East vs West: Vegan Junk Food

For those who have been following my blog for a while now may have noticed the absence of a ‘vegan junk food in China’ post, despite me shamelessly telling you all to keep posted. Well, to be quite frank, there was not a great deal of junk food in China, or at least in Ningbo that I was aware of. As a huge snacker and with an ‘it all goes to my child-bearing hips’ sweet tooth, I was gravely concerned. I ended up being that girl that would snack on fruits and nuts, not because I wanted to prevent the likelihood of heart disease (although, on the odd occasion that was the reason) but out of sheer necessity.

And the militant 3 square meal consumers amongst you all might be wondering why I didn’t just eat more nourishing and satisfying meals? That’s a valid question (even if I did pose it myself).

The simple answer is that I was just a hungry gal. Rin, Fu and I would eat at Canteen 1- it was the cheapest of the 4 canteens on campus and there were more diverse vegan and vegetarian dishes available. Canteen 1 had, and still has a special place in my heart (but never my stomach!). We had a love-hate relationship with the place and the food. It was beyond basic, unsatisfying and kind of oily; yet day after day, meal upon meal, we would return. We were the losers that went there while the cool kids were in 3rd space. If we were to be typecast in a Mean Girls scenario, we’d be the weird ones that ate their peanut butter and jam sandwiches near the bins with the cleaner . Sorry Rin and Fu! ūü§£ We were the losers that would eat dinner at 4.30pm!! We’d have to wait for the lovely ladies to bring the hot steaming dishes out and to start up the till.

Hence how essential snacking became. So for these ‘girl who cried vegan struggle’ reasons, I thought I’d do a junk food battle post, East vs West style.

The East: Less Sugar (just naturally occurring goodness, not the high fructose corn syrup kind).

If we choose to be pedantic and focus on the semantics, ¬†(I love poetry) the term junk food need not exist in this context. Rather, it was merely snacking to fill the void of an insatiable appetite and hunger that canteen 1 food never ever filled. I snacked on lots of fruit, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. I was that kid that had tupperware in a backpack filled with healthy snacks! Believe me, as someone who loves junk food and sweet cavity-eroding gems, I didn’t even know who I was. I was that kid that would offer the class cherry tomatoes midway through a democratization lecture, choke on the pip of an apple and be the walking (and constantly) talking human brand of the campus snack shop. Previously the girl who would think it was absurd when someone brought an orange to the cinema- I became that person.

However, for all the condemnation and disapproval that someone that snacks healthily deserves, I did end up losing weight. I initially became leaner and lost body fat-although the copious amounts of white rice drenched in soy sauce then evened it out.

The West: Creative Concoctions

The West, particularly in London, serves up some delicious albeit diabetes-inducing vegan junk food. Don’t let the vegan lifestyle fool you; you can fall into the rabbit hole of vegan junk food heaven- your arteries and life insurance company won’t thank you. Paradoxically, to my delight everything can be veganised! Betty Crocker cake mixes are vegan! Co-Op does vegan custard doughnuts! There’s vegan ice-cream (Yorica Moments), vegan pizza ¬†(Zizzi’s, Fed By Water), vegan churros (Club Mexicana). The list is endless but don’t the prices reflect it!

The East: Protein in Sweet Pastries?!

Once Fu, Rin and I discovered the snack shop off campus it was a game changer, but sadly a weight gainer. Mooncakes, red bean pastries and mung bean drinks do not sound tantalising, nor are they overloaded in sugar and preservatives that those with a Western palate are accustomed to. To be perfectly honest, they did not quite hit the note with my sweet tooth, but they certainly are higher in protein! As someone who goofily gets excited by macros and protein content, it is interesting to note that pastries in China (typically) have less fat and more protein! Red bean paste is a familiar addition to pastries in the East, and has been associated with slower aging, improved health and cancer prevention. So while in China you can’t have your cake and eat it too, feel welcome to fill up on red bean pastries!

In conclusion, junk food and snacking in the UK differs enormously to that in China. I’m glad to be back on home turf and possibly single-handily keeping vegan bakery shops in business (Cookies and Scream, you sure know how to make a mean brownie). But, at the same time, I do miss buying industrial sized bags of dried fruit. If anything, China ignited my unconditional love for banana chips!

Thanks for reading!

Eat the Rainbow

Not the skittles kind… This is a healthy edition of a ‘what I eat in a day’ and includes a variety of food I attempt to eat when on a health kick (that lasts approximately 3 days). ‘Eating the rainbow’ is a phrase used in the inner circles of nutritionists, health-conscious consumers and your favourite celebrity chefs; and typically consists of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Not only does it make your food look incredibly colourful and therefore Insta-worthy, it is a fools-proof, healthy eating for dummy’s way of ensuring you get those vital vitamins and minerals on the daily.

I try to adhere to Dr Greger’s daily dozen list, incorporating as many foods we ought to eat to prevent and reverse disease. Now, in order to prevent being interviewed for a Dispatches ‘the dark side of healthy eating’ documentary, it is worth mentioning Dr G’s not-a-bought-nutrition-certficate-off-Amazon reputable credentials. He is a trained physician, renowned author of ‘How Not to Die’ and international speaker on health, nutrition and food safety. His list includes:

1) Beans (e.g. hummus, lentils, tofu, red kidney beans, peas etc)

2) Berries

3) Other fruits (fresh or dried)

4) Cruciferous vegetables

5) Other greens

6) Other vegetables

7) Flaxseeds

8) Nuts or seeds (almonds, chia seeds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, nut butters etc)

9) Spices (1/4 teaspoon of turmeric)

10) Wholegrains (oats, brown rice, quinoa, popcorn, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta etc)

11) Beverages (water, rooibos tea, white tea, green tea, coffee etc)

12) Exercise (90 minutes moderate-intensity or 40 minutes vigorous-intensity activity)

Vitamins: B12 and D3 (for sunlight)

Now I know this list seems fairly excessive and hard to commit to, but it is a rubric for ensuring our meals are as nutritionally dense as possible. The text in bold indicates the food groups I included on this particular day, and just shows that it is easier than you’d think! It’s not rocket science either, if your food looks more like a rainbow and less like a plate of 50 shades of beige and processed, you’re likely to be on the right track!

Break-fast

I still try to follow intermittent fasting, and while I do not always stick to the 16 hour fast, 8 hour eating period, it is roughly 13-14 hours (fasting window) on most days. On this day I ate at 12.30 and had two tofu burger muffins with roast peppers, kale hummus, tomatoes and spinach. It was a healthy but indulgent meal, with 34g of protein!

Snacks

I had a green apple dusted with cinnamon and a tablespoon of 100% peanut butter as a healthy fat source.

I also had a vegan matcha bubble tea with chia seeds and aloe grass jelly from this awesome little shop I discovered in Statford Centre! They have a range of juices and bubble teas, and you can choose 5 different toppings! For someone who literally had a daily bubble passionfruit in China, it is a great place for those bubble tea cravings!

Dinner

I made a Chinese mapo tofu inspired dish (spoiler: working on a vegan Chinese food recipe post) served with brown rice and wheat berries and broccoli and red kidney beans. Topped with the standard nutritional yeast and sriracha sauce.

And that is what I eat in a day when I try to be a healthy vegan! I also drink at least 3 litres of liquid (this includes a lot of green tea, hence refraining from simply saying water).

*I track my macros using MyFitnessPal, which I have included for reference purposes.

Thanks for reading!

Vegan in Hackney

Just like that schoolboy that paraded through the streets of London, eating (and reviewing) his way through the best fried chicken joints; I thought I’d blog about some awesome vegan restaurants. Not only do I love vegan food- from the uber healthy to vegan junk food to accidentally vegan finds- I’m hoping this edit might be helpful to some.

Temple of Seitan

The world’s first vegan fried chicken eatery is a baffling but novel concept. ‘Vegan fried chicken?! What is it made out of?’ Is often the bemused shriek that escapes many people. Like the name- phonetically similar to ‘Satan’ would suggest, it is made out of Seitan. Originating from Japan it is simply made out of gluten, with the protein-packing punch coming from the humble component of wheat. Now, that probably does not sound mouth-wateringly delicious. I mean you don’t head out thinking ‘mmm I could really murder a wheat-gluten burger right now’. Well, if you are a vegan caricature on an excursion from your over-inflated West London SoulCycle class maybe… And the oddities surrounding this little fast-food gem do not stop there, nestled on Morning Lane in Hackney (opposite Tesco) it is right next to a butchers! Yep, the irony was fully intended, and as such the place divides public opinion, but often conquers if the long line outside is anything to go by.

Mimicking the texture of meat the restaurant proves that anything meat-eaters can eat vegans can too, but in an ethical and environmentally sustainable manner. The menu is fairly limited but all finger-licking good! I’ve been a few times now and the thought of the vegan Mac N Cheese (¬£5) makes me want to put this blog post on pause and head out now. The menu includes a variety of vegan burgers, topped with a range of fillings such as vegan cheese, mayo and their home-made tangy slaw. The peanut and chocolate mud-cakes (¬£2.50) (which I got for free as my Mac N Cheese took a little while) are incredible. Oozing with chocolate sauce it is rich, dark and luxurious. The popcorn chicken is another fave (¬£4), with the crispy and slightly spicy breaded mock-meat rivalling the real deal anyday. If that does not make you want to don on your rainproof parka just know that burgers or wraps can be purchased with fries and an organic sparkling soft drink in a meal deal for ¬£6! Not to mention how bubbly and passionate the staff are; it is clear that Temple of Seitan’s colossal success and popularity is both a curated menu and division of labour and love.

Fed By Water

Another interesting and unusual moniker, raising the stupid question (which we know not to utter out loud) ‘is this some breatharianism shit?’ But no, I can assure you they serve food. It is an intriguing premise- producing Italian plant-based cuisine with the objective of steeping the importance of pure water into our collective consciousness. What does this even mean, other than some convoluted hippie BS? Basically, in layman’s terms FED aims to encourage an ethical and sustainable lifestyle, starting with food being our fuel and hence driving their militant prejudice against tapwater.

Located in trendy Dalston, next to Costa and outside the shopping centre, the restaurant is easy to spot. The interior is dark and industrial Hackney Wick hipster-chic. I had the ‘Diavola:the return of the hot heaven’ which had homemade cashew cheese, spicy Seitan salami, olives, chilli and pistachio ‘culatella’ (¬£14.95). And, despite being South Asian, I was pleasantly surprised to find that something labelled as spicy relatively was and not the ‘spice’ associated with a bell pepper. My friend ordered the ‘Erba Fresca’ (¬£12.95) topped with cashew mozzarella cheese, smoked tofu, capers, olives and rocket. And given that I devoured (almost) both of our pizzas, I think it is safe to say that both were scrumptious! When my friend and I visited there was something off with the fire detector and for this disturbance we were given a drink on the house. I had a hot chocolate with hemp milk and my friend had an almond cappuccino. I was amazed by their diverse range of plant-based milks, particularly as restaurants and coffee shops often only offer soy milk which I detest.

While FED is slightly pricier it is a great example of creative and carefully thought out vegan food, other than the stock vegan tomato-based pasta dish.

Stayed tuned for more vegan reviews in different parts of London!

Thanks for reading!

We Are All Tamagotchis

Years ago, the summer of 2015 to be precise, during a government internship at HR Treasury my supervisor Ed Odell (and I only remember due to the phonetical similarity to the great Tom Odell) said to me: ‘wow, I wish I could go back to university you grow so much as a person’. My young sassy internal voice protested- “I’m not a bloody Tamagotchi mate, I’ve grown up already”. But Ed Odell was right- I probably should have given him a pseudonym… At university you are given the space to become the person you want to become, rather than ‘changing’ it gives you the platform to transform your life from living out of circumstances and happenstance to making and living conscious choices. You live the life you choose to live. 

You become your truth. 

Just as Tamagotchi toys go- as all of the cool 90s’ kids will remember- you feed the egg and watch it grow. The simplistic Japanese toy became a phenomenon, bought in masses and sold in different colours. Watching the cute little egg’s stages of growth and preventing it from dying became the collective goal of kids across the nation. It is this naive and universally acknowledged truth- with better care and love a creature becomes smarter, happier and healthier that resonates with growing up. 

What Ive learnt about myself:

The selfdevelopment titleholder:

I’ve always been ready to launch into any discussion on the benefits of self-development and self-love, at any given notice and much to the displeasure of the hapless victims I call my friends. I’ll wedge in a rehearsed (and unnecessary) Lady Macbeth-like monologue on the sanctity of solitude and ‘finding yourself’ into any conversation I believe is partially relevant. From watching Me Before You alone on a Wednesday afternoon to visiting fancy vegan restaurants abroad to attending a Slovakian symphony orchestra in Poland alone- I often advocate doing things alone. Through my fixation on self development I have grown as a person (I mean I’d be a little concerned if I hadn’t). 

Currently, I’m at the stage where self-development ergo self-transformation transcends beyond myself. I’m beginning to realise the dark and insular underbelly of self-development- the fetishising of the individual. Through the complete and utter focus on the self, as opposed to the focus on others too, perhaps self-development loses out to helping the development of others? Who knows? For now, I’m just enjoying the trajectory of my development, rather than steering the ship so steadfastly. 

An activist at heart:

Now this post might come across as a lavish and self-indulgent piece about me, myself and I. An extension of an over-inflated ego, just yearning to be expressed. An exercise in how many times one can possibly use the word ‘self-development’. But no. People have often told me that I’ve inspired them, to which I let out a pained typically British awkward shriek. I’m just an idiot I tell them, citing several examples to illustrate my case. And while this is all true, I have learnt that I am an activist in all that I do. Whether though encouraging people to change modules and attend ‘the greatest class in your whole undergrad degree’ to campaigning during the EU referendum to teaching and inspiring young people to aim higher. From attempting to be as socially active as I can, volunteering with different charities and talking to people from all walks of life. Through studying Politics at university I have learnt the importance of activism, both directly and indirectly, personally and publicly. I feel invigorated to enter the global arena and the global world we live in and play an active role in helping to tackle some of the great injustices and problems we face. Or perhaps I’ve just watched too many Ted Talks, and I’ll wake up tomorrow cowering at the task I’ve set myself and edit this Oprah spirit out…

A nightcrawler:

I asked my head of year once if I could put walking down as a hobby on my CV and she, straining a laugh, said it’s not particularly unique. Yet at university I joined the ‘rambling and hillwalking society’, calling it hiking to reduce how lame it sounded otherwise. I’ve found that some of my perfect moments of solace come walking in the evening, directionless, in a park, with friends or even with my mum… An irrelevant person once told me that this pastime made me an introvert, psychoanalaysing it as finding tranquillity due to the lack of human contact. But, whether or not this is true, or adheres to introversion, going outdoors is something I find very therapeutic. 

It results in many insightful and peculiar conversations. From the time I spent hours walking in Slovakia to the border of Vienna to the time I sat on the first bench in a park in Ningbo and deliberated death (Fu and Rin, you guys are the best depressing people I know).

A successor of failure:

I have failed. I have fallen. In the past, during my horrible and nightmare-inducing and thus memory evading college years, I failed badly. To the point I retook a year, completely changed my subjects and copied my sister’s career plans as a result. But do I regret it? No. My only regrets in life (as I imagine all soon-to-be diabetics would be) are food-related e.g. I wish I ate that extra vegan chocolate fudge cake etc. 

We live in a society where the fear of failure cripples success, or any chance of it. It acts as paralysis to any move we make on the chessboard of life and shoehorns us into making lifelong resolutions masked as practicality but out of the fear of possibilities. Failure becomes shame. Failure becomes fear. And failure becomes dangerous. Yet I’ve learnt to not fear failure- if anything I am the most optimistic  (and possibly delusional) pioneer of the benefits of failure. 

Failure is not bad, in my eyes, as long as learn from it. Failure can teach us, force us into a different path that we had never entertained the possibility of, and make us re-evaluate our lives. If we fail-  should we fail, let’s fail fast and hard. Fail forward. Keep going, swimming against the tide, trudging against the quick sand, standing up taller than ever before. 

We live in a world of fully formed people.

 The world expects us to just be who we are. Pre-packaged and ready made. But we aren’t. I’ve learnt that we are all transforming, continuously and consciously growing and developing. Evolving and, sometimes getting stuck in the revolving door of life, but that’s okay.

Because we are all Tamagotchis.

Thanks for reading!

Beauty and the Standard 

We are often told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective. Beauty is about self-love. These catechisms are hurled at us with a dual sense of adoration and annoyance by our loved ones, and rightly so. These lofty and abstract appraisals all bear truth. Yet, with the beauty industry constantly bombarding us with health and beauty products and the ‘bare-faced equating bravery’ Instagram trend, it is hard to not let the discourse affect us.

We are exposed to a staggering 2000 advertisements a day! We are sold values, images, love, popularity and normalcy (Centre for Media Literacy, 2017). In effect, the media industry sells us an identity, a clearly defined (and expensive) blueprint of the person we can become. 

The issue with the rigid definitions of beauty extend beyond mere social relations and the media, infiltrating into the political arena, and even tying up with one’s economic standing. A beauty standard is a construct, very much engineered and for the capitalistic and commercial gains of multinational conglomerates. And thus to deconstruct such a poisonous standard we need to understand what this existing construct means to different people. 

Beauty and I:

Both from the cultural attitudes towards darker-skinned women in Bangladesh to the perception of beauty in the Western media (still predominately Caucasian females) I have grown up believing that beauty corresponds to light skin. While entering my adult years has taught me to challenge this beauty standard, it is clear that many others are still influenced. I used to request ‘Fair and Lovely’ lightening cream from Bangladesh, lathering it onto my face and convincing myself the vastly pale complexion looked pretty. Even now, when I so much as get a little tanned I immediately Google ways to mitigate a tan, how long it lasts and go about ordering reasonably priced lightening soap from Amazon. I’ve seen this disturbing narrative impact my cousins in Bangladesh too, from the darker-skinned girls fearing a chocolate biscuit would alter their face tone to the superiority complex ingrained into my lighter-skinned cousins. 

Alarmingly, across South East Asia the link between fair skin and the standard of beauty permeates into cultural attitudes and norms. For instance, in India 233 tonnes of skin-whitening and skin-bleaching products are consumed (Huffington Post, 2015). The glorification of fair skin, within a binary where dark skin equates to attractiveness, is largely due to fair skin being aligned to wealth and social status. While societal views regarding beauty are diversifying, with the rise of people of colour in the advertising and media industry alike, attitudes regarding beauty still need lightening up (pun intended). 

Rin:

It’s funny because I feel like my beauty standard whether in Malaysia or Australia is influenced by the West. Say the idea of masculinity, or due to being biologically male, it affects me. They call us ‘la la’ which translates to fake Westerner. I feel like I still buy into another ideal which is desiring fair skin, influenced by the Korean beauty industry. I grew up where people would look at my legs and say that I’m not a ‘man’ or that I’m not ‘manly’ enough. When I went to Malaysia I was not dark enough. I felt ostracised and felt like rebelling but through this I bought into another form of beauty standard. It is a perpetual cycle. I want to be my beautiful. 

My standard of beauty in the physical sense is anyone’s own form of beauty- if that makes sense. Our identity and our perception of ourselves. How we want to look and our attempts to be beautiful. As for mentally, people who are sensitive and compassionate. When I was younger I appreciated those who strove for success, but now I feel like that might lose out to compassion. 

Fu:

Based on my understanding of what has commonly been considered to be beautiful amongst the youth in China, especially for females, I would say that having pale skin, being skinny (around or less than 21% body fat according to my roommate Sookie), wearing decent make-up and dressing up in the latest trendy fashion can be perceived as a common criteria for beauty in China. But I think that is only one approach to understanding what beauty is in China, because middle-aged people would have a different response to myself and China’s youth. Also for me, I think being beautiful is more than one’s physical appearance and I care more about one’s personality. Correspondingly, being unique and interesting in one’s own way is my answer for what constitutes beauty. 

I can feel the pressure of the Chinese beauty industry both from media presentations and from my Chinese friends. And at the same time I am personally trying to minimise the effects. I would not say that I want to go against the conventional standard of beauty in China, but certainly I wish I could do something to acknowledge and inform people that there are more than one single definition of what beauty is. Beauty is about being a true you. 
Katarina:

I don’t think that European standards of beauty have personally affected who or what I find attractive. I was never really taken in by the media- who would set beauty standards in magazines headlining hottest man/woman of the year etc. But I don’t think I ever felt drawn into it and let that determine who I would find attractive, maybe unlike some of my friends that have celebrity crushes. I’ve also never felt the pressure to wear makeup or change my style by the media. 

To echo the words of an unknown but wise public person, Rabindranath Tagore rightly argues ‘beauty is truth’s smile when she beholds her own face in a perfect mirror’. 
Let’s set our own standards of beauty. 

Thanks for reading! 

A Living, Breathing and Functioning Vegan.

Such a unique and informative stance ought to qualify me to give a Ted Talk right? (Ted, if you’re reading this is my not so subtle self-promoting tap on the shoulder). I am as shocked as you probably are. One year of veganism. I’m now powered by plants, to borrow Flora’s clever marketing shift. I first went vegan last May, just before the end of my first year of university. During an insomnia-driven interweb soul-searching session, I stumbled across the infamous vegan heavyweights of documentaries. Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Forks over Knives, Gary Yourofsky’s ‘Best Speech You Will Ever Hear’. I watched it all. Next day, I went vegan. 

The first week of going vegan was plain sailing. It was so easy I was worried I was doing it wrong (note, there is no right or wrong vegan diet. Although I do have a bugbear with raw veganism. But I won’t indulge in that rant just yet). But then I broke it. And you might be wondering what great, meat-filled carnivorous meal I broke it for? To this day, I find it shameful to admit that I broke it for a free slice of Gregg’s margarita pizza and chocolate ice-cream. The power of free stuff, free food in particular has an alluring quality like nothing else. It’s such a great marketing technique I’d even go as far as to recommend Jeremy Corbyn’ s Chief Strategy and Communications Director to take note, prior to the shock general election  (I won’t go there). It might not help the poor chap, but giving out free food to loan-crippled and near homeless students might soothe his Commie soul. 

(My first ever consciously vegan meal!) 

But after that brief digression from the holier-than-thou vegan diet (or as some with a cult-like persona call it- a lifestyle) I revisited the vegan archives. I watched ‘Vegucated’, James Aspey’s ‘Voiceless Campaign’ and an array of vegan what I eat in a day videos. And ever since, I’ve been intentionally and consciously vegan. Of course, there were instances of (sub)conscious vegan uncoupling moments  (seriously Paltrow, you have to explain the terms you invent). That time when I inhaled coconut macaroons in Hungary (as they were super cheap) before realising they weren’t vegan. That time when I was first given meat in a vegetable dish in China and just ate around it. That time when I was unaware of the butter on the garlic naan and was ousted on Instagram. You know, shit happens. 

However, with one year under my belt, and my ‘animals are friends’ tee yet to be delivered, I have some pearls of wisdom to impart. Side note: Are pearls vegan? 

Meat-eater: Where do you get your protein from? 

All the vegans in the world and I: Please Sherlock, we have conducted a thorough investigation into our nutrient and mineral intake and we are not deficient. Why are meat-eaters suddenly all qualified in the field of nutrition and health? We get our protein from tofu, beans, legumes, some vegetables, fortified and protein-based products, powders etc… The list is endless. Sure, that question might be legitimate for someone living in China- but I’ve expressed that struggle so unagi… If you know, you know. 

Meateater: You need to eat meat. You’re too skinny. It is natural. 

All the vegans in the world and I: Unless you live in a primordial caveman realm of existence, where hunting is a means of survival, eating a plant-based diet is natural. One does not need to eat meat in order to survive or thrive. A clear example being the rising number of vegan celebrities and body builders flocking to a vegan way of life (i.e. Serena Williams, Brad Pitt, Liam Hemsworth, Sia and Ariana Grande to name but a few). Sure there are skinny vegans, because vegetables and fruit are easier to digest and are not as calorically dense as meat and dairy products. But then, there also fat vegans. Those who discover the rabbit-hole of tasty vegan mock-meat products, from plant-based burgers to vegan fried chicken (it really is a thing!). Once I watched vegan junk food videos, and admittedly started following ‘Accidentally Vegan’ on Instagram, the chamber of a world of Oreos and artery-clogging but ethically liberating food was unlocked. Avoid it if you can. 

Meateater: It’s so sad you can’t eat this lovely slab of meat. Here, have my carrot sticks that are on their last legs instead. 

All the vegans in the world and I: Why is it that once you go vegan meat-eaters feel they have to compensate you with any and every piece of vegan food they can proffer? From the pathetic brown limping lettuce in their oh-so-vegan salad to ‘have this piece of fruit, it’s vegan I think’. I know?! Believe it or not, I alongside many other vegans, are not chipmunks. We do not need to store pieces of vegan-friendly food for winter, or for the likelihood of a Hunger Games (because clearly we would die first, but with beautiful clear skin, of course). 

Going vegan had a life-altering effect on me, and for the 542,000 other vegans globally. It does require more effort, careful forward planning and, in some cases of pathetic and questionable meals. But it is also liberating to eat in an ethical and sustainable manner, experiment with different vegetables and grains, and to notice a difference in your physique and energy levels. Like many others, once you go vegan turning back no longer becomes desirable. But as all politicians taught in the field of nuanced (and vague) answers, I’m not going to commit myself, but for now veganism works for me. 

I had to ruin it, didn’t I?! I apologise to the whole vegan community. 

Thanks for reading! 

Where is the love? China. 

Love and the focus on relationships manifests in China, in many different forms. As a foreigner, it is easy to notice and hard to ignore. From marketing campaigns celebrating fake weddings, where models dress up in an elaborate wedding ceremony, to singles’ day providing discounts for those perceived to be unlucky in love. From a campus kissing festival where the goal was merely to kiss a stranger (fortunately there were red tape restrictions) to the over commercialisation on festivals of love. The dating industry in China is huge, there is even Chinese Tinder! 

We have entered the era of multi-love, where attitudes to love are hard-wired. The perception of love and finding a partner is entwined with Confucian ideals, whereby 27% of individuals believe that their parent’s disapproval to their relationship would be a major obstacle. Furthermore, Chinese men believed a car and a property were next in a list of desirable qualities after physical appearance. Also, over 60% of women associated singledom with unhappiness and believed they could only achieve happiness after marriage.
However, at the risk of sounding culturally naive to China’s views on love, here are the views of several fellow students. 

Attitude towards “leftover women” and the focus on career progression.

Fu: “I think leftover women are on the reprisal. Especially blind dates, where men feel inferior to leftover women in terms of salary and education. As for social media, it paints a picture of a happy married couple as opposed to ‘leftover’ women who may be happy with their life and choices”. 

Attitude towards prioritising a car and a house before entering into a relationship. 

Mark: “Most of the time, it is not the girl but her parents who will ask for a house and a car in order to secure their daughter’s happiness. To me it seems like I’m making a deal with her parents: I use my property in exchange for your daughter. I don’t feel any pressure though”. 

Attitude to finding a foreign partner. 

Yinan: “For me, it’s a curiosity. I want to experience a different lifestyle from the backgrounds we’ve grown up with. Also, watching too many Hollywood films, means that I think beauty to me (based on appearance) is blonde hair and blue eyes. I find some Chinese guys handsome, but I fell in love in high school but got rejected”. 

Attitude towards China and love. 

Rin: “I feel like love is overly romanticised in China and it is very rooted in the development of its economy. Romance and having a relationship is seen to be commercialised, like in many other cultures, it uses heterosexual relationships as a capitalistic tool. I have friends here who feel ashamed for being single, calling themselves single dogs. There is even a holiday for that! *laughs* 

Love in China is complicated to say the least. There are an intangeable array of factors, cultural norms and monetary issues taken into consideration. Will love and the attitude towards relationships ever become simple? Who knows. 

Thanks for reading! 

What a rice meal….

Did you get that pun? What a nice meal substituted for rice, given how rice is a staple in China?… Yh, not my best title (we’ll just blame it on Katarina). Rice is a staple in China, largely forming the carbohydrate part of a person’s meal and being very cheap to harvest (due to fertile soil conditions and China’s agricultural history).

It is the food equivalent of a universaliser between the rich and poor. I used to buy it for 15p a cup when I was poor (poor student hack) and had it in a glutinous rice dumpling form when student finance came in. And when I was feeling hella fancy I’d refrain from my usual passionfruit bubble tea and get a fermented black rice drink. Strangely experiencing how the other half lives purely through my choice of rice dish. However, this post does not feature rice in its common form as for once, I did not have a bowl of rice with tofu and vegetables! Yay for change!

Meal One: Vanilla and baobab protein chia pudding and a pear. P.s. is it a pear or is it an apple?

Knowing that my vegan protein sources would be very limited in China (tofu makes a daily appearance) I ordered a 1kg bag of chia seeds, which I now see was slightly overboard. That irritating ‘where do you get your protein from’ voice must have locked itself into my subconscious. Partly fulfilling the healthy vegan stereotype of a chia-seed-this chia-seed-that eating person. I used baobab powder, vanilla soy milk and pea protein powder (equivalent to 18 grams of protein). Boabab powder is the superfood powder yet to be catalysed into the recipes of the healthy food cliche and yet to be made into a new flavoured latte craze. If the inability to pronounce superfoods is any indication of future popularity, it is harder to pronounce than both quinoa and cacao. But you heard it here first. A single serving (10g or 2-3 teaspoons) provides 33% of your daily Vitamin C! Not only that, it’s almost 50% fibre, good for bowel regulation. So don’t just dismiss it as a piss-take! 

Meal Two: Vegetable dishes.

I often eat an assortment of vegetable dishes and rice for lunch. Often, there is a lack of variety and I get the same miso aubergine and sauteed cabbage dishes. However, I couldn’t believe my eyes when, from the line of brown and grey meat and bone dishes (and I say bone separately because often they are just Frankensteinian cartillage remnants), I spotted butternut squash! It was a rare sighting. I had to move fast. I bypassed the orderly queue of Chinese people, doing what British people hate and I managed to secure it! Yes, it was lucky and yes, it’s likely to be the only time. And yes, I’m still talking about a butternut squash dish…

Meal Three: Rice, rice, baby. 

Now, the images shown above seem to be images taken from some kind of miracle fad liquid diet or the very definition of ‘dish water dishes’. But, the glutinous black sesame balls are actually quite tasty. The black sesame paste gives it a sweet molten-lava taste as you bite into the ball, and as you concentrate on preventing it spilling over you you forget the rice casing. I also had a peanut and walnut pudding which was very sweet and warming. 

And that’s what I eat as a vegan in China! Now, often people say most days are different, however for me most days are the same and this diary was different.

Thanks for reading! 

Grades Aren’t Everything

I’m all too aware that this post may be both self-destructive and controversial. I graduate next year, where waking up by 9am is less deserving of a pat-on-the-back and more of a grim caffeinated reality. And whether you get a 2.1 or above effectively wipes out large swathes of the student population, (an educational hunger games it may appear) helping employers attract the ‘brightest graduates. Maybe it’s the process of passing exam after exams and churning out essay after essay, but the educational system has left me feeling like an overworked hamster; (psychologically at least) where being poor and making questionable cheap life student hacks are perfectly acceptable. 

Before I put across my reasons for why grades aren’t everything, left me first acknowledge my own privilege. Rather than have someone expose me in the comments anyway- there will be no scandalous ‘good-grades-hypocrisy’ gate here… I like big grades and I cannot lie. At university rather than working harder, I simply worked smarter. Read some scholarly credible sources (Dailymail journalists take note), stick a few examples in, disagree with said sources and you are well on your way to getting your 2.1. Heck, if you don’t remember scholars during ill-timed exams just mention a common Caucasian male name and you’re likely to be partly correct. 

Top uni skill: ability to bullshit. Both oral and written

University fosters independent study, engagement with literature and analytical research skills (or so we boast to those without degrees). I’ve learnt to sift through Parliamentary manuscripts, swot up on Chinese dynastic history and wrap my head around the wars within wars that occur in the Middle East. I love research and education, but for me at least, education is more a means of personal growth and acquiring knowledge. Hence why grades aren’t everything. I’m in more debt than I’ll ever be, and while I may be able to write an essay on how constitutional and institutional engineering abets and dismantles the functioning of democracy in African countries I still can’t pass the application process of a Primark sales assistant job. Primark weren’t impressed for some reason… 

Young people these days are programmed to believe that the better your grades the more likely you are to get a graduate job. I know such an absurd jump of logic requires a whiteboard to explain.

Through this cautious mentality often the process of ‘learning’ is lost to merely getting ‘that grade’ or ‘that number’. It is universal knowledge that there are several forms of intelligence, and one’s ability to write good essays does not necessarily make them ‘smarter’ than someone who is not booksmart but can navigate around the world. Truth be told, I was hopeless with finding my way around places and used to get lost in my local area, simply because it was dark. And some of the dumbest people I’ve met are uni students (be it the bourgeoisie international kids who think there is no poverty in London to those unaware that the predominant language of India is Hindi and not Farsi). Yet, our society makes up believe that there is a hierarchy of intelligence and through this rigid dualistic thinking, the ‘real’ world loses out on diversifying. 

Instead, let’s mark people by their quirk rather than their quality of written work. 

Thanks for reading!  


London’s Calling¬†

Warning: the following statement is both loaded and over-generalised. Most likely to be false. Also, something an English teacher will have a breakdown over. 

China does not have greenery. I mean, it is not quite the definition of a concrete jungle (no offense Croydon) but it does not have a lot of open spaces. Over population and futurism has distilled spaces of Tai Chi practice. There’s even a tension amongst local grandfathers and the People’s Republic of China over setting up flowerbeds, only to be mowed down- its green finger red tape madness. But I digress, so I was pretty certain that my trip back to London would have greener pastures. 

Here is a round up of my favourite finds/discoveries from London. 

Favourite vegan find: vegan doner kebab in Spitalfields market. 

The streets of Shoreditch Box Park, Spitalfields and Brick Lane are a vegan hipster’s paradise. I stumbled across a vegan doner kiosk where the lovely lady assembles a fresh wholemeal flatbread served with soy chunks (shredded to give the texture of doner meat), red cabbage (the typical barely-there salad in traditional kebabs) and pickled hummus. The kebab is quite pricey at ¬£7 and a meal deal (with an organic sparkling beverage and vegan baklava) will set you back ¬£10, but for new vegans or those who love to try veganised junk food it is worth a try. 

Favourite home-made bake: Protein granola and date banana bread. 

In between my instagram feed of white girls squatting and Asian girls applying the repititve overlined eyebrows and mauve lips combo, there are some gems of vegan recipes. I was inspired by the numerous creative veganised baked goods and set to producing my own banana bread. I used almond milk and dates to give the bread a moist (sorry for the offensive use of that word) texture and as a substitute for eggs. The granola added an earthy and crunchy dimension. And, rather than using refined white sugar I used a sprinkling of brown sugar, coconut butter and raisins for added sweetness. It turned out great, shown by how much was eaten in the picture! 
Favourite book: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. 

Now, I assure you I am passionate about a lot more than just veganism, but by happenstance the book I was reading was Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’. The South Korean novel, the first of Han Kang’s books to be translated into English, is divided into three parts. It tells the tale of Yeong-Hye, a subdued meek housewife, charmingly described by her husband in the first line as ‘completely unremarkable in every way’. The novel chronicles her supposed unravelling mental state, a diagnosis established through her decision to give up meat, and her abstinence from hard-wired social protocols and formalities. Interestingly, the narrative is sparse (echoing her minimalist lifestyle) but equally jarring. The imagery is dually visceral and bestial with Yeong-Hye’s thoughts only permitted through her brief lucid dreams.

The novel begins with Yeong-Hye’s husband’s flawed and judgemental focalisation; and the chaos and humility her decision inflicts on his otherwise orderly existence. Shifting to Yeong-Hye’s brother-in-law in the second chapter, a failed artist who perversely fixates on her dwindling and malnourished frame. Finally to Yeong-Hye’s sister, In-Hye, and her grappling with familial responsibilities and duties. Through the distinctive and grating prose of each character’s narration, The Vegetarian highlights the multilateral nature of individual decisions. The inharmonious tensions between conformity, embedded cultural attitudes and the failings of rigid social and institutional systems. A bizzare and baffling must-read that deals with a lot more than just the simplicity of dietary changes but the wave of social and attitudinal transformation it brings. 
 And those were some of my favorutie things during my short trip back to London! 

Thanks for reading!