The Economical Vegan


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Vegan Coq au Vin – and some thoughts.

Today I was very busy one way and another, and ended up throwing dinner together on the fly. I ended up with an old favourite, ‘fake chicken’ in a red wine sauce, a la Coq au Vin. It’s a really simple recipe with red wine and onions and mushrooms (I like mushrooms). I was feeling a little protein deficient, hence the addition of the soya protein. It was tasty and warm and filling, and I served it with boiled new potatoes in their skins with garlic dressing, and a mixed salad with a French dressing. Frankly, I loved every mouthful, but I did begin to ponder the relative merits of using ‘fake’ meat. My vegan friends have historically been divided on this issue. Some find it a useful convenience food, as I do, especially when making meals on short notice and not having the time or energy to spend soaking nuts and preparing beans etc. Some of my die hard vegan friends argue against any kind of meat substitute, saying that there is no point eating fake meat when you have sworn off meat for life. I could have made the dish with some tinned mixed beans that I also had in the cupboard, but the soya protein seemed a good way forward.
Similarly, there are a wide range of products now available which use similar approaches to the fake chicken, but I usually feel a guilty pleasure in these, perhaps because it seems as if I am betraying my vegan principles by eating something that isn’t either raw or made over two days with beans, nuts, seeds, and a lot of sweat and processing. I must admit that I sometimes struggle with the creativity required to keep variety coming in the diet stakes, not so much for me, but for those I live with. I could eat vegetable curry three days out of seven, and soup and bread the rest of the time with the odd salad thrown in, but I need to ring the changes and also make sure we have a comprehensive diet for health reasons. Convenience foods are just that – convenient. And nowadays, many of the major supermarkets stock a limited range of vegan convenience foods, and not all of them are meat substitute-based. So why do I feel so guilt when I reach for the veggie mince?
I think there are a number of factors impacting upon me, and most of it is to do with the ethics of mass-produced, processed food marketed by big companies. I have always felt that one of the features of being vegan is a degree of activism, and this activism extends for me beyond ‘animal rights’ to an attempt to reject or protest against the massive consumerism of our society. Thus, the consumption of these specialist foods could be seen as copping out. At the same time I am a pragmatist, and I am perfectly conscious of the fact that unless I go and live in a house in the woods and eat mushrooms, nuts and the occasional bowl of nettle soup, I am a consumer of so many millions of products and services that are ethically questionable.
There is another form of activism that I can mention here, however, and that is, the activism that comes from ensuring that I do buy the products from the supermarkets and the smaller shops as well, to ensure that they know that there is a demand for vegan foods in mainstream outlets. Raising awareness of veganism as a lifestyle and ethical choice is also part of my personal view of being a vegan, so there is a strong argument for buying the substitute foods for that reason. And when it comes down to it, there are just some days I really want a cheatin ham and mustard sandwich, or a fake sausage roll, or a big bowl of vegan ice cream topped with soya cream. And where would I be without vegan sausages? I’d have a really boring life and nothing to go with my mash!