Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vegan Article in "Sunday" Magazine, Interview With Author

Veganism was mentioned in the "Sunday" pullout magazine section of the Sunday Star Times

You can hear my interview with journalist Venetia Sherson here, while looking through the pages from the magazine :-)  The article and the interview are about the sometimes hassle of Vegans eating out, and how we feel about Other Animals growing up in a non Vegan world
Direct download of the audio file

Great to see Veganism in the mainstream print media :-)  I've added a full text version of the article at the bottom of this page.

"Vegan is becoming the new normal, writes Venetia Sherson. So could chefs please offer us more than lettuce leaves and lentils?

I beckoned the waitress over. “I’m a vegan,” I whispered, hoping the buzz at the table would not suddenly cease. Coming out at a dinner for journalists is not wise. The waitress looked momentarily startled. I wondered if she thought I’d said I was a virgin. Then she said, “Me, too. Let me see what the kitchen can do.”

Here’s what they did: delicate fresh spring rolls filled with oyster mushrooms, edamame beans and pickled radish served with coriander lime and chilli salsa, followed by roasted baby vegetables, smoked eggplant puree, wilted spinach and toasted almonds. Oh, and fresh figs with honey for pudding if I chose. I did.

All off-menu. All at short notice. No fuss; no rolled eyes; no muttered oaths. As I left Shed 5 on Wellington’s waterfront, the waitress gave me a complicit smile and a nod. A conspiracy of carrot crunchers.

Not all experiences are the same. At an international hotel in the same city, the kitchen dished up a stack of wilted veges that appeared to have been recycled from other diners’ plates. At a restaurant near Auckland International Airport, someone had carefully removed the feta from the top of my pasta – but left the cheese beneath. The waiter’s mood was a tad below tetchy when I asked for a replacement. At a roadside West Coast café, I was momentarily excited by the promise of a “gourmet tofu burger” only to be disappointed by a soggy bun stuffed with a blob of tasteless blancmange and a slice of canned beetroot.

At the age of 64, I’m still getting used to this vegan lark. I was brought up as a carnivore. I have always liked meat. I used to lick my plate to show my gratitude for gravy. As a child, I even hunted hares on horseback. I am no poster girl for animal rights.

I went vegan this year for dietary not ethical reasons. What that means is, I no longer eat meat, eggs and dairy - anything with a mother or a face – for the good of my health. Some people think that’s simply nutty; others think it’s dangerous, especially at my age. What about calcium, they say? Won’t your bones crumble? What about Vitamin B12? Surely you can have a slice of camembert?

It’s tough to be a dietary vegan. Ethical vegans have a cause: a love and respect for animals. They can also cite environmental concerns and quote statistics such as: the world’s cattle consume food equal to the needs of 8.7 billion people; and the global warming effect from eating a kilo of beef is about the same as using 10 litres of petrol.

We dietary vegans can plead only that a plant-based diet is better for our health, which – in a country where beef, butter and milk are dietary staples – is tantamount to treason. Even some ethical vegans find us hard to fathom. In a column in Britain’s The Guardian, vegan Sali Owen piously wrote that people who go vegan to lower their cholesterol level or lose weight are doing it for all the wrong reasons. “They know how many calories there are in a raisin, but don’t know or care that bobby calves are killed at birth.” I didn’t know the calorific count of raisins until I looked it up (350 per ounce or 1238 kilojoules per 100g). But I have always known the fate of bobby calves.

To be fair, Sali Owen is not representative of most vegans, who will happily claim any new recruits. And several people took her to task over her holier-than-you attitude. The carnivores also dined out. “I think it’s appalling the way you people exploit those poor beans,” wrote Bristol Boy. “Anyway, don’t vegans fart more than carnivores, and add more to global warming?”

Doctrinal differences aside, what I have discovered is that it is still difficult to get a decent vegan meal outside my own kitchen – or those of sympathetic friends. Excluding Asian eateries and some very good alternative cafes, the choices are limited. At a posh new restaurant on Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter recently, I could have eaten only three dishes – two of them desserts. Some chefs regard veganism as fringe; others as an insult to their trade. “Vegans are an affront to everything I stand for,” said a chef who did not want to be named. “But I’ll happily find a few green leaves and grilled aubergine and charge them $20 for the trouble.”

He may have to revise his view. Veganism is no longer niche. In California, where things often happen first, it is becoming the new norm. While there are only around 5000 vegans (and around 86,000 vegetarians) in New Zealand, numbers are growing. In the UK the figure has spiraled from an estimated 100,000 in 1993 to around 1 million today. In the US, the figure is around 8 million or 2.5 per cent of the population – double that of 2009. Kim Painter, writing in USA Today says the increase has been fuelled by a range of best-selling books and by high profile vegans such as Natalie Portman, Ellen DeGeneres and Gwyneth Paltrow. Michelle Pfeiffer, 54, this year came out as a vegan, saying she wanted to live a healthier life.

The western world also took note when former US President Bill Clinton switched to plants for health reasons. Clinton, who was previously known for his love of junk food, adopted veganism to clean up some arterial blockage after quadruple bypass surgery in 2004. It also helped him lose weight for his vegan daughter, Chelsea’s wedding.

Clinton’s guru, and the man many people credit with the rise in plant-based diets in the western world is Caldwell Esselstyn, a US doctor, who conducted a 20-year nutritional study of seriously ill coronary artery disease patients. On the basis of his research he developed a diet with no meat, eggs, dairy food and oils, which produced remarkable success. “We’ve eaten ourselves into a problem and we can eat ourselves out of it,” he says. His research, documented in his book, Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease, has won some powerful allies including Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, which examines the relationship between the consumption of animal products and illness and disease.

There was another spike in interest in veganism recently when attention was drawn to the plight of Maria Alekhina of the Russian feminist punk rock ban Pussy Riot. Alekhina is a vegan but when she and her fellow band members were jailed this year for “hooliganism” she had no access to her dietary requirements. Vegans worldwide united in their condemnation. In an open letter to President Vladimir Putin, vegan film actor Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, Cher), asked Putin to ensure the singer got her daily dose of veges. There has been no word as to whether he obliged.

Veganism has also taken on in some unusual quarters. Portland, Oregon, which claims to be the most vegan-friendly city in the US, has opened the first vegan strip club. Owner Johnny Diablo says half his dancers are vegetarian or vegan and they serve their clients dairy-free chilli cheese fries and mushroom burgers. The irony of treating women like meat appears to have escaped him.

My own conversion to a plant-based diet has thus far been positive, although I am a reasonably recent convert. I am fitter, trimmer and healthier and – despite the concerns of many people – I eat exceedingly well. I start the day with home-made Bircher muesli made with rolled oats, raisins, grated apple and nutmeg topped with oat milk. Pulses, grains and rice are dietary staples. In summer, I eat salads and loads of quinoa; in winter, tasty vegetable casseroles, curries and soups with crusty bread. Last night’s dinner was a vegetable bean risotto with aubergine, capsicum and lima beans laced with fresh coriander (see recipe below).

However, eating out still presents a problem and attitudes are hard to shift. The New Zealand Vegan Society says it has been battling for some time to get soy milk on Air NZ flights. “You’d think I was asking for gold-leafed wafers,” says marketing co-coordinator Amanda Sorrenson.

Sorrenson, an ethical vegan who works fulltime for SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation), says while she doesn’t eat out much, she believes more food outlets are now providing options for vegans. She’ll often phone ahead to give the café a heads-up. “I’d prefer to go easy-peasy rather than being a trouble-maker. You don’t want to appear like a weirdo. I try to make being a vegan a positive thing.”

Surprisingly, one of the best dine-out experiences she has had was at a steak house; where they produced - without fuss - a range of beautiful vegetable platters.

Some cafes are ahead of the pack. Auckland’s Heritage Hotel offers a vegan and vegetarian menu including vegan wine. Cibo in Parnell, where I will celebrate a friend’s birthday this month, has a good range of vegan-friendly dishes. Cosset Café in Parnell is an exclusively vegan and vegetarian cafe. Towns with large alternative communities always have good pickings. Raglan Vegan Fest has been running for about five years. For other vegan-friendly cafes check out

This week, another good sign. At one of my watering holes in Hamilton, I asked the counter staff whether the bruschetta could be served without feta. She replied, “Sorry, but feta is a part of the dish.” I began my refrain, a bit like a recovering alcoholic. “I’m a vegan, so I wonder what options you have for me.” A passing chef was within range. “We have a wonderful (non-dairy) parsley pesto with heaps of garlic and chilli,” she said. “It’s one of my favourites.”

I gave her a complicit smile and a nod.

The vegan movement was started in 1944 by English woodwork teacher Donald Watson out of a desire to improve animal welfare. He died in 2005 aged 95.

Vegans eat all the food meat eaters eat except meat, poultry, fish, cow’s milk, yoghurt, cheese and honey. Ethical vegans also eschew wearing leather, bone, ivory, feathers and mother of pearl.

Vegan diets are healthy, according to followers. The only vitamin from animals that cannot be replicated elsewhere is B12 – important for the nervous system and preventing iron deficiency. Many vegans take Vitamin B supplements

Many health food shops, supermarkets and Asian food outlets stock foods suitable for vegans. Worldwide vegan food is estimated to be growing by 15 per cent a year.

For more information, go to

Pip and Sorrel’s Vegetable and Bean Risotto

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 cup long grain rice

¼ tsp chilli powder

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 cup water

1 aubergine (eggplant) cut into 5mm cubes

½ red capsicum

315g tin lima or butter beans, drained and rinsed

1 ½ cups tomato puree

1 ½ cups vegetable stock

½ cup coconut milk

1 tsp fresh coriander or parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large frying pan, add poppy and mustard seeds and cook

until the begin to pop. Add rice and cook, stirring for 5 minutes

Place chilli powder, turmeric, cumin, ground coriander and a little water

in small bowl and mix to form a paste. Stir spice mixture, aubergine,

red capsicum and beans into rice mixture and cook, stirring 5 minutes

Place remaining water, tomato puree, stock and coconut milk in a bowl

and whisk to combine. Add to rice mixture, bring to simmering and

simmer for 30-40 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and

rice is cooked. Stir in fresh coriander or parsley, and black pepper to

taste. Serve."

Thank you Venetia for writing an article about Veganism, and allowing me to interview you :-)


  1. Too bad someone there doesn't know how to scan the article into a PDF file. It's pretty hard to read this way.

  2. I thank you for your hard work. I guess that I'm lucky that I bought a printer/scanner that will scan and save multiple pages as a PDF document. I'm sorry that I put you to extra work. I've leaned vegan for over a year announcing that I did it for health reasons but understand more and more the ethical concerns.


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