Posts by Karen_WY

Vegan blogger living with more cats than humans.

Excellent restaurants in Florence that show it’s possible to deliver a vegan take on classic Italian cuisine

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Simple soul food: Shanti Bomb and chips, ravioli, and salad at Dolce Vegan in Florence

No greater is the divide between vegan and vegetarian food perceived, perhaps, than in the world of Italian cuisine. The thought of missing out on the culture of creamy cheesiness that this country has to offer and being confined to tomato-based sauces was not too appealing before a recent trip to Florence.

But thanks to the Happy Cow app (the only app I’ve ever paid money for and well worth the roughly £2.99 I splashed out a few years back), it was soon obvious that vegan recipes can be as deliciously Italian as any other.

Three places stand out. First, Dolce Vegan, which was the first wholly vegan restaurant to be established in Florence. Their mission statement and rationale behind the restaurant is stated clearly on their website:

It’s called “VEGAN” to give a clear and precise message of our choice. Because milk and eggs cause more suffering than meat, and so the vegetarian choice is no longer acceptable either from an ethical point of view or from a healthy and environmental point of view.

It’s called “DOLCE” because it “gently and serenely” chooses to be vegan. In fact, being vegan does not mean giving up something or depriving yourself of the pleasures of the table, but acquiring awareness of your actions and enriching your life also through a healthy and tasty diet, full of news and surprises. We want to make everyone aware of the beauty and sweetness of living respecting animals, the environment and their health.

The menu is extensive and rather incomprehensible to the non-Italian speaker, and the serving system is also confusing. If you sit long enough someone will come and take your order, but long enough was too long for us on our first visit and so we opted for counter service, which speeded things up considerably. On our second visit, we chose our table strategically, so that not noticing us was not an option.

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Sweet treat: The superb cheesecake at Dolce Vegan, Florence, a perfect accompaniment to postprandial coffee

The staff are lovely and the place has a really pleasant vibe. The food ranged from burgers to pasta to salads. I tried a wrap, and the ravioli. Both were good, if not particularly special. My companion had the Shanti Bomb (burger) and chips, which he confirmed as being as hearty, tasty fare that really “hit the spot”.

Their links with a nearby animal sanctuary are displayed everywhere, and there are leaflets about volunteering there as well as the chance to donate cash to help with looking after animals.

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Classic flavours: Fried potato side dish with gnocchi in pesto sauce at Universo Vegano, Florence

Universo Vegano has a very different feel to it. It’s part of a glossier franchise chain, with no table service and reliably good food. For me, it was reminiscent of the Swing Kitchen restaurants in Austria. The environment is clean and modern, with a relatively authentic menu of burgers, pizzas and pastas.

I avoided the pizzas in both restaurants, as I didn’t see any reviews online anywhere that convinced me to try them. Universo Vegano’s gnocchi in a rich and flavoursome pesto sauce was amazing. The ravioli was superb too, as were the salads we tried, and the fried potatoes. There was a steady stream of people coming in, and it was good to see so many solo female diners settle in for a series of courses.

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Back for more: Strawberry and cream cake, smothered in nuts, Universo Vegano, Florence

The strawberry cream cakes, rolled in crushed nuts, were so fresh and delicious that we came back for more the next day.

Also mention-worthy from our recent trip to Florence was the hotel we stayed in, Residenza Magliabechi. We scored a superb deal, staying here for three nights for a ridiculously low price, because we went completely out of season, two weeks before Christmas. The location is perfect; it’s really central and within walking distance of everywhere.

But the biggest relevance here is the way they took our plant-based diet totally in their stride, and provided us with an excellent breakfast of fruits and bread and vegan croissants every morning.

To Aachen for tasty vegan eating (and good to learn P&O Ferries is no longer all at sea with a plant-based diet)

Pfannenzauber mealsRestaurant review: Pfannenzauber, Aachen

An excellent vegan find in the German city of Aachen is Pfannenzauber. With a relaxed vibe, it’s one of those places that you can spend many happy hours chatting and eating.

The food was superb. There were six of us, and we shared two Tex-Mex platters, which were absolutely delicious. The potato, cheese and bolognaise dip that came with the nachos was outstanding. For mains my companions raved about the various burger meals they had, while I had the pumpkin schnitzel with sesame coating, cabbage and roast potatoes. Sadly there was no room for dessert.

But if you add a helpful and friendly staff to the mix, this was a truly lovely way to spend an evening.

P&O Ferries vegan curry meal

A shout out to the ferry food on the way over from Dover to Calais. Last year, I took the same journey and was greeted by nothing short of bewilderment when I mentioned the word vegan. ‘Do you eat fish?’ was the waitress’s first question as she scuttled off to fetch the allergens menu.

What a difference a year makes… This time I had the soup of the day to start and was presented with a choice of curry or vegan pizza. I chose the curry (pictured), and it was way beyond average ferry food standard. A big pat on the back to P&O Ferries for listening to the changing mood of society and catering to a plant-based diet.

How I went from one (dreaded) vegan day a week to being fully committed to respecting the lives of sentient beings

Everyday Vegans
A series in which ordinary people talk about living a plant-based life


Having been a committed vegetarian, Talya Lewis went back to eating meat when she was pregnant – but it was through the inspiration of one of her daughters that she ultimately ended up a vegan

Talya LewisThere is an uncanny human phenomenon of promoting the rampant suffering of other sentient beings. Our species considers itself worthier than all the others with widespread abuse not only justified but condoned by the majority of people, and no consideration for the physical and emotional pain of the animals, whom they regard as insignificant.

I entered my teen years before the existence of drones that would catch footage of barbaric animal mistreatment and before the internet where the horrors could be shared for the world to see. It was in that world that I became a vegetarian.

I flitted between strict adherence and lapses into succumbing to the smells that wafted from my mother’s kitchen, settling on my olfactory receptors, then targeting my salivary glands, sparking cravings in to which I would cave. It was in this cycle that I was firmly entrenched until my early twenties when I joined the Anti-Vivisection Society, participated in demonstrations from the 1986 Fur Expo in Madison Square Garden, New York, to Milan, Italy, protesting against animal experimentation, and became exposed to some of the truths that were stealthily camouflaged from public view.

Through my twenties and thirties I remained a devout vegetarian, still blind, however, to the depths of the ruthless and sadistic means to which man could go. I was embedded in the illusion that the meat industry was brutal, but that the dairy industry looked like the cows on the milk cartons and the egg industry housed happy hens clucking about as they joyfully relinquished their offspring by the dozen. I thought I knew it all. I knew nothing.

Time passed; I married and had children. Pregnant for the third time, I experienced cravings I had not encountered in more than 20 years. My hormone-ravaged body screamed out daily words I never thought I would hear my mind utter, “Meat, give me meat!” I resisted and resisted and resisted… until I succumbed.

With shame and guilt as my constant companions, I found my way back to cheeseburgers, steaks, sausages and bacon, of course. The smells that travelled to my nose from my mother’s kitchen now found themselves travelling through my own home to the noses of my two young vegetarian daughters. My four-year-old succumbed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Navigating a world while raising your kids as vegetarian was frustrating. Nannies in the park wanted to give them pieces of salami and hot dogs. Moms, while in charge of my children on play dates, wanted to take them to McDonald’s where they could rejoice in succulent juices of the dead animals that were neatly chopped and placed between two buns before being topped with cheese, mustard and ketchup.

But the worst came from family, where the expectation of respecting my choices should have been granted without fear of betrayal.

My husband and I were at his company Christmas party, entrusting the care of our veggie kids to my parents, sister and brother-in-law. My then youngest child (my third was yet to come) was just shy of two years old. The family was scarfing down steak while my oldest, then four, was eating whatever non-meat items were available.

My almost two-year-old, as the story goes, was toddling about when she approached my brother-in-law pointing to her mouth. Naturally his assumption (remember what happens when we ass-u-me) Continue reading →

‘We need to avoid having cult figures in the vegan community and to acknowledge the work of women’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


The latest contributor to our series is Zack Polanski, 36, a London Assembly candidate for the Green Party whose veganism is closely aligned to his environmental activism

Zack Polanski

How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for four years and was vegetarian for ten years before that.

What led to the change from vegetarian to vegan?
I was making a documentary for a production company – which they never completed – but whilst I was preparing questions for vegan activists, I realised I already instinctively knew the answers.

Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
No.

Are you a ‘healthy’ vegan? Often people assume we’re all fitness-obsessed, when the reality is that we come in many flav­ours and for many pe­ople life is an eter­nal hunt for vegan cake. What makes up your diet?
Not at all. Fast-paced London lifestyle fuelled by Huel, vegan fast food and the occasional cooked vegetable.

Do you consciously think about where you get your protein, etc, from?
I used to, but as you get in a groove, I think your body lets you know when it’s time for the healthy option.

For many vegans, the initial realisation of facts that make us turn to a different lifestyle is pretty life-changing and alienating. We view things differently, from the supermarket shopping experience in a meat-eating world to the people around us. How was that change in mindset… the reality of being an outsider in many situations… for you?
That’s absolutely right. Being vegan meant I spent much more time around environmentalists and people who were fighting to save the planet. I went vegan for the animals – and then realised there are so many more other crucial reasons to do it too.

Do you mix with many other vegans – does your lifestyle mean that you come into contact with people of a similar outlook regularly?
A fair few. I’d say a large part of my friendship group is vegan. Including my partner, Richie!

Do you seek out vegan groups and forums online?
I did initially to get grounded in the community and for people to digitally hold my hand. Now I’m more than happy to be involved but schedules a little too busy to actively seek it out.

Do you live in a meat/dairy eating household? And if so, how is that?
I do. I live in a shared building with 18 people; I reckon the veggie/vegan – omnivore split is about 50/50. It’s fine though. We have some really good discussions and slowly people are coming around!

Where do you like to eat out?
I love Black Cat Café, Yorica, Temple of Seitan  and my favourite of all is actually a Chinese vegan restaurant in Archway (Loving Hut).

Do you feel you have more in common with vegans than the majority of other people who don’t believe plant-based is the way forward?
I think there’s a mutual understanding that you potentially both have a love of animals and a desire to save the planet. That’s a good grounding for any friendship I think.

Do you, as most of us have to, eat out with non-vegans often and how do you feel about their eating choices?
A lot. I feel their choices are their choices. I don’t believe in preaching or being angry at people. We all have to come to these decisions in our own time and I’m a great believer in being a demonstrator of your values rather than just talking about them.

Zack PolanskiAre you involved in any form of activism?
Lots. Political obviously. Also regularly go to Critical Mass, which is all about cycling. I’m involved with XR, and was arrested this year during the Spring Rebellion. I’m currently awaiting my court date.

Even more crucially though, I’m a spokesperson for Make Votes Matter (the campaign for Proportional Representation). That might sound like a long stretch from veganism, but actually one of the biggest flaws in society right now is that our rules are made by the current unfair voting system. The Green Party would look to change that to have much healthier and well-balanced debates about everything in our democracy. Undoubtedly within that, animal rights and the environment would get a much better hearing.

How do you feel about the vegan jokes… you know, that vegans can’t go five minut­es without mentioning the fact or they explode?
Next…

Do you believe that the meat and dairy industries have a future?
If they do, ultimately our planet doesn’t. We need to move away to plant based options and make it all considerably easier, cheaper and more accessible – I’m open to whether that includes meat and dairy replacements.

How do you think we best ‘convert’ omnivores to a plant-based lifestyle? And do you actively try to do this?
I wouldn’t necessarily say convert. Educate, inform and persuade. And I do it by not actively doing it – by living a busy, happy, healthy lifestyle and demonstrating that being vegan is the future.

How do you feel about the horror-show videos of the reality of meat? Do you share them? Do you feel they have a positive place in changing people’s understanding of the meat and da­iry industry?
I don’t like them. I think they’ve got their place but I can’t face watching them and in fact I’ve never seen them. I think positive conversation is much more likely to create sustainable change rather than shock factors.

Are you positive about the future of veganism?
Absolutely. The one slight caveat is that I’m cautious about the vegan celebrities that are cropping up on YouTube… (usually white and male). We massively need to avoid having cult figures in the community, and also to acknowledge the work of a lot of women for the past few decades that wasn’t about getting popularity hits but about maintaining a principled and ethical argument for the environment – and for our animals.

What does being vegan mean to you?
Ultimately it can only mean love!

‘It is possible to live a life where you do not hire people to abuse and kill animals (after all, we are animals, too)’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


Our latest contributor, a blogger who writes as ‘M’ known as Butterflies Katz, 61, from Florida in the US, became a vegan at a time when even vegetarians were few and far between. It’s been a long journey

‘M’ known as Butterflies KatzI have been an unwavering strict vegan for 40 years. I was a vegetarian for 10 years prior to that, because I didn’t realise back then (before the internet) that the least stance we can take not to participate in animal exploitation is veganism, not vegetarianism.

I was 12 years of age when my brother told me that ‘meat’ was a dead animal, and that was the last time a morsel of meat entered my mouth, even disguised. (I never did get the mind-set that eating a corpse is delicious!). Early on I started preparing my own food, as my family was not vegan or vegetarian.

When I was 21, a clerk at a health shop handed me a magazine published by the American Vegan Society. I was specifically moved by the information that humans steal new-born calves away from their bellowing mothers so they can steal their milk. The name of the magazine was Ahimsa, which means nonviolence in Sanskrit.

I immediately rid my closet of leather, and became a staunch vegan, for the animals, and for nonviolence, as per the literal definition of veganism.

Veganism extends beyond diet to all products and practices, and is a way of life that seeks non-participation with animal exploitation – for any purpose – as much as is reasonably possible. While there may be rewards or benefits of vegan living for personal or planetary health, the actual reason/definition pertains to not exploiting animals.

I am, so far, a healthy vegan. I am not a super athlete, but I don’t have any diseases, take no meds, don’t go to doctors. At age 61, I have plenty of energy to propel me through the days. Of course I will never go back to being an omnivore: once you ‘get it, there’s no going back.

I eat what I want, though I choose to eat healthier ingredients and foods that contain the nutrients that vegans may lack. I have chosen my food choices scientifically. For example, I would include tempeh in my diet because it is the highest vegan food source of L-carnitine. I drink carrot juice because it’s the best source of beta carotene, which converts to Vitamin A. I eat salads with baby kale, as opposed to lettuce, as there is much more nutrition in the kale. Greens are a staple food and I avoid greens with oxalic acid. I drink coffee, so to combat the acidity, I eat a lot of watermelon; medicinally. I use food as my medicine. Because pharmaceuticals are tested on animals, I have rarely taken them.

I should also mention that I eat plenty of junk food. But I try to lean towards the healthier ingredient junk food, as in whole spelt flour instead of wheat flour, organic canola oil, organic sugar and no white refined sugar. When I lived in northern New Zealand for 17 years, I could not get vegan junk foods, and rarely ate processed vegan foods/junk food. I was not able to enjoy So Delicious cashew ice cream, Vegenaise, or vegan cheese – but I did enjoy being 20 pounds thinner!

I don’t worry about protein. Never have. It’s in many foods and I eat foods that contain complete protein such as buckwheat, quinoa, and hemp seeds. I also eat tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils… not a lot, but I fit it into my diet to be sure that I am receiving ample protein.

I went vegan at a time when basically no one was vegan. I was very alone; I never heard of or met another vegan (or even vegetarian in those years). Obviously, I walk this path not caring if I’m different. I’m different in a good way. I am exemplifying to the human race that we can live a vegan life and not hire people to abuse and kill animals (after all, we are animals, too).

I lived in a vegan community for 35 years – most of my adult life – so I had plenty of like-minded friends. I was a volunteer who taught the public about the lifestyle. I grew large vegan organic gardens, Continue reading →

One of the classiest places to get superb vegan food in Munich

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Fluffy and full of flavour: the chickpea omelette at Max Pett in Munich

Restaurant review: Max Pett, Munich

For a really laid-back atmosphere and delightful plant-based food in Munich, Germany, Max Pett  is a first-rate bet.

I truly loved this place. We went for brunch on a Saturday morning, shortly after opening time, as seems to be our habit. Me, I had the chickpea omelette, which was so full of taste, fluffy and light that I’ve been trying to recreate it in my own kitchen (with little success) ever since.

In fairness, I made the better choice. My companion plumped for the white sausage with brezl, which when it arrived – two pale sausages paddling in a bowl of boiling water and a large pretzel on the side – confused us both so much that for the first time in my life I had absolutely no idea how he should approach it.

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Baffling: Max Pett’s white sausage and brezl should come with eating instructions

There was no spoon, so we figured it wasn’t a soup, and the sausages came in what seemed like an inedible skin from which they required freeing. Listen, he did the best he could; after a bit of squeezing, the flayed little blighters plopped out onto the saucer next to the provided mustard, and he assures me that the bread was good. Before we left, we spotted the young woman next to us ordering the same meal, which she greeted with equal perplexity.

There was no confusion, however, surrounding the Kaiserschmarrn, an ample portion for two huge appetites of warm fruity cosy stodginess served with apple sauce, plus a creamy hot chocolate and a chai latte to drink.

The whole experience – we sat outside on the quiet street surrounded by greenery, but inside also looked like a place it’d be good to settle into and spend some time – was super-relaxing. Busy, but somehow still the vibe was very calm.

I was left with the feeling that I’d like to explore the rest of the menu. A little pricey perhaps, but friendly service and wholesome food makes it worth it.

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Sweet perfection: the Kaiserschmarrn at Max Pett is truly special

Forget the overpriced hotel breakfast – here’s one of the tastiest ways to start a day in Vienna

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Hot stuff: Gyros wrap and chips with wasabi mayonnaise at Veggiez, Vienna

Restaurant review: Veggiez, Vienna

Another burgeoning Austrian ‘chain’ of vegan restaurants is Veggiez, which began in 2015, currently has two branches in Vienna, and is on the lookout for potential franchise investors.

Veggiez  has a large menu, including a lot of gluten-free choices, from soups and toast options, through salads to a range of burgers, wraps and bowls. It bills itself as ‘your vegan dining rooms’ and takes pride in the quality of flavour and good quality organics ingredients. It caters for what it claims are the 13% of Austrians and 16% of Germans who lead a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle; the numbers are growing, it says.

Desperate for breakfast, and staying at a hotel virtually opposite the Opernring branch, where the €30 breakfast offered us little more than dry bread and a banana, we were pretty much standing outside the doors when it opened at 11 o’clock on a Friday morning.

Although we were the first people there, it quickly filled up. This didn’t affect our seat by the window, but meant things got a smidgen tight for some of the diners. That said, there are plenty of seats at this place, both inside and out.

Between us we ate the smokey burger and the gyros wrap, both served with absolutely amazing chips and a superb wasabi mayonnaise. The coffee was also great tasting: I had a latte with almond milk, my companion had a black Americano. Having read various reviews before going in, neither of us could resist the chocolate muffin with a crumble topping and cherry filling for dessert. We weren’t disappointed.

Add good service and decent prices to the equation and visiting Veggiez was an excellent experience.