Plant-based paradises: Chiang Mai

It’s getting easier to find vegan products in shops and cafes in the western world, but despite this it is still not as ubiquitous as I’d like. As far as I feel like we’ve come in Australia, I still have to hunt around for restaurants which are often a decent drive away from my suburb, or I get stuck with the usual terrible quality in convenience stores, petrol stations and corner chip shops.

There are places in the world, however, where there are plant-based options around every corner, especially when global tourism collides bringing together an amassing of worldly-wise visitors demanding ethical food options.

I am in one of those places now: Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Going back a few years, CM was already rising to meet the needs of vegans even though the momentum had not yet really hit its stride in the West. Coming back now, I’m am in plant-based paradise looking at the abundance of not only 100% vegan establishments, but a general awareness in many cafes that acknowledge and allow customisation to accommodate non-meat and dairy customers. My favourite phone app (also a website), Happy Cow, shows off the glorious results of Chiang Mai’s options with so many green pins (100% vegan) but encouragingly so many others with genuine accommodating options.

Screen Shot 2019-02-01 at 2.40.57 pm.png

Chiang Mai’s central tourist area around the Old City. Scale of this image is approx. 4km across

By contrast, my hometown of Adelaide, Australia – while improving every year – will have restaurants/cafes that offer “veg options” (red pins) but quite often that will just mean that one main meal on the menu is veg-friendly and even that might still have cheese on it. On top of that, the majority of the listings above in Chiang Mai are restaurants open all day; in Adelaide, over 75% of all vegan or vegetarian establishments are only open at lunch.

IMG_8300.jpg

Mouthwatering massaman curry with brown rice and salad at Bohdi Tree 2, Chiang Mai

The quality of the food in Chiang Mai varies like anywhere, but often it is at a very high standard. I have tried a variety of cuisines (lots of Thai options of course, but often Italian, American, Middle Eastern and Indian are the one that are covered well) plus exotic salad shops, street stalls and specialty places like dessert cafes. There are many places doing their own mock meats or non-dairy cheeses, etc to varying success as I suspect that finding international commercial products is not as easy or viable to keep costs down, but this also provides some great opportunities for chefs to try something different.

As competition increases, it’s easy to start pitting one vegan place against another. However, I am still gleefully just trying places, thankful for so many ethically-minded people and in a state of awe at the variety of options at my disposal. I try not to be too critical as I want this industry to succeed, and luckily much of the food equates to hardy home-cooking which will always satisfy on some level. To be fair, I am also not seeking out high-end eateries as there are so many low-to-midrange ones, so if you’re after fine dining, there might be fewer places available for you.

I have also visited Pai – about 4 hours’ drive from CM – and it too is well-endowed with vegan options given it’s tiny size. Check out this delicious mushroom-based bbq “pulled pork” roll I had plus gorgeous choco smoothie at Blossom Cafe.

The future is bright and the menus are exploding with choices!

IMG_8498.jpg

img_8499

Vegan foods reviewed – part 5

I’m actually finding that my intake of faux dairy and mock-meat products goes in waves depending on my mood: when I feel sad or need comfort food, they get purchased in abundance; if I’m feeling good and healthy, then it’s all veggies, salads and smoothies for me! Lucky for you, I’m feeling a bit blah…so here come some omni-style treats! 🙃

We’ve got a “sour cream” show-down for you today, some meat-y snacking and a new offering from our American friends at Upton’s.

vegan-symbol

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

About the ratings system: Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


** SOUR CREAM SHOWDOWN **

PRODUCT 1: TOFUTTI BETTER THAN SOUR CREAM

Type: non-dairy Sour cream
Country of origin: USA
tofutti.com

259850

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

vs

PRODUCT 2: GREEN VIE SOUR CREAM
Type: non-dairy Sour cream
Country of origin: Cyprus
greenviefoods.com

9415

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

Sadly, this will be a no-contest right off the bat when you look at the scores. When I decided to give the Green Vie a shot today, I was really expecting it to be a gloves-off, fight-to-the-finish competition between these two. I have been eating Green Vie’s cheeses and I find them good value and quite comparable to bigger, more established brands. I’ve been admittedly eating Tofutti for some time and it’s always my go-to for their sour cream and cream cheese products, but I figured there’s always opportunity to be newly wowed by competition. Today was not that day however.

Right off the bat, the Green Vie (GV) came in at over 20% more expensive than the Tofutti…I was expecting it to be extra gourmet! Tofutti is good value given that it comes from overseas and it is so tasty, but it still comes in at almost twice the dairy-equivalent price (as I’ve covered with this before, dairy is subsidised and undervalued so it’s not a totally fair comparison). Looking at the ingredients, the GV has a pretty short list and read more like it was one of their hard cheeses, which was a bit worrying.

The first thing that struck me upon opening the container was that they totally missed the boat with the texture (and have made totally false advertising on the package): it was lumpy, see-transparent and a cool-white colour – all very un-sour cream like. I didn’t care for it’s runnyness as I loaded some onto my corn chip. Sadly, the taste was equally disturbing: not so sour, quite strong coconut oil taste, and just a bit odd. I’m not sure how they missed the mark so spectacularly to be honest, unless sour cream in Cyprus is much different than North American or Australian equivalents.

The Tofutti is a very different beast. The texture is a little firmer than dairy sour cream, but if you stir it, it whips up into a super-smooth confection. Dipped with salsa on a corn chip (the way I love eating this combo), it is as near-perfect as I can recall to my dairy-eating days. It has a “sour” that isn’t simply some lemon added to the mix, but more subtle and accurate. Blobbed on top of nachos, or stirred into a mushroom stroganoff makes my tummy smile as to it’s perfect simulation for sour creamy meals. On it’s own it is also very good, though you start tasting that it’s not quite the same as the dairy version. However, I don’t recall ever eating sour cream straight from the tub so it doesn’t matter.

The verdict is quite clear: Green Vie, what’s the deal? How did things go sooo wrong?


PRODUCT: UPTON’S NATURALS – CH’EESY BACON MAC
Type: Prepared meal
Country of origin: USA
Upton’s Naturals

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

Bacon-Mac-Front

As I recently did my first Upton’s review, you can read a bit more in-depth background about them there, and I’ll just move into the review…

The meal comes in microwave-ready vacuum-sealed plastic pouches, one being the pre-cooked pasta (thick macaroni) and the other being the cheese and “bacon” mixture. As previously, the package says it is “2 serves” which is not true if you are a normal-sized human eating this as a main meal. It is a “just-enough” serve for one person, but I might be hungry in an hour. The $9 price point is therefore quite steep given the quantity but also the contents: seeing a simple bag of pasta and a little sachet of cheese mix and that is it made me think that this was quite a poor deal given their other products are more exotic with their ingredients. Worse yet, when I opened the sauce sachet, there were a whole 4 pieces of “bacon” and they were the colour of the sauce. Note in the product photo that there are at least double the amount of meaty red pieces. Not good Upton’s.

Flavour-wise I was not too impressed. Nutritional yeast (“nooch” as vegans tend to refer to it) is the primary ingredient and to me that is yesterday’s cheat to making something sort of “cheesy”. When I make homemade mac and cheese, I use cashews and a bundle of different ingredients to create a rich, creamy and very flavourful sauce. This one was thin, salty and too nooch-y. Even the texture failed as the sauce was a bit gritty and just not rich in that way that comfort food needs to be. Even with the obligatory ketchup drizzled atop the meal after I’d tasted it naked, it still revealed the gritty, salty side which just wasn’t satisfying.

Overall, a huge miss compared to the hit that was their Massaman Curry and the fact that both items were priced the same makes this one even more of a dud. Disappointed as I was very much looking forward to it.


PRODUCT: A&T INTERNATIONAL ROASTED VEGAN JERKY
Type: Mock meat snack
Country of origin: Taiwan
(no official site found; referring to reseller page Vegan Online)

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

IMG_6785
When I did eat meat, I actually didn’t indulge in beef jerky all that much. I have liked hot and spicy food for many years however and that is probably what initially drew me to try this Roasted Vegan Jerky. It is made by Taiwanese company obscurely known as A&T International Soya Food and there is no official website from the Googling that I did. More than likely, that name is the distributor and their name is only in untranslated Taiwanese. Regardless, they sell the stuff at the link above if you are keen to try!

What I appreciate about this product most of all is the legitimate chewiness and fibrousness of the jerky, so it actually takes some effort to pull it apart, all the while kicking your butt with some hot chilli spices. I’ve not come across this texture simulation before in a vegan product. I like it! It’s also got a properly meaty flavour that isn’t just all hot, but also clearly a meat-like layering of taste. Thankfully, it’s not identical to the sinewy nature of dried animal muscle but it makes you work for it; if you miss that aspect of your former meat-eating days, then this will give you plenty of satisfaction.

The price is decent for what it is, albeit a small 120g packet for $5.50, but it’s a satisfying treat that does very well to simulate it’s meat-based cousin.

 


Vegan food shopping pet peeves

htrbqvair2pz.jpg

Being vegan ain’t always easy. Actually, a lot of the time it gets me either really sad or truly angry. That is actually rarely about the food itself and more about the politics of raising animals for meat and dairy, the inherent cruelty of our animal agriculture system and the wilful destruction of our planet to feed people so-called “food” they don’t actually need to eat in order to survive.

When it does come down to the food though, there are so many great options, who can complain, right? Well, now… 😬   Here come my pet peeves (of today):

Unnecessary infiltrators

There could be SO MANY more vegan-friendly foods if companies that make an otherwise vegan product either slip “milk solids” or something stupid in there, or have a “May contain” list that includes dairy, eggs, etc even though the product doesn’t have those things in it. This happens far more often than it should!

Who decides on what the “perfect” hot dog is anyway?

There is a perception by meat-eaters and vegans alike that a vegan product has to faithfully reproduce the best version of a meat or dairy product or else it will be deemed unsuccessfully. The scrutiny is unfair and besides, who’s standards are we going by? In any food discussion, you’ll have people who swear by a certain thing, and someone else who thinks it is terrible. There is almost no gold standard for anything so we may as well get creative. If something “isn’t quite a meat item” but tastes awesome and looks very different, does it matter? If taste is paramount, then it should win out no matter what it looks like, even if the mock-meat is grey or a funny shape. If it looks weird AND tastes bad, well, that’s different. However, if it tastes “wrong” because someone was trying so hard to make that, say, blue cheese equivalent look, smell and taste identical, then maybe we need to address why it can’t just be it’s own thing. We need a new food category where foods are totally new but independently taste great without comparative scrutinising.

Making the food secretly vegan

Products that don’t mark specifically that they are vegan, nor dairy free and yet on the ingredients they have no animal products. If it isn’t on their allergens list (which they legally need to have) then it should be fair dinkum vegan, right? If so Food Company, why not just put vegan-friendly or dairy-free on the box?? Why make vegans hunt around and then take a risk or have to waste time contacting the manufacturer? You’re missing out on a growing market here people!

“Green-washing,” vegan style

Why is the vegan equivalent of a meat or dairy-based product by large companies still charged at a higher cost than the original meat/dairy item? Bigger companies are actually saving money on their core ingredients and their R&D departments are already well-funded and aren’t needing to recoup their development investment the same as a boutique company might justify their higher prices.

I am aware that animal products are heavily subsidised plus farmers are paid a pittance for what they do (which, in turn, results in the animals getting treated horribly in order to keep some profit margin). But pulses, veggies, grains and so on are cheap…

Of course, as I’ve been told before, the price of meat and dairy in western nations is unsustainably competitive. The “true” tally of our grocery bill should be about 2-3 times higher than it is, so maybe vegan foods are closer to the “real” cost. So while this one is a pet peeve because I just want to pay the same as everyone else, I could understand this price inflating if that were the real reason. However, I think it is just good old fashioned gouging.

Vegan options all in one spot

This one is more of a wish than a pet peeve I guess, but it would be utterly fantastic if vegan-specific products either got a special coloured tag at grocery stores or were all clustered in one area of the store. At the moment, the cool and frozen products tend to be together in their respective sections (albeit sprinkled together with vegetarian and gluten free and low fat – all things very much not vegan or just irrelevant to veganism) but the other products are often dotted around the store. Probably the former idea of a bright tag would be better as you cruise around the store, but either way I’m sure there are countless products that I simply miss which is unfair to the producer….and to mah belly! 😂

To end on a positive note though, I’m very thankful for all the people that are doing their best to give vegans a growing bounty of options! One day soon we’ll see a real respect by stores, food companies and the general public alike in accepting vegan foods as a genuinely profitable area worth exploiting at the benefit of our planet, our animals and us. 😊

844e0ae3da7976db794bd5cfe8c5a5e9

Why do vegans eat faux-meat and mock-dairy?

A question that is frequently asked of vegans is: if you are against the idea of consuming animal flesh and think that humans don’t need it, then why do you eat pretend meat and dairy products? While not all vegans eat faux meat depending on how long they have been vegan and why they gave up meat in the first place, there is a large market for mock-meats by vegans for good reason. For the most part, this can be boiled down to tradition, flavour, protein and social-acceptance. But let’s unpack it a bit…

vegan-hot-wings-processed-stills-11

Buffalo hot “wings” recipe at The Edgy Veg

If we first dial all arguments back to core rationale, vegans are either:

  • fighting for animal cruelty to be vastly reduced,
  • environmental chaos caused by animal agriculture to be stemmed,
  • vast health improvements that can be had by reducing animal intake in humans, or
  • a combination of the first three.

The main things that meat-eaters have on their agenda besides basic sustenance are: flavour and protein. And maybe “tradition”.

Looking at faux meat and dairy strictly from the omni “flavour” perspective, the past 3 or 4 years in particular have seen an immense increase in not only the volume of great-tasting vegan products, but a rise in innovative preparation of those products which is delivering vast improvements in taste and texture.dnLzZYG

If a meat-eater hasn’t tried vegan products for over 5 or 6 years and are still claiming vegan meats are tasteless and rubbery, they are basing their assumptions on early incarnations that used more basic technology and ingredient arrays to contribute to a much less exciting flavour. To be honest, anyone would be forgiven for criticising early vegan foods, many of which are inedible by today’s high standard of gastronomic delights.

In addition to flavour, the nutritional component to many vegan products is at a very high standard. In an effort to further attract buyers that may be looking for products strictly for health rather than compassionate reasons, there are countless organic, gluten-free, preservative-free, low saturated fat and low GI foods made from whole foods which make “going vegan” an even healthier option. Given that these foods are now marrying health and full flavour to create an alternative to most meat and dairy items, there seems less and less reasons to be able to rationalise breeding, raising, feeding, torturing and slaughtering sentient beings and then storing hunks of rotting animal carcass in order to obtain something that can be done an a far more humane, efficient and nutritionally complete manner.

Speaking specifically on protein, thanks to an increasing array of comprehensive studies, we are able to confidently strike back at nay-sayers when it comes to a plant-based diet. One such large study recently compared the nutrient profiles of around 30,000 non-vegetarians to 20,000 vegetarians and around 5,000 vegans. We now know that vegans average 70% more protein than the recommendation every day (RDI). Protein is by far the most overstated nutrient. People are unnecessarily obsessed with protein – but it’s very, very difficult to actually be deficient in protein, and only people who are falling far short of their recommended daily calorie requirement (such as people with eating disorders) will be deficient in protein. It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein.

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 12.50.37 PM

@minimalistbaker on Instagram

So, back to the original question: why does faux meat and dairy even exist and why do many vegans seek these products out? The simple answer of course is that most vegans once ate meat and dairy as tradition led our parents to feed us that stuff, as well as being conditioned by the Powerful Influencers (corporate advertising). Now that we have left that cruelty mostly behind us, we are still left with familiar meals and flavours that we enjoyed. Seeing as we are unwilling to enjoy those flavours at the expense of an animal having to lose its life or be tortured, mock-meats became a suitable substitute. It’s not that we eat faux meat because we want to imagine the flesh that went along with it, its the seasoning, texture and flavour that is familiar and that we can have but without the cruelty.

The ethics and values of vegans are our strength, and we literally gave up on our so-called “favourite” foods because it wasn’t worth eating them if something had to die miserably or kill the planet in order to fulfil a selfish pleasure. I have great admiration for vegans who did this when there was no alternative (eg. 10, 20, 30 years ago) but to completely change their diets overnight and not be able to still enjoy the flavours they had become accustomed to. Of course, even worse back then was the fact that you were surrounded by meat-eaters giving you grief about your choices.

I would like to ask a few questions to meat-eaters, such as:

  • Why do meat eaters make food that doesn’t look like a piece of flesh? aka. sausage, burgers, meatloaf, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, etc. If humans were “designed to eat meat” then why aren’t pieces of animal sold with fur, hooves, etc so we can dig our big carnivore incisors into it and eat if fresh off the bone? Why disguise it?
  • Why do non-vegans kill animals in order to eat something that could be made with plants instead? Given that faux meats are now extremely similar in their characteristics to animal products, it literally makes no sense for people to eat something that tastes similar but where one requires a creature to die to satisfy one’s tastebuds.
  • Why do non-vegans make their food with vegan ingredients? Meat-eaters that give vegans grief are generally hypocrites as they will still eat bread made from grains, fries made from potatoes, lettuce and tomato on their hamburger, baked beans, vegetable-based soups, “meat and 3 veg”, etc etc. It’s not like they are eating meat with no other elements – maybe they should if they are self-professed carnivores. As one person said on Facebook: “Why not boil your… steak with blood or something… and season them with burned ashes”

The bottom line is: we don’t need meat and dairy. If you are a vegan reading this, then you are living, breathing proof that you are not currently dead because you are missing meat and dairy from your diet. For those meat-eaters who claim that it is their choice to eat meat, then I will say that your choice is a selfish one: the accumulated death, resource depletion and money tied up in health care due to your choice affects us all. It’s OUR PLANET TOO. Best yet, there are delicious alternatives so you don’t have much to give up!

Further reading on protein sources and amounts, especially if you are an athlete wondering how much to get, try the No-Meat Athlete or this guide at Healthline which shows specific food types and how much protein and other nutrients they provide.

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 12.47.36 PM

@consciouschris on Instagram

Vegan foods reviewed – part 4

I’m excited to be getting back into reviewing products, especially now that there are both so many new foods to try but also so many new vegans every day choosing a cruelty-free life! To those who might be reading, kudos to you! Even though longer-time vegans are generally good at scouring the shelves and internet for any new products, I thought I’d put my 2 cents in as well since it’s harder to find groupings of reviews in one place. Eventually I hope to make it a separate and searchable area, with links to products.

vegan-symbol

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


PRODUCT: FIFYA – KALE, ROCKET & WHITE BEAN DIP
Type: Snack food
Country of origin: Australia
Quality Food World

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

2505264-fifya-vegan-dips-kale-rocket-white-bean-250g-web
The title of this dip isn’t the most enticing you’ll come across as, on their own, none of these things are that mouth-watering items of desire. However, the way that FIFYA has combined them where the white bean becomes the creamy binding element giving it a smooth texture and the spiciness of rocket and the other flavours like pumpkin seeds, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and olive oil round out the dip in a very appealing way.

FIFYA does a variety of vegan, gluten free, preservative free dips like roasted eggplant & parsley, pumpkin & roast capsicum plus sweet potato to name a few. I intend to try them all in due time and I’m not sure how I came to try the kale one before these more obvious  choices with “roasted” veggies (my fave) given that kale is low on my veggie list (not my fave). I’m glad it happened though, as it is a satisfying dip for snacking.

The most impressive part of this dip is the flavour which is punchy and a nice balance of savoury elements, and is perfect on crackers, pita or with fresh cut veg. The texture is smooth and good, although perhaps a bit runny and lumpy as far as dips go, but it’s not a big issue. The dips represent ok value; I am not sure if it is because they are a smaller company or if by adding “vegan” onto something they can charge more, but at $2 per container more than most of their competition for ingredients that are far from exotic, $5.50 is a bit hight to pay for a 250g dip. Being 100% vegan, I will reach for it if I’m tiring of hummus but I would buy even more often if it were a bit lower in cost.


PRODUCT: CHICKPEA AND CAULIFLOWER MASALA BURGER
Type: Burger patty
Country of origin: New Zealand
Bean Supreme

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

masala-burger-packaging

On first viewing of these Bean Supreme products, I find the packaging quite appealing: clean, modern and super-tasty looking food. I would be very surprised if a meat-eater would look at that image and not be seduced into trying it.

That does happen a lot with vegan foods I suspect, but the trouble is that the flavour doesn’t always match the what the image is selling. Unfortunately, even with vegans – most of whom started out as meat and dairy eaters – there is an expectation that certain foods that look a particular way will taste how we have become accustomed to them tasting. I pity the vegan product-makers who create foods with amazing flavours but someone who has a preconception might reject it simply because it doesn’t precisely match what they were expecting. Anyway, I digress…

What does that all mean with regards to Bean Supreme’s Masala Burger? Well, unfortunately the image oversells the product by a fair amount. When I first saw the raw patties, I was reminded of the ABC show The Checkout which has a segment that displays a product’s marketing photo vs what it really looks like. This was kind of the same: the patties were yellow and thinner with speckles like seeded mustard. Still, I hoped for the best and thought that as they browned they would look like the photo.

I baked them as it suggested that was a “healthier” way to prepare them, but when I took them from the oven they looked a bit anaemic, so I gave them a fast fry to brown them up. They looked better but were very dense and fairly dry compared to the juicy-looking photo. This is one of those cases where a beefy looking image was a omnivore’s nightmare, with a very-beany patty with blandish flavour. I didn’t get a sense of the intended “fragrant Indian spices” and it even was hard to dress up with some bbq sauce which I resorted to in the end.

At $8.60 for 4 patties, they weren’t the most expensive patties but they also were not that cheap, and given the competition in this category, I’d likely opt for something else before having these again.


PRODUCT: VEGANAISE
Type: No-egg mayonaise
Country of origin: USA
Follow Your Heart

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4
Organic-vegenaiseThis item has been around for awhile so it’s far from revolutionary, but it continues to be a shining example of how a vegan product can so effectively eclipse the item it is emulating.

Follow Your Heart has a lovely backstory of four vegetarian friends getting together 40 years ago to do a business that followed their ideals. You can see that there is a lot of love and successful tinkering in this product as I would say it is near-perfect. When I was an egg-eater 6+ years ago, creamy mayo had me hooked…I didn’t care for the low-quality stuff and ones that had a funny texture that was “slippery” and broke apart (like Hellmann’s) but rather liked Thomy’s very creamy and flavourful type. Vegenaise finds a good place in between flavour and texture-wise so it is as appealing as a spread as it is as a dip (the latter of which I am guilty of using it more often than anything else!).

I haven’t tried the organic version side-by-side with the regular version, so I don’t know if there is a real taste difference. I also love the garlic version which is much more aioli-like but not overly garlicky. Their byline is “better than mayo” and while I’d say that it is “as good as high-quality egg mayo” in terms of taste, the fact that it is eggless makes it far, far better.

The only thing that knocks down my score in terms of value is that I still don’t understand why there is a mark-up on vegan products when they contain no exotic ingredients (you’ll hear me harp on about this a lot 😝). At $9 per 473ml jar, it comes in 50% more expensive than gourmet egg mayos and twice as much as “regular” egg mayos. Even taking into consideration industry subsidies and economies of scale, I still think it is unnecessary to charge so much. If Follow Your Heart has been around for 40 years, they shouldn’t be considered a boutique brand anymore either.

Price rant aside, it’s one of my favourite daily-use products!

 


Vegan foods reviewed – part 3

It feels like I’ve semi-abandoned the vegan and sustainability part of this site but I’m getting back into it as I ramp up my focus on plant-based living and working.

The last products I reviewed were 5 years ago and wow, have things exploded in the vegan realm since then. The expanded range of options in every food group is impressive and exciting as the vegan movement takes hold of the world’s meat and dairy eaters. There are so many good dairy-free options now too, that I suspect even on-the-fence vegetarians might finally ditch their one last hold-out to full vegan eating!

I’ve made this page more extensive and visual, and will try to give variations on the same product type in order to truly compare the options that you have. I generally review products that have meat or dairy equivalents since otherwise they can just be called “food” since anyone can and does eat them.

vegan-symbol

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


PRODUCT: UPTON’S NATURALS – MASSAMAN CURRY
Type: Prepared meal
Country of origin: USA
Upton’s Naturals

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

massamancurry_0.pngI have seen Upton’s moustached men gracing their product boxes on grocery shelves for a couple of years now, but was only just made aware that this Chicago-based brand has been around since 2006. Their website shows off an impressive and mouthwatering array of products, many of which we still don’t get here in Australia (I’m looking at the seitan chorizo and mentally willing someone to distribute that here!) I did, however, note that this particular one that I am reviewing – the Massaman Curry – is a “Product of Thailand” so I’m afraid to ask if the ingredients are sourced in Thailand, shipped to America to prepare and then shipped to Australia for us, meaning there’s a whopping 25,000+ kms of fossil fuels attached to this item. Eeek!

Pushing that aside for the moment, their local distributor has just started importing the Massaman and I have to say, it is bloody delicious. There is a slightly enhanced zestiness to it that I wouldn’t say is my vision of a typical “massaman”, but it doesn’t matter because the plate is empty before you’ve had long to critique that point. Rich with flavour, crisp and fresh-tasting veggies, firm and flavourful tofu – it really was a satisfyingly delish meal.

The meal comes in microwave-ready vacuum-sealed plastic pouches, with separate purple rice, curry and crushed peanuts. My only peeve is that the package says it is “2 serves” which is quite wrong. It is only a 280g/480Cal packet and the serve that I heated up was smaller than my usual single-serve of curry (and I don’t eat exceptionally large serves by any means). It is really just a light lunch size but not a dinner for 2 or “I’m rather hungry” size. Because of this, the $9 price point is a bit steep for what it is. It may well be more expensive due to importing from the US (but then I do see it at US online retailers for US$6 so that’s comparable). I could understand the seitan or jackfruit or other specialty “meats” being a bit pricer, but non-organic tofu, rice and veg shouldn’t jack up the price that much.

Overall, a great choice for a guaranteed delicious meal, though not 100% “massaman-ish” and a bit pricey for the size you get.

 


PRODUCT: NUTTY BRUCE
Type: Nut milk
Country of origin: Australia
drinkbruce.com

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

nutty-bruce-coconut-almond-milk-2d-clipped-png-web-re-size-e1541133829246.png

Far and away the best nut milk I’ve come across to date. It is pleasantly creamy and not watery like so many long-life almond milks (probably due to having 2-3 times as much almond and coconut than other mylks). It only comes fresh (not in long-life tetra packs) so that might contribute to its more “lively” flavour too.

It is organic, has no thickeners, is slightly sweet (brown rice syrup) and is perfect for nearly everything I might have used dairy milk for in the past. When I go back to other almond milks, they taste limp and bland by comparison. Other coconut milks just taste like watered down coconut cream you’d use for cooking. It also doesn’t separate in tea or coffee like other organic milks I’ve had (I’m looking at you “Australia’s Own”).

Price-wise, it’s also the most expensive compared to any of the long-life milks. At normal non-sale price, they often sit at nearly double the price of others. Given that the others almost seem unpalatable now that I have had Bruce, it seems like good value, though it still adds up and I cringe a bit when I pile on 3L in the cart at over $17!

The brand is fun, it’s local and I love em! Yummmm!

 


PRODUCT: ALTERNATIVE DAIRY CO. – CHEDDAR BLOCK
Type: Non-dairy cheese
Country of origin: Australia
Alternative Dairy Co. (FB)

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

22177_cheddar.jpgDairy cheese is a strange confection as it has a property which makes it congeal and go gooey, and for some reason we have found this to be appealing. I would be lying if I said that I am not attracted to this feature when it comes to pizza or lasagne or Mac n’ cheese, but it’s still a weird thing. So of course we want our dairy cheese substitute to have the same characteristics, but many vegan cheeses struggle to simulate this well.

As far as rating a vegan cheese, this is a semi-important feature in my book as it does bug me when you make a pizza or toastie and the cheese is in a semi-solidified state even after cooking for awhile and now it is at risk of burning.

Alt. Dairy Co. has found a happy place where their cheese has excellent texture, bold flavour without a dominant coconut oil taste and pleasant meltability. It is still just cheddar, but you wouldn’t feel embarrassed to serve it to your bovine-breast milk-loving friends. High snackability on crackers or straight off the block. The feature that bolder flavoured non-dairy cheeses I’ve had might be the potato starch which I think might be the secret agent to making good faux cheese. Another favourite brand of mine, Vegusto, use potato in theirs and it is also delicious and not relying just on coconut oil to get by.

Overall, this is a great effort from a local company who are just starting to make headway with their brand. I look forward to trying more of their offerings!

 


 

Time to reflect and heal

~ DESTINATION SEVEN: LAUNCHING PLACE ~

Natural beauty and deep listening at Sunnyside Farm

This week since leaving Moora Moora has been an interesting one but not necessarily because it was part of the regularly scheduled program. With no intentional communities on tap while we have a WWOOFing stint, pics-507it has been a good time to reflect on things and where we are at on this journey.

I’ve just left Sunnyside Farm aka Natural Healing Place which is located in the beautiful hills south of the uniquely-named Launching Place, Victoria, about an hour east of Melbourne. As Heidi and I explore how different people do “Community,” we keep finding ways to redefine the word; Sunnyside is comprised of 32 year-old Nathan Thurlow and his 3 year-old son, with his extended family living further down the road on a large property. Nathan prefers to refer to WWOOFers as new “friends” and creates a welcoming atmosphere that encourages people to want to stay for awhile in his hand-made spa retreat-like home. The space is broken into pods connected by vine-laced outdoor paths, with accommodation that includes: a couple of pics-523bedrooms plus a loft bedroom/office (our room) as part of the main building; a caravan trailer; a luxury tent; and a tiny caravan-like shelter. The lounge-dining-kitchen area is considered communal, not unlike the crossroads that is often created by intentional communities to enourage chance meetings and conversations. Among the other unique elements around the house area are a newly minted sauna (which looks like a pizza oven that you sit inside),

The loo with a view

The loo with a view

outdoor bath and shower (the only bathing facilities, actually), a “loo with a view” which is one of two composting toilets and this one is situated on a covered outdoor throne with a beguiling view of the foggy hillsides, tin chook shed with happy scratching chickens and a productive veggie garden. Heidi and I took advantage of the outdoor bathtub which was very refreshing (especially in the very cool wet weather here!) as well as soulfully enriching as we sat looking at the trees, steam rising from the hot water as the rain fell and listening to the kookaburras sing.

pics-504

The luxury tent we would sleep in if it were summertime

pics-522

Nathan and fellow WWOOFer Mel

Nathan is a dedicated host, keen to share his learned wisdom about inner health through yoga, meditation, healthy living and positive thinking. Ironically, both Heidi and I arrived a bit burnt out, harbouring colds and probably needing to be guests at a place like this rather than as WWOOFers. As it happened, two days in, Heidi left to stay with her sister in Melbourne to get some down time, and I have taken a day off here to recover from my illness. Rather than be perturbed by the lost labour we were to have provided, Nathan has graciously taken it in stride and continues to offer his expensive organic wellness supplements, fresh ginger or chai tea, delicious fresh foods, helpful natural remedy advice and positive reading material for me while on the mend and leaning on his generosity. He lives a thrifty existence, so it is not with extravagence that he offers these things but through true kindness. I would go as far as saying he is quite servant-hearted, and his years of living an alternative lifestyle plus his self-education on different types of spirituality certainly show in his hospitality and deep caring for others. As he would say, perhaps in our current health/mental state, we were meant to come to him at this time; everything has its place and meaning for needing to happen when it does.

Mel doing some yoga

Mel doing some yoga

He could well be right about that.

In light of a bad cough and illness, it was perhaps not too wise for us to head on a little trip into the city on Wednesday (just prior to Heidi’s departure), with the two of us plus Mel (a WWOOFer who has been at Nathan’s for a month) and Kito. Our mission was to do some errands but mainly to watch a documentary called Dadirri: Deep Listening by filmmaker Helen Iles that we’d heard about at Commonground. The timing was impeccable as it was only the third small screening of this indie production whose theme revolves around the relationships within intentional communities, plus it featured places on our intinerary for this road trip (Commonground and Moora Moora, and the forthcoming Fryers Forest).

Best.Organic.Shop.Ever. - Terra Madre

Best.Organic.Shop.Ever. – Terra Madre

After visiting the Best.Organic.Shop.Ever. on High Street in Northcote and scarfing down another vegan meal at Vegie Bar in Fitzroy, we went up the road to a little bar called LongPlay which has a cute little 30-seat mini-cinema out back. The film was attended by a crowd of community-minded folks and there was a palpable buzz to being amongst others like ourselves. Helen is British but spent time traveling and filming around Australia for 2 years making this film, with two others in the intentional community “series” that were made in the UK. The film, while technically a bit sloppy (IMO), was an interesting examination on the relationship side to living communally and conflict-resolution, with lots of appearances by places and people we had literally just seen like Peter and Sandra (Moora Moora) and Kate (Commonground), which was all a bit trippy! I met with Helen afterwards to express an interest in working with her on future projects of similar content, but she was quite exhausted from the experience being that she shot, edited and directed it all herself. Shame we didn’t cross paths sooner!

Yummy outdoor spa bath for soaking under the stars

Yummy outdoor spa bath for soaking under the trees

Our loft room at Nathan's quirky but cool spa-like pad

Our loft room at Nathan’s quirky but cool spa-like pad

So, a few things to consider from this mixed-bag week, which was good. Moving forward, I think we’re currently at a bump in the road which is probably natural in a journey such as this: we have filled our brains with plenty of information and experiences; we have not been able to retire to a familiar home where we can periodically recharge and relax; we’ve been brought down a bit by illness and miserable weather; and we are generally feeling the grind of being constantly on the move. With a break in the weather this weekend (yay, sun!) and our final significant week-long stay at an intentional community (Fryer’s Forest, then we just have a couple of short stays afterwards), I’m hoping that we will get our second-wind to carry us through to June when we arrive back in Adelaide. It will be interesting to see where we sit with all this once we get back to a familiar place with familiar faces; my feelings about community have wavered with what we have learned, but it has likely been tempered with other circumstances related to travel and fatigue. Once we’ve had some time to properly reflect in a month from now, we’ll see what ideas and thoughts emerge!

IMG_5436