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Archive for the ‘vegetarian’ Category

Die Wellness. The first time I heard this now commonplace word was probably some time in 2003, courtesy of my GCSE German textbook. Back then, ‘wellness’ had not seeped into and overtaken our health culture – at least, my world was free from its connotations – and instead it was a new word for my expanding German lexicon: easy to remember, difficult to translate, conjuring up images of Germans doing aerobics or Nordic Walking. My edition of the Duden gives a rough definition of die Wellness as ‘good, well, shipshape’, with a reference to ‘light physical exercise as a way to reach desired wellbeing’. There is no mention of avocados or headstands; my Duden gives me no reason to believe that wellness is now a strict and relentless regime that will somehow make me Good.

I don’t need to introduce the more recent understanding of Wellness (with a capital ‘W’) and the industry built around it. I should, however, point in the direction of Ruby Tandoh‘s brilliant analysis of this regime, which is definitely worth a read. No, wellness with a small ‘w’ has been on my mind a lot over the past weeks and months, as I have found myself, relatively speaking at least, not well. And, ironically, as I begin my return to better health, I am finding that many answers lie in avoiding what is preached by Wellness, and instead navigating feeling healthy by trying out new ways of living that are definitely not endorsed by any of our beloved Wellness ‘gurus’.

Now, just to be clear, there is nothing seriously wrong with me. I’m suffering a very sudden onset of B12 and Ferritin anaemia (only 6 weeks ago my iron levels were Popeye-esque), and have to have some extra tests to work out why this quick plunge in blood health might have occurred. But I’m female, semi-vegetarian and training for an ultra marathon: likely this is No Big Deal. One thing that is a big deal: the symptoms of anaemia, which generate tiredness that sleep can’t cure, inability to think straight or remember things, breathlessness and sudden need to sit down and have a rest. I have been able to return to a more functional physical state only a couple of weeks after being diagnosed thanks to relentless B12 injections and some small changes to my diet and lifestyle. And this is where wellness comes in.

This time last year I was in the process of becoming a ‘proper’ vegan, and had just about cut out dairy and egg from my diet. I was also consuming a very large amount of veg, easily managing 12-15 portions a day (hint: veg = fibre). I took a vitamin supplement, as advised by my doctor. I was also doing lots of running, and while I felt like I was doing all the ‘good’ things, I was feeling increasingly bad. I wrote about my vegan phase here, so I won’t repeat myself. I chose veganism for ethical issues, but it also coordinated handily with the sudden explosion of vegan cookbooks and recipes in newspapers: it seemed like a good thing to be doing. Moreover, everywhere I looked I was being told to ‘just eat more’ fruit and veg, and that red meat and sugar-laden supermarket bakes would inevitably lead to my early demise. I also read Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run at that time – there is no doubt that veganism worked for him as a runner, so why not me too? All in all, it seemed like a good fit.

(I appear to be having an anti-vegan rant, but as I’ve never tried to subsist on the meat-laden diet of the Hemsley sisters I can’t comment on that. I only know that spaghetti that is really just raw courgette makes me fart excessively, and the fact that the existence of spaghetti is demonised in some circles makes me very sad.)

So fast-forward a year and back to my health. As I mentioned, I am feeling better. The doctors’ advice is consistent: I need to eat more of the stuff that is deemed poison by many Wellness ‘experts’. This includes fruit juice, breakfast cereal, dried fruit, meat (trying to work up to red meat but am a bit scared), fish, eggs, dairy. I also need to rest more, and do what I can to feel good again. For me, this has included lying on the sofa listening to old REM albums, gardening, walking painfully slowly and shouting at my husband when he keeps speeding up, lots of bubble baths, cuddles with my cat, gin and tonic, time off work, time off from my running schedule, allowing myself to feel rubbish and have a good cry/moan about it, chocolate cake. And lots and lots of  really slow yoga (I love this amazing gentle morning sequence by Yoga with Adriene). This is how wellness currently looks, for me and my current situation.

We all have our own version of wellness and what makes us well. Often it involves tablets or injections, or perhaps a strange sachet to pour into your morning glass of evil fruit juice. We’d be forgiven for thinking that there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all Wellness, with expensive food and cult lifestyle choices as the main bringer of physical and emotional well-being. Matcha tea, dynamic yoga (with lots of ‘inversions’ of course) and avocados might work for some people, but for most of us a bit of balance is enough, occasionally supplemented with a trip to the pharmacy when things go awry. The fact that there are now wellness ‘events’ where attendees pay to be told how to live ‘healthily’ in one very specific and perhaps damaging way is both mind-boggling and sickening. This whole thing is just one big lie. I know, because I tried at least some of it (I’ve never managed a headstand, I must confess) and it made me unwell. Now, in order to undo this Wellness-induced unwellness I am enjoying bowlfuls of sugar-laden cornflakes with a side of supermarket-bought orange juice and a sachet of something pharmaceutical. I might even go for some red meat at some point. This is my wellness. It won’t sell millions of recipe books and I won’t be writing a newspaper column any time soon, but if it leads me to feeling fully-functional again then I couldn’t care less. And if we can return our understanding of wellness to those smiling Nordic walkers enjoying some gentle exercise before a bit of tea and cake, then we’ll all be a lot better off.

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I whipped this up after my long run on Sunday and it hit the spot perfectly on a chilly January day. I tend to get very cold very quickly after a long run, and it isn’t uncommon for me to turn blue if I don’t have a shower immediately, but this served as an all-in-one recovery drink and a warm blanket, meaning that I didn’t have to wait for nourishment until after I’d showered.

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I made it with whole dairy milk because we had some on a short date in the fridge, but it could quite easily be made with scrummy non-dairy milk, too. Equally as easy, and n doubt just as tasty, for vegans and milk-lovers alike!

Protein recovery hot chocolate

1 scoop protein powder (we use pea protein which is GROSS on its own, hence the need to dress it up)
1 mug milk
1 tbsp hot chocolate powder (I use Green and Blacks, which is vegan, but any will do)
Half a banana (optional)

  1. Heat up the milk in a mug in the microwave for 2 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, blend the protein powder, chocolate powder and banana with 100ml of water
  3. Add the warm milk to the blender and whizz to combine
  4. Pour back into the mug and pop in the microwave for another minute until hot

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On going vegan.

I turned pescetarian when I was 16, and two years later made the full leap into vegetarianism. It always felt completely right; any worries that my family might have had about lacking energy or poor health didn’t pan out. In fact, paying attention to what I ate prompted me to get fit, start running, and was probably one of the main factors in losing 6 stone. It was a big part of my identity, too. Being one of three Catherines in my university friendship group, I was soon given the nickname ‘Veg’; I had a vegetarian birthday party, and put the icing on the vegetarian cake with a vegetarian wedding (my non-vegetarian husband was also keen, I might add). We’ve enjoyed living our lives around delicious meals packed with greens and pulses, and becoming vegetarian definitely lit the first spark of what has now become my huge passion for cooking and food.

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In 2014 I attempted Veganuary, with mixed results. It felt limiting, and I didn’t like the fact that I was eating processed foods such as vegan ‘butter’ and vastly increasing my soy consumption, but I did notice that my constant stomach cramps disappeared. I also missed butter. A lot. I went back to my normal vegetarian self, but earlier this year I noticed that, without making any effort or conscious choice, I had become just about vegan. Apart from (organic*) milk in my tea, I noticed that I ate dairy almost exclusively at weekends, when Daniel and I would share a pan of porridge or when I’d eat eggs or buttery toast after a long run. I started to experiment a little: almond milk in my tea, nut butter on my toast – I didn’t commit myself to anything, but I noticed that it was quite easy to avoid animal products when eating at home.

A month or so later, and my heart felt like it wanted veganism. I’d been doing some reading and I wasn’t happy about eating animal products at all – despite being perfectly happy with our organic milk at home, having a cup of coffee or even a meal while out started to bother me. I wanted to know about what I was eating; were these eggs in my vegetarian breakfast from happy hens, or was I unconsciously tucking in to something I wouldn’t eat if I knew where it had come from? So I went vegan.

I addressed some of the issues that I’d encountered during Veganuary by avoiding processed ‘veganised’ food; I ate tahini and nut butters by the bucket-load (literally!), and steered clear of processed veggie sausages. I made sure all the tofu we bought was organic, and bought only organic almond and soya milk. It started to get very expensive, especially as my running increased towards ultra-distance and I was hungry all the time. I was eating pulses every day, and bags and bags of greens. The only things I genuinely missed were yogurt and butter, but I kept a large stock of homemade granola, bread and vegan cookies to keep myself feeling chipper (I was still hungry all the time). It was during this period that I gave blood, and was pleased (and slightly surprised) to find that my iron levels were perfectly healthy.

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Writing all of this makes it sound idyllic, but there was a dark side. Plant-based foods are of course very good for our health, but one of the main reasons for this is their fibre content. Veg, fruit, pulses, wholegrains, nuts – all high in fibre. Even the almond milk that I put in my tea was adding yet more fibre to my diet. For a long while I couldn’t understand why I felt so terrible. I was under a lot of stress with the final months of my PhD, pushing myself hard physically, and travelling a lot for work and races: I’ll say no more. I ended up in the doctor’s surgery, convinced that I was dying of something terrible; I felt bloated and tired all the time, was afraid to leave the house in the mornings, and I started putting on weight despite lots of running and exceptionally healthy eating. I had some tests done. Lots of tests. I was secretly praying to be diagnosed as coeliac: I would have happily given up scones and bread for the rest of my days, if only I could have stopped feeling so awful. The tests were all clear – I wasn’t infested with parasites, I didn’t have Crohn’s (thank goodness), and I wasn’t suffering from coeliac’s disease either. The doctor suggested adding some stodge to my diet: ‘does vegan stodge exist?’ he enquired.

No, not really. So I started eating eggs, cheese, milk and all the other non-vegan but perfectly vegetarian things again, and I started to feel a little better. I stopped waiting indoors all morning until I was confident that I wouldn’t need the loo for at least another 20 minutes. Life started to feel easier. I wasn’t so hungry, and I had a lot more energy (mainly because the food I was eating stayed put long enough). Moreover, I didn’t feel that I was doing anything contrary to my ethical values – in my view, sticking with organic dairy and well-sourced eggs is a perfectly ethical way to go about food consumption. I had observed first-hand how veganism simply wasn’t for me, and couldn’t support me physically through the amount of running (and perhaps also PhD-ing) that I wanted to do every week. Importantly, I realised that I could eat in a way that I was happy with, and make good food choices, that would also allow me to feel good physically: the way I was eating worked for my heart, my mind and my body.

Eventually, I started to feel a bit bogged down with all the eggs, and I found myself turning in an unprecedented direction. I started eating fish again, and just before Christmas I had my first bite of chicken since that chicken burger back in June 2003. It tasted bland and completely uninteresting, but it was ethically-sourced organic meat, and I genuinely felt that it did me some good physically.

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Recovery shake of dreams.

Since then I’ve been eating chicken and fish once a week: always choosing things that I’m confident are as ethically good as they can be. I recently saw a comment on Twitter about meat-eaters being basically animal killers, but I don’t think that this is true. The source of our food, from the simple British-grown carrot to the dodgy reconstituted chicken meat of a supermarket-brand nugget comes with big issues, from the question of waste and fairness, through environmental impact to animal cruelty. No diet is immune from the pressures of ethics, and a thoughtless vegan diet can be more problematic than a thoughtful meat-lover’s.

This Veganuary, I’m feeling all sorts of intermittent guilt and disappointment for not being able to take part. It’s a great experiment to take on just for a month, and it can be really eye-opening. There does appear to be a general move towards veganism, which is of course awesome, but it’s a way of eating that simply isn’t for everyone. Whether for health reasons, practical reasons or simply because you just love butter that bit too much, veganism isn’t the only way, and neither is vegetarianism. It’s perfectly ok to be an omnivore, and to find a balance that works in all directions. Other veggies will probably agree that vegetarians are often put on a pedestal by meat-eaters, as if they are somehow better than the regular omnivore, but with the new availability of good food, and the increasing awareness and casual activism seen in this area, this is a distinction that simply doesn’t have to be true.

*since we moved in together in 2010 we’ve only ever bought organic milk and butter. We’re now trying to make sure that all of the animal produce that we buy is organic.

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I continue to be impressed by the vegetarian food on offer in the Lake District, and so I thought it was about time that I put together a little summary of all of my favourite veggie pit-stops. We’ve spent five long weekends in the Lakes already this year, and every visit seems to present us with a new place to rave about; it’s getting to the point now that we rarely have time to visit all of our local favourites in one holiday. This couldn’t be more different from my experiences only a few years back, when a microwaved veggie lasagne was about all I could expect after a day out walking in the fells.

Most of these places aren’t exclusively veggie, and for me that isn’t a big deal. While I love to visit a place with a creative menu full of vegetarian delights, what impresses me the most is an omnivorous menu that doesn’t put meat-eaters at the centre of the table and hide the veggies away somewhere in the back. All of the places below present vegetarians with a choice (shock horror) of delicious food, and rather than reserving a small corner of the menu for us, our food is included in the list of meals that any customer might actually enjoy. Brilliant.

Obviously I can’t include every veggie-friendly place in the Lakes as I haven’t been to them all; do let me know if you have any recommendations of your own!

Keswick

Saddleback Cafe has quickly gained an excellent reputation in Keswick, and I can’t say that I’m surprised. Tucked away from the main bustle of the town centre, it’s always nice to escape here for a while, though it can often be overwhelmed by passing cyclists in need of a refuel. The menu is aimed at outdoorsy types, with peanut butter and banana sarnies, excellent cakes and flapjacks, and mugs of builder’s tea for little more than £1.50. They also do a great range of daily specials, one of which is always vegetarian and quite often vegan: think veggie chilli, tagine, curry – all the favourites! They really do cater for all, with a great selection of meaty, veggie, vegan and gluten-free fare on offer.

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Little Chamonix is another new addition to Keswick’s ever-improving foodie scene, and I struggle to walk past here without stepping in for one of their excellent coffees (locally roasted in Embleton): on our most recent trip to Keswick we were in here every day. Their menu is crammed with delicious home-cooked food made with locally-sourced ingredients – some are even home-grown. It’s a great lunch spot offering traditional Swiss dishes (baked camembert with bread and honey?!) as well as soups, chilli, jacket potatoes and huge sarnies. The best thing is the cakes, though, which are all homemade – their scones are baked fresh every morning and should not be missed!

The Dog & Gun stands out from this list as I’m including it mainly for it’s amazing veggie goulash. Served with garlic bread, potatoes and dumplings, this place offers post-fell refuelling at its finest! There are definitely other veggie options available, but I haven’t tried any of them because I love the goulash too much. Meat-eaters, vegetarians, ale-lovers and dogs are all well-catered for here.

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The Pheasant Inn offers a surprisingly large selection of meat-free options, considering how traditional it appears from the outside. Veggie options are included in the main menu, and on our visit I had three main dishes and one special to choose from. The food and service is very good (you can eat in the bar or book a table in the dining area), though take a solid appetite as the portions are generous!

Ambleside

Rattle Gill Cafe was one of the great discoveries of the UT55 weekend in Ambleside. We stumbled upon it by accident when in search of lunch on the day after the event, and I could have stayed a very long time enjoying their very tempting menu. Their chilli was generous and really delicious, and certainly the cakes looked to fit the bill as well. The menu is all vegetarian, with vegan and gluten free options available.

Zeffirellis is an important part of Ambleside’s social scene, offering a restaurant, cafe, cinema and jazz bar. You don’t notice at first, but it’s all vegetarian. This is our go-to place for fuelling up before races, as their menu offers lots of tasty pasta and pizza dishes (with gluten-free options available for both) as well as chillis and roast-style dishes. I also really like their pudding menu, which has lots of lighter options including fruits and frozen yogurts.

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Fellinis is the sister restaurant of Zeffirellis, and claims to be “a new modern ‘Vegeterranean’ restaurant” offering Medeterranean-inspired veggie dishes. As far as fine dining goes, this is the best vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to; it manages to get the perfect balance between really sumptuous food, delicate flavours and indulgence, all without the support of meat or fish. It’s a great place for a celebration, but price-wise it isn’t any different from any of the other restaurants in Ambleside.

Ullswater

Fellbites is a lovely little place with a really relaxed feel, just of the main street in Genridding. It’s a great place to come after a day on the fells, with plenty of warming dishes for meat-eaters and veggies alike. It functions as a cafe in the daytime and turns into a restaurant at night. Friendly, with tasty food and a good menu selection.

Loweswater

Kirkstile Inn is hands-down my favourite place to eat and sleep in the Lake District. We even spent our honeymoon here, and if I hadn’t been quite so taken by the wild rice and veggie stir fry, I could have had a different veggie option every night of our stay. Not bad considering their menu is pretty small to start with! The food here is really excellent, especially when washed down with one of their own Loweswater Gold ales. Leave room for pudding – the seasonal crumble is not to be missed! And if you’re staying the night, the omelettes are life-changing – I went from omelette-neutral to omelette-mad over the course of one breakfast.

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En route to the mountains

La Casa Verde is a really magical place, nestled somewhere in the grounds of Larch Cottage nurseries. Follow the winding path through the foliage to find a magical cafe in really unique surroundings. They serve fish but no meat, and their pizzas are really wonderful, with a seriously thin base that makes them great for lunch. The cake selection is refreshingly untraditional, too. Definitely worth stopping here for a while!

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