badge sticker onto my t-shirt.

I was feeling horrifically hungover. The type of hangover where you want to cocoon yourself in duvets, Netflix and Codeine and avoid all human contact until it is safely the next day. Instead I was entering a brightly-lit convention room and being handed a card with lots of numbers and instructions in Dutch. Nothing happened for 20 minutes, so I had to make awkward conversation with a Canadian tourist. Incidentally, he was the only other non-Dutch person in the room of about 60 people. Some could say it was fate. I would argue otherwise. He genuinely believed the “Dutch Weed Burgers” for sale contained marijuana (I know the Dutch are liberal but this is a freaking vegan convention. The Weed in question was in fact from the sea). I already felt duped, having been promised short and snappy social encounters lasting no more than a few minutes at a time, and here I was nodding along to a stranger’s life story.

We were finally put in our correct places, and I found myself surrounded by smiley but slightly-greying people who were unquestioningly in their forties and fifties. Having signed up for the 25-35 category, I figured I’d misunderstood the instructions so I went to check with the organisers. They told me I was in the 35+ group and it was too late to change. Considering my upper age limit on Tinder is 34 and I’m partial to the odd baby-face, this wasn’t the best news. I sucked it up.

Now I’ve never been ‘regular’ speed dating before (i.e. non-Dutch and non-Vegan), but I’m pretty sure you have short 1:1 interactions where you are free to chit-chat as you like and perhaps make up an interesting fact or tall story about yourself if things get dull. This was very different. We were put into groups of four (two male, two female), and given a question or topic to discuss as a team for ten minutes, before swapping to another group/question.

The questions were kind of lame (“what is the most important quality in a friendship?” / “what are your personal beliefs?” / “what do you really enjoy?”), and the chat wasn’t much better. Everyone gave the same, safe answers: acceptance and loyalty mattered most in a friendship; we all personally believed in being conscious about the environment and respecting living creatures; and everyone loved yoga, meditation and long nature walks. Only one wacky senior rocked the boat when he declared that making love was his favourite activity, with a half-crazed glint in his eye that was either an attempted wink or possible blindness.

As for me? Not doing so well. I was struggling to produce coherent sentences that didn’t make me sound like a Grade A Loser (ironic that the Dutch were doing better in this department than me, despite having to think and speak in English on my behalf). I really set the tone when, in answer to the question, “what do you look for in a partner?” I told the group that I “wasn’t that fussy”. What I meant of course was that I don’t have a specific criteria, but the damage was done. In a short-lived moment of giving zero fucks, I also threw in a joke about drugs that went down like a lead balloon.

Meanwhile I kept trying to sneak a look over at the younger side of the room to ascertain if the conversation was any spicier over there, or if anyone caught my eye. Amongst all the animal rights tote bags and “Go Vegan” hoodies it was hard to tell. I figured probably not, and covertly put my jumper on to conceal my “Tree Hugger” tee. I wore it to be ironic, I promise.

There was one person who I hit it off with. A pretty girl about my age, with messy blonde hair and smudged eyeliner who was rocking a baggy Harvard sweater. She had been out partying all night and was similarly suffering in a big way – a girl after my own heart. Incidentally, she had also wound up in the wrong age group. (Come to think of it, maybe our haggard hungover state was ageing us compared to the healthful radiance of everyone else). Sadly, whilst Hungover Harvard Girl could have been the vegan BFF my social circle was crucially lacking, I didn’t have the courage to ask for her number. Cue da violins.

After 90 long minutes, the evening came to a close. We were instructed to write down the names of anyone who had taken our fancy, at which point I realised I had paid zero attention to anyone’s name. Despite the awkward format and age group fiasco, there were perhaps one or two semi-interesting people that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Never fear, I had a winning plan. On the back of my card I wrote the not-at-all-desperate-message of: “Don’t remember. But if anyone puts me, please let me know!” I’m not sure if this strategy worked, since its a few days later and I haven’t exactly heard back…

In retrospect, it was quite nice to interact with a bunch of new people who you couldn’t instantly screen by swiping left based on looks alone (God bless Tinder). As hinted at earlier, the vegan element meant a lot common ground, even if that did mean conversation could easily turn to whether or not you occasionally included milk in your diet (one guy was very apologetic about this). However, seeing as I’m pretty content being single, I probably would have found more value in the event if the romantic element were removed and it was just a fun way to meet vegan buddies. Anyway, I guess my friends were right that in that it was indeed an experience.

But if you are looking for that special vegan someone, you can head on over to the online vegan dating specialists https://www.vegadates.nl/ who kindly put the event on free of charge. 🙂

Ve**ganz in Paris

Bonjour!

I took a small trip to Paris for work this week, and found myself facing the age-old dilemma of arriving at Paris-Nord station far too early for my Intercity train back to Amsterdam. I’d spent some time walking through the city, taking selfies with various monuments (hello, l’selfie du Louvre), and I hadn’t eaten since the very sad “Continental” breakfast that was served at my Ibis hotel that morning. For me, that meant tough bread, watery black espresso and marmalade. I was getting haaaangry.

If you’ve also had the good fortune of looking for food spots around Paris Nord, you’ll know that the area is awash with over-priced Brasseries serving rubbery steak, Croque Monsieur and escargot for those who decide they simply cannot wait to try snails within a minute of stepping off the Eurostar. It’s touristy and tacky—even if I wasn’t vegan, I really wouldn’t want to eat here.

I whipped out my trusty Happy Cow app to find out if there was anywhere serving anything remotely veggie nearby. Just under a ten minute walk away was a Vegan Cantine called Le Veganovore that had opened a month earlier, so I thought I’d check it out.

The place was tiny but super cute with rustic vibes. The menu was simple, 100% organic and homemade that day by the owner. For a main, you could choose one of two veggie bowls—hot or cold, alongside a veggie soup of the day for a starter and some tempting looking dairy-free desserts if you so wished.

I was about to board a three hour train, so I went for the hot option to keep my tummy warm and full. Less than a minute of ordering, I had a huge bowl of goodness in front of me: slow-cooked lentils with braised onions, tender green cabbage, chunky grilled aubergine, sweet potato puree, perfectly-cooked rice & a green salad with a classic French-style dressing. It was hearty and comforting, and exactly what I needed (I was feeling a little fragile after a night on Champagne island). I had a bit of food envy over the cold bowls, which basically contained loads of veggie components to make a techni-colour rainbow salad. Either bowl would set you back a wondrous 7.50 EUR each—which wouldn’t even buy you a plate of fries in central Paris.

My hot bowl of goodness.

Despite the small (but perfectly formed) menu, the exact offering changes daily—although the concept, multi-coloured bowlfuls of different veggies, grains and fruits stays the same. And veggie bowls are literally the best, since there’s so much variety and they give you loads of slow-releasing energy.

I’m not saying you should make a beeline for this place above all of the the Parisian gastro delights (and my god, there are many!); but for a quick and satisfying lunch that’ll put you back on track after falling off the health wagon, this is très magnifique and worth a visit. 🙂

On becoming Vegan…

“Love is shining
life is thriving in the good life
good life”

(Good Life – Inner City)

I never actually consciously chose to go vegan, but I have been more or less embracing a plant-based diet since February. As this is now nine months, a not insignificant period of time given I could have brought a small human into the world by now (thankfully not though, nervous laughter), I feel I have earnt the right to talk about my experience. Whether or not anyone actually wants to read about it, is a different matter. 🙂

I say “more or less”: I have been 100% meat free except for the odd encounter with ‘surprise’ bacon fat lurking in an otherwise unsuspecting salad or cleverly concealed chicken in what looked like veggie pasta. Oh and I once tried some deep fried duck at a foodie festival because I thought it would be the holy grail of amazing tastiness, but in actual fact it was more like the dregs of the most unsanitary branch of KFC triple-fried in pig lard. I learnt my lesson there: never again Dirty Duck, never again.

Anyway, for someone who ate McDonald’s on an almost weekly basis, whose favourite food was a thick slab of Sirloin (the bloodier, the better), and would routinely seek out gastro spots on their provision of slowly smoked pulled pork on the menu (not to mention the sides of creamy mac ‘n’ cheese), this is not something to be taken lightly.

Of course being vegan isn’t just about avoiding meat; all animal products are also off-limit: that’s milk, eggs, cheese and even honey for the hardcore herbivores. Whilst I never buy or cook with any of the afore-mentioned, I have to admit I am not a ‘perfect’ vegan, and will occasionally succumb to a slice of Dutch apple cake if someone brings it into the office (it is the mother of all cake), or have a few squares (okay, half a bar) of Milka chocolate with my housemates if we’ve had a particularly lousy day.  Anyway, I personally think that indulging in a non-vegan treat once in a while makes the whole lifestyle more sustainable in the long-term… but more on that at a later date.

So, what prompted the big change?

Like every girl ever, I went on a post-December detox and started eating more fruit and veggies: smoothies for breakfast, homemade vegetable soups for lunch. Gradually I noticed how amazing I felt without the sluggishness of meat and dairy chugging up my system. Armed with my brand new spiralizer (a Christmas present), I was also spiralizing absolutely everything in sight and eating a rainbow of goodness in spirally noodle-form for dinner. I started to put two and two together: the more fresh plant-based food I ate, and the less animal protein I consumed; the more radiant and energetic I felt. You could even say it put me on a plant-powered high.

Eating meat became more of a chore, so I cut it out; and fish and dairy soon followed without me ever really missing them. Making all my meals from scratch also meant I had full control over what I was putting in my body, so I avoided a lot of refined sugar, additives and processed shit. After only a month or two, I was genuinely feeling the best I’d ever felt in my life. Suddenly, nurturing this newly-found healthy energy and being kind to my body (after years of not really thinking twice), became super important to me.

What was even better: eating was no longer a tug-of-war between being functional and dull, or indulgent but guilt-inducing—I was now eating unlimited portions and truly enjoying every glorious forkful because it made me feel so good.

It has to be noted that this isn’t the first time I’ve flirted with Veganism. A year prior, I adopted the diet with the sole motivation of losing weight. I figured that cutting out two major fatty food groups would limit my calorie intake and force me to shed some pounds (spoiler: it didn’t). Instead of filling up on a variety of nutrient-dense vegetables, I mostly ate bread and cereal and felt low and unsatisfied. I lasted about two miserable months and came to associate the diet with emptiness and restriction.

Of course, this was obviously the wrong way to approach things, but it perhaps highlights why so many people think that being vegan is an extreme diet that they could never even attempt, let alone enjoy. Rather than focusing on what I was giving up and cutting out, my second round of Veganism made me realise what I was gaining: peace of mind, a glowing energy from the inside out, and a whole new world of beautiful plant-based goodness to be consumed in boundless quantities. If anything, my pre-vegan diet was more ‘lacking’ than my new one. (Plus it always helped to know that pizza would ALWAYS be there if I really needed it).

Although it all started with what felt great for me, my motivations for sticking to the good (vegan) life have evolved to cover so many more compelling aspects than those described above—it’s not all about me, I promise! I’m planning to use this blog to share some of the things that have inspired me along the way, as well as general tips & snippets on vegan life in Amsterdam (and anywhere else I happen to visit). I will try not to veer into preachy territory, since I’m not trying to “convert” anyone, or advocate that one way of living is superior to another. It would be a result, however, if just a handful of people became just a little bit more open-minded towards some of the benefits that a vegan lifestyle to offer, and maybe switched up the chicken in their curry for some hearty aubergine and chickpeas once in a while.

Thank you for reading! ❤