Witney Vegan Fair, 19 June 2021

Vegan Fairs & Markets are hoping to hold another Vegan Fair in Witney on Saturday 19 June, 10 am to 4 pm. If it goes ahead, the Fair will be held in the Langdale Hall, Witney, OX28 6FG. Entry costs £2 for adults (free for accompanied children). Further details here.

Meat the Future exhibition in Oxford

The 27 May edition of BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science series examined the human use of plants beyond the limits of history.  Among the items featured was the Meat the Future exhibition at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, produced in association with the University’s Livestock, Environment and People research programme, which runs until 16 January 2022.  The exhibition seeks to raise awareness of the issues for health and the environment around eating, or not eating, meat, and will be accompanied by a travelling exhibition called Meat Your Persona, including an interactive quiz and tips, recipes and insights from the researchers behind the project.

Paul Appleby

Green Routes Cafe

Green Routes Café, 39 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RB, is a vegan cafe in East Oxford.  Food at the café is prepared by the Greenbox Food Co, described as “East London’s plant-pioneers … bringing London’s best Vegan Roast to Oxford”.  OxVeg supporter Lauren Chessum writes: “Green Routes is a lovely little cafe – they are only doing take-away at the moment, but they have a few outdoor seats [and] are planning to open the indoor seating area once lockdown restrictions ease. They also offer an evening menu of burgers and side dishes on Fridays and Saturdays, available for take-away or by click and collect.” The cafe is open Monday-Thursday 8 am – 5 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am – 9 pm, and Sunday 9 am – 5 pm, with the kitchen closing an hour earlier.

Lauren’s pictures below show the front of the cafe and a box of their Biscoff, Banana & Dark Chocolate pancakes. They don’t usually put as much chocolate sauce on the pancakes, but the container spilt when they were serving up, much to Lauren’s delight!

Paul Appleby

Meat consumption linked to a wide range of diseases

A study by researchers at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, based on data from nearly 475,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, has found that regular meat consumption is associated with a larger range of diseases than previously thought.  The study looked at 25 common non-cancer health conditions in relation to meat consumption (red and processed meat are already recognised as likely to cause cancer by the World Health Organisation).

After taking factors such as smoking, body mass index (BMI; a measure of obesity) and the consumption of other foods and alcohol into account, the study found that higher consumption of (unprocessed) red meat and processed meat combined was associated with higher risks of ischaemic heart disease (by 15% for every 70g per day increase in red and processed meat intake), pneumonia (by 31%), diverticular disease (by 19%), colon polyps (by 10%), and diabetes (by 30%).  Higher consumption of poultry meat was associated with higher risks of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (by 17% for every 30g per day increase in poultry meat intake), gastritis and duodenitis (by 12%), diverticular disease (by 10%), gallbladder disease (by 11%), and diabetes (by 14%).  Most of the positive associations were even larger before BMI was taken into account, suggesting that the increased risks could be partly due to regular meat eaters having a higher average body weight than low or non-meat eaters.  However, the fact that they remained highly statistically significant after controlling for BMI suggests that meat consumption is likely to increase the risk of the diseases listed above, irrespective of body weight and other dietary characteristics.

In contrast, higher intakes of red meat and poultry meat (but not processed meat) were associated with a lower risk of iron deficiency anaemia: the risk was 20% lower with every 50g higher per day intake of red meat and 17% lower with every 30g higher per day intake of poultry meat.  Lead author of the study, Dr Keren Papier, advised that “people who do not eat meat need to be careful that they obtain enough iron, through dietary sources or supplements.”  Good plant food sources of iron for veg*ns include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereals, while consuming vitamin C (commonly found in fruits and vegetables) at the same time increases iron absorption.

Another recent analysis of data from the UK Biobank study found that processed meat was associated with a higher risk of developing dementia (by 44% for every 25g per day increase in intake, equivalent to a single rasher of bacon), whereas (unprocessed) red meat was associated with a lower risk of dementia (by 19% for every 50g per day increase in intake), possibly because of differences in the nutritional composition of processed meat and unprocessed red meat.  Poultry meat was not associated with dementia risk, but total meat consumption was associated with a marginally higher risk of dementia (by 9% for every 50g per day increase in intake).

Paul Appleby

Chocs away

Chocolate is the most popular sweet treat in the world. Globally, over three million tons of cocoa beans are consumed each year, mainly in Europe and the USA. The vegan options used to be limited to bars of dark chocolate (with 70% minimum cocoa solids), but now there are numerous varieties available. Inevitably, some of the newcomers are expensive but price doesn’t always indicate quality. Easter eggs are a perfect example of this with several vegan versions appearing this year. None of the ones I sampled were very good, or worth the extortionate price tag. Most Easter eggs are ludicrously expensive, and manufacturers know that the packaging allows them to bump up the price. The Divine dark hazelnut praline hollow egg costs £5 for just 90 grams of chocolate. The egg itself was very thin, and definitely wasn’t very divine. The NOMO (no missing out) dairy free egg was equally disappointing; NWB (not worth buying) would be a more accurate description.

My sister sends me a box of ‘luxury’ vegan chocolates every Christmas and birthday. Usually, it’s either Hotel Chocolat or Booja Booja, and the latter is preferable. The Booja Booja ‘gourmet selection box’ is limited to six flavours, all of which look and weigh exactly the same. You have to cross reference with the menu plan to ensure you don’t get one of the unpleasant ones, which includes ‘almond salted caramel’ and ‘fine de champagne’. My favourite is the delicious hazelnut crunch truffle, but each truffle weighs just 10 grams and works out at about 90 pence, so I’d have to be in a very extravagant mood to buy a box of their chocolates. However, I’d never splash out on anything produced by Hotel Chocolat. Their latest vegan assortment is called ‘Sleekster’, which is described as: “unbelievably vegan, made without milk, yet as staggeringly creamy as our regular milk chocolates. A ground breaking collection of 33 melt in your mouth chocolates”. Unfortunately, none of them have any sort of melt in your mouth characteristics and are so hard they are more likely to break your teeth. It gets worse with the descriptions of the individual chocolates, such as this for ‘Rosemary & Nutmilk’: “Pow! A burst of intensely tart pressed berries unleashed by 70% dark (chocolate). Embraced by Nutmilk for a mellow creamy finish.” I’m guessing that the idiot who composed this pretentious drivel was too busy reading his Batman comic, and hadn’t actually tasted it. However, I have and my one-word verdict is “Yuk!”. Perhaps the confectioners at Hotel Chocolat simply don’t understand the idea of conflicting flavours, or come up with these ridiculous combinations but don’t subject them to any sort of taste test. Another corker is the ‘Gianduja Bombe’: “Melts in the mouth like butter. Super smooth hazelnut praline and 70% dark.” The reference to butter in a vegan selection is bizarre, and it neither melts or is super smooth. Rather, it felt like an old-fashioned gobstopper that would thwart the bone crushing jaws of a crocodile.

For sheer chocolate joy (and value for money) I recommend Tesco Classic Dark Chocolate, succinctly described as “bold and velvety, skilfully blended with 74% cocoa for a rich taste”. This has a superb melt quality with an excellent ‘snap’ and costs only £1 for a 100 grams bar, proving that you don’t have to splash the cash for so-called gourmet chocolate.

Paul Freestone

What is ‘vegan’ pottery?

(A guest post by Katherine Tomlinson of Oxford Clay Handmade Ceramics. Oxford Clay’s ceramics are fired using 100% renewable energy and glazed using recycled wood ash. Visit the website for more information and to shop.)

When I first started practicing pottery I didn’t know anything about the materials I was using. Slowly, I realised that many of the ingredients and tools I routinely used caused harm to animals, people and the environment. So I made the decision to exclude these from my pottery practice and started Oxford Clay, a vegan ceramics company. But what actually is ‘vegan’ pottery? 

Essentially, vegan pottery is that which is made without animal-based ingredients or tools. In pottery, there are several ways in which animal ingredients are used:

Animal bone ash 

Most people think “but isn’t clay just dug out of the ground – surely that’s vegan”? In fact, the ‘clay’ used by potters is a mixture of different ingredients; ball clays, crushed rocks, sands and sometimes bone ash. The bone ash sold by pottery materials suppliers is made by heating animal bones (usually bovine) in a kiln and then crushing them into a fine white powder. Bone ash is added to clay to improve it’s translucency and strength. Bone china, for example, is made from a combination of china clay, crushed rock, and 50% animal bone ash. Bone ash is also routinely added to pottery glazes to reduce defects like crazing. 

Shellac 

Shellac is another animal-based ingredient used in pottery. Some potters create a decorative effect using shellac as a form of ‘resist’. The shellac is painted on, left to dry, and then the surrounding clay is sponged away leaving an intricate raised pattern. The shellac then burns off in the kiln when the pot is fired. Shellac is a resin excreted by lac beetles, which are often killed during harvesting. 

Many potters also use animal-based pottery tools to craft their work: 

Leather

Chamois leather is often used for smoothing the rims of pots thrown on the wheel. The bases of pots can also be made flat by twisting them on a piece of damp leather stretched across a board. 

Animal hair paintbrushes 

Many non-synthetic paintbrushes are made using animal hairs from animals killed in the fur industry. The animal rights organisation PETA reports that animals are also killed in the wild for their fur, to make paintbrushes. A particular type of brush specifically used in pottery for glazing called a ‘hake’ brush is made from goat hairs. 

Marine sponge 

Potters use marine sponge as a tool in their work because it is so soft and doesn’t misshape their work. However, marine sponges are classified as animals, they eat and reproduce in the same way as animals and move around in larval stage.  What we use as a sponge is the skeleton of the dead sponge after harvesting. Marine sponges take many years to reach maturity and form an essential part of the marine ecosystem.

It is perfectly possible and practical to make ceramics without using any of these animal-based tools or ingredients. 

Katherine Tomlinson

Goldfinch

OxVeg media rep Paul Freestone took this photo of a Goldfinch in Kent during the recent Easter weekend.

Book review: Vegan Savvy

Vegan Savvy by Azmina Govindji. Pavilion Books, 2020, 176 pp; paperback, £12-99

Azmina Govindji was spurred into writing this book when her 23-year-old daughter suddenly announced that she was going vegan.  Her initial concern was whether her daughter could stay fit and healthy as a vegan.  Although the author recognised that a plant-based diet was better for the planet, she had many questions as to whether it could meet the nutritional requirements of a young women.  For example, could it provide enough calcium and iodine.  This led the author on a quest to methodically research the vegan diet, which included following the diet herself for 8 weeks. 

The book is well researched, with evidence-based facts and practical information to keep any new vegan on track.  It is clearly laid out with chapters covering potentially problematic nutrients such as energy and calcium, with checklists at the end of each chapter.  Bridges are used to show how to enrich a diet by moving from a vegan plate to a vegan savvy plate.  For example, adding fruit juice to a meal would be the nutrient bridge to increase iron absorption and adding cashew nuts to a vegetable pasta would be the nutrient bridge to increase zinc intake.    The author asks the reader to picture a vegetable, protein and carbohydrate (VVPC) plate.  The plate is split into 4 quarters, 2 for vegetables (including fruits), 1 for proteins and 1 for carbs.  This concept is similar to other plate models to aid healthy eating and is a useful way to visualise a balanced vegan diet.   

Azmina Govindji suggests that a poorly designed vegan diet can affect energy levels, physical health and overall sense of wellbeing, but all diets have their potential pitfalls and Vegan Savvy will convince readers that a vegan diet can be both tasty and appealing whilst also meeting nutritional requirements.  This book has the feel of a holistic self-help guide with the author introducing ‘thought lifters’ throughout, aimed at helping the reader to put the nutritional advice into practice.   It is a unique but pleasant introduction to vegan nutrition.

Sandra Hood

(Sandra is an NHS Diabetes Specialist Dietitian and Honorary dietary consultant to the Vegan Society and has been a vegan for more than 40 years.  This review has ben adapted from the original published in Dietetics Today, the official magazine of The Association of UK Dietitians.)

It’s all most confusing

The 27 January edition of BBC Radio 4’s The Spark featured an interview with genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector. In his book Spoon-Fed Spector argues that “almost everything we have been told about food is wrong”. That word “almost” is quite important, and must have been inserted as a legal disclaimer. Unfortunately, despite Spector’s belief that everything he proclaims about food must be correct, he doesn’t always practice what he preaches. For example, he says that fish isn’t worth eating because the nutritional claims for it are false and that fishing is very bad for the environment, but he still eats fish, occasionally at home and often in restaurants.

Spector claims that his approach to food is “balanced” and “food choices mustn’t be religious”, but he frequently sounds distinctly unbalanced and elitist.  He was vegan for a time, but gave up as he desperately craved cheese (“my weak point”) and he eats meat once a month to deal with his low levels of B12 (“instead of vitamin shots”). He espouses good gut health via fermented foods including cheese and red wine, and then states: “Foods that are good for your gut microbes and those sorts of diets [that include a diversity of high fibre plant foods] are also good for the planet. There’s a whole new moralistic discussion about food that has only been around for two to three years in the mainstream debate about eating less meat, being vegetarian or vegan. The discussion has moved on from animal welfare to planet welfare, as well as health.” Broadly speaking this is correct, although animal welfare (or the lack of it) is the key issue for most long-term vegetarians and vegans. Health benefits are a bonus, and a diverse plant-based diet will definitely include an abundance of high fibre gut-friendly foods. However, Spector misses the point as he continues to eat foods that are totally unnecessary and bad for the planet. His cheese addiction is a major mismatch; cheese (especially hard varieties loaded with saturated animal fat) isn’t particularly healthy and dairy products have a large carbon footprint. His excuse for drinking “plenty of red wine” is that it’s beneficial for his gut microbes, but all that alcohol can’t be doing him any good.

Spector uses delivered organic vegetarian cooking boxes (providing a complete meal to cook with precise ingredients and step-by-step instructions) despite having once believed that “vegetarian food was a nightmare, the most boring food in the world”. Therefore, he must regard this expensive method of feeding yourself as one of the solutions to Britain’s bad eating habits, although these box kits represent a restrictive style of cooking and are only slightly better than ready meals. Teaching low-income groups how to prepare meals that are cheap and nutritious, using readily available ingredients, should be a priority. However, he does get some things right, such as: eating ultra-processed food is unhealthy; good nutrition is based on consuming whole foods; diet drinks (“loaded with chemicals”) don’t work; the medical profession is poorly educated about nutrition; powerful food lobbies exert too much influence on government food policies. His assertion that “almost everything you have been told about food is wrong” makes a catchy tagline, but almost everything he says about food is either self-evident or inconsistent.

Paul Freestone

Jabbermockery

I’ve had my first Covid-19 jab, and it was doubly delightful as the vaccination centre was at the Kassam stadium in south-east Oxford. This is within the Ozone Leisure Park (OLP), which comprises the Oxford United football ground, a multiplex cinema, a bingo hall and two vast car parks. If you’ve never been to the OLP I can’t recommend it too highly. It’s an absolute gem of architectural and urban planning, and I can just imagine the scale models of the site which must have made it look almost appealing. As it’s ‘out of town’ the priority must have been the car parks, with the buildings dropped in as a lazy afterthought. Cycling here is obviously discouraged as there aren’t any bike racks. The stadium is best known for the fact that it only has three sides, and instead of being quirky it just looks like the money ran out. Owing to the consecutive lockdowns the whole location looks even more desolate than usual, but some thoughtful citizens have taken advantage and piles of domestic rubbish are strewn across one of the car parks. The spiky gorse bushes, so beloved of architects and urban planners, have trapped numerous discarded plastic masks. These flap helplessly in the breeze, and represent a brand-new symbol of human stupidity.

The actual process of getting jabbed was quick and efficient; perhaps this is the Kassam’s finest three-sided hour? That evening I watched a BBC Panorama programme about vaccine misinformation, and laughed as a succession of anti-vaxxers broadcast their bonkers beliefs. Unfortunately, some of this affected my dreams and I awoke from a hideous nightmare in which the deadly vaccine had left me sterile, my DNA was permanently altered, and the Bill Gates Foundation tracked every move I made. Exactly why they would want to do this wasn’t explained, and I wondered why conspiracy theorists don’t concentrate on genuine conspiracies? Currently, a delegation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are in Wuhan to assess how, where and why the pandemic started. My personal conspiracy theory is that the Chinese government know exactly where and why the virus spread to humans (from that disgusting wet market). Instead, they fed the WHO team misleading information about a research laboratory, and to show that COVID-19 had absolutely nothing to do with China, the Chinese government have come up with their own highly plausible conspiracy theory. According to Chinese state media: “All available evidence suggests coronavirus came here via imported foreign frozen food.” This fulfils all the essential requirements of any half decent conspiracy theory: 1 It’s the polar opposite to the actual truth; 2 There’s no evidence to support it at all; 3 Conspiracy theorists will lap it up like cat nip in a three-sided bowl.

Paul Freestone

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