I am so hyper-aware of not being preachy about veganism that sometimes I'm worried I don't speak up enough. But I want to speak up about something very specific because this isn't just about the treatment and killing animals to provide nourishment, this is something I've noticed ever since turning vegan, and something that is actually the root problem of all of this: our displacement from our food.
There's two great articles you should read, as I did tonight, and those are What Causes Weight Gain in The New York Times and Here Is The Simplest Advice For Anyone Trying To Lose Weight Or Eat Healthy, the latter of which ironically enough critiques a vegan diet at the start, only to go on to totally endorse one by the end, as if there's some other definition of a vegan diet that doesn't focus on plants. But of course there are many ways a vegan, plant-based diet can be skewed, just like there are many ways an omnivore's diet can be skewed towards low-nutrition, faddy, ready-made food, and that's because we place far too much emphasis, as a western culture, on the fact that our food should be easy to buy, prepare and eat.
Read those two articles and it is common sense coming through. At long last. Because even though it sounds pretty damn obvious just a few years down the line, a lot of us were brought up on fat-free crisps and sugar-free coke, school dinners we liked to eat because they were just tray-to-tray junk food and the unequivocal happiness that certain shade of beige all frozen potato products bring. It's time we skipped out on all of this, and added all the fake bacon, fake salami and fake fish fingers to the pile, because, as Michael Pollan brilliantly states, we should be avoiding "anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognise as food". This isn't just sweetener and green-label Coca Cola- this is palm oil, protein shakes, and my current fave- Soylent (Most Sinister Tag Line of 2014: Free Your Body).
Eat Real Food. That's the message, and it's not that hard. Again, Pollan explained this in a wonderful way a few years ago for The New York Times back in 2007 when he simply instructed: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
How does it translate to veganism? Last night I was explaining veganism to some friends when I was asked about the supplements I take. I don't. Why? Because recent studies show they have negligible, if any effect on our health. You'd think an industry worth somewhere in the ballpark of $68 billion would have a bit more to claim than the fact that taking them "wouldn't do you any harm", but that's the reality of all of our shortcuts to health: there aren't any real ones. Eating a plant-based diet that's varied, changes with the seasons and as local as possible are the supplements I need. Somedays, if I'm feeling really indulgent, I even go outside for a Vitamin D top up.
Today I cycled 4 miles to go and pick up my vegetable and fruit order for the week. It comes from Growing Communities, and because there aren't any other companies like it in London, I can't choose a more convenient option, so I've stuck with the one I trust. I cycled home, only slightly struggling under the weight of so much produce on my back, and unpacked it all onto my kitchen table. There were kiwis with a weird skin, broad beans a little bent, carrots with carrot tops left on, soil-covered spring onions and new potatoes with clods of mud between them. Before sorting anything away I have to clean my fridge, because every week it gets filled up with mud from all the produce that gets put in it. Today I stared begrudgingly at the fridge drawers soaking in the sink. But now I realise a fridge full of mud is a far better thing to have than a fridge full of plastic. Knowing what to do with raw ingredients is a skill in itself, but it doesn't take much longer than swapping things around in the microwave.
We all know THIS ONE COOL TRICK FOR A FLAT STOMACH is a lie, but it's time we started seeing low-fat and sugar-free options for the impossible claims they make. There isn't a short cut to eating well, and we are part of a generation that is going to have to re-train itself to do this after all the convenience and Diet Coke diets of the past thirty years. But it's the only way to get back to sustaining ourselves properly, and as much as I turned vegan because I wanted to get as far away from the food industry's treatment of other animals, I think learning to eat right is just as important. Juice diets, detoxes, vitamin shakes- they're all just another way of making money out of someone's search for health.
Sure, I use stock cubes and soya milk and never have time to soak chickpeas or make my own pasta on a regular basis or even plan ahead for drunken munchies (thank you, local newsagent's ever-ready-supply of lentil soup) but the focus needs to be on cooking with as many raw ingredients as you can. It shouldn't be a novelty, it should be every day. If there's more than a few ingredients on a label that you can't pronounce, or it's covered in health-food claims and percentages, it's not very likely to be doing you the world of good. Keep it colourful, varied, as fresh as possible and be aware of how much oil and salt you're cooking with. If you fancy something sweet, chop up a fruit salad or even make a cake- it will always have less sugar in it that the ones you buy in the supermarket. What's more, over time you can change your palette to adjust to much lower levels of salt and sugar if you do it yourself, so much so that things like Dairy Milk chocolate become almost inedible because they're so sweet.
And just like that, it doesn't have to have a concept, a book available on Amazon or a band of celebrities trying it out for 22 days. It's just called common sense: It's got to be real food.