Eating Green in Amsterdam: where to find the best vegan food

What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? For most of us, probably coffee shops, canals, and the infamous red light district. But as a city that is a centre of culture and progressive values, Amsterdam is also a hub for vegan foodies. It wasn’t just easy to find options, but the food was of a really high standard everywhere we went.

It’s worth noting that it’s not very budget-friendly as a city: I way overshot mine and the main reason was the cost of food. So  if you’re on a tight one it may be worth loading up on bread and snacks before heading out to eek out the cost.

If you are able, though, here were more options for eating out than I could work my way through in one weekend, but here were my favourites:

For breakfast: Rainbowls

For a healthy start to the day in a city where detox is often very necessary, head to Rainbowls for a scrummy smoothie bowl served in a coconut. A bit on the pricey side, but they’re made fresh in front of you and there are so many delicious combinations. I went for a chocolatey one (because even when being healthy who can resist) and my friend went for the zingy mango passion fruit number.

Two smoothie bowls: one filled with chocolate and the other a mango and passionfruit smoothie
Perfect breakfast from Rainbowls

For the munchies: Vegan Junk Food Bar

If you’re ravenous from your flight or need to cure your munchies, Vegan Junk Food Bar will surpass your wildest dreams. There are several locations around the city and even so there were queues spilling out of the doors to get in. Thankfully it moved quite quickly and we were soon sat in an ultra-hipster restaurant overlooking the highstreet.

A giant pink vegan hotdog slathered in onions and sauce.
The Pink Bratwurst XXL

I went for the ‘Pink Bratwurst XXXL’ which really WAS XXXL. I don’t usually go for hotdogs but this was great, loaded up with sauce and fried onions and served in a terrifyingly pink bun. My friend went for the Kapsalon – fries loaded up with vegan doner, chillies, onions, and slathered in sauce.

Loaded fries.
The Capsalon

To recharge: H.eart/h

Probably my favourite place, H.eart/h is a great chilled out place to hang out and recharge after dashing about trying to see as much as possible. It’s bright, clean and subtly bohemian, with a selection of alternative and ethical fashion for sale as well as a menu to die for. Ever had a falafel waffle? If not you NEED to try it.

Vegan sushi
Pretty vegan sushi

I’d been craving vegan sushi and had some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen, as well as raw beetroot ravioli. Everything is very artfully prepared and fresh, but it’s worth noting that the options are all quite light so I needed a couple to get full; the choices aren’t cheap, so you might have to splash the cash a bit. However, the food was tasty and the atmosphere lovely enough to make it worth it if you want somewhere to hang out for a few hours, or it would be the perfect spot for a date night.

Beetroot ravioli
Beetroot ravioli

On a budget: Maoz

You’ll see Maoz all over the city, and while it might seem like just another falafel shop, there’s a twist: it’s ALL vegan. No worrying about your wrap being slathered in sauce – and the sauces are really good. It’s not mind blowing but it’s a great cheap option when you’re on the go or on the way back from a night out.

For a healthy option: Deshima

Deshima is a cosy spot where the food is all natural, organic, and macrobiotic. There’s a Japanese influence to their changing ‘plate of the day’; I opted this and got sweet potato rice, tofu and veg stew, pumpkin tempura, cucumber, wakame and radish salad, pickles, and veg in a peanut sauce. Yum! They also have fresh vegan sushi rolls and raw cakes and a huge selection of teas. Just the place to nourish yourself before your flight home.

Plate loaded with rice, vegetables and tempura.
The plate of the day from Deshima

There are a plethora of other places I didn’t get time to try; the Dutch Weed Burger I’ve heard consistently good reviews for, as well as Alchemist Garden and a branch of the ubiquitous chain Loving Hut. Time to book another trip? I think so.

A vegan’s guide to East London

London has recently overtaken Berlin to be named the ‘Vegan Capital of the World’. Take a tour round the streets of East London in particular and it’s easy to see why. Moving here after a year of struggling to find animal-free food in Latin America, I was inundated with signs for vegan food and plant-based fare on every street.

From Shoreditch’s hipster central to the resplendent junk fare in Hackney, it’s a haven for every hungry vegan, and also home to Vegan Nights, the UK’s only monthly vegan event that turns into a dance night later on. The list of venues is endless, but here are a few of the top places to visit if you’re in the area:

Boxpark

Boxpark is stereotypical millennial central, but this means a plethora of interesting eats, many of which are vegan. Once home to the (sometimes in-)famous CookDaily, which has now moved to Hackney, it maintains a surprising number of vegan options under one roof.

EatChay, known for it’s bao buns and Bánh mìs (below) sits alongside Biff’s Jack Shack, a ‘filthy vegan junk food’ place where you can get realistic chicken wings in multiple fiery sauce options, as well as some seriously stacked burgers.

Bao buns from Eat Chay Club

If you’re nursing a hangover, there’s none better than What the Pitta to serve you up a feast of mock-donor wrap stuffed with fake donor meat, salad, and tahini. It’s a beast but it’s so worth it.

If you fancy something on the sweeter side, Nosteagia also offers several vegan options of its iconic bubble cones. This is a really intense treat if you’re feeling pudding for lunch, or otherwise a seriously scrummy snack to share with a friend.

Amazing bubble cone from Nosteagia

Brick Lane

Brick Lane is generally known for its curry mile, but the area is waking up to the surrounding vegalution. While many of the curry houses now explicitly advertise vegan options, it’s also home to multiple all-vegan places including VeganYes, a curious Italian/Korean fusion. Mooshie’s burger bar is definitely worth a visit, with a big selection to suit your vurger tastes. Canvas Cafe is a wonderful vegan cafe-cum-social project that offers mental health support groups, creative sessions, and the chance to gift a meal to someone who can’t afford one.

Seriously gooey risotto balls from Arancini Brothers

On the sweeter side of life, Vida Bakery sells VEGAN RAINBOW CAKE, (hallo, snowflake heart attack)! Also worth knowing is the fact that Crosstown doughnuts does multiple vegan options.

 On a non-food note, Fifth Dimension is also a friendly vegan tattoo place. It’s also home to the Boiler House weekend market, which usually has multiple vegan options, and of course, Vegan Nights.

Vegan Nights

Is an event that usually takes place once a month, on the first Thursday of the month, though this can vary. The first time I walked into vegan nights, my mind was blown. It was the biggest vegan market I’d ever seen, with the most incredible spread of stalls offering food from around the world, and I knew I didn’t have to ingredient-check any of it.

Getting my glam on at Vegan Nights

Apart from fresh, hot food and cakes there are also stalls like KindaCo that sell artisan cheese you can take home to enjoy the next day, and ethical products like soy wrap (to substitute for cling film) and vegan fashion.

As the night warms up and the drinks are flowing, it turns into a dance-night with inevitable dance offs, and if you’re very lucky, the chance to meet another tasty vegan.

Mac n Cheez with vibes at vegan nights

Also in the area

…and worth noting are Essential Vegan Cafe, which has a really nice vibe if you just want to sit and work for a while with an oat latte and delicious cake. Vurger is, IMHO, the best vegan burger in London.

Stacked Caribbean-inspired burger from The Vurger Co.

Lollipop in Spitalfields is great, and there are also various options in the Spitalfields Market itself- including Merkamo Ethiopian, a favourite lunchtime treat. If you fancy something healthy, Redemption offer the most beautiful and filling Buddha bowls, non-alcoholic beverages and desserts.

Beautiful Buddha Bowl from Redemption. They change every day!

Newer haunts include the expensive but TOTALLY SICK Genesis, which serves milkshakes that are pure chocolate fudge, deep-fried avocado tacos as well as healthier options like turmeric-roasted cauliflower. Unity Diner was set up as a non-profit by vegan god Earthling Ed. While I’ve only been for a coffee, the menu looks amazing, and given the amount of hate it has got from anti-vegan protesters, we should all totally be supporting this business.

This gorgeous roasted cauliflower is one of the healthier options at Genesis

Hackney

The Black Cat Cafe was the first all vegan cafe I went to in London and I’m so glad I did. Another social project  run by volunteers (damn these vegans are all good humans), it also has affordable prices and a super chill and friendly atmosphere.

Temple of Seitan is where London’s vegan junk scene started. With it’s mock wings, stacked burgers, and seriously fatty mac n cheez, it’s the perfect place for when you’re feeling wicked. Another bit of home comfort can be found at Sutton and Sons, which made headlines as the first all-vegan fish and chip shop.

CookDaily (mentioned earlier) has re-homed to Hackney where you can still get all the old favourites, including noodles, curries, and a good old English breakfast. I have a bit of a weakness for this place and can’t stop going back.

Epic Pad Thai from Cook Daily

The Spread Eagle is an all vegan pub and another headline-grabber. Home to former street-food vendor Club Mexicana, their popularity is not surprising. I love their light but tasty tacos, washed down with a vegan cider, and the staff are as ever for this sort of place, cool, friendly, and alternative.

No doubt, if you have landed in East London you’ve landed on your feet as far as finding vegan grub is concerned. So what do you think? Which are your favourites? Did I miss anywhere? Do get in touch and let me know- I’m always looking to try new things.

‘Who wants to ride an elephant?’ How to see elephants ethically in Thailand

Elephant-riding has been high on traveller’s bucketlists for a long time. Awareness of the abject cruelty involved in forcing animals to perform for and serve humans is growing, and yet I was still horrified to hear travellers talking about this in groups, and signs advertising it around Thailand. Were they completely oblivious? Or did they just not care as long as it makes a good insta photo?

Elephants  are one of my favourite animals. I was overwhelmed to see African elephants living in the wild during my travels in Botswana and Namibia. However, I have felt extremely sad that I had only seen Asian elephants in India that were facepainted and forced to lug overweight tourists up and down steep slopes to visit forts as entertainment. It can be hard to avoid seeing animal cruelty as a vegan traveller.

A wild African elephant I saw grazing happily in Botswana

But a new trend is growing, and one which on the face of it seems to improve conditions for elephants: ethical sanctuaries.  While it didn’t seem I’d be able to see any elephants in the wild on my trip to Thailand, I was keen to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary. There are many that seem to have cropped up, particularly around Chiang Mai, advertised on boards and in hostels around the city.

But how ethical are ‘ethical’ elephant sanctuaries?

Inevitably, where there has been an increase in interest and tourist money, an increase in less than ethical businesses has followed to meet demand. While many sanctuaries market themselves as being a ‘home for happy elephants’, many still keep them in a situation of unnatural captivity. Some are still forced to play football or other activities with tourists that wouldn’t be possible if the elephants hadn’t been cruelly trained to do so.

Looking at reviews online helped me to find the right one: a review showed me an option I had been considering still shuts the elephants in tiny boxes as soon as the tourists leave.

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai

Happily, my experience at Ethical Elephant Sanctuary was wonderful and remains my most cherished memory from Thailand. Elephants here have been rescued from the tourism and logging industries.  Here was how the day unfolded:

Selfies with elephants

Breakfast with elephants

I opted for a full day and was picked up at my hostel early in the morning. After a two hour drive out of Chiang Mai, we pulled up in a giant open field where elephants were grazing. I wasn’t hopping any less than the children to get out and say hello.

First we were dressed in the cloth of the hill tribe who cared for them so that they wouldn’t be startled by us. Then we were able to feed them, holding out sugar cane and bananas that they would pluck from your palm with their ever-reaching trunks.

Going for a stroll

After a break, we went for a walk through the jungle. The elephants roamed freely and we walked alongside or behind them. Seeing them interacting with each other, pausing at will to scratch an itchy bum on the nearest tree (the elephant!), we really came to see how each elephant was a personality in their own right.

An elephant stops to scratch an itch

The importance of breaks

We had a two-hour break for lunch during which time the elephants had a break from us. This is really important for their wellbeing, as it’s not natural for them to be around humans all day. During this time they rested in the shade of an open field while we had a basic but tasty meal of veg, rice, and fruit.

Bath time for elephants

As it broke into the hottest time of the day we went down to the river to bathe and help the elephants to cool off. I was nervous as they all clambered in the same space to make sure I wasn’t going to get crushed between them.

Really seeing them up close like that makes you appreciate just how vast they are, and yet how gentle. We scooped water up to cool their bodies and helped them to rub mud against their flanks.  They retaliated by squirting water at us through their trunks!

Again, seeing them play together was really special. When they were tired of us, they got up and left the water of their own volition to return to the field, and it was when the elephant, rather than the keeper said so, that bath time was over.

Afternoon snack

Natural vegetarians, elephants generally graze all day in the wild, so by the afternoon they were ready for more snacks. It was impressive to see them munch through whole bunches of bananas in one go.

Saying goodbye

We left by late afternoon, leaving them to spend the rest of the day and evening alone. The little kid in me welled up and I felt a bit emotional leaving them, even though I know that for them this was the norm. I asked how much it was to rescue an elephant from logging: 2 million Baht (about £50k). So my dreams there were shot, but if anyone rich reads my blog, please save an elephant on my behalf.

If you can’t afford to save an elephant but would like to visit them during your travels in Asia, here are some tips for finding genuinely ethical sanctuaries.

Key things to look for:

  • Elephants should not be bound to posts by rope or chains;
  • They should not be performing for tourists or partaking in any activities they wouldn’t naturally do in the wild. Normal activities such as bathing are not okay if they are forced to do them more than they would naturally e.g. multiple times or constantly throughout the day;
  • They should not be made to interact with humans for too long without breaks;
  • You should not touch an elephant too much or climb onto their bodies;
  • They should always have access to food and water;
  • There should not be large numbers of tourists each day. Look for a sanctuary that takes restricted numbers;
  • Carers should respect the way the elephants express themselves and not force them to continue any activity.

Eating vegan in the hippie haven of San Francisco

San Francisco has a reputation for liberal thought and progressive values. It’s therefore no surprise that it is also a leading light in vegan cuisine. From bowl-themed health and wellness inspired cafes to veganised Asian dishes and some serious junk, you could eat in a different place in San Francisco for a month before you ran out of options. Here are a few of my favourites:

For the health freaks:

Nourish Café is your best bet for giant bowls of wholesome goodness. They’re a little on the pricey side but they’re gargantuan enough that you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. The original nourish bowl is stuffed with quinoa, yams, avocado, sprouts, hummus, cucumber, mixed greens, tomatoes, beet sauerkraut, sunflower seeds, hemp dressing, and I added mock marinated tuna as a topping for extra protein.

Bibmbap bowl from Nourish Cafe

Another great choice was the bibimbap bowl with tofu, carrot, pepper, avo, cabbage, bean sprouts, mixed leases, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and jasmine rice. Tip: If you’re going with a friend and fancy a sweet treat in the form of a smoothie-bowl or one of their raw cakes afterwards, maybe split both to save enough room (unless you’re feeling extra hungry). They also sell health drinks including kombucha on tap.

If you’re venturing along the coast, Café del Soul in Santa Rosa also does an amazing array of vegan salads and this seriously green ‘hummus yummus’ wrap.

Hummus yummus indeed!

For brunch:

If you’re craving a brunch that will fuel you for a day of sight-seeing, Andana Fuara is your best spot for breakfast burritos, vegan huevos rancheros, French toast, and giant stacks of pancakes.

Epic breakfast burrito from Ananda Fuara

For when you’re on the go:

Ike’s sandwich shop can be found in multiple locations both in San Francisco and if you’re venturing out in the rest of California. It’s worth noting it as a stop-in on a road-trip since options on the road can be limited. They have a huge menu of vegan sandwich options with mock meats. My favourite were the ‘turkey’, mozzarella and avocado, and the ‘go sharks’, with  mock chicken, buffalo wing sauce, lettuce and tomato.

Serious vegan sandwich from Ike’s sandwich shop

For Mexican:

Gracias Madre has an authentic vibe, killer cocktails, and sources all of its organic ingredients locally. I got the Flautas de Camote with sweet potatoes, caramelized onion, guacamole, cashew nacho cheese and black beans, with a side of margariiittaaaa!

Flautas de Camote at Gracias Madre

For the best Asian food:

San Francisco has a huge Asian influence in its food and culture as it became home to migrants from China and Japan in the 1900s. The fusion of this and the hippie vibe means that you can get some of the most authentic and incredible eats in vegan versions all over the place!

Indochine’s pot-sticker dumplings were the perfect combination of crisp, doughy, and flavourful. Their signature clay-pot with mock prawn is also a must-try dish.

Pot-sticker dumplings at Indochine

Golden Era is one of the top-rated vegan Chinese places and for good reason. The ‘lemongrass deluxe’ is one of their specialities with mock chicken and broccoli in a spicy lemongrass sauce. I really enjoyed the fried bananas with soy chocolate ice cream for dessert. Better yet, they’re extremely affordable, so if your wallet needs a break from some of this city’s high prices it’s a good spot for a bargain dinner.

Mister Jiu’s is not a vegan spot but it has several vegan options and is simply put the best Chinese I have ever eaten in my life. This sort of place would normally be way out of my price range, but if you’re lucky enough to have a friend to treat you or if your wallet is bigger than mine it is well worth forking out a bit more for this kind of taste experience. There’s no greasy ‘vegetable chow mein’ here. We munched through fluffy mushroom bao buns, Szechuan tofu, carrot and peanut noodles, bok choi, and my surprise favourite dish, crispy scarlet turnip cakes. The cocktails also pack a punch.

Bao Buns at Mister Jieu’s

For sushi, you have to go to Shizen. At risk of sounding repetitive this was the best sushi I have had in my life! I never used to be into sushi since I stopped eating fish as a kid and previously vegan versions were pretty bland. The game has upped, particularly in London, over the last few years as the demand for both Japanese and vegan food has increased, but I’ve never had anything like these sushi rolls. Even my ardent carnivore friend was impressed! The rolls we tried were:, ‘secret smile’  with sweet potato tempura, avocado, spicy tofu, roasted pepper, sesame mustard and seaweed pearls. Then: ‘secret weapon’ with marinated eryngii mushroom, avo, spicy shredded tofu, pickled jalapeño, pickled pineapple, sweet shoyu and habanero sauce. Finally, the ‘colonel’s pipe’, with smoked beets, cashews, creamy tofu, asparagus, avo, sweet mustard, and orange zest. 

The Secret Smile at Shizen

For something a bit different:

Ethiopian food has surged in popularity in the trendy corners of London in the last year. It also makes a splash in San Francisco. I’ve got really obsessed with it recently since it’s delicious, naturally vegan, affordable and so healthy. This veggie banatu combo from Tadu Ethiopian included a delicious stew (top left) I’d never had before. It was a huuuuge meal for a bargain price.

Veggie Banatu Combo at Tadu Ethiopian

For serious junk:

Another non-vegan place, but a good one to check out in non-vegan company, Tony’s is known as the best pizza in San Fran for good reason. Better yet, the chef has started to include vegan cheese as an option on the vegetarian pizzas to veganise them! Unfortunately when I went they had run out, but I still really enjoyed a cheese-less feast with crunchy fried onions and scallions. Tip: better than the pizza was the fried dough ball starter. Giant crispy but fluffy light dough balls you could crack open and stuff with a bruschetta veg mix. I think I died and went to carbed our heaven! 

If you’re in Haight Ashbury and you’ve got the munchies, Vegan Burg does some pretty satisfying burgers. My standards for vurgers are pretty high after spending a year sampling the best Shoreditch has to offer, and IMHO these weren’t quite up to the standard of Vurger or Mooshies. The BBQ burger was a bit bland, but I really enjoyed the fake fish with tartar sauce for something a bit different. It was crunchy, sour, and satisfying.

The BBQ burger (top) and Tartare (bottom) burgers from Vegan Burg

So all in all this is why I left San Francisco a few pounds heavier! Have I missed anything? Feel free to get in contact and let me know your favourite foodie finds there.

Why vegan?

It seems like EVERYONE is talking about veganism right now. A once niche market is exploding everywhere –  not just in hipster spots in Shoreditch, but every high street in the UK and every supermarket is bursting with vegan food, products, magazines, you name it. It’s hard to say right now whether the UK is more divided over Brexit or the new Gregg’s vegan sausage roll (though I expect there is a high correlation between each side on both issues). I’ve been vegan full time for over a year now, and I was in transition and mostly vegan for the year before that. But why?

The legend.

Well, apart from enjoying looking smugly down my nose at everyone else (obvs) and the added bonus of knowing our very existence raises the blood pressure of Piers Morgan on a daily basis, there are some really solid reasons why so many people have made the transition, turning veganism from a fringe movement to a full on vegalution within just a few years.

I should just say in advance that I don’t judge anyone for eating meat and dairy (although I obviously don’t like it). We have all grown up eating this way and it’s all we’ve ever been told is normal, natural, and until recently all that has been available in a Western diet. There are so many things that are messed up in the way we’re accustomed to living out lives that we don’t see the behind -the -scenes of, and this is just one of them. I was guilty for years, even as someone who was vegetarian since childhood ‘for the animals’ of being blind, and then resistant to knowing, how abusive the dairy industry was because I really loved cheese (and god, I’m not too holier- than-thou to admit that I miss it). I didn’t want to give it up, or to have my life made any more difficult when I felt I already went out of my way enough to ‘do the right thing’.  But now this choice is getting easier and ever, and the reasons for it, when I read about them, were too compelling to ignore. So here we go:

The animals. Dairy is scary. Milk and eggs are natural by-products which animals need to get rid of anyway, right? So animals don’t die for dairy? Wrong.

To produce milk, cows, like humans, have to have recently given birth – it doesn’t just naturally come out of them all the time. So, to maintain a supply of milk dairy farms have to forcibly inseminate cows (which is basically inter-species rape). Like human mothers, the cow brings her baby to term, gives birth, bonds with the baby. The baby is then taken away from her so that humans can take the milk that was made for them. Baby boys are killed, baby girls are bred into the same system of abuse. The mother cow mourns the loss of her child just as we would. Can you imagine having your baby taken away from you? She is then pumped with hormones and her milk is taken from her for the next few months. Then she is impregnated again, her baby is taken away again, and the system repeats. There is no ethical milk, no such thing as free-range. Cow’s milk was never meant for human consumption. Why would we consider drinking milk from other animals (cats? pigs?) to be gross, but assume that cow’s milk is meant for us?

A mother nuzzles her baby


While there are scales of abuse in the industry, and supposedly UK farms conform to higher welfare standards than the rest of the world (though I’ve seen some horrendous videos of treatment of animals in UK dairy farms), there is just no way to produce milk without actively engaging in this process of abuse. ‘Organic’ does not mean ethical. Cows can naturally live for 20 years, but in the dairy industry she will only make it until six before her abused body is worn out and she is culled for meat. Not so natural after all. Realising this fact also helped me to understand vegetarianism is an illogical position; by consuming dairy, you are contributing to the meat industry even if you think you’re boycotting it.

And what about eggs? They’re chicken periods, right? So they come out all the time without harming the bird? Well, yes, if you have a pet chicken. But we go through 32 million eggs every day in the UK. To feed this drive, chickens are bred to lay hundreds of eggs per year, whereas in the wild they would have around 12, about the same amount a human female has a period to maintain a reproductive system. And more birds are needed, so hundreds of thousands of baby chicks are born every day. The cute yellow fluffy things, right? But what use are the boys, who will never give eggs? None. So the male chicks are killed by the most convenient way possible, which can include gassing, or even being thrown into a giant blender. Yes, seriously. There is no such thing as ‘free range’ – this happens at a ‘happy egg company’ and it happens at all large scale egg companies. And even if you say you only buy locally –  will you check every item you ever buy and eat that has eggs in it? Every cake, every pastry, every shop-bought sandwich on the run? The only way to not participate in this abuse is to get out of eating eggs completely.

Well I couldn’t throw him in a blender… could you?

The environment. There is a building body of conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating that the meat industry is the highest contributor to climate change, is a huge factor in wide-scale destruction of the rainforests, and is not sustainable for long-term food production. A plant-based diet is the only diet which can produce enough food for everyone without destroying the planet. What about soy being damaging to the environment? I’m asked all the time. Actually, the VAST majority of soy (about 75%) is produced for cattle feed. Which produces less calories and contributes even further to carbon emissions. If we took out the cows, we would need less soy because we could produce more food for more people with the same resources. Climate change is already causing devastation, loss of livelihood, and taking lives around the world every day through extreme weather and destruction of resources. We cannot afford to be flippant about this. Going vegan is the best thing you can personally do to contribute to reducing climate-change right now, and if we don’t, we seem to be very close to hitting a crisis point soon where it actually becomes necessary to avoid extinction.

If you think one person can’t make an impact, check out these great calculators which demonstrate the environmental impacts of different foods and types of milk.

The rainforest is being destroyed every day for the meat industry.

Reducing  extreme poverty and malnutrition worldwide. If skipping meat for more meals meant you could make sure someone else doesn’t go hungry, isn’t that the easiest way for the average person to contribute to end global food poverty?  Meat production being a less effective use of resources is not just theory, it is a large part of the reason why there are so many people dying of malnutrition on our planet right now, while others have an excess of calories. (Here are some other reasons). SO much more land is needed for breeding animals, for meat which is exported for wealthier people to eat. A report in this scientific journal demonstrates that a meat-based diet uses 160 times the resources of a plant-based one. So, for every one hundred people that go plant-based, the resources could be freed for up to 16,000 more people to have enough to eat.

Health. There’s a myth that you need to eat meat and dairy to be healthy and maintain a balanced diet that fulfils all your nutritional needs. Not only is this not true, but meat products, particularly red meat and processed foods, have now been recognised by the World Health Organisation and cancer charities as carcinogenic. There is a clear link between eating meat and getting bowel cancer, the second deadliest cancer in the UK. It increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18% and pre -menopausal breast cancer by 22%, as well as pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Meat and dairy are also very high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. In fact, scientific studies have shown that high meat intake directly contributes to developing type 2 diabetes. So not only does it kill the planet to produce it, it’s actually killing you too. And people say vegans are extreme…

The future is vegan! Sign at Unity Diner, London

But what about dairy? We’ve been told our whole lives to drink milk, that dairy is good for you and full of calcium. But the reality is, cow’s milk is produced biologically to make little cows grow up fast. It’s not meant for humans. Which means that by ingesting cow’s milk (a baby cow growth formula), we actually ingest a huge whack of hormones that are not meant for our species. It’s not really surprising that so many people are ‘lactose intolerant’. As the saying goes, you’re not lactose intolerant, you’re just not a baby cow, bro.

So what of the alternatives? The protein question is one I’m asked all the time. The good news is, it’s incredibly easy to get enough protein as a vegan. Animals that people eat for protein actually have to get their protein from somewhere too  –  plants.  We can just skip going through an animal to get it. Apart from the booming market in meat substitutes, there are all natural and high-nutrient foods like beans (kidney, black, edamame, uduki, soy etc.), pulses like chickpeas and lentils, nuts, seeds, and nut butters, and even peas, rice, and oats actually contain a surprising amount of protein, and are very low in saturated fat, particularly compared to meat protein. Calcium is found in a huge array of leafy green veg as well as fortified foods. The only thing you can’t get in a vegan diet is B12 – but I just take a supplement and that’s that. Easy. I’ve never eaten a more healthy, nutrient dense diet and I consume considerably less saturated fat.

It’s more accessible and cheaper than ever before. There was a time when being vegan meant your only option when eating out was a side-salad or chips, and making the choice was a real sacrifice that made eating socially really difficult. This is no longer the case. I admit that it is only since the vegan movement started to boom in 2016/7 that I decided it was easy enough to hop on board by trying Veganuary thinking it would be just a ‘one month challenge’, but when I realised how easy it was, I made it permanent. The majority of restaurants now cater to vegans and will help if they don’t have something on their menu already.

The fact that it’s gone mainstream means it’s also cheaper than ever. The idea that a vegan diet is only for pretentious middle-class people is a myth. Doesn’t everyone deserve to eat well? The majority of naturally vegan foods are cheap anyway (I eat a lot of oats, rice, veg, beans, chickpeas). However, if you are into substitutes (I love a big burger or fake fish finger every now and then), these are now either at or close to price parity with animal products. Case point, I have a vegan friend who only earns £10k a year! If you think about it, meat and cheese are actually really expensive, so you might find eating more vegan meals helps rather than hurts your wallet.

It’s delicious. There’s no reason why in this day and age eating vegan means just soggy soy and brown rice. I don’t find it a sacrifice, and if anything I’m eating better and more interesting food than ever. Going vegan has inspired me to expand my cooking repertoire and try loads of new recipes and ingredients I’d never heard of before. From seitan to nooch, jackfruit, banana blossom, and almond butter, there’s a world of food to discover.

Khao Sok, a northern Thai dish eaten at Free Bird Cafe, Chiang Mai.

And speaking of the world, given my love of travel, it’s been really exciting to try local vegan food as I roam the planet, diversifying my palette and showing that there really are a million different takes on a plant-based cuisine. I hope that this blog and my linked Instagram account will inspire others by showcasing how to eat and travel vegan, with some serious food porn along the way.  Going vegan is no longer a sacrifice, it’s just a way of living to reduce suffering, in accordance with our planet’s limits, that still means you can eat an incredible array of amazing grub every day –  and live longer, too.

So why not try it? Even if it’s for just a month, a week, or trying a new recipe or menu item here and there, incorporating more vegan food into the global diet will do wonders.

Not just ice and moss: vegan eating in Iceland

When I said I was going to Iceland, a lot of people got wide eyed when they remembered my veganism. What are you going to eat?! Ice?

I guess it has a reputation for having a diet heavy with fish and meat, and that may be so. However, was pleasantly extremely surprised how easy it was to be vegan in Iceland. Particularly in the capital of Reykjavik, it is a well-established concept. Beyond that, though, I was still really taken aback that a lot of the service stations and supermarkets as we got further out into the sticks not only had vegan options, but they were clearly labelled to avoid doubt. Winning!

Now, two things to say about eating on an Iceland holiday. First of all, you’re probably going to spend most of the time on the road, which means cooking for yourself on a campstove. This makes things easier in that you can cook your own recipes from scratch with naturally vegan ingredients (beans, rice, pasta, veggies), and apart from this, the main supermarket that you will see everywhere (Bonus) does your whole line of vegan substitutes- milks, yoghurts, burgers, mince etc. One morning feeling particularly extravagant I even made some vegan blueberry pancakes (pictured). However, this leads to point two- everything is VERY expensive. A shop for one week of main meals cost a fearful amount, and we had to keep topping up on fresh veggies as we went.

Because of this, a lot of people in the know had brought their own veggies and pasta etc. with them. As I’d flown on the most budget flight possible, I didn’t really have enough luggage to do this. It wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting given the rep Iceland has for being expensive in general, but with the cost of also renting your cooking equipment if you don’t have it, don’t go thinking that because it’s a camping trip it’s going to be a budget holiday.

However- I was really pleased to find that if you needed it, the options were generally available. One particularly good campsite (at Skaftafell National Park) had several vegan dinner options in the café as well as two kinds of cake. The exception to this is in some of the further out places, where it’s worth ensuring you are stocked up with hummus, bread, and other picnic items before venturing, because even if there were vegan options available in the one café in some of the far-off stretches of road (and there generally weren’t), it will cost you about £17 for a soup. Also, it’s just too damn pretty to sit inside.

In Reykjavik, however, (probably at the start and end of your trip) you’ll be made up. Eat Co has two locations and is the perfect lunch stop for huge, healthy salad bowls, smoothies, almond lattes, and all other kinds of good-for-you hipster grub. After eating limited fresh veggies during the week due to the cost, it was great to stuff our faces with these once we got back to civilisation.

The best spot for a dinner out is undoubtedly Kaffi Vinyl. Taking hipster chic to the next level, this place is a chilled-vibe, low-key vegan restaurant, jazz café and record shop all in one. The prices are higher than at home but not bad for Iceland, and for it we got a huge bowl of delicious noodles and an Oumph! Teriyaki bowl, with a fairly priced house wine. If that doesn’t already warm your snowflake heart, they also sell a range of feminist and gender queer stickers. Yay!

So go forth to Iceland vegan friends, without fear of only eating moss. Unless you want to try the traditional moss schnapps, but from experience I would say probably DON’T 😉

Surviving Nicaragua on a plant-based diet

Nicaragua is undoubtedly the hardest place on my Latin American adventure to be a vegetarian or vegan- the former is a barely grasped concept, and veganism really barely exists. That said, there have been some fantastic spots I’ve been while roaming the country with delicious, healthy food. Unfortunately because it is mostly gringos that go there, the prices are a lot higher than the average food in a local comedor, and I’ve mostly eaten in.

Being gringoville, Granada is an easy place to find vegan food. Although there aren’t any specialist places, most of the cafes and restaurants offer something. The Garden Café is a haven with a vegan salad comprising of cucumber, tomato, onion, leaves, hummus, chickpeas, grains, flaked almonds and pitta. They also do a chunky hummus and avo sandwich. Pita, pita also does a hummus falafel salad plate, though at great expense.

24251784_10214344485861932_726867223_n

In Managua, the amazing Ola Verde has a huge range of delicious options including this lentil moussaka with an amazing cashew cheese topping. Portions are a bit small for the price, but they also have a deli counter selling the sexiest tomato hummus, natural peanut butter, tofu, and pots of pre-made couscous salads, marinaded tofu, proper dark chocolate etc. For other staples head to whole food shop La Naturaleza, which is basically the only place you will find a good range of soy based burgers, smoked tofu, and other healthy things.  The bookshop Hispamer has a gorgeous café which is a haven in the city which serves the best smoothies ever and an amazing quinoa salad, which you can ask for sin queso. A bit out of town but near to my house was the Restaurante Andana, worth a cheap taxi ride for a low-cost, local style vegetarian buffet meal, which when I went included the usual gallo pinto, plantains, salad, and a veggie burger. They also do a big range of salads and smoothies.

24252144_10214344486101938_261982632_n

If you are thinking of doing Spanish lessons, the beautiful La Mariposa eco hotel and Spanish school is set less than an hour out of the city in the small town of La Concha and includes vegetarian, organic, home-grown food as part of the bundled price.

In Leon head to the beautiful Casa Abierta, the most peaceful eco-hostel with a lovely relaxing vibe. Or if you’re just there for the day, still drop into their restaurant which has an all vegetarian, and largely vegan menu including salads, burritos, pastas, and really unusual smoothies. I had the falafel salad with the best vegan mayo- or if you are a veggie, my friend had the goat’s cheese topped with cashews which was also delicious, especially paired with a colibri smoothie of fresh orange, passionfruit, and basil.

24172510_10214344485901933_833237632_n

24172567_10214344485781930_501166124_nThough I generally prefer independent places to chains, Casa Del Café, which is omnipotent in Managua, does an exceptionally affordable lunch menu where you can get a salad, soup, and drink for just $5 which is great when you’re on the run or need an easy, cheap place to go. Their chia pudding is also creamy and immensely satisfying. It’s also worth knowing the supermarket La Colonia does a breakfast for just 45 cordobas (just over $1) which includes gallo pinto and a tortilla (which is vegan) or if you are a veggie, also a fried egg, and a slab of Nica cheese, with a coffee.

24203570_10214344486021936_1835537003_n

On the whole it’s not easy- I tried to explain in multiple ways not eating meat and still got served ham- but if you can find the right places, there’s lots to choose from in Nicaragua and supporting those business supports a better, healthier, and more sustainable lifestyle- so go for it!

Green eating Costa Rica

Costa Rica is possibly one of the most progressive countries in the world: last year, 100% of energy supplied to homes was from renewable sources, it has no army, a University of Peace, endless eco-projects, a focus on green tourism… and so naturally it also has a large veggie/vegan population. Although the average meal will cost considerably more than in other Latin American countries, the towns have an undeniably hippie vibe, and there are a plethora of little veggie and vegan cafes and restaurants to get stuck into.

Dominical is one of many such little surfer beach towns I visited on my travels, and although all the restaurants offered veggie options something kept drawing me back to Café Mono Congo. With an enormous menu of both veggie and vegan choices of various tastes, there was something for everyone. I became addicted to their giant breakfast burritos: stuffed with rice, beans, avocado, plantain, salsa picante, and a choice of egg or tofu, and optional cheese.

21706607_10213663878287168_1418287436_o.jpg

They also had a zesty quinoa salad, smoky bean stew, lasagna stuffed with veggies, curry, vegan beers and cider (god I’ve missed cider), fresh smoothies, incredible coffee, and a huge fridge full of brownies, buns, tartlets and other treats. Next door was the best health food shop I’ve seen in my travels, packed to the gills with tofu/seitan meats, hummus, baba ganoush, vegan cheese, fresh local fruit and veg, wholegrains, pulses, natural treatments and anything else the ethical grocery shopper might ever dream of.

21769315_10213663878807181_1951642392_o.jpg

Mandala was sadly the only restaurant I had time to visit in the vast array of veggie places in San Jose, but I was not disappointed by the unusually delicate tasting (and hard to find) Thai curry. They also made the best natural lemonade (served in a hipster jar, but forgivable for the flavour).

21769449_10213663878207166_1427029974_o.jpg

In Montezuma, which I think may be my spiritual home, every restaurant has awesome veggie options including hummus, falafel, curries, salads etc. and so most of the time I didn’t even have to bother looking for veggie restaurants. Although it was tasty, I was slightly disappointed with the rather expensive salad at Café Organico, but they do host live music some evenings so it’s worth checking out.

The best surprise here was that the ice cream place Ice Dream which, as well as selling some delish looking dairy free sorbets, makes these vegan tofu veggie rolls which are both incredible looking and tasting- especially with the peanut dipping sauce!

21766922_10213663878047162_1330844746_o.jpg

In Santa Teresa, you can’t miss having lunch at Olam Pure Food. I wanted to eat everything on the menu, but being slightly hungover ordered the vegan pizza. What I got I wouldn’t exactly call a pizza- the wholegrain crust was tasty but decidedly not bread, and the tofu cheese was soft rather than melty- but nevertheless it was delicious and satisfying, and all natural.

21730062_10213663877847157_1102113383_o.jpg

Tamarindo was my final stop, and at Pura Vegan I ate the best red Thai curry of my life: the first genuinely spicy thing I’d had in months, rich and full of flavour, I couldn’t stop eating but I didn’t want it to end. I’m genuinely sad now thinking how I will never get to eat it again.

21706287_10213663877887158_2054227154_o.jpg

Given that at home my diet is mostly made up of hummus and gin, I was delighted to address the chronic hummus deficiency I’ve suffered from while travelling at the Falafel Bar, which I visited multiple times to have variations of falafel, hummus, and shakshuka. Apparently people are such fans of the place you can even by shirts and hats celebrating the falafel bar. As amazing as the food was, I’m not sure I’m enough of a falafel enthusiast to commit to a hat…. though if someone can find me a hummus hat, I’d gladly show it off everywhere I go.

21684346_10213663877767155_1509193714_o

The good thing in Costa Rica is, if you’re short of cash, it’s for once very easy to make the cheap food in local restaurants veggie: casadas are the omnipresent plato typico for Costa Ricans, and there is usually a version vegetariana that contains just rice, beans, plantain, avocado, eggs, and cheese (you could probably even ask to skip the dairy if you’re vegan, you’ll just get a funny look. Filling, not (too) unhealthy, and easy on the wallet, I ended up eating a lot of these… and an interesting note to leave on- apparently they are called a casada  (which means married)-  because the saying is that if you marry a Tico (Costa Rican) woman, that is the meal you will end up eating for the rest of your life. Could be worse!

21684347_10213663878127164_168783733_o.jpg

A week in the Wisdom Forest: my experience living with a Hare Krishna community in the Amazon Jungle

In one week I learned about Hare Krishna, experienced a spiritual ‘sweat lodge ceremony’, learned to use a machete, harvest tropical fruit, make chocolate from raw cocoa, press sugar cane juice, climbed up waterfalls, trekked through the jungle, made a traditional Amazonian meal, took part in mantras and ceremonies, tried to meditate (unsuccessfully), and attempted yoga (even less successfully).

20117611_10213069140819103_362283959_n

The Wisdom Forest is located in the Amazon Jungle- to reach it you take a bus to the town of Tena, and then a smaller bus, on which you ask to get dropped off at el mono– the monkey. I got hopped off at the statue of Hanuman and followed a little path that winds through a garden of incredible plants for produce- pineapples, papayas, bananas, coconuts, limes, and cocoa, flush with fruit. Bandu, the resident giant dog, and the friendliest Alsatian I’ve ever met, came bounding up to say hello. The front porch of the house is open, with fresh bananas strung up, people swinging from hammocks between the beams, reading books and chatting, guitars and drums lying around, and a little bike workshop.
The community here are Hare Krishnas. I knew next to nothing about Hara Krishna culture before coming here, but was interested to know more about their way of life, experience living in the rainforest, and volunteering on the eco-farm that produces organic vegetables and fruits, which they both live from and sell from a little tent on the side of the road.

19964706_10213069140859104_1116767320_n.jpg

I am always interested to learn about religions, and ways of life other than the one I am used to, but I will admit I was a bit apprehensive about how I would cope with the level of spiritualism in this vedic community. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a hippie- but more of a cynical one. I care about the environment and conservation because to me the world is beautiful, and it’s logical to look after the planet you call home. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years (and mostly vegan for the last two) I think it just makes no sense to add to the world’s suffering, and I like animals too much to want to kill them. I object to war and always advocate love and peace because it just makes sense. Non- violence is always better than violence. I don’t like capitalism because it’s a system of fucking people over with unfathomable suffering and death tolls as the consequence. But none of this is linked to any sense of spirituality or connection to something bigger. I think that when we die, we break down and become mud, and that is it. My beliefs are firmly rooted in a combination of logic, proven science, and the general principle of not being a dick. I try to always respect other people’s beliefs, but I have to admit to perhaps sometimes being a bit of a smug twat to two of my best friends, Bethan and Jodi, who really go in for some of this spiritual stuff (reiki, magic stones, fortune telling, prayer bowls that are connected to the sound of the universe etc.) because I have to admit, to me it always seems like a lot of guff. (Sorry to them for that).
But- I told myself to keep an open mind, and even if I thought I would never be the type to go in for this, to learn as much as possible from these people. After all, I was walking into their world voluntarily.

I was thrown in the deep end, as when I arrived the group were getting ready to take part in a ‘sweat lodge ceremony’. First, you get in your cossie and take a jump into the freezing cold natural plunge pool, or shower in an amazing natural outdoor shower that has water running down the forest through a bamboo beam, sheltered by leaves. Then you enter the lodge- a small, thatched hut with a tiny entrance which you crawl through to get in. It’s incredibly dark. Everyone sits on banana leaves in a circle around a pit. Bhaga explains that the hut represents the womb of mother earth, and that we are going to be reborn. We are going to meditate on Mother Earth, and he talks for a while about the importance of protecting the planet and looking after the animals. So far so good. Then they start to bring in the abuelas. Grandmothers. Not old women, but the name they have for the hot stones that they place in the pit to heat the hut and create the sauna affect. The abuelas are each meant to represent a virtue we should meditate on, while they chant a song to welcome them as they are brought in- giving thanks for empathy, patience etc. There are three rounds of meditating, drumming, and chanting mantras to Hare Krishna, Madre Tierre etc., between which more abuelas are brought in, and palm fronds are used to waft the hot stones until it becomes incredibly hot, and everyone is soaked in sweat. With the heat and the beats of the drums, it’s kind of hypnotising. After, everyone comes out of the womb reborn, and plunges in the pool again to return to reality.

There are many variations on this ceremony in different cultures and practices. For some, this is a profoundly spiritual experience. I wouldn’t say I found it that, but it was certainly very relaxing, and the messages were positive. I slept well that night.

20068282_10213069139459069_741938727_n

Mornings here start at 5.30am in the temple, located in treehouse overlooking the jungle, where Bhaga, who began the community, leads the morning meditation. The Hare Krishna movement is a kind of branch of Hinduism that practices Bhakti Yoga  (it turns out yoga is a whole set of practices and not just the exercise). Although Varsana, one of the lead volunteers, insisted it’s not a religion in the dogmatic sense, but more a way of life, the ceremony was very like the many I witnessed in Hindu temples while travelling in India. Rhythmic music was played on an instrument I’ve never seen before, with drumming, and chanting mantras, in front of a cabinet full of pictures of Krishna and the gurus (all men). There are many mantras, but the most common is quite repetitive and meant to focus your mind for the meditation:
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
20045786_10213069140019083_181117261_n

After the meditation, there is a ‘philosophy’ class with Bhaga. This is the part I struggled with the most. I wouldn’t so much call it a ‘philosophy class’, as an hour of listening to Bhaga’s beliefs and opinions. Now, I spoke at great length with the other Hare Krishnas there- latinos from Venezuela, Guatamala, and Mexico- and they talked with great sincerity about how the Hare Krishna way of life had helped them to live in a more positive way, in accordance with nature, to learn to reject material wants and to live to serve others, overcome depression and negative feelings in the past, and feel more whole. I have immense respect for them, because they really did live a simple and peaceful life, and did everything they did with kindness, and importantly, would talk about why they believed certain things without judgement of others. Although I didn’t believe in Krishna, and found the rituals a bit bizarre, I largely agreed with their principles, and they said as long as others followed a way of life that incorporates kindness, and in accordance with protection of the earth, we should find our own way to becoming who we felt happy with.

Bhaga’s lessons were not like this. It felt like the hour of judgement. He would lecture endlessly about the dangers of meat, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Even though I agree with not eating animals, the way he aggressively accosted the meat-eaters in the group was unhelpful in engaging them in a cause I do believe in.

We did a test to find out what our ‘ayurvedic body type’ is. This is based in an old spiritual system that promotes the idea people are made either of earth, fire, or air. The definitions seem extremely random, and I can’t help rejecting any system that reduces anything as complicated as people to three types. I was told I was ‘Kapha/Pitta’- a mix of earth and fire. But realistically, elements of all three body and personality types related to me, and all of them contained elements which were completely contradictory to how I am. On the basis of this system, illnesses are treated by diet- if you are kapha you should eat less oil etc., to balance your elements. He promised this is a ‘scientific’ method, and I had to work hard to maintain politeness, and point out that adding the word ‘science’ to an idea doesn’t make it scientific.

In another class, he advised we should not wear suncream because we shouldn’t put anything on our skin that would be poisonous to eat. He said people shouldn’t put it on their children. This was day four, and I actually felt myself losing my temper. The temperature here was up to 30 degrees in the heat of the day. I feel it’s extremely irresponsible in a capacity as a ‘teacher’ to advise people (especially the groups of blancitas that frequent the Wisdom Forest) not to protect themselves against the sun, and not to protect their children. After all, there is proof that getting sunburn repetitively can cause skin cancer and death. I told him as much. He whinged on about whether there was really proof, maybe he’d have to look at statistics, but his friend told him it was bad and never put sun cream on her children and so… bla bla. At this point I felt like saying, mate. Your name isn’t Bhaga. Your real name is Ben and you’re from Chichester. And yes, the link between sun damage and skin cancer has been proven by (genuine) scientific research. Saying ‘but my whacko mate said this’ isn’t going to hold up in academic peer review. Shut up.

For this reason I had to skip the last ‘lessons’, which is probably just as well because apparently he talked about how having any sex will definitely make you a prostitute, and then you will die. Sigh.

After the hour of talking crap, there was a yoga class, which was actually quite nice, especially looking out into the rainforest, but I realised how inflexible I am as I was barely able even to cross my legs, and had to creak my way through saluting the sun, trying ‘downward dog’ etc. without falling over.

19987322_10213069139219063_1763676997_n

After breakfast, work. The work here was interesting- I learned to wield a machete and felt like a badass (though more likely just a mentally unstable person with a machete). But we harvested the food we then ate which felt very satisfying. Better yet, we used the cocoa to make chocolate- you suck the flesh off the beans (sounds gross I know, it’s sweet but nothing like chocolate) then dry them, and roast them, peel the shells off, grind them, and we then added panela before rolling them into balls. Panela is a syrup made from sugar cane juice which we cut down and crushed, and then boiled. The result was delicious, natural, and as local as you can get.

Meal times were great. The food here was genuinely incredible- all vegetarian and mostly vegan, we had one awesome giant Amazonian meal (below), which contained fruits and vegetables I’d never tried before- piton, fruitipan, chiclas etc. We also made bean stews, lasagne, stir frys, pizza, and even a birthday brownie cake on Kartik’s birthday. As with anything, there is a ritual that must come before eating in Hare Krishna culture. They consider cooking a meditation, and so before eating you make an offering to Krishna, consisting of a small amount of every dish, which is put in a cupboard, and you chant a mantra thanking mother earth for the food and offering it to Krishna, while a bell is rung and you clap. Then, before eating, there’s a cancion (song), thanking again, with guitars, and you chant the Hare Krishna mantra.

20068167_10213069140099085_1396868154_n

Days off were fun- we spent a day adventuring in the waterfalls, hitching a ride on the back of a local pick up truck, then wading through rivers, hauling ourselves up waterfalls with ropes, and trekking through the jungle while the boys swung around on the real Tarzan style ropes hanging down around us. We visited a local community, and the family of a volunteer which had eleven children, on their small farm, and tried the local drink, chicha.

20068265_10213069139259064_927429716_n

The accommodation was basic to say the least- inevitably jungle bugs get everywhere, there were often cockroaches in my room, we found a small snake in the kitchen, and once when I got in the shower I was alarmed when a frog jumped out at my face. I had about 5000 bug bites when I left, though thankfully I didn’t catch sight of the resident tarantulas the whole time.

19988898_10213069140139086_72939085_n.jpg

On the whole, I had an amazing experience here. I do believe ‘Bhaga’, if I will go with his ‘spiritual’ name, is a bit of a bullshit merchant, and I dislike his negative approach of haranguing people. It makes Hare Krishna seem very negative as a culture, and I don’t believe it is. I never go in for dogma in religions, but I understand the principle of being thankful for what you have and the ceremonies do remind you to be mindful in a way that can never be achieved in the city and chaos of modern life. I could never be a Hare Krishna, and there is an element of the cultish about it, but I like the people very much, and I have to say that after a week here I did feel more peaceful, patient, and open hearted to others. Which can only be a good thing.

It was an amazing way to experience the rainforest, and if you are thinking about it, I would definitely recommend going in a volunteer capacity so you can get closer to the wildlife and really learn to live within it. I have never had so many new experiences in one week and can only thank the people who let us into their home, showed me a path to being a more gentle person, and gave me memories to last a lifetime.

20068265_10213069140179087_975442335_n.jpg

Peru is a plant-based paradise

Peru is vegan heaven. There’s a sentence I never expected I’d write. I ate better vegan food in Peru than I’ve eaten in my whole life. It may not be the traditional fare, but veganism is a well understood concept, at least in most of the towns on the backpacker trail, and there are vegan versions of most of the typical dishes- even vegan ceviche! Everything is plentiful, delicious and healthy. In Peru I was in foodie heaven.

The surprises started in Puno. Puno is a nondescript town that most travellers use just as a gateway to Lake Titicaca. It’s big, ugly, and uninspiring- so imagine my surprise when I found the best vegan restaurant (at that point) on my trip- The Loving Hut does a ridiculously cheap set lunch menu for 15 Soles (about £3.50) that includes salad, soup, main dish and pudding. Usually with these set lunches the portions are small- but here the main was so mammoth that I broke my principle of always finishing every meal. The best thing about this place is the tofu fish and meat substitutes. I’d really missed healthy protein and realised how much I rely on Quorn  and tofu at home, but here they have vegan ceviche, vegan prawns and rice, tofu chicken, burritos, and much more.19883542_10213030267887304_1678444243_n.jpg

The owner was so friendly and told me about the next surprise of the trip- that in Arequipa there was a vegan festival on the weekend I was arriving! With ridiculously good luck, I went straight to check it out- and it was phenomenal. I ate about three meals worth of food and finished with the best cake of my life- an amazingly rich, vegan, dark chocolate and passion fruit cake- the picture can’t convey the foodgasm.

19970853_10213030266007257_754545758_n.jpg

In Arequipa I also had vegan ceviche in El Buda Profano (pictured below) which was delicious but unsatisfying compared to the Loving Hut version.

19894362_10213030265247238_1936076546_n.jpg

For extremely satisfying fare, head to Burger Chulls, where I got a vegan lentil burger with sweet potato fries and a passion fruit drink for just 15 soles again! (£3.50!) and couldn’t move for the rest of the evening.

19964796_10213030265327240_209185902_n.jpg

Crepes are everywhere in South America, surprisingly, and have been the biggest test to my attempt to be vegan most of the time (sorry, I caved for nutella). But Le Petit Francaise will treat you to an incredibly delicious vegan batter hummus and roast vegetable crepe that is to die for. They are so nice they would probably also do you one with lemon and fruit if you asked.

Huacachina is an incredibly small town in the middle of the desert, so imagine how shocked I was to eat the best falafel of my life- in a hostel! Bananas has an incredible menu and these sexy bastards were melt-in-the-mouth delicious, and came with hummus! (I think I’ve had hummus deficiency since arriving in Latin America so I was too excited about this). La Casa de Bamboo is another hostel with an exclusively vegetarian menu, including Thai curry, falafel and incredible large breakfasts. I went three times in my two-day stay.

19873814_10213030264807227_1555126974_n.jpg

Lima is meant to be the best place for food, but was less inspiring for me (but I hated Lima in general). However, here I did get a vegan version of a very traditional dish called causa– avocado layered with potato, and vegetable (usually with tuna or chicken). It was creamy, salty, and very satisfying.

19866236_10213030264447218_175832832_n.jpg

If Peru is vegan heaven, worship at the altar of Cusco, where a quick search on Happy Cow revealed more veggie restaurants than it was physically or financially possible for me to visit in my time there. The crown for best veggie food was removed here from the Loving Hut and rewarded to Green Point. I’ve never been so happy from food, and I get happy from food often.  Again, for 15 soles, a lunch menu included salad, rich and sweet pumpkin soup, a moderately spicy and fragrant chana masala, topped with yukka (god I’ve missed curry) and a delicious banana and chocolate mousse (all vegan!). The evening options are also incredible- I had a portion of vegan lasagna as big as my head and packed full of fresh veg, while my friends had dumplings and courgetti spaghetti. In spite of my fare I got extreme food envy for the people at the next table who ordered sizzling hot tacos, my god.

19875857_10213030263567196_206761304_o.jpg

Here I also enjoyed El Encuentro, which offers mainly meat substitute versions of traditional Peruvian food (which to be honest, is a lot like Chinese- meat, rice, soy sauce). And I had the best salad I’ve ever eaten in a shamanic raw vegan restaurant- which was so large it took a full forty minutes to eat!

19876108_10213030263607197_960110312_o.jpg

More than these, in Cusco, vegetarian food is advertised everywhere, even at mainstream restaurants, and you can get vegan cakes at bakeries. I’m sad I didn’t spend more time in Cusco for many reasons, but the food is a large factor.

So vegans and vegetarians- don’t fear South America- go to Peru!! And add to this list of amazing, healthy, and satisfying food. Nom.

Vegetarian Bolivia

Before going travelling, I spent three months as a vegan- having tried Veganuary, found it surprisingly easy, and decided to carry on. I’d been a veggie for 16 years- having given up meat at 9- but had only just made the connection and the next step- to cut dairy and all other animal products. Lots of people asked me ‘are you going to continue when you’re travelling?’ and I said that I would try to do so most of the time, but suspected I may need to revert to vegetarianism at some point.

I was right. I know some people manage to just about live as a vegan out here- but it requires serious dedication, pre-planning, and basically never being able to eat anywhere with friends, and sitting in the corner of a hostel eating peanut butter out of a jar instead. As much as I love the last activity, after a couple of days here it became obvious that for me, vegan would be too difficult. Vegetarianism is well understood in South America, but veganism is barely a concept- although there are some great little restaurants and cafes trying to change that. As it is I’ve managed to do vegan 70% of the time, but I have reverted to eating cheese and eggs occasionally… On the short tours I’ve taken (2/3 days exploring the islands of Lake Titicaca, and the Uyuni salt flats) the only non-meat or fish option has been omelette… omelette… more omelette. I have no idea how you’d explain veganism in Spanish, to people with very little means doing what they need to survive, but I think you might starve.

However, I want to write about those little awesome beacons of the plant-based life that are dotted all over the continent to give some guidance to other veggies and vegans travelling in the region. Though it’s usually possible to get a veggie option in restaurants, it tends again to be- omelette. Or tomato pasta. Or pizza. Without a doubt the best  (and usually vegan) food I’ve found has been in the little veggie cafes and restaurants.

veg buffet

In La Paz I was lucky on the first day to stumble into Restaurante Vegetariano Armonia, a little vegetarian restaurant over a bookshop, in the bohemian district of Sopocachi- all the best things in one place! Armonia only opens for lunch, but offers an incredible buffet between 12 and 2.30pm for just 34 Bolivianos- around £3.84. I ate two huge plates of mixed salad, fried plantain, potato cakes, spinach fritters, and veggie rice, and had to stagger back to the hostel after for a nap.

The other veggie haven in La Paz has to be Namaste, a funky hippie haven easily within reach of the main market. The extensive menu of delicious and healthy options includes tofu and peanut Thai  veg stir fry, empanadas, soy fritters, lentil burgers, nachos, and burritos. I had these gigantic tacos, stuffed with veggie mince, salad, and guacamole. They set me back just 29 Bolivianos for a huge and satisfying dinner.

veg burritos.jpg

I couldn’t help returning the next day for the set menu lunch, which consisted of a salad with the most delicious dressing I’ve ever had, soup, vegetarian lasagna (which I must admit was a bit cold), and fruit in some kind of rice pudding. Again, only 25 Bolivianos- and they do great coffee too!

veg namaste

In terms of street food, it’s quite disappointing that the local favourite- salteñas- basically Latin American pasties- are mostly full of meat and potato. However, in Sucre there is one place- Salteñeria Flores– that offers a veggie option. Hot, stodgy, and full of beans and veg, it’s a cheap and satisfying-if not mind-blowing option.

veg saltena.jpg

Another favourite street food in Sucre are papas rellanas– which are served everywhere for breakfast. In the week I spent in Sucre learning Spanish, I often went in the morning to the spectacular Parque Bolivar to buy one or two of these treats for breakfast. Con huevos, is basically a veggie scotch egg- a boiled egg wrapped in mashed potato, and deep fried. There is also a queso option which is flat and has chunks of cheese melted into the potato- and again deep fried. You can either eat them there in the park, out of a plastic bowl with a teaspoon, next to all the locals on little stools, or take them away in a plastic bag to eat at home with a good English cuppa. Good for the waist? No. But the soul, yes. And only 3 BOB each- around 32p!

veg street food.jpg

The other fantastic thing for veggies are the markets- with fruit and veg stacked high and sold so cheap. Best of all are the freshly squeezed fruit juices, which would set you back four times the cost at home and have several times the flavour here, with fruits you’ve never seen before easily there to try. Just make sure you ask for it sin leche as there is a local habit to add milk to juice for some reason (yuk!), and also sin azucar if you prefer your sugar natural rather than added.

veg fruit market.jpg

Sucre is a veggie paradise and the one place I think it would be doable to be vegan 24/7. Without a doubt the best place is the Condor Café, which is also home to the Condor Trekkers, an eco-friendly local touring company which is not-for-profit, and puts its proceeds into local projects such as building roofs for schools, and teaching children about health and hygiene in deprived areas. It does dirt cheap and huge cheese empanadas, delicious falafel and avocado sandwiches, and another bargain-a-licious set lunch menu.

Prem is mostly open for lunch times, but serves awesome and huge seitan baguettes, fresh juices, and set menus in a friendly little place just off one of the main streets.

veg sandwich.jpg

El Germen is another great find with a huge menu of vegan options, including a ridiculously cheap 12 BOB veggie burger, quinoa soup, veggie lasagne, and veggie curry. I went with the tofu curry, having been missing protein substitutes, though I have to admit it was quite bland and not really what I’d call a curry. Still- healthy, and cheap, and I still went back the next day for a veggie burger which was much better.

In Copacabana, I was extremely surprised to see a vegan food cart at the bottom of the main high street- and sad as it is, could hardly contain my excitement to have hummus for the first time of weeks. Selling veggie burgers, falafel wraps, hummus sandwiches, vegan brownies and flapjacks and energy balls, this cart belongs to Hostal Joshua nearby, which also has a vegan restaurant- though sadly only open until 8 so I missed it the one night I was there, but on the basis of the sandwiches definitely worth checking out if you are there.