Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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This is Day 14 of Veganuary, my 30-day pledge to eat vegan to save the planet. I’m traveling in the British countryside today and finding vegan options is definitely more challenging than in London. I’m also starting to question whether or not I’m saving the planet.
Yesterday at the Twice Brewed Inn, I selected hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms and two fried eggs. Overnight, I’ve had a think. It’s been such a pain to eat vegan for the past 13 days. I’ve been so catered to by friends over dinners. Everybody’s been making efforts with me. Why let two eggs ruin my efforts?
This is why I decide to give the eggs to my husband, who is stuffed at the end of his breakfast while I’m still slightly hungry. It’s odd because I also eat half a grapefruit, grapes, two toasts with jam (Gawd, toasts without butter are so dry) and a small box of Fruit & Fiber cereals.
Over the morning walk along Hadrian’s Wall, my husband and I discuss the merits of eating vegan for environmental reasons. After all, they are the main reasons that inspired me to commit to Veganuary. I’m totally fine with small scale humane cattle farming. I’ve always understood that eating local, organic and seasonal was best for the environment. Let’s assume that all shoppers prefer organic to non-organic – which isn’t true. What is the environmental impact of eating vegan food with lots of imported items versus non-vegan local, seasonal food?
Point in case, coconut. Many vegan recipes use coconut by-products such as milk, oil, sugar, flour or water. In fact, the use of coconut oil grew 780% between 2008 and 2012. I wonder if people think about the impact coconut plantations have on local ecosystems. I’ve seen it first hand in Thailand. Coconut usually comes from monoculture farming and leads to less diverse plant habitats, negatively impacts the local fauna and reduces soil quality.
Most coconut crops also use chemical fertilizers (often government-subsidized) and coconut farmers live in terrible conditions. In a nutshell: unless it’s organic and fair trade, your coconut oil is harming the environment and people. That’s not even taking into consideration fossil fuels used to transport coconuts from South East Asia or South America to North America and Europe.
Most dairy substitutes consumed in the UK are grown overseas with negative impacts on the environment or society: almonds (irrigation), soy beans (deforestation), coconut (biodiversity), cashew nuts (human rights abuse), or rice (greenhouse gas emissions). Only oats grow in the UK and there’s fortunately a rising range of oat products but the only oat milk available in UK supermarkets, Oatly, uses Swedish oats. Fair enough, it’s a Swedish brand and it’s closer to home than South-East Asia. Then there’s barley, hemp, flax and more.
While cow’s milk, from what I’ve read is by far the worst in terms of environmental impact, I’m not sure that people who use these dairy substitutes make informed decisions when they buy or at least, that they take decisions knowing how they impact local habitats and economies.
All this to say – it’s a tricky topic. To be continued.
Lunch is tough. We stop at the cafeteria of the brand new visitor centre for Northumberland National Park. The lunch menu shows two vegetarian options: leek and potato soup or barley salad with root vegetables, beet greens and walnuts. After investigating, it turns out the soup has cream. Fine, I have the salad and a pot of elderflower blackberry tea.
It’s food but not great food. I wish I could end on something sweet but the cafe selection includes scones (with cream), tarts with butter crusts, more scones (milk) or cookies (butter).
Tough luck. I’ll have a second pot of tea, please.
On the first train back to London, I remember I still have an unopened bar of dark chocolate with marzipan. Where is it, godammit? I can only unearth a box of Fruit’n Fibre cereals, coconut chips or apples. I’m really hungry and don’t fancy planting my teeth into fresh apples. I want something hearty and sweet.
I start with the cereals. It’s tricky to eat without a spoon but I manage. Still hungry. Second, the coconut chips. Still hungry. Seriously, dark chocolate bar. Not fair.
As luck would have it, our second train is delayed because of heavy snow in Glasgow and we make a run for the local Marks & Spencers in Carlisle (where the cathedral is well-worth a visit if you’re around). Surely, they have vegan cookies? In front of the cookies aisle, I can only see one word: butter. Butter chocolate chip cookie, butter caramel florentines, real butter shortbread, butter wafers. Right. I need a strategy as we don’t have time to read every label.
Intuition. I try Chocolate Digestives first. Nope => milk. None of the double or triple chocolate chip cookies will work either and that’s like 2/3 of the shelves => butter. I have an idea. Ginger snaps! It works. I read the label, it looks good. I pass it on to my husband for double checking. Vegan. All clear. That’s only one visible vegan cookie out of 50+ types of cookies or biscuits.
Moral of the story: unicorns win (check Instagram).
Dinner is a lovely surprise. When we get back home, my 12-year-old has prepared a delicious meal of linguine with caramelized lemons and celery.
Sprinkled with parsley, it’s easily the most delicious food I’ve had all weekend and I even take seconds. Dessert is kumquats with frozen redcurrants and maple syrup.
As far as Veganuary goes, there’s no place like home for a healthy yummy meal.