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MFWF 2014: Tarbert’s Table & Eat Ocean, Drink Succulent

Author’s note, or something: I feel odd about publishing a post that talks about haggis during my strictly herbivorous month – you can’t really get a lot less vegan than haggis!

A recent episode of How I Met Your Mother featured a Scottish-Mexican fusion restaurant as an example of ridiculous places that should not exist and things that “do not fuse”.

Funny, not just because it does seem pretty silly, but that in recalling my own recent food adventures, I realised that my opening weekend of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival did in fact feature both Scottish and Mexican “cuisine”.

How I Met Your Mother - 9x21

Amusing as the combination might seem, my experience perfectly represents the rich medley of events that comprise the MFWF, which in turn exemplifies the undiscriminating and incredibly ethnically diverse food culture in Melbourne.

I am so absolutely excited by variety, yet though I was vaguely aware of the MFWF before moving to Melbourne, I didn’t know just how much was on offer. Food festivals back home were one-or-two-day one-venue affairs – I had no idea it could be this incredible, colossal, city-wide celebration of food that spanned two and a half weeks! Several years on, and it’s definitely tied first with Christmas for my most anticipated time of the year. As mentioned in my opening post of the festival, this is my third MFWF run, and I already feel like a bit of a veteran, planning my way around the two and a half weeks while making sure to fit in a diverse range of events.

Each year, the festival has an overarching theme and the individually hosted events that are a part of it try to work with that as the central idea. In 2014, the theme was “Water”.

Tarbert’s Table of the Loch (Golden Gate Hotel)

A mere 24 hours after my first World’s Longest Lunch, I was heading off to South Melbourne’s Golden Gate Hotel with KP for some traditional Scottish fare. This event, called “Tarbert’s Table of the Loch” was run by the Melbourne Venue Company (MWC), who had also organised a themed lunch last year called “A Conquistador’s Adventure”. That event was held in a pub in Port Melbourne, part of a family of pub venues around the city, and was featured in my photo post summarising my 2013 participation in MFWF.

Tarbert is a village in Scotland that is built around a loch (Gaelic for “lake” or sea inlet) and so the meal features several seafood dishes, thus satisfying the MFWF’s water theme of the year.

As it was at last year’s South American feast (A Conquistador’s Adventure, mentioned above), the food was quite delicious overall. It’s a pleasant surprise (for lack of a better word) because these MWC events are catered by the resident chefing talent of the pub it is held at. Often these pubs have a strong, positive local reputation, yet are not exactly famed for their food and the chefs are unknowns.

I am not sure how the MWC managed to find some person or persons at The Exchange Hotel capable of whipping up over a dozen different Central and South American specialties in 2013, but this year one of the Golden Gate Hotel’s very own just happened to be Scottish – a young guy by the name of Fraser, the pub’s head chef.

What’s even more amazing is that they managed to track down a Scottish minister from a local Scots’ church to read a Gaelic blessing before the meat course!

The other guests were a mishmash of personalities – a mix of locals who seemed to frequent the pub and probably saw a flier, people who had travelled in Scotland and missed the food, actual Scottish people who missed their food or were curious, foodies who had found the event online or their friends and spouses who were dragged along. The host or “MC”, if you will, was the very same guy who had dressed up in Spanish conquistador costume last year and was now dressed in a kilt!

Lunch began with canapes of crushed black pudding, crumbed fried scallops and smoked salmon on a sort of plain mini pancake. I thought that scallops and salmon were rather uninteresting choices (though the bite-sized servings were nice enough), but the black pudding was rich and delicious, not too dry, not too overwhelming. Even KP, who normally dislikes black pudding and morcilla sausage and the like, really enjoyed it.

The highlight of all the courses was, almost indisputably, the Cullen skink, which is similar to a rather thick seafood chowder. It was hearty, creamy, flavoursome, subtly smoky and full of fresh seafood-y goodness, topped with one large, perfectly fried potato-and-fish dumpling. Once I had cleaned my bowl, I simultaneously craved seconds and felt like I couldn’t have one more rich, lactose-laden spoonful.

Haggis came next, and it was pretty much a given that this famed Scottish fare would feature in a lunch showcasing that country’s traditional cooking. It was served with “bashit neeps” and “chappit tatties”, which mean crushed turnips and mashed potatoes, respectively – I had to giggle as I suddenly had a vision of myself, furiously BASHing turneeeeeps! There’s not much you can say about mashed veges, except I would describe, for example, bad mashed potato to have a powdery texture and taste, and good mash to be smooth, velvety and quite creamy. This was good mash, and the beaten up turnips were good, too.

I can’t have eaten haggis more than maybe twice ever, so I don’t have of a point of comparison, but I quite liked it – it actually tasted a lot like a rich pate, but with oats through it. Rather than being made in-house, it was instead purchased from a butcher in Dandenong (I think?) which was apparently somewhat well known for it. Ah, there you go, I just looked it up. It’s called Rob’s British and Irishy Butchery. Rob makes authentic British smallgoods that seem to be very popular with the immigrant communities as well as delis Victoria-wide.

The meat dish of lamb backstrap less satisfying than all the other courses – mine in particular was a little more than a touch dry and overcooked, and I seemed to also have a smaller serving with thinner slices of lamb than others at my table. The sauce was, moreover, slightly gritty, though quite tasty. I put it down to having a large number of guests to serve, and perhaps others got very juicy and delicious portions.

At the start of the meal, I let the waiters know that I wouldn’t be able to eat the dessert of Cranachan, which included whisky-soaked oatmeal. They were flustered for only a minute, but went to speak to the chef, and came back to inform me that he’d be able to whip me up one of two other options for dessert – a pannacotta or a sorbet selection. Not yet knowing how rich the meal would turn out to be, I opted for the pannacotta, later wishing I’d chosen the more refreshing sorbet! It was absolutely lovely of the chef and wait staff to accommodate my rather last-minute request for a menu modification during an event with so many people to cater for.

It turned out that some people did not seem to enjoy their cranachan dessert very much, which the host had introduced as being similar to Eton Mess (to which comparison I heard a few dissenting murmurs from the Scottish people present), but I have no comment to make as, unlike with wine, I didn’t want to risk having even a taste. My pannacotta, on the other hand, was beautifully presented and quite lovely.

This event also included a “whisky library” with cushy chairs where guests could sneak off to at any point and sample a Scotch whisky tasting flight – quite a nice thing and added great value to the experience (if not for myself!)

Overall, I really enjoyed the afternoon with good food and varied company – though I didn’t feel it was as fun or interactive as A Conquistador’s Adventure, I recognise it was probably a trickier and less “user-friendly” theme to pull off compared to last year’s theme! KP and I both stumbled home feeling full and satisfied, with the feeling of an afternoon well spent, and that’s definitely what I consider a successful event.

Golden Gate Hotel on Urbanspoon

Eat Ocean, Drink Succulent (Mamasita)

Mamasita is certainly an establishment that needs no introduction, being widely known as serving up some of the best authentic Mexican cuisine in Melbourne, and probably the Southern Hemisphere; so I’m not going to dwell in great detail on the food we experienced at this event, which was, as usual, delicious.

This night, Mamasita took on the challenge of hosting a great night and changed things up, bringing out some dishes that were quite different from their usual fare of tacos, quesadillas and deliciously marinated seafood (though we had those, too!)

I jumped at the opportunity to make a booking for this event because, well, normally the restaurant doesn’t take bookings for small groups, and having been a patron in the past, and though having loved it, I’m not all that keen on queuing to get in on the nights I want to eat there. Perhaps it’s my old age.

In the same vein, probably – my main complaint of the evening would be that I ended up with a sore butt from sitting at the bar for over 4 hours – tiny stool, not so tiny butt. This was partially my fault, as I’d been given two options for seating when booking, and while neither were ideal (as I booked late), I chose the bar myself. Nonetheless, I would wager that the bar seating was not designed for long, drawn out events like a 9 course dinner. But hey, at least I got to look at all the pretty tequila bottles all night!

I felt the pacing of the courses was regular but a little drawn out – as it was quite dark and rather loud, the atmosphere wasn’t really conducive to having involved conversations to pass the considerable length of time.

We started off with a canape of braised octopus with peppers, cherry tomatoes and olives, which counted as the “eat” portion of the first course, which was lovely, but was neither introduced in any way nor served at a consistent time across the venue.

Only before the second course of the ever-amazing Mamasita elote callejero (grilled corn) was the event format and theme of pairing seafood (eating “ocean”) and tequila (drinking “succulent”) explained.

Beer, wine, and tequila were all practically free-flowing throughout the evening, with great variety and well matched with the food. However, occasionally the introductions to the beverages got lost in the din or the staff simply forgot.

Neither the aguachile nor ceviche took me back to my time on the Yucatan peninsula last year – though I did enjoy them and the seafood was fresh and sweet, the preparation wasn’t what my limited knowledge would have considered authentic.

The taco course came as a surprise – smoked eel. Eel is a fish I have never eaten outside of Japanese cuisine, but it worked pretty well. As ever, you can’t go wrong with a quesadilla if it has cheese in it, but to my even greater surprise, after I was emailed a list of the courses we’d sampled after the event, I found that I had eaten something called “huitlacoche”, which upon Googling I discovered means “corn smut“.

So what the hell is corn smut? It’s like a fungal infection that grows on top of young corn, which doesn’t sound very nice… but essentially, it’s just mushrooms. Grown on corn.

When it came to the sopes, the corn bread base was a little dry or stale but the duck and tamarind together was a tasty combination.

My favourite dish of the night was a warmingly hearty and aromatic seafood cazuela (a sort of soup or stew) of barramundi, shellfish, orange and fennel, served with tomato and garlic chilli rice.

There was only one sweet course – frozen chocolate mousse with dulce de leche, fresh cream, sesame praline and figs – and I wasn’t a fan. But then, I’m never really a fan of rich chocolatey desserts after a big meal.

Though the evening had room for improvement in various areas, the food was delicious and varied, the portions and drinks generous, and I sincerely hope Mamasita holds more reserved events like this. To their great credit, the team sent out questionnaires to the attendees, requesting feedback, and if they can take it all on board for future events, I’ll be even more impressed!

Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Thus ends my long story of how Scottish-met-Mexican in the context of my life. It may not be as memorable as seeing men with moustaches wearing sombreros and kilts playing bagpipes, but it was a fun weekend nevertheless.

Doing my best Spider Man impression

On the 23rd or 24th of May, you may see a small figure wearing shiny tight nylon springing off the side of a high-rise in Melbourne CBD. Don’t get too excited – this will be no superhero in a fancy costume, it’ll just be me wearing fabulous Black Milk get-up abseiling down a twenty-seven story building.

Well, I might not be kicking ass and fighting crime in the traditional superhero way, but I do hope to be making a positive difference by taking part in Altitude Shift – it’s an event organised by Anglicare Victoria that challenges participants to “leap outside [their] comfort zone” and in doing so, raise awareness, support and money for vulnerable kids right here in our state. Anglicare is a not-for-profit organisation that helps Victorian children by providing them with foster care and their families or carers with support services, as well as emergency relief and food assistance where most needed.

I found out about Altitude Shift while I was in the lobby of my office building, grabbing a soy cappuccino. I picked up a postcard flier while waiting for my coffee and immediately knew it was something I wanted to do – readers, you may not know this about me, but I actually love heights and high adrenalin stuff, so to not only have the opportunity to do something like this but to also support a cause so dear to me at the same time seemed like fate or something.

Let me tell you why this is important to me. I am really a huge believer in the positive lifelong impact of a nurturing and loving environment on a child. As an adopted child, I know the love and the sense of security and safety my parents gave me growing up was absolutely fundamental to my happiness, stability and success as an adult. I have never been in foster care but I absolutely believe in the good the system can do and admire the amazing families that not only take care of our most vulnerable children but in many cases help them to flourish – I want to give as much support as I possibly can to them.

It’s been over a month since I signed up to the challenge and I’m fairly close to my fundraising target. But I’m not quite there yet.
Here’s how you can help.

  • You can donate to my campaign directly here:
  • You can browse my garage sale and get some great bargains while supporting an amazing cause at the same time! – because 85% of the total you spend on any item over $1 will go to Anglicare and Altitude Shift!

For more info, take a look at the Altitude Shift website or feel free to contact me via this website with any questions you have, or if you have any other suggestions to help out with fundraising!

Week 2 – Because-I-Hate-Plants Diary

Day 7 (Monday, April 7):
Lunch: Rainbow slaw with fried tofu and lemongrass lime dressing
Dinner: Dukkah roasted potatoes
Dessert: 1 square of Pana chocolate (mint flavour), Mister Nice Guy Lamington mini cupcake

I made a huge amount of delicious “butter chicken” (except not-butter and not-chicken) tonight – it’ll last two dinners, two lunches this week for both of us plus an additional four frozen portions. Who knew that curry with no cream or ghee or butter could taste this rich and creamy?

Day 8 (Tuesday, April 8):
Lunch: Not-butter not-chicken with a side of dukkah roasted potatoes
Dinner: More un-butter-un-chicken, with an evening snack of Alive & Radiant Kale Krunch in “cheezy” chipotle flavour

I found myself seriously looking forward to eating my curry for lunch. Look at it – can you blame me?

Hungry after work, I wanted to grab a snack on my way to a book club meeting, and it just so happened that the health store was marginally closer to the supermarket on my way to the train, so I bought this dehydrated kale chips packet. It was quite yummy, by the way, and tasted totally cheesy despite being completely vegan – raw vegan, at that! However, the irony of spending $9 on a healthy snack instead of $2 on an unhealthy one because I was too lazy to walk another 20 metres is pretty… great. Let’s just go with ‘great’.

Day 9 (Wednesday, April 9):
Lunch: Last portion of left over dukkah potatoes
Dinner: Udon with mushroom light soy broth, tofu, shiitake and oyster mushrooms
Snack: Sweet William mini dairy free chocolate bar

Day 10 (Thursday, April 10):
Lunch: Tofu mince “bolognese” with shell pasta
Dinner: Lord of the Fries burger and fries
Dessert: Smooze Mango coconut ice

Really? I’m one third of the way through the challenge? I’m really settling into things and getting used to it. I feel that by next week, there isn’t going to be anything to write about, only foodporn.

Day 11 (Friday, April 11):
Lunch: Mixed mushroom vermicelli from Miss Chu
Dessert: Orange Polenta cupcake with Popcorn topping, from Joy Cupcakes
Dinner: Gong De Lin – beancurd wrapper dumplings, seaweed fried rice with pinenuts, mixed mushroom hotpot

Day 12 (Saturday, April 12):
Phat Brats “Superfood Dog”, “Half-Pint Vegan Dairy” Coconut Milk Ice Cream with Coffee

I went to the newly-opened Melbourne branch of the Cruelty Free Shop today and bought all sorts of meat substitutes – up to this point, I haven’t been cooking with them, but I have a few dishes in mind next week that’ll be able to make use of some nice “chorizo” and “pork sausage”. I also bought this amazing “New Kinda Bacon” thing, which is so convincingly smokey and delicious I had to use all my willpower not to eat the whole $13 packet all at once! The shop certainly had a really good range of vegan foodstuffs, though I noticed many of the prices are high compared to the same product at other fancy grocers in Melbourne. They do have a wider variety of stuff, so I guess for a one-stop-shop, it’s pretty damn awesome.

Day 13 (Sunday, April 13):
Vege Pad Thai and “duck” pancake from Madame K Vegetarian; roast vegetable and “facon” (new-kinda bacon) cassoulet

Week two was easier than week one, even though I didn’t eat out as much – I’m definitely getting into the groove and not randomly craving buttery things all the time. I still had a few things that weren’t vegan – I had some more European milk chocolate that was still in the house, and my Phat Brats superfood dog had chilli mayo in it of the dairy variety as did my Lord of the Fries meal. I want to see if I can go the next week with even less dairy allowances.

Turns out, being a new vegetarian, even almost-vegan, is fairly easy if you just focus on all the yummy things you can eat and just don’t even think about what you can’t. At least, it seems to be working well for me so far.

I honestly don’t think I’m going to do another diary post next week – but I’ll do a round up of food highlights at the end of the month at least! In the meantime, follow the deliciousness I am eating on Instagram, hashtag #aprilvegchallenge!

Week 1 – Because-I-Hate-Plants Diary

Day minus-3 (Saturday, March 29):
A trip to my favourite organic grocer – Passionfoods – to stock up on vegan cheese, nutritional yeast (“nooch”), coconut yogurt, cashew butter, raw chocolate and other cruelty-free goodies!

Day minus-2 (Sunday, March 30):
Attended Animal Liberation Victoria‘s vegan market day in St Kilda, devoured an indulgent salted caramel coconut ice cream (by Zebra Dream), ate some delicious vegan homebaked cookies, and came home with yummy toasted coconut vegan marshmallows.

For dinner, I fed friends Palak Tofu (an Indian-style spinach based curry with medium-firm tofu I fried in aromatic spices). Confession: I ate a bit of Sichuan fish left over from dinner the night before, but hey, a 75% vegan day before my challenge even officially began was pretty good, right?

Day minus-1 (Monday, March 31):
Bought some assorted Jelly Bellies and ate all the red ones before bed, because though their “bellies” (tehehe) are vegan, I don’t know if their food colouring contains bugs. KP went to the supermarket because he had run out of milk for his coffee, and I told him without batting an eyelid to stop murdering baby cows. He looked sad and told me not to say that, because it’s horrible, and I retorted that it’s even more horrible to not acknowledge it. Heh, apparently, I’m already preachy even though I haven’t even started this challenge! The last non-vegan thing I ate before my first week was a white chocolate Magnum right before bed.

Day 1 (Tuesday, April 1):
Lunch: Palak Tofu (leftovers from Sunday)
Dinner: Soba noodles with broccoli and shiitake mushrooms, curry miso broth, toasted sesame, garlic and nori.

I went down to the cafe on the ground floor of my office building to grab my usual soy cappuccino, and for the first time, wondered if the chocolate powder they always sprinkled on top was actually vegan. I guess I should ask for it without chocolate next time. It felt very strange to be looking at all this food I knew I couldn’t eat – a new experience for someone with no food intolerances and previously no dietary restrictions of any sort. My eyes lingered on the muffins and baked goods that I rarely glance at usually. It’s not difficult yet, only strange, but it’s only day 1!

Tonight, Angela asked if I wanted to have some funny Chinese mock-meat jerky stuff while waiting for dinner to cook and we had a look through the ingredients. The following conversation happened:

Angela: Would you like some soy jerky?
Me: Are you sure I can eat that?
Angela: Hmmm, it has food colouring, but I’m not sure if it’s the one made from bugs or whatever
Me: I probably shouldn’t eat it…
Angela: You could look up the additive number? I’ll look it up for you.
*5 minutes later*
Angela: *reading from Wikipedia* Errrr, it says it used to be made from coal tar but now it is mostly made from petroleum”. There you go, you can eat it. No animals, just petrol.
Me: Great :/

Day 2 (Wednssday, April 2):
Today, I found out through some internet research that Jelly Bellies are not, in fact, vegan! I’m not only talking about those pesky reddish ones that may be made from cochineal or whatever, but in fact, each and every Jelly Belly has been “polished” with beeswax to give them their shiny coat! Ugh! Needless to say, my vegan friends were not happy about this revelation!

I’m realising that randomly craving baked goods and pastries in the afternoons or early mornings is going to become annoying. It’s not like it’s something that happens everyday, but maybe once or twice a week, I feel like I just need that donut as an afternoon post work pick-me-up. Other times, like this morning, I just feel a whim to grab some fresh macarons on the way in to work! Resisting these things isn’t difficult just yet, but it might start to be a week or two in!

Lunch: Mixed mushrooms vermicelli from Miss Chu
Dinner: Caught up with a friend over zucchini dumplings and vegan Mapo Tofu from Shandong Mama
Dessert: Dairy-free pandan-coconut gelati from Gelateria Primavera Gelateria Primavera on Urbanspoon (by Spring Street Grocer – the most delicious and authentic gelati I’ve found in this city so far. O SO STRETCHEEE!)

Day 3 (Thursday, April 3):
As I was a bit under the weather, my yearning for baked goods reached its peak – I needed to go to the post office, and went to one further away because I knew there would be a place that sold vegan cupcakes across from it.

Lunch: Chives gyoza from Gyoza Douraku Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon (my top 3 favourite dumplings in Melbourne!) and Chocolate-on-Chocolate vegan cupcake from Joy Cupcakes
Dinner: Vegan cannelloni with mushrooms, crumbled tofu mince, quinoa, tomato, thyme and oregano, topped with mozzarella-style Cheezly
Dessert: Citizen Cacao raw vegan chocolate truffles (bought from Spring Street Grocer last night) in flavours “strawberry and coconut” and “Proud Mary cold drip coffee”

Day 4 (Friday, April 4):
After four days of not being able to choose to eat 85% of what I came across in the city (though it’s not as if I would have normally eaten those things just because I came across them!) I was excited to go to a vego restaurant where I’d be able to choose from most things on the menu. Shakahari is one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in Melbourne, but the service on this occasion left much to be desired :( Shakahari Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Lunch: Left over vegan cannelloni
Dinner: A variety of vegan deliciousness from Shakahari Vegetarian restaurant in Carlton. A highlight was the tofu caramel dessert.
Drink: Passionfruit juice with jelly from ChaTime

Day 5 (Saturday, April 5):
The long-awaited day arrived! I ate with several friends at Smith & Daughters, a Latin-cuisine vegan restaurant we’ve been waiting on to open its doors for a year, and then another couple of weeks for us all to be free and able to get a group booking. It did not disappoint. The blogosphere has been strewn with rave reviews for this eatery since its opening “First Taste Feast”, to which many “real” bloggers were invited. I suppose I could add my own two cents at some point! Smith and Daughters on Urbanspoon

We also stumbled upon Merry Cupcakes nearby on Brunswick street which is a healthier kind of (vegan) cupcakery using less saturated fat and less sugar in their goodies – I grabbed some of the said goodies for tomorrow.

Dinner and Dessert: A veritable Latin feast at Smith & Daughters
Non-vegan things I ate: Some milk chocolate sent to me from a friend in Germany and half a Spanish hot chocolate from San Churro.

Day 6 (Sunday, April 6):
Late morning snack: A Merry Cupcakes “Blondie” cupcake
Lunch: Mushroom, egg and goat cheese galette from Breizoz (not vegan, obviously)
Dinner: Tom Yum rice noodle soup and fried vege dumplings from Loving Hut. It was not amazing, to be honest (and was not my first choice, as I wanted the vegan Bun Bo Hue but they had run out) Loving Hut on Urbanspoon
Dessert: Mister Nice Guy “Golden Gaytime” mini cupcake

Cooked some shell pasta and combined it with diced tomatoes and the left over “mince” filling from the cannelloni I made earlier in the week to create a healthy “bolognese”, and froze it in serving portions.

My cupcake from Merry was delicious, though it definitely “tasted healthier”, if that makes sense, even compared to regular vegan cupcakes – KP had a taste and didn’t like the icing in particular but perhaps he could taste the soy in it whereas I could not? Merry Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

I have realised how much more I’m spending on groceries as a “vegan”, despite not buying any meat. Firstly, vegan substitutes to things such as yogurt, cheese and mayo tend to be quite expensive. Quinoa isn’t exactly cheap, and tofu and tempeh don’t cost a lot less than meat if you’re buying a good amount of it. Plus, now that it’s not possible to run out during lunch and get a delicious rice paper roll for $3, I have to take packed meal every single day for work and, at least until I learn to eat “boring” cheap lunches and sandwiches, it’s ending up more costly. However, I’m having heaps of fun creating delicious vegan meals.

Being the weekend, I was going to allow myself a non-vegan snack or two from the market – but disaster struck! I asked for a spinach and cheese borek, but was given a spinach and lamb borek, and only realised the meat was there after taking a bite! Despite being an omnivore only a week ago (and almost certainly intending to return to being one in three weeks) I was so disappointed and angry! I felt weirdly tainted and… and impure… which I’m sure is a rather melodramatic thing to say, though it’s not because I’ve turned into a crazy hippie, but probably more because I felt a powerless loss of control that is hard for a control freak like myself to cope with!

What I’ve discovered is that, on top of the happy knowledge that I’m eating an almost entirely cruelty free diet right now, the self discipline has had amazing validating qualities for my obsessive compulsive tendencies! It’s one thing to do what I was doing before – to not eat meat as much as most meat-eaters, to not drink dairy milk and consume less than the average amount of dairy – and of course an entirely different thing to know that you can’t, and to actively stop yourself from doing so. I used to not infrequently go a whole day without consuming any animal products, but more often than not that was something that just happened rather than a conscious decision. Even just one day consciously deciding you cannot do something makes a world of difference.

Week one summary?
I have only eaten three things containing any animal product (milk chocolate, a hot chocolate and a galette) in my first, shortest week of the challenge, not including being unwittingly served lamb and having previously thought that Jelly Bellies were vegan.

All things considered, this challenge is proving simultaneously easier and harder than I thought it would be.

Because I hate plants…

I don’t know what it is about 2014, but with only a quarter of the year gone, I seem to be committing myself to quite a lot of lengthy challenges. With my #100happydays finally drawing to a close (only 15 days left!) I am about to embark on the most difficult journey yet! And it is not abseiling down a Melbourne CBD skyscraper for foster kids (although I’m doing that too!) No, I am going vegetarian, and mostly vegan, for the month of April. And I have roped a couple of friends into joining me!

[TL;DR: click here | give your support]

I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals, I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants” – I keep recalling this quote of mysterious origins that I heard as a teenager, even though it’s completely absurd, and obviously not true for any vegetarian (… I think?). Only now, after Googling it 15 years later, have I found out that the sentence was first uttered by a stand-up comedian by the name of Alan Whitney Brown. Heh, this is not really important, is it?

Anyway, for me, both parts of Brown’s quote are technically true, sort of. I do adore animals, but I also don’t really like plants – flowers, to be precise, set off my allergies, so I have a deep-seated resentment of them. Botanical gardens are my worst nightmare! God, I’m barely joking. However, I’m not actually planning on eating many flowers in the next month, so unfortunately I am not really able to take out my revenge on the right set of plants. Hrrmph.

So, why am I actually doing it? As a lifelong omnivore, I live with that mental compartmentalisation that most omnivorous animal lovers employ – I’m accustomed to separating meat, which is food, from animals, who are friends (kind of like separating plants which I, err, hate, from vegetables which I love?) I’m not saying this is morally a good thing to do, but it’s actually not a thing that is unique to this situation for me. Generally, I’m a pretty detached person who can be intellectually and by principle outraged at the world’s injustices, yet not exactly passionately or emotionally engaged in the debate against them. This is just the way I am.

Like the majority of kids brought up in meat-eating families, I never gave much thought to human consumption of animals as food, but as a teenager and even into my early 20s I still failed to see what was wrong with the meat and dairy industries. I was an intelligent, well-read young woman and if I had stopped to think about it, would have seen very clearly that the quantity of meat now consumed by the average person in the developed world (or even developing world) has increased many, manyfold in the last century. Perhaps, if I had done that, I would have also wondered how that was possible? Where were all the extra animals coming from? Eventually, I would have arrived at the harsh truths of factory farming, and been as disgusted by them as I now am. Besides, the negative environmental impact caused by factory farming was not only an animal welfare issue but a problem for future generations of humans.

Farming of animals specifically for food has evolved into something completely unrecognisable, and the sheer scale of it is inconceivable to digest, pun unintentional. Gone are the days of only eating the animals you could hunt down and kill for yourself and your family, and gone even are the days when you ate meat, dairy and eggs from your own or your neighbour’s farm. What is worse is that the product of this mass breeding, mistreatment and premature slaughtering of animals feeds into the most horrible industries with no real value to civilised humans – fast food, for example, is artless, bland, unhealthy and contributes to national obesity problems all over the world, including in developing countries.

It started with the eggs. As long as I’ve lived out of home and bought my own groceries, I have bought free range eggs – is there even anyone who doesn’t these days? There is no excuse. I didn’t realise at the time that supermarket “free range” eggs did not have to meet particularly strict criteria to be labelled as such, and besides, without a car or access to markets (of which there are almost none where I lived in Auckland), I couldn’t really purchase eggs from anywhere else on a regular basis. So I didn’t really buy eggs on a regular basis, and still don’t. Then there was meat. Once no longer a poor student, I could no longer condone factory farmed chicken when I could buy free range chicken, or free range pork, and so on. I do not eat veal, ever. But I tried not to think about the fact that the Asian takeaway joints I sometimes ate at must very likely be using the cheapest meat of any origin they could find.

So my habits as a consumer was where I started, but in the last two or three years, I’ve been thinking about things a little more and getting a little more pissed off at how unnecessary all of it is. I grew up in a meat-eating family, yes, but I also grew up in an Asian family. It was not “meat and three veg” – my mum cooked Chinese dishes which were mostly staple carbohydrates, lots of vegetables and a relatively small percentage of meat (perhaps 10-15% of the bulk of the meal). Sometimes, we had fish that my dad caught. We hardly ever ate steak except when dining out occasionally. As an adult, I still prefer to cook Asian dishes (although I have a more diverse repertoire than my mother had, including many South East Asian dishes) because I find them both tastier and more nutritionally balanced, and having travelled extensively over Asia, I have definitely observed that the average diet in most Asian countries consists of less meat than the average Western diet. What is more, they made much more use of offal – the idea of throwing out the majority of an animal after selecting its most “premium” cuts of meat always seemed very sad, silly and wasteful to me – and on top of that, they used dairy far less in their savoury dishes. Dairy. Don’t even get me started on the horrible things I have learned about the dairy industry in the last couple of years.

I began to settle into a lifestyle where I not only ate predominantly Asian dishes with their fairly small ratio of meat, but did not eat meat for many meals, and often for a few full days per week. I rarely bought cheese and began to drink only soy with my coffee. I started to wonder if everyone ate the same quantity of meat and dairy as I did or even less (for I was willing to go further), the corresponding industries would be far less intense, factory farming would be less necessary and the world would be a better place. The truth is, and I probably knew this, even if it would be enough (which is doubtful), there was next to no chance of it happening unless these industries imploded on themselves one day. We have gone down a road that is hard to tread backwards on, and even poorer countries are popularising fast food chains and increased meat consumption. Too many futuristic dystopian books I have read depicted a world where meat was no longer readily available because we had destroyed the ecosystem in some way.

At the risk of hate mail, I may as well state that I do not personally have an intellectual issue with the humane taking of the life of an animal for food; but – I have huge a issue with the torture and prolonged suffering of animals (who feel pain and sorrow) for the purpose of feeding a ridiculously excessive industry that churns out more product than humans should even healthily consume. Many vegos would argue that it is not a human right to take the lives of animals for our own use on any scale. I wouldn’t say that it is, either – but there are no “rights” involved in nature at all.

I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by dragging out the comparison of a lion hunting down its prey because it’s obvious that, unlike big cats in the wild, as humans we have many other ways of getting the nutrition we need without killing other species if we so choose. Evolution has transformed us so that we have become more intelligent than other known animals on Earth, including some very intelligent mammals that I am not at all underestimating. Largely because of this, we have been omnivores for very many, many, many thousands of years. We may have invented hunting weapons followed by agriculture followed by industralised machinery, but we did not “invent” human intelligence – we have simply used what cognitive abilities nature gave us to devise ways to get “what we want”, through the accumulation of knowledge over time.

I’m not saying this is commendable of our species, I am saying that’s what has happened. But that is not to say that we can’t draw the line wherever we want to draw it!

So my line is here:

  • I do not want to condone factory farming.
  • I do wish to greatly reduce my (already modest) overall animal product consumption.
  • I want to limit my routine dairy consumption to a three days per week, and aim to reduce this to one or two days over time.
  • I want to limit my routine meat consumption to a maximum of three days per week, indefinitely.
  • I want to always give more thought to where and when I eat meat and eliminate, wherever I can, eating dishes that may have used meat that is likely to be factory farmed.
  • I will investigate the true story behind a “free range” label and, when I can, buy meat supplied by farms where I know truly humane farming is practised.
  • I WILL┬álive as a mostly vegan vegetarian for at least 30 days in order to calibrate myself with this adjusted lifestyle and to put my money where my mouth is.
  • I want to repeat this challenge at least once every year going forward.

I also would like to use this month to raise some awareness among my friends and acquaintances of the issues I have brought up today, and animal welfare in general – more on this below!

What I don’t want:

  • Abuse or judgement from anyone reading this post, though I am open to hearing differing opinions and am all for healthy discussion.


Why have I posted about this?
I wanted to publicly express my views on these issues, and I wanted to prepare you for some delicious, simple vegan recipes coming up on this blog; but most of all, I want your help. My friends and I have set up a fundraising campaign to support our challenge in which everything raised will go to a local animal rescue organisation or animal welfare organisation. Who it ends up going to will depend on you. When you make a donation, you may nominate a relevant cause that is close to your heart, and the winning two non-profits will split the final campaign total! Here is where you can donate:

The reason I am not going 100% vegan for April is, in part, because I may still be using non-dietary animal products such as leather boots only if I already own them, but it’s also a psychological thing. It’s to ensure the success of my challenge and make it much more likely that I’ll stick to it, with the knowledge of just a small window of lenience that I may not always even use. At home and during working hours, I will be 100% vegan. During my social commitments, I’ll still try to be as vegan as I can, however, it would be a huge adjustment for an omnivore today to go to a restaurant tomorrow where the only vegan option is a leafy side salad without dressing (for example) – in these cases, I would choose a vegetarian dish if I couldn’t adapt anything to be truly vegan. I understand this is something “real” vegans actually face in meal outings without cheating, however, as a newbie I need to start less hardcore, and perhaps graduate to this in future challenge months.

It’s actually been over six weeks since I decided to set out on this journey for myself. Just this Sunday, I went to a Vegan Market Day held by Animal Liberation Victoria where a stall was displaying fliers about the “Vegan Easy Challenge“, which is, you guessed it, a program that challenges you to go vegan for 30 days! I took the pamphlets and information booklets, as I thought they’d come in handy, but I didn’t sign up for the program as I had already made up my mind to do my own thing. However, I do encourage my readers to join!

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