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?