Posts by Karen_WY

Vegan blogger living with more cats than humans.

An awkward compromise for vegan cat owners: the pet meat industry

cats eating

I’m a vegan with four cats. Every morning, one of the first tasks of my day is a gruesome one, as I rip open pouches of meat and squeeze them into bowls; every morning I go against everything I believe in, every principle by which I live the rest of my life, and I do my bit to support the meat industry.

To be clear, I’ve lived with cats my whole life. These animals – Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Luna and Huxley – are two pairs of siblings, and all came from a local cat rescue shelter, and all have joined us since I became vegan. This is one of the great hypocrisies of my life perhaps, but, like all of us, I try the best I can and this is my compromise.

Periodically I google cats and vegan cat foods, and it’s clear that, just like the human rise in plant-based diets has risen dramatically of late, so has the demand for pet foods that support this way of life. The number of dog and cat foods commercially available on the market is growing rapidly and it’s clear that dogs, natural omnivores, can thrive without meat. But cats? Ploughing through the masses of information on the web, it seems that some cats can go vegan, whereas for others it simply makes them ill over a longer period of time.

Taurine – an amino sulfonic acid, often referred to as an amino acid, and a chemical that is a required building block of protein – is the word that frequently gets hurled about in this debate. We make it; cats need it. And they need it, so it seems, in the quantities found only in meat and fish. Whether vegan diets make cats sick through lack of taurine literally appears to be the luck of the draw.

I’m constantly hunting to find out more about this topic and what greater source of consumer opinion could feasibly exist than the internet. I’m a great fan of reddit (think animal forums and kitty photos) and so I threw the cat somewhat among the pigeons by asking for views around this topic on the two groups which truly have a vested interest in this question: the cat forum and the vegan forum.

I phrased the question slightly differently for each audience, but in each case I was quite open and clear about my own current pet food choices. I expected my karma (the points system which amount to a review of your contributions on the site) to drop at first, and this was pretty much spot on. For the first few hours it plummeted as the kneejerk down voting kicked in. But then people started to actually read what I was saying and two decent debates followed. What became very quickly clear is that no-one is sitting on the fence in this matter.

Unless labelled as Bardo Burner (BB), the posts are all from other users.

Posted in the ‘cat’ forum:

I’m a vegan interested in knowing what cat owners think about vegan cats. For the record, my cats are carnivores and I feed them meat, but these products exist.

1. NO. NEVER. Cats are obligate carnivores.

2. Cats have to eat meat. A vegan diet will eventually kill them, and it will be a slow horrible death too. Don’t do it.

3. Here’s a WebMD piece on vegetarian dog and cat food which looks pretty good. My impression is that there are people selling vegan cat food as a racket, charging absurdly high prices for malnutrition. Anyone who deprives a cat of proper nutrition has no business claiming to be “compassionate.” (And I understand that’s not what you’re doing. Some people on Reddit hate anyone who even asks questions on taboo topics.)

4. Totally agree

5. Not all products that exist and are available are safe for pets. For example sand being sold for pet lizards is usually deadly but if you ask a pet store employee they will happily recommend it as a substrate. You don’t even need to feed your cats raw meat if you don’t want to but keep giving them normal cat food that’s meant for cats. I’m not sure why this would be a problem since I’d assume vegan cat food and normal cat food probably look the same so you shouldn’t feel disgusted or something by giving it to your cats.

6. If you wanted your pet to be vegan then you should not have a carnivore for a pet. Get a rabbit or something. Not fair to the cat.

7. (BB) I’ve got four and I don’t feed them lettuce, I assure you. Can imagine their disdain if I tried. To be clear, I have no intention of making my cats vegan. Purely came across the cat food and interested to hear your views.

8. Whoever invented these products is fucking retarded. Cats can become very ill by eating like that, the thing is that cats will not show you when they feel weak and sick. So by the time you realise Continue reading →

The Birds is a perfect nest for peckish vegans in Leytonstone

Vegan meal, The Birds, Leytonstone

What a glorious find The Birds pub on Leytonstone High Road is. The menu is mainly vegan and it’s ridiculously cheap to craft a good meal.

Between two of us we had the chickenish popcorn with garlic mayo, salt and pepper tempura cauliflower, and a macncheese each, all for under £15, plus two pints of lime and soda and a vegan ‘Snickers’ to share, which came in at less than a fiver.

Vegan dessert, The Birds, Leytonstone

We went earlyish on a Thursday night, and this E11 pub – the name of which is a nod to Leytonstone’s most famous son, Alfred Hitchcock – was quiet, though I’m guessing weekends are a different story.

Loved the food, but, honestly my favourite bit was the gentle birdsong piped into the ladies toilet.

 

The highs and lows of afternoon tea and cake at Shakespeare’s Globe

Vegan cake stand at the Swan, Shakespeare's Globe, London

When I can, I steer clear of omnivore eating establishments, but something about an afternoon at the Swan, a pub and restaurant attached to the Globe theatre in London, appealed to my latent luvvie.

Having booked a vegan tea, there was no problem when I arrived, and even the included cocktail, which normally contains honey, had been changed to accommodate me.

Cocktail at the Swan, Shakespeare's Globe, LondonThe initial waiter bent over backwards to make me feel special, which was appreciated; to me, afternoon tea is always as much about the gloss as about the taste. No disappointments on that front as my food arrived, along with my pot of oolong, looking suitable pretty and colourful. Mine looked every bit as well prepared as my omnivore companions’ cake stand.

It felt as though a lot of thought had gone into the sandwiches, which were dainty and filled with combinations of roasted peppers, vegan mayo and cheese, smidgens of cress and thinly chopped cucumber.

After that, it went downhill. The scones were dry and actually quite unpleasant to eat, and, though two of the chocolate-based cakes were delicious, the small glass containing a hefty blob of jam sprinkled with muesli was a real lowlight.

I’m going to give this experience a silver star for effort but, at £40, they really do need to try harder with the sweet stuff.

2,500 to 10,000 in two years: growth of veganism reflected in annual march

Karen was one of the estimated 10,000 protesters at this year’s Animal Rights March in London. Here, she reflects on its growth over the past two years and its contribution to highlighting the cruelty of killing animals to gratify human consumption

Animal Rights March, London 2018

Last year I joined 5,000 vegans on the Animal Rights March across London, an emotive annual event founded by the UK animal rights organisation Surge. At the first such event in 2016, the number of people protesting against animal cruelty of all kinds had been half that, at 2,500.

As a vegan for three years, and vegetarian for more than 40, last year’s march was a powerful and uplifting experience for me. I’d gone alone, I didn’t make new friends or spend time chatting, and I was anxious as hell before the event, with no idea what to expect. But from the moment I arrived I was part of something impassioned and heart-warming that simply felt right.

What overcame my nervous, lazy side was the notion of being a voice for the voiceless, and once there I was swept along and inspired by the slogans, banners and chants; and as a result of the speeches at the end, I left determined to become part of a wider vegan community.

And so it seemed inevitable that I’d be there again this year, and all the positive changes I’d seen over the past 12 months – a rapidly growing acceptance of veganism as a way of life, articles in the mainstream media, plus tons of cash being pumped into plant-based merchandise – made me suspect it’d be a much bigger affair.

As we gathered at Millbank on Saturday (August 25) I was aware that the crowd – people of all ages – felt bigger, but it was only as the march rolled out on to the streets near Westminster that it became obvious just how many of us there were. Later that night the figures were confirmed: 10,000 people had taken part, and once again participant numbers had doubled.

I’m delighted, humbled and honoured to have been part of the protest, but added to this is the shame that I live in a society that condones horrific acts of violence against millions of our fellow Earth creatures every day.  The posters and placards around me on the rally reminded powerfully me of the enormity of this brutality – I often forget the details. as I come from and live with a family for whom eating dead animals was never really an option.

The two marches I’ve attended have been deeply emotional experiences for me – on the one hand, there is pride and a sense of belonging at being in so like-minded a crowd; on the other, crushing sadness at the reality of the wider society around me and the practices it accepts as normal when it comes to taste buds. These issues are highlighted when the march passes eating establishments that serve carcasses of dead creatures as a matter of course.

You need to experience the uplifting vibe of the marches to truly appreciate their power, but here are a few shots I took on the day in the hope of conveying something of what it feels like to be there.

A vegan stalwart, one of the hidden gems of Porthmadog

vegoniaI’m just back from a road trip through Wales with my family, all three of us vegan. Having learnt from experience – a recent similar venture through the East of Scotland – we decided we had three choices when it came to food: spend our days glued to the Happy Cow app, with hunting as a primary focus of each day; take whatever food presented itself (the approach we took in Scotland, which we knew to be a hit-and-miss, often grim, choice); or go Airbnb and self cater.

At this point, let me clarify – I’m not saying it’s impossible to get food in these countries – I know there are many great places if you do your research or stick to cities – but we were going off-grid a little and wanted to make good food part of our journey, and not a central focus.

We plumped for self-catering – a wise move, which meant we spent less money and expended less energy searching for suitable places to eat. That said, I kept a close eye on the web, just in case we missed one of those lucky vegan finds; one such place was Vegonia Wholefoods in Porthmadog.

This independent vegan and vegetarian wholefood store carries over 3,000 lines including chilled, frozen and ambient foods, organic, gluten free, pet and baby foods, hot and cold drinks, vitamins, minerals, remedies, toiletries, household cleaning, and home brew products. I know this because I’ve done my web research, but that’s pretty much all there is about this place on the internet.

Slap bang in the middle of this small town in North Wales, Vegonia started up over 20 years ago, and though it’s listed in all the usual places, it has zero web presence of its own. There is no website, and only an automatically-generated Facebook page based on what users are interested in with no affiliation to the shop itself. And yet it has kept going since its opening in 1997.

In a world so often dominated by Holland & Barrett (and here’s a shout-out for that company’s own plans to become increasingly vegan-friendly soon), a long-standing independent shop, which has survived with virtually no internet presence while keeping so true to its original vision deserves a mention and a visit if you’re ever in the area.

The hype is true: Berlin could very well be the vegan capital of the world

Berlin: Marienkirche and Fernsehturm

A recent trip to Berlin (above) confirmed to me its status as one of the world’s capital cities for vegans. I’d been once before, as a vegetarian, and was decently catered for, but a few years later and eating out is an absolute delight.

During our five days there, we barely scraped the surface of the options available, but suffice it to say, it made such an impression that I’m headed back again in just a few months to revisit the wonderful food sampled last time, and to dig ever deeper into what’s on offer for vegans.

On the way to our hotel, in the fashionable area of Friedrichshain (on which this piece is going to focus), we stopped in the Teutonic equivalent of a kebab and falafel shop (Haroun al Rachid, Neue Bahnhofstr. 28), it being around lunchtime after a long morning, and us having spotted a board advertising ‘vegan halloumi’.

Not realising quite how vegan-friendly this whole area was, I went in and interrogated the guy behind the counter about the exact nature of the ‘cheese’, which was basically tofu slices in a fine batter. It was cheap and it was fresh and it was tasty (see below).

Haroun al Rachid: vegan halloumi

This was just one of a myriad such places, all advertising vegan choices, around the station Ostkreuz.

I always prefer to eat in totally plant-based restaurants, but I love the idea of a city in which vegans are catered for wherever they go and with whomsoever they are travelling. I’m lucky enough to do most of my travelling with someone of the same dietary persuasion as me, but for those with omnivore companions, I know eating out can be an issue. After that first meal, though, I stuck entirely to vegan-only food establishments.

From there we headed to our hotel, the Almodóvar, chosen for its purely vegetarian breakfast menu and ethical stance.

Having googled the breakfast, I knew I was going to be good… but €17.50 worth of good? My travelling buddy likes a bargain, and who could possibly be providing that much food first thing in the morning that we would want to eat? We agreed to try the buffet at the hotel’s Bistro Bardot (see below) on the first day and henceforth play it by ear.

Berlin Almodovar Hotel, Bistro Bardot

And, yeah, upshot was that we breakfasted there on all four mornings: long lazy breakfasts that went on for well over an hour. Vegan croissants, freshly baked pretzels, several varieties of bread were served alongside currywurst, scrambled tofu, several types of cold ‘meats’ and dairy-fresh cheeses, and several varieties of cake and muffin. This is on top of the cereals, fruits, juices, coffees and rustic-looking teas.

Friedrichshain is just a wonderfully cool area. Formerly part of East Germany, Continue reading →

The Feel Good Café, dedicated to saving animals and healthy eating

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Good plant-based food is often found in the strangest of places and the Feel Good Café in north-east London is an example of this. A small underused Chingford arcade, tucked neatly between a pet grooming salon and a photography studio, is where owner Idan, pictured above right, started up his vegan café three years ago.

With a constantly updated menu filled with good wholesome vegan fare – at the point of writing it includes the most delicious buckwheat pancakes with chia seeds, potato bagels and pink love porridge made with beetroot powder – the Feel Good Café is passionate about both the food they serve and the cause they are helping to promote.

So what is the driving force behind this venture? Idan answered the questions we put to him.

I know you came to veganism initially for health reasons – what specifically was the condition that led to this diet?

I suffer with ME/CFS, an autoimmune condition that until five years ago kept me housebound for years. Living with ME is like living with a flu that doesn’t go away.

Having being diagnosed, what led you to a plant-based diet? I have heard you talk at points about raw veganism… is that a diet you’ve tried yourself?

Over the years in my desperation to get better I’ve tried many diets. Eventually I realised that we share a common ancestor with the great apes. And that the great apes are still living not only in the same environment that we evolved from, but also eating the very same food that our species originally evolved to eat.

From there I learned that we have the hands to murder a banana, fig, spinach leaf, apple and so on but certainly not a living animal. Furthermore, looking at our digestive tract, teeth and jaw movement it is clear as day that we are herbivores/frugivores.

Morally we do not possess the excitement and hunger associated with killing an animal for food ourselves. Blood puts us off, where it excites a carnivore.

My diet consists of: fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, grains, nuts and seeds. I try to eat them as nature presents them, so no frying, no salt, oil or sugars added. I tend to eat more raw foods in summer and more cooked in winter.

How much research do you think people should do before starting a vegan diet?

Animals are getting killed by the thousands as we speak; there’s no time to be wasted, first go vegan. Eat fresh and natural foods. Then read the book How Not To Die by Dr Michael Greger. This will set you on an amazing path that offers higher morals and health.

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I know you are passionate about veganism being for the animals. Where does this fit in with your choice to go vegan? Were you vegetarian before your diagnosis?

I too, regrettably, was a meat eater once, but films such as Earthlings, Cowspiracy or Dominion have inspired many of us to become passionate about our commitment to animals – veganism is a logical consequence.

You strike me as an excellent front man for the cause. When you started your cafe in that little, often deserted, arcade, I was delighted. But I couldn’t help wondering how anyone starting a vegan café in that venue could make it work. You have though – how on earth have you achieved that?

It was hard to attract people at first and still is much harder to get customers compared to a High Street shop. However, word of mouth soon started spreading and so did our social media channels. But yes, being tucked away, it’s always a working process.

You’ve achieved what I have to say is an amazing feat. What was this journey like? How have you made it work? Were they times when you felt like you’d made the wrong decision, starting this venture? And who are your customers?

The Feel Good Café is made up from different teams. I may be the face, but Izabela is constantly hitting on the social media, while other people are making sure the shop runs smoothly each day. We have an amazing accountant and business consultant who’s vegan too.

But most importantly it’s the local people, community and online community. All of whom are extremely dedicated to the cause of saving animals and eating healthily. The people of Chingford and the wider area are incredible and extremely supportive to their local vegan café.

Life is not perfect; we make mistakes regularly but also small landmarks. We’re still young, only going for three years. And over time the path gets clearer and easier to walk on.