The Rarefied Air of Savoury Curd Alternatives – a vegan blog (?)

Bored of Michael Legge viewing me from his Olympian Heights as an increasingly diminishing speck, I have decided to try to be a vegan. I will follow in the footsteps of my heroes, such as Ed Begley Jr, Weird Al Yankovic and Tony Kanal.
I am not sure how long it will last. It could be over as soon as I am drunk anywhere near a meringue shop. Since I have made this decision I have been given a very good, and large, bottle of Bordeaux that, sadly, I’ve been told has been sieved through cattle colon or similar, and a box containing really wonderful jars of honey. Bee bi-products have hints of waggle dance slavery, so that is out too. (you can check more on Vegan things at The Vegan Society site)
The house still contains mince pies, and milk chocolate in reindeer and santa shapes. As much as I try to put myself off by imagining the distended, mastitis racked udders that were part of the confectionery narrative, they still tempt me.

I like challenges, but have high expectations of failing to meet them. I surprised myself when I managed eleven and a half months of teetotalism. I am tempted to return to such sobriety. Actually, tempted is probably not the right word. It was Michael Legge who shived me off my alcohol free pedestal in the midst of one of our shows. Though he thought it was quite acceptable to goad me with Red Stripe, screaming, “I can’t work with you being fucking sober anymore”, I am not sure he would have considered it as charming had I suddenly pulled a sheet of ham from my duffle coat hollering, “this act is over until you stink of abattoir pig!”

I wouldn’t have done that anyway. I rarely carry ham and haven’t eaten it for 26 years.

I have been a vegetarian, from late teens to 30s. I found myself lured back to occasional, then increasingly frequent, fish. After killing something in the garden with a hover mower (mouse or frog, I didn’t know, but something pink with guts), I returned to vegetarianism, but fell into fish if it looked too delightful on a plate or menu.

There is no methodical. empirical reasoning behind this attempt.

I have read of the burden of livestock farming on the earth, but not so thoroughly I could argue the point.

A reduction in my lavish consumption of cheeses and Cadbury’s Miniature Heroes may make me slightly less unhealthy.

I quite like the idea of being kinder to things with eyes (and cave crabs too) by not eating them or putting them in restricted spaces to collect the offerings that fall from their cloaca.

This does not mean that I may well not find myself sitting in chairs made of hide, using products that may have required effort from donkeys, or that everything I touch, feel, experience or imagine involves no abuse, stretching or tickling of animals at all.

I am sceptical of the Vegan Society’s claim that all animals fear death as humans do. Even though trout may not recognise themselves in the mirror, I may try and contribute to a reduction in their flailing on a bank, even if they may not be having flashbacks of childhood larks in pondweed and games with tadpoles.
In moments of frustration, I may lash out and destroy a clumsy housefly.

I am not doing this to be better than you.

I am not making any grand declaration – “nothing i will ever do will ever accidentally, knowingly, unknowingly or in any other way do any harm to any animal whatsoever” – I am just going to have a go at doing a thing and see what happens from there.

Almost every food product I am about to consume worries me. I find myself asking even more stupid questions than usual – “Is bread vegan? Are olives vegan? Can I eat oats that may have previously desired by shire horses?”

I find it interesting as it means I have to question the biscuits more thoroughly.

I have already been warned by Legge that any mention of veganism means that you are “banging on about veganism”. It is quite fine to spend seventeen hours talking about football, but saying no to a scotch egg is apparently like addressing a rally in a pristine uniform, with razor trouser creases and excessive arm gestures.

By the time this post has reached your eyes, a triangle of Dairylea may have made a mockery of all I’ve said, and the cracks in my lips may be smeared with cheese, but I can always fail better tomorrow.

I am off to tour Australia for Atheist folk (believers welcome too) dates HERE

And I am off to USA with Prof Cox dates HERE

and I have a smattering of UK dates from Berwick to Belfast, Swindon to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Uckfield http://www.robinince.com

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36 Responses to The Rarefied Air of Savoury Curd Alternatives – a vegan blog (?)

  1. You may find the following sites useful:
    http://www.veganhealth.org/
    http://jacknorrisrd.com/
    http://www.theveganrd.com/

    Nutrition advice from actual registered dieticians, the TL;DR version is that protein isn’t an issue, B12 can be long term.

    Also, an illustrated rebuttal for every possible anti-vegan argument: http://www.godfist.com/vegansidekick/?page=comics

  2. rlmays11 says:

    Robin, if ‘there is no methodical. empirical reasoning behind this attempt’ to be vegan and if you have been a vegetarian previously, why are you demanding this of yourself? Just stop eating meat again. I am not sure that you actually said that Michael Legge is a vegan (you might feel that he is ‘viewing [you] from his Olympian Heights’ for other reasons), that said if he couldn’t work with you sober, but he feels superior to you because he might not eat honey or eggs … well puleeeze.

  3. jazbrooks says:

    There are cheese alternatives already out there, but Tesco have just made it a bit easier to find them with their own range. They’ve got a few different cream “cheeses” that are tasty if you really want that Dairylea 🙂

    Also handy http://www.veganuary.com/

  4. Mike Morris says:

    “There is no methodical. empirical reasoning behind this attempt.”

    Does there have to be, though? I sometimes wonder why anyone who attempts to restrict their living in some way has to justify it with rigorous logic rather than just wanting to. It’s a bit like the way people ask me why I’m “boycotting” Amazon if I mention I’d rather get something from a high street shop. For some reason “I don’t really like Amazon” isn’t enough. Nobody ever demands a bulletproof ethical stance for my not liking cauliflower.

    Anyway, I know from a vegan housemate that most biscuits contain milk powder, but HobNobs are OK. Moments after the latter emerged he was stuffing HobNobs into his mouth, shouting I’VE NOT HAD A BISCUIT IN SIX YEARS. Other things I discovered: take vitamin B12 and you’re fine; cheese and onion crisps are, worryingly, often vegan-friendly; people who put yoghurt in humus are the devil.

    The mouthy vegan’s also a bit of a myth, I found. I’ve met a few vegans and they hated talking about it. Unless it was to wind up vegetarians.

    • rlmays11 says:

      Mike it sounds like you do have a reason for boycotting Amazon tho’, it sounds like a good reason – to support your local shops. :o)

      Your distaste for cauliflower — well that just can’t be justified. ;o)

  5. David says:

    “Fail better tomorrow” what a nice little saying. I think I’ll use that 🙂 Good luck with the veganism, and good luck with the critics of veganism. The worse of which, I’ve found, will most likely be some of your closest buddies. Just be sure to reassure them, that your being a vegan, is in no way ruining their not-being-vegan lifestyle.

  6. Jono says:

    Good for you Robin. My vegan experiment is going well after a year. The key things for me are trying new foods, avoiding unvetted cheese substitutes and not beating myself up if I slip up. Last week my baby neice crammed a Wotsit into my mouth. The world didn’t end but I did pause to wonder why I ever liked them before I became a full-time Nik Nak man.

  7. weavehole says:

    I had a thought although I’m unsure if it makes any sense. (I’ll write it here anyway)

    If no-one ate cows and pigs anymore they would at some point cease to exist outside of the occasional unimaginative zoo. And at some later stage become completely extinct.

    If that is so then are meat-eaters more anti-animal genocide than veggies/vegans?

    Is a life on a farm with no stresses (assuming not stuck in a tiny cage) and then a fairly quick non-cancer or lion induced death better than never existing at all?

    Should meat-eaters be anti-abortion if that’s true?

    Global warming is bad though and feeding all these animals seems like a waste of resources.

    Bacon is alright but I prefer eggs.

    Since 2nd Jan I have only eaten fruit, veg and salmon.
    I saw someone eating a kebab yesterday, smelt amazing.

    • Rick says:

      I had an interesting thought about the abortion thing the other week.

      I don’t see have vegans can be pro-abortion. Their whole philosophy is built on “killing for our selfish needs is wrong”.

      • Graham says:

        I don’t think there’s such a thing as a single vegan philiosophy – people choose veganism for many different reasons. I’m vegan (I won’t bore you with why) but pro-choice on abortion because of the choice element. Until we get animals similar to the cow in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, we can’t assume any animal has chosen to be someone’s meal

    • Rick says:

      Ooh, also. The animal feed thing has been debated quite recently. Since a lot of farmland is unsuitable for growing food for humans, and a lot of animals can eat food which is a by-product of feeding humans.

      That’s not to say things need to change and we perhaps need to cut down meat consumption. But it’s not so clear cut.

  8. Rick says:

    The problem is a philosophical one. Every action we undertake involves an effect on animals. If it’s ok to spray your vegetables with pesticides (thus killing insects and everything higher up the food chain), then why isn’t it ok to kill an animal to eat it? Especially when that animal has (as is perfectly possible) enjoyed a good, healthy, free-range life. To take it to an extreme, if no-one ate animals there wouldn’t be any animals in our countryside. So therefore, isn’t it ‘ethical’ for animals to live in the first place?

    If you drive a car (and I know Robin mostly travels by train) you are polluting the environment, though immediate emissions and the use of oil, ravaging the planet elsewhere.

    If you eat vegan substitutes, you are almost certainly consuming palm oil, which is one of the most environmentally damaging crops in the world – responsible for swathes of Asian rainforest having been destroyed in the past few years. It’ll mostly just be labelled “vegetable oil” because it’s got such a bad rep.

    Your soya was made in a factory. All your ‘cheese’ is now an industrial product, not a small dairy with milk and rennet. These almost certainly have a greater carbon footprint than buying stuff from your local farm shop.

    There’s also the more general point of harms. Why make animals the focus of your harm reduction? I know vegans who shop at Primark and other low cost high-street stores – thus perpetuating the near-slavery of children, working for a pittance in unsafe factories instead of going to school. Why reduce the perceived harm on a sheep (actually, I see no harm at all), who wouldn’t have existed otherwise, but not on a human being?

    The harms we do to wildlife are to me more heinous than those done to farm animals, since the net loss in killing a sheep compared to a tiger is zero. The animals is born because it will die. Note that this isn’t an argument for mistreating that sheep, but I don’t see that the sheep surrounding my house are in any way living an unpleasant life. I know that I’m lucky to live in the middle of a well run and compassionate farm. But that’s an argument for this system over a factory one, not of meat or no meat.

    Therefore, to me, it’s the harms to the greater environment we must be aware of, not perceived harms in raising and then killing an animal.

    At it’s most basic level, we are part of the environment and therefore are competitors to other animals. Everything we do – our towns, our farmland – has or has had a negative effect on other creatures. Minimising this is, of course, important. I’m not sure a vegan diet does.

    On a different level, a vegan diet opts you out of a great deal of the shared experience of food. It’s difficult living with a vegan – you can’t just have a cup of tea and a bit of cake when you’re out, you’re highly restricted in eating in restaurants (I was out with a vegan recently, not a single restaurant out of 5 or 6 had suitable meals, they had salad and chips. Twice.). This decision can therefore affect those around you, it’s a choice that makes a basic human communal activity fraught with difficulty rather than pleasure. I’m afraid I wouldn’t invite a vegan for dinner, for example. That could well be my problem, but a problem it is. Of course, this wouldn’t then be an issue if there weren’t the wider questions about the diet that I’ve outlined above – if it was clear cut about doing ‘good’ then you can’t argue. But the more I read and understand, the more I find that vegans are responsible for pretty much the same amount of harm to animals as the rest of us, since the greater harms don’t appear to me to be caused by eating an animal or an egg.

    My point isn’t to have a go. It’s a genuine philosophical argument that I find interesting. Which activities that cause harm are ok and which aren’t? How do you decide that animal harms are bad whilst perpetuating human ones? And if it’s ok to cause some harms, why choose not to cause these specific ones when by any measure it’s a tricky path that often excludes you from things? There are many easier things to do that would right an equal number of wrongs, other than going vegan.

    • robinince says:

      some industrialised products we use lead to people dying, therefore, I can;t see why i can’t directly murder with this gun. I think some of your points fall into Reducto Ad Absurdum. As for “It’s difficult living with a vegan – you can’t just have a cup of tea and a bit of cake when you’re out, you’re highly restricted in eating in restaurants”, I have not found that to be a problem in the past. I have not found being social or sharing expriences with vegans has been overly problematic.
      “To take it to an extreme, if no-one ate animals there wouldn’t be any animals in our countryside.” Do you really think that no animals existed in Britain (or anywhere else) until farming began?
      The idea that “we bred the animal, so gave it life, so now we can kill it” brings up quandaries for those who do not believe we have the right to cannibalise our children,

      • robinince says:

        also, you have made a sweeping statement on the presumed philosophy and reasoning of all vegans.

      • Rick says:

        Don’t get me wrong, my argument isn’t “we bred it so we can kill it”. It’s just “if we don’t breed them, there won’t be any”. The point about cannibalism is a strawman, ultimately. No-one is talking about eating babies. Just like a vegan said to me “I wouldn’t want anyone to be cruel to my dog”. Well neither would I. And actually, I particularly want anyone to be cruel to a cow. I don’t think it’s particularly cruel to humanely a cow to kill it. (After all, every pet owner will humanely kill their pet in the end, the act of killing an animal is not by definition a cruel one).

        Also, alongside that but not connected, “killing a wild animal is worse than killing a farm animal”.

        Also, it’s not really “industrialised products kill, why can’t I use this gun”. It’s “I’ve chosen a diet which apparently reduces harm, but ignore greater and equal harms from the same diet”.

        I just find that on balance, the harms reduced by veganism pale into insignificance. That argument does, of course, diminish the more you reduce your own harms elsewhere. But I come back to the point: vegan diets kill animals, they just don’t count them. As I say, it’s purely a philosophical exercise: why is that harm ok but another one isn’t?

        I’m sure you’ve found no problems in being vegan. I took little pleasure in going for lunch with a vegan because there wasn’t anything for her to eat and she had to make do. And when I’m out with them, I don’t bother having tea and cake because the only thing they can have is black coffee and nothing more. I appreciate that this will vary depending on where you live, but around here there is little to no catering to vegan diets.

        I don’t wish to make sweeping statements on vegan philosophy, though I haven’t come across any that don’t boil down to “I think it’s wrong to exploit animals and kill them for food”. I genuinely wish to learn, however.

        Incidentally, as this happens to be a subject which has touched my life recently I have made a call to a local abattoir. I’m visiting on Monday to see what happens there. If I’m going to be comfortable eating me, I endeavour to do so having seen for myself the thing that causes others to shun it.

      • Rick says:

        apologies for some horrendous typing errors… I’m sure you get the gist!

    • robinince says:

      you say cannibalising babies is strawman, but I only used it as I think many of your arguments are dangerously close to. is it better to try and do some things or nothing? If you lifestyle leads to the death of aphids, then why not eat veal? The line is rarely sharp, often fuzzy.

      • robinince says:

        and I still get the idea that animals will all vanish if we don’t breed them as if they never existed before we bred them.

      • Rick says:

        You counter that my arguments may become dangerously close to cannibalism. But I think your argument could back me up too. It’s a given that a vegan lifestyle also involves the deaths of animals. Meat eaters and vegans just draw the line in a different place about which deaths are ok and which are not. Your counter “if you kill aphids, why not eat veal” applies to vegans as much as anyone. It’s the same argument. Why not indeed? My answer would be that veal (actually not rose veal, which is simply a young cow) involves a level of cruelty that’s unacceptable. A cow living in a field can lead a cruelty-free life. If it’s ok to kill an aphid then yes, it’s ok to kill a cow, provided that the life up until that point wasn’t cruel. That’s why I think it’s ok to eat meat. I could easily turn it around and suggest ask why, if it’s not ok to kill a cow, it’s not ok to kill an aphid?

        As you say. It’s fuzzy.

        It’s an interesting discussion anyway, and I only posted in the spirit of discourse – and also because most places online where you can discuss these issues tend to be a bit rabid either way! I hope you and others appreciate from my comments that my choice of eating meat is not a default position that I haven’t thought about. I hope at least that my choice is based on what I’ve read and thought about, and can at least be backed up with some level of philosophy and argument even if others disagree.

  9. liliannberg says:

    The secret to success I think is not to search for substitutes, fake cheese etc. but to discover a whole new world of delicious whole foods in endless nutritious combinations. B12 is an issue, but there are actually a vegetable source of this vitamin in palmyra jaggery, an Indian palm sugar, Enjoy your excursion into “guiltfree” living – I think you are very brave. I’m still a lousy vegetarian.

  10. Good luck, it was always cheese that got me, the bluer and the stinkier the better. I often dreamt of blue cheese when I was vegan, interesting – just the thought of blue cheese can cause you to dream vividly – perhaps some homoeopathic quantum effect there. Anyway, it all seemed so pointless when there was cheese about…I’m going to have some cheese

  11. Kenny255 says:

    I started being vegan about 8 months ago. Meat eater to vegan, never been a veggie but if I didn’t change then I could’ve been accused of being a hypocrite.
    I put the needs of humans above those of animals so I have to be vegan.
    The ticking time bomb of antibiotic resistant bacteria in agriculture was a concern.
    The major concern though is the environmental impact of the meat, dairy , egg industry.
    Methane from cow burps, deforestation for cattle feed, sheep farming causing flood prone countryside or just the fact that the energy we could be consuming directly is being given to animals that we consume and therefore getting a much less efficient return.

    The expected hunger pangs for bacon have not arisen and I think that I appreciate my food a lot more now that I can’t just grab the nearest thing from the snack machine.
    Health and wellbeing have been good so far too.

    Good luck in your veganism Robin

  12. Sarah Stokes says:

    Robin, I seriously platonically love you for trying, and for blogging in your usual thoughtful way. I am always puzzled why the argument is not extended more frequently to cannibalism; I’ve no desire to eat human flesh but the vast majority of humans are no more sacred to me than the sheep in the field down the road. I am a lapsed vegan, currently in a perpetual state of failure, & when I wish to try and goad myself into better action I think of male chicks being ground up alive (they are disposable, y’see), and revisit a particularly horrific image of a landscape full of veal crates stretching to the horizon. Being a vegan wouldn’t make me a good person, but by my own lights it would make me a better, more consistent, more compassionate person. Best of luck & love.

  13. Good luck, Robin. I’ve had 3 goes at ‘going vegan’. Third attempt is working well. I agree with the comment about not finding cheese substitutes. That way lies madness. But, once I discovered vegan butter (the spready type & the block type for baking) everything changed. Marmite toast is my new great friend. B12 in marmite too.
    I think organization and batch cooking are key – lots if individual portions of vegan chili in the freezer. The lack of vegan convenience food causes a lot of problems.
    Basically we’re trying to shoehorn a completely incompatible way of eating into an environment that’s set up for omnivores. To make it work a lot of cooking from scratch is needed. This has not been easy for me as I’m an appalling cook, but it does get better and I’m sure is healthier whether vegan or not.

    All the best to you. Looking forward to your March show in San Francisco.

  14. Ben says:

    Some questions occurred to me while reading through the interesting comments to this blog post, particularly Ricks comments;
    1. if veganism forbids the consumption of honey as an exploitation of bees, does the same restriction exist on the consumption of crops that have been pollinated by domesticated bees?

    2. Would veganism allow for Mormon-style farming with horse-drawn ploughs and the like, which some might argue have a smaller negative environmental impact than petrol driven farm machinery?

    I would like to end by saying that theese questions are meant as genuine enquiry. I have no interest in going vegan myself but I do think we should all think more about where our food comes from and try and be more ethical in our approach to creating it

  15. I’ve been one for fifteen years and I eat really well, the main problem is not eating all the pies, pizzas, and other ready-made food that is so plentiful because really people should cook more and get their actual veg down them. These days it’s very easy to find alternatives,. Good on you sir, yet another reason to like you more (how honoured you must feel I’m sure *laughs*).

    I saw this yesterday and so far as being a vegan goes it’s amusing, true, and useful – have a peek – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/lee-kern/vegan-wanker_b_6404832.html

    – sonmi upon the Cloud

  16. Pingback: Vegan Wanker | Sonmi's Cloud

  17. Gabriela says:

    I find Vegan Society a bit in the “holier than thou” territory, so I stick to Veganuary, because they’re good in telling you how to do it and what to do, rather than what you can’t do and what you’re doing wrong. I don’t believe in things like “vegetarianism isn’t enough” – if it’s enough for me, then it’s bloody enough.

    I have also been asking things like “is bread vegan,” and there’s nothing wrong about that. What is dangerous is going overboard and start questioning everything, thus losing sight of the reason you’ve started this in the first place. I’ve bee vegetarian for some time, but I will eat fish if it’s offered to me (this does not apply for any other meat) or if not eating it will make me go anaemic.

    Doing this is quite different for each of us, and it shouldn’t be about must and mustn’t, or right and wrong. Personally I believe bringing a creature into the world with the intent of killing or abusing it is wrong. Other people may have different reasons.

    Uh, I should probably go on rambling on my own blog. Bye.

  18. Good luck with the going vegan – I’ve been one for something like 15 years (after being veggie for around 15 years before that). It’s just a lot more label-reading involved & being a bit more organised at times, much easier now than ever before. I mainly buy from supermarkets / health foods shops / local fruit & veg markets rather than need anywhere more specialist.

    There are plenty of alternatives for ready-made stuff – cakes, biscuits, cheese, chocolate, ice-cream, pizza, pies etc – often good tips here for all sorts of products/eateries: http://fatgayvegan.com/ or try to get along to one of the festivals (eg http://www.vegfest.co.uk/) to sample new stuff & see what you like. Lots of items are unexpectedly vegan (eg Astonish cleaning products – in pound shops, most of the Original Source Shower/Bath range etc).

    Sadly, the Vegan Society has stopped putting the Animal-Free Shopper online but Sainsbury’s & Co-op are good at labelling their vegan goods; most supermarkets stock plenty of vegan items (often in the free-from section, especially if you’re looking specifically for dairy-free); & other stores/manufacturers/restaurants usually have a vegan list (eg McVities, Walkers, Yo! Sushi, Wagamama etc). Alcoholic drinks are here: http://www.barnivore.com/. http://www.veganuary.com/ have some product lists on their site (by no means extensive), the Vegan Store (http://www.veganstore.co.uk/) do plenty of treats, as do all the main veggie animal charities (eg Viva!, Animal Aid, Vegan Soc etc) & most other online healthfood mobs (eg Goodness Direct).

    Plenty of opportunity for choosing ethical sources, if you wish.

    Happy Cow is great for finding places to eat nationwide/worldwide (http://www.happycow.net/); Vegan London (http://www.veganlondon.co.uk/eat/index.htm) & ‘chain’ restaurant tips (http://www.theallanimalvegan.com/2013/08/vegan-restaurants/).

    Have fun with it – there are plenty of interesting & new items to try.
    Jeanette

  19. JFC says:

    I’ve been vegan for 27 years and consider it one of the best decisions of my life (my doctor agrees). I lost 25 lbs within the first few months. Today my blood work and test results are of a man half my age!

    Here’s a short video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice and why the number of vegans has doubled in the US in less than 3 years.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE

    Also, here’s a link for everyone who wants to join the health revolution: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/step-by-step-guide-how-to-transition-to-vegan-diet/

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