Your final meater reading: the end of my vegan July

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2011 by helenperkins

Tomorrow we enter August. That means I am no longer bound by my month-long resolution to avoid consumption of animal products of any sort.

Bring out the fattened calf!

Only joking.

Now I must confess: during July, I slipped up and ate animal stuff on two occasions. I will now come clean to prevent guilt from crushing me in my bed.

Last weekend, when my lovely parents came to help me move house they took me out for a meal. Nothing on the menu was vegan. Now, these are my traditionalist folks and they had come over a hundred miles to see me, I wasn’t going to snub their evening out to make a point. So that was a fish soul dedicated to yours truly.

Also, when I first met the woman who leases out my Kendal house she asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. I said yes before even consulting my meat-free brain. Tea = milk, duh, but I was too keen to appear normal and kept quiet. I mean, would you rent your property to a girl who screams ‘Oh, good God no, I can’t drink this! This has been near a living creature.”

As you can see, it is social convention that bends my vegan resolve more than the food stuffs themselves.

So, should we all be taking up veganism, did it make a difference to me, and did my skin fall off?

Firstly, let’s get the negatives out of the way. Be honest, vegan people, being vegan is a pain and a half when if comes to finding an evening meal that isn’t some rubbishy salad or a potato. You pretty much always have to cook something from scratch and that uses up time that most people, e.g. me, want to spend on other things.

After a couple of weeks of high-volume whining, and a diet consisting mostly of beans on toast, I hit the cookery books. I found one in the library called The Vegan Bible. While I can’t say I was stunned by the recipes I tried I did have some nice meals – ones perhaps even my carnivorous Dad might appreciate.

There was a big sense of satisfaction in cooking, as there always is with acts of creation. Plus, the study of it did give me a few original conversation starters.

“So, how much do you know about seaweed?”

“Can you pick me up some cilantro? I need it for my vegan parmiagiana.”

Overall though, a massive pain. The first supermarket to create a set of vegan ready meals is going to rake in the money.

 The next thing that frustrated me is all the self righteousness, hypochondria, arrogance, and confusion, which surrounds and sometimes emanates from Planet Vegan.

You get smart-arsed drunks, leaning back on the bar and talking at you with a smug tone suggesting you are a small bug and they will soon squash you with their omnipotence.

Their question arrives, dripping with self-satisfaction.

“So then, why have we got canine teeth? Eh? Eh? We’ve been given them to eat meat.”

Oh. Come on now bar bloke. Canine teeth are not divine instruction to chomp pig, just as they don’t necessarily mean you’re an actual dog.

It’s not just the vegan-haters who came across to me as slightly bonkers. I signed up for a newsletter from the Vegan Society and was sent a magazine with guidelines on ‘How to talk to carnists’ (meat eaters) on the front cover.

I don’t know why but both vegans and run of the mill Brits feel the need to draw strange battlelines. It’s us and them – weedy vegan versus snout-nosed butcher.

Okay, onto the good bits of being feat free.

New food. Vegan ice cream is amazing – in my opinion it is better than the dairy sort. Also, because you’re cooking, you end up taking more time thinking about meals, and so, inevitably your meals get better and less repetitive. This was rewarding, even if it was a pain.

Skin. I have noticed a bit of a skin improvement. Not just a lack of break outs on my face, which I have been known to call ‘my margarita pizza’ but my whole birthday suit has stepped up a bit. It’s difficult to put this all down to veganism, as I’m sure sleep and alcohol and all kinds of crazy women’s stuff plays a part. But, yeah, just maybe a bit better skin.

Energy. Don’t believe all the rubbishy celebrity health gurus, veganism is not the absolute answer to endless energy. For a start, I found I had to spend half my day munching to prevent starving – if I hadn’t I’m pretty sure I’d only have made it to the first Wednesday.

However, at work, I often get bad 3pm crashes – the sort that makes you feel your very soul is being sucked out by the reaper. Contrastingly, this month I got less of a rollercoaster afternoon surge and slump. For me, that is a big deal and a thumbs up to vegan life.

It’s for the reasons above, more than the ethics, that I’ve ended up warming a little to this vegan malarkey. I intend to try to keep it up a couple of days each week.

All the same, I miss fish and I miss scrambled eggs and I’m sure I’ll be tucking in to both. There’s only so much I’m willing to compromise for clear skin.

Tomorrow I’m starting a quit that is an oldie, but a goodie: no swearing. In a newsroom on deadline day it should be a good one to watch, this month I’m interested to see where people swear most and to try to work out why.

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Your meating has been cancelled: my July as a vegan

Posted in Diary with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2011 by helenperkins

So this month, as a test of willpower and an insight into the sorry, meat-free lives of others, I have become a vegan. Pardon my enthusiasm.

The rules of this lifestyle choice mean I can’t eat meat, and I can’t eat fish, eggs, dairy products of any sort, or honey.

“What about chocolate?” you might ask.

Well, it has dairy. So no.

“How about chicken?”

No.

“What about wine gums?”

They contain gelatine, so no.

The vegan diet is one I have successfully avoided for two decades. It is not something you could stumble into by chance. It is hard work, as I have discovered.

I’m a week into this diet and it’s forced my back into cooking again. I’ve so far made up a very nice tagine, a vegetable curry, a thick sweet potato soup and some strange lemon chargrilled pepper dish with quinoa (which is a bit like chewy cous cous).

But my dad thinks I’m nuts, I’m already clueless as to what to eat tomorrow and I am starting to dream about barbecued salmon.

I’ve begun to crave things I’m not normally even that bothered about. Hot chocolate, mussels, tabasco sauce. Last night I decided what I really wanted was stroganoff – a cream based dish I haven’t eaten in about ten years. So either I’m pregnant or this is my body telling me that something fundamental is missing from my culinary vocabulary.

Main courses are difficult to construct if you are used to the meat-and-three-veg paradigm. Desserts are even more difficult.

I asked the kind looking lady in Marks and Spencers if they sold dairy-free yoghurts and she looked completely thrown by the question. At one point I wondered if she was going to fall into the refrigerator section.

Convenience meals that don’t have eggs or cheese in them are almost impossible to find and, worse still, eating out does not work. Every single dish you will find on a standard restaurant menu fails the vegan test. Waiters and waitresses, almost without exception, will eye you up with anything from mild confusion to fire and brimstone derision.

So why bother? Well, I’ve been reading up. Most vegans argue that by buying and eating animal products you support, even if indirectly, animal suffering and dodgy mass farming for the sake of business.

Another reason they stick to the chick peas is that animal-related food production requires more energy and land than arable farming. Thirty cows in a field can sustain fewer Cumbrians than that same field filled with barley and, on a larger scale, meat-eating is considered less efficient and therefore less helpful in feeding the world population.

That’s all well and good but it does not solve my yoghurt deficiency and my newfound obsession with Russian stews, and while you can get vegan things from vegan shops in vegan towns, they are hard to come by, more expensive and they vary wildly on the taste scale.

One exception to this is vegan ice cream, which I do solemnly testify is amazing and should be eaten everywhere, by everyone, everyday. Pass me a spoon please.

This month is going to go one of two ways:

1) My body will get over its craving for rum and raisin ice cream and I will grow to like this purer diet. My energy levels will soar and my skin will glow like that of a flawless Blake-inspired newborn baby.

2) I will become absolutely sick of pasta, my vitamin D levels will deplete, my skin will fall off and I’ll sack the whole thing off and never want to hear the dreaded V word every again.

Wish me luck.

The Year of the Quit: my March away from Facebook

Posted in Diary, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2011 by helenperkins

In January I quit coca cola for the month, a resolution that tested my self control to a previously unknown degree.

I’ve since returned to my caffeinated beverage of choice like a fat kid to cake – oh the disgrace – although in fairness I have managed to curb the ratio of coke to blood pulsing through my veins.

For my February experiment I quit alcohol, which left friends suspecting I had become a secret Mormon and, even more annoying, confused my immune system enough to spark a three-week cold. I never get colds!

This month I have axed Facebook.

Less than 24 hours into the challenge, my news editor wanted me to find out what had happened to a man involved in an industrial accident.

“What’s his number?”

“I don’t know, we haven’t got his contact details, you’ll have to find him.”

“Do we know where he’s ended up?”

“No. He’s supposed to be in intensive care though.”

“How do we know that?”

“Some man told one of the typists.”

“Some man?”

With a name but no address, phone number, workplace, hospital, even town, it is very difficult to chase someone down.

The phone book offered no help. The Health and Safety Executive couldn’t help. Councils thought my position was very funny. Certain members of other relevant organisations couldn’t find their arse with both hands. You know who you are.

I needed Facebook.

So there I was, breaking my Quit rules before I’d even got started.

Found the guy within ten minutes.

Make no mistake; Facebook is an amazing tool for journalists. Regardless of the ethics involved, it’s become a first point of call if someone dies and the paper needs a tribute photo, or comments from friends or relatives.

Unfortunately, it’s also the virtual procrastination capital of the world – and a distraction that haunts this generation’s global population.

Even at the top of the Eiffel town, one starry evening, I heard an American teenager telling her friend that Sammy’s Facebook profile picture was ‘totally just a way of getting at me’.

Oh brother, get a life.

So I have, and I haven’t missed Facey B as much as I thought I would.

It’s frustrating to have to converse in email again – there’s no pictures and everything is all texty. I feel like I’m working with vinyl. It’s even more annoying not to see photos from my friend’s party. I was there, and it’d be nice to relive the experience.

My generation work hard to regulate and cultivate a healthy online identity. I’m sure this obsession with watching life replayed on the web is warped 21 century vanity.

We try to maintain our online personas, like a growing web garden of the self that needs constant pruning, tending and watering everyday, lest it become unkempt and overgrown – ugly – unpopular.

Maybe online blogging is just another extension of this drive – mankind’s latest weird quest to prove we are alive.

Next month I’m giving up supermarkets. Please feel free to send food parcels…

A merry drinker’s diary of reluctant sobriety

Posted in Diary, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by helenperkins

It’s February and I have given up the plonk. Drat it.

This is all part of my year-long mission of self discovery, where I cut out one thing each month and attempt to learn from it. And this month what I have mostly discovered is that I like cocktails.

And I love gin.

And, God, I would sell my soul for a bottle of deepest, darkest red Italian wine.

It’s easy enough to say no to a boozy glow on a Tuesday night, when I’m not going out and I’m half asleep anyway. However, during the first weekend of February’s self-motivated teetotalism I was due to meet with old university friends.

Our Manchester reunion should have featured cheeky meals, sneaky bar crawls and lots of chatter. To be fair it had all of these things, but oh, I couldn’t have a drink.

Eleanor and Kathryn were supping Zombies, Rachael was drinking fruit beer, and I was drinking orange juice. This is my standard cure for a hangover, not a replacement for one.

I found myself attracted to drinks I don’t even like. I’ve never craved a Bloody Mary before but, on the Saturday in question, I would have danced the funky chicken on the bar tables for le boisson avec celery stick.

And more than the actual drink, I miss identity amnesia alcohol offers.

For the price of a mild-to-moderate hangover I forget what makes Helen Perkins Helen Perkins. I become history-less, inhibition-less, more inclined to dance, liable to tell you things I’d normally blush over. 

“Well, I hope you know this phase is going to kill your sex life,” my friend said, in grave tones, as if had declared I was becoming a nun.

“Never had sex sober then?”

“Jesus, no.”

Late night drinks are considered to be something of a tradition in Lancaster – an unrefusable gateway to social activity. The following comments were prompted after I declined gin from super-generous friends.

“Then when are we going to see you?” – Tom.

“How on earth will you switch off?” – Sarah.

“If you’re sober we’re all going to be incredibly annoying.”

“This sounds like an eating disorder to me.” – Harry, never dilutes his opinions.

It’s not all been bad news. I’m more than two weeks into my diary of sobriety and, grudgingly, I feel better for it.

Early mornings are easier, and, without the head-screwed-to-the-wind-turbine feeling, I have managed to get more projects set up, more stories written (I write news for a weekly paper), more conversations had and I feel vaguely more optimistic (depending on the day, hour, minute you ask me).

The western world clearly has an odd relationship with alcohol. It’s bad, it’s a liver killer, it’s a hangover, it’s full-fat hedonistic activity that leaves you part-conscious scrabbling round a central reservation in Birmingham at 3am.

Still, it’s also a guilty secret shared, it’s bedroom antics to terrify the older generations, it’s excuse for conversation. It’s not something I’d ever want to give up.

In March I’m taking the tipple back up and attempting to give up Facebook – Satan’s procrastination temptation. 

Cheers to that.

The Year of the Quit

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2011 by helenperkins

THIS January I quit Coca Cola.

It was all in an effort to stave off bad skin, grumpy behaviour and dependence on a carbonated drink that looks like muddy water and has all the nutritional benefits of a punch in the face.

I have been surviving on no less than a can a day for about a year now, always to get me through afternoons writing in front of a computer.

The task was harder than I had intended. Every day this month, during my 3pm crash hour, I wondered if it was worth the pain. What exactly is one proving by rejecting a mild caffeinated vice? Just do it, do it, buy one, do it, do it.

I wasn’t saving money or becoming more virtuous by saying no to those silver cans from the sky. God knows I bought into a whole host of other coping strategies – mostly full of sugar and equally unhealthy – in an effort to do without my self-banned substance.

However, I stuck to my own rule and 31 days later I have been left feeling oddly cleansed. I have succeeded despite myself. I have beaten the thing – that weird voice in your head. Do it, do it, do it.

These four-week experiments are a weird way to get to know yourself and society’s dependence on strange modern life-junk.

To continue, as of tomorrow I will quit alcohol for a whole February (notice I’ve picked the month with the least days for this one). Maybe it will be enlightening, maybe I’ll want to strangle drunken friends, we’ll see. 

March, I aim to quit Facebook. Who knows what that will do.

April and beyond are yet to be decided – giving up buying imported clothing/food? Quitting sandwiches? Who knows.

Other ideas welcome. Call me mad and wish me luck.

Book of the Week – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2010 by helenperkins

IT is one of those texts I’d heard spoken of in hushed tones – one of the Great Ones, lauded from the heights of the literary world, in columns of high-brow literary reviews and pretentious politics essays across the globe.

Also, by Boukalas and Rusty, in various pubs.

It’s also a book I’d avoided for the first 23 years of my life because of its size and heft, and the stern tone of its title.

The low down, for those who have never read the blurb or the spark notes version of the novel, is this:

Written around 1865, Crime and Punishment tells the story of an ex-student called Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov who has fallen on hard times and murders a pawnbroker in St Petersburg.

The killing is self-justified by the protagonist – whose academic theory assumes that there are individuals who have the right to make, and break, laws which ordinary mortals live by without dispute.

The action-drama sequence which sees him bludgeon his neighbour to death is just the first chapter of the novel’s 450 pages. During the rest we follow Doestevsky’s troubled character as he struggles to live within his own philosophy – and as he slowly realises he is not the ruthless Napoleon he imagined.

As a reader you follow this fraying consciousness around St Petersburg, meeting his family, his friends, and the drunks and peasants he hangs around with – as he tries to work out the meaning of what he’s done and what he should do.

The huge irony in this text, for me, was that the more you read of this tortured character and his everyday life, and the more worried, distracted and guilt-ridden his outbursts became, the more you were made aware that the author behind the charade was a writer in full control of his senses.

Dostoevsky – a similarly impoverished Russian thinker to Rodion – found it in him to set down and write a text that makes most other characters in most other texts look comfy – sort of lazy – a bit fat. His protagonist seems worryingly alive.

It intimidates me that the characters of a man writing well over a century ago can put modern devices to shame. Rodion is involved – he doesn’t stop. He is curious, worried, loyal, hot and cold.

Fyodor Dostoevsky in 1863

I will stop praising him now, lest I come across as a complete simpleton but, still, I think I am in love with Fyodor Dostoevsky.

How to survive a summer music festival in six welly-wearing steps…

Posted in News, Story fragments with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2010 by helenperkins

A few smart choices will protect you against a weekend of misery, several deadly diseases, and a moment of horror, waking up next to the snoring face of some strange bloke you find physically repugnant but found amazingly attractive while wearing beer goggles 12 hours earlier.

After spending last weekend with 8,000 music-lovers-from-other-mothers at Kendal Calling, I thought I would share my newfound tips with those taking to mud-filled fields for the first time

1. Pack the single warmest item of clothing you own.
In my case, because I don’t have any thick clothing, I ran away with my ex-partner’s hoody.

This had numerous advantages:

It kept me warm while I was waiting for my reporter friend to finish a Fosters-induced vomiting session by the portaloos.

It was also about five sizes too big, meaning that if my wits failed me, at 4am while trying to find the godforsaken tent, I could retract my arms and legs and shelter wholly inside of it like a turtle.

Finally, it allowed me to tell shifty-looking men, most often found lurking inside the dance tent, that it was my boyfriend’s jumper, thus giving them the brush off without the need of a rape alarm.

A silly hat and practical cagoule will also add to this lesser-known fashion

2. Embrace the food.

Take at least £20 with you, even if you plan to take food and alcohol too.

Festivals are getting pretty good at Mexican, Chinese, Indian and English (i.e. chips in gravy) but unless you have the cash you will have to spend four hours in a queue for a portable cash machine that will probably charge you to withdraw money – a crime of gargantuan proportions.

On Saturday evening, when you are sick to death of Snack-a-Jacks, Jaffa Cakes, Cup a Soup and bananas there is nothing better than a cup of hot tea and piping hot fajitas.

3. Don’t buy the t-shirt.

Come on, grow up.

It costs £35 and is hated by everyone in the real world.

Admittedly, while you’re there it might seem like the perfect way to remember the weekend, but outside the hallowed realms of the festival it is the clothing equivalent of wearing a ‘kick me’ sign.

4. Be realistic.

It’s easy to imagine your three-day music festival will be a weekend of camaraderie and an uninterrupted affirmation of friendship with your welly-clad companions.

In actual fact the experience is more likely to resemble a messed up scene from Withnail and I.

Chances are at least one of your mates will turn out to be a raving alcoholic – downing a rough mixture of Asda’s own brand gin, Bargain Booze Vodkat and bottles of red wine with silt in the bottom, stopping to reflect only after they have gone completely blind

Other friends will disappear into the night – only to return 15 hours later, carrying bongs and magic beans and without any explanation for either.

Then there will be the one who doesn’t get festivals and doesn’t like their hair getting messy, who can’t cope with three cereal-bar-based meals a day and three hours sleep a night, and who has wanted to go home ever since their iPod ran out of power.

It’s bad but it could be worse. Rejoice in the fact that they aren’t shooting up heroin by the house party tent, or bringing back fat, fling-seeking married men to your own flimsy plastic abode. But try not to give them any ideas.

 

4. Pack bottled water, too much food, paracetamol, extra socks and toilet paper.

Sensible advice done.

5. Remember: music festivals are not about the music.

There’s no point attempting to see everything during the weekend, so unless you’re the kind of person who cannot live without an itinerary you might as well enjoy the freefall of it. Maybe decide on three things you’d like to see with a friend and actually make an effort to see at least two of them. Treat the rest of the weekend as a musical all-you-can-eat buffet.

Me, on the second night of the festival, outside the riot tent. Still sporting the silly hat look.

6. Come back and lie through your teeth.

It’s 72 hours and 16mm of rain later. You’ve been cold, half-starved, angry, hung over, fed up. Your ears are still ringing from the headline act, your car got stuck in the mud, some teenager hit you in the face with a bottle in the dance tent (that stupid dance tent) and you now have a growing bump above your eye. You spent all your money and now you have to spend two hours sorting out your stupid tent, which was ripped when some lost drunk person fell through it at 4am last night.

It will probably be great but, whatever happens, make the most of the weekend. Follow the festival tradition: when you get home, tell everyone you had an absolutely amazing time – the best time ever. Make them jealous as hell, eat a massive meal and go to bed with a smug little smile on your face.