A Rude Awakening

Last week I found myself taken aback, angry and confused to see an Instagram post from the company Rude Health declaring their support of the dairy industry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rude Health brand, they produce an array of high-end, dairy free nut, oat and rice milks, and I have to admit their products are, well were, among my favourites. Like many of the other people who saw this post, my initial assumption was that either their account had been hacked or someone on work experience had made a massive PR error. However, a quick search on their website revealed neither of these scenarios to be the case. In fact, what I discovered was a ‘rant’ blog post from their Co-founder and Brand Director, Camilla Barnard, in which she categorised vegetarianism and veganism as fad diets.

While I don’t often get angry about many things, the messaging from Rude Health really wound me up, not least because it shows such a total lack of understanding on so many levels. It’s a lack of understanding of the motivations behind a plant based lifestyle (which Barnard describes as a fad diet ‘to save you from cancer and early death’ and a means by which to ‘claim the health and moral-high ground’), a complete misreading of who the people are who actually buy their products, and from a brand and marketing perspective, an apparent ignorance about how and why people align themselves to particular brands and brand identities.

Since seeing the Instagram image and reading the blog post, I have found myself morbidly fascinated in following the backlash of these postings, reading the thousands of comments that have resulted – many from people like me, who really don’t understand why any company in its right mind would seek to alienate one of its core audiences – and watching and waiting for some kind of explanation, apology or rationality from Rude Health. None has come.

I have also decided, along with many other vegans, to boycott Rude Health products. Reiterating the points above, my decision to buy Rude Health’s dairy-free milks was not just based on the fact that they were tasty; just as my decision not to eat animals and animal products is not just part of a fad to ‘save me from cancer’.

The fact is, that many vegans, myself included, made this lifestyle choice because we are fundamentally opposed to the meat and dairy industries and the impact they have on the well-being of animals and on the environment. We have seen the dark side of these industries and have come to our own conclusions not to play a part in the perpetuation of them. I didn’t become a vegan on the back of a ‘celebrity exclusion diet’ or to claim ‘the moral high-ground’. I became a vegan because I find the idea of killing another sentient being and consuming its corpse for pleasure totally barbaric and abhorrent. If my decision not to eat meat at the age of 8 was a fad, then it has been a bloody long one. Likewise, I don’t see that I have any business in drinking the breast milk of another species, not least when getting that milk involves cows being raped, having their calves taken away from them, being pumped full of hormones and steroids, being forced to express milk to the point of suffering from severe mastitis and then being culled when they are no longer of any use to the industry. No Camilla I am not ‘forced by an allergy’ to follow this diet, but I am compelled to, by the facts of an industry which I find to be inhumane. Eating may be a social activity and you may want ‘positivity and fun around food’, but this is equally possible while following a wholly plant-based diet and the fact is when I eat what I eat, no one has to die in the process.

Moreover, I’d be really interested to see who are actually buying Rude Health milk-alternative products. In insulting the vegan community, Rude Health clearly believe that there is a large enough market of non-vegans who are prepared to pay a minimum of £3.50 on a weekly basis for a carton of cashew milk and I just can’t believe that to be the case (although I’d love to be wrong on this). Even living in the lefty, middle-class bubble of North London, I don’t know any non-vegans who would be prepared to splurge on three different types of dairy-free milks on a weekly basis in the way that my vegan friends and I do. I know a few people who might buy almond or soya milk as a one off, but even then it is usually a cheaper brand, not Rude Health.

Finally, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to see that people buy into brands not just products. Whether it is in fashion or food, we like to align ourselves to the brands that we feel either reflect our personalities and our values, or that we aspire to imitate. In pledging their support for the dairy industry, Rude Health have isolated themselves from a massive vegan community who are fundamentally opposed to that industry.

And the big question for me is, why say anything at all? Why kick up this storm so unnecessarily? Is it just a case of massively misjudging and underestimating your audience, or is there something more sinister like a cash injection from an interested party behind it?

I’d be really interested to hear both your and Rude Health’s thoughts around this. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on the Companies House site for their next accounts statement. 

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Festivals and the fashioning of identity

This August, in a bid to finally overcome my festival virginity, I packed up my tent, hand sanitiser, wellies and dry shampoo and headed off to Wilderness. It was the most fabulous few days, camping out in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with my lovely pals and so many fun activities on tap. I knew it would be my kind of festival when our itinerary included archery and wild swimming alongside quaffing champagne and dancing, and when I spotted not one but two tea and crumpet stands. Our days were filled with everything from comedy and cricket to political debates and yoga, all topped off with a heady mix of delicious food and drinks, lots of glitter and of course, plenty of amazing music.

While I had such a fun few days, something struck me as I mooched amongst girls dressed in little more than sequinned-leggings and glitter: in my denim dungarees and wellies I suddenly felt incredibly conservative and strait-laced, a feeling at odds with the person I believe myself to be.
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While much of my identity is tied up in my liberal left-wing views, my veganism, an interest in the environment and sustainability and my love of the outdoors – running, yoga, hiking and climbing, swimming in lakes and sitting by campfires – the realisation dawned on me that my outer appearance isn’t necessarily reflective of these elements of my personality. I started to see that my tendency to err on the side of caution in my clothing choices has meant that while I’m pretty hippy on the inside, I’m definitely more preppy on the outside.

As a result, I started to examine the question of whether our inner- and outer-selves necessarily have to match up; are our personalities and sartorial decisions intertwined, or can they be mutually exclusive? Does a sensible polo-neck sweater and a pleated skirt preclude skinny dipping and a love of tofu and preempt quiet evenings in with a book and hot chocolate? Do I really need to don the festival uniform of a sequinned leotard and little else to prove to the outside world that I’m a fun-loving tree-hugging, left-leaning yogi?

There is definitely something about dressing in a certain way that makes you feel part of a tribe and gives you a firm sense of both self and community. There are times when this draw towards the ‘uniform’ of a tribe is particularly heightened, and a festival is one such occasion. I have to admit, having never before considered adding anything with sequins to my wardrobe, suddenly at Wilderness I found myself coveting them. But using dress to align yourself with a certain lifestyle or political outlook isn’t just about frivolously opting for a one style of shirt over another, it can also act as a creative means by which you can construct a visual representation of who you are.

This week in a BBC Radio 4 programme about identity, the speakers emphasised the role that coherence and consistency plays in establishing a firm sense of personal identity, and I suppose coordinating your inner and outer selves adds to this sense of coherence. Yet while for some people their look is part of a unified package, for others, like me, it’s slightly more scatter-gun and perhaps not as considered as it might be.

All of this got me thinking about my identity, both from the point of view of how people perceive me, and from the perspective of how I want to be seen. Would a more careful curation of my wardrobe give me, as well as those around me, a stronger sense of who I am?
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During my run on Thursday I was listening to a podcast interview with the skier Lynsey Dyer and something she said really threw all of these thoughts into focus. She observed that, as a teenager, she had fallen in love with the idea of surfing having seen the Roxy girls in various surfer magazines. However, later, when she realised that the women she had admired were just models who couldn’t surf it made her see that what really mattered wasn’t so much looking the part but living the experience.

In another podcast episode, Rich Roll explored the concept of authenticity and truth to oneself. He asked the question, who am I at my core, and do my actions align with this authentic sense of purpose and self? This drilling down to our core values and living in a way true to them is also something examined in Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less‘.

For me, these speakers highlighted a more important element of identity, that of asserting and living in a way true to your core values. In this way, the focus is on substance, not just style and it becomes more than just about veneering yourself in the tropes of how you feel certain values should look, or slavishly imitating those around you, without imbuing that aesthetic with an authentic piece of yourself.

So while I am reviewing my outward appearance and considering more carefully the messages that my choice of clothing may send out, I’m also auditing my inner self, digging deeper to establish what truly matters to me and how my behaviours in all elements of my life convey this message.

I want to finish with a quote from Rich Roll on the question of dress and aligning yourself with a particular look or brand:

If it’s authentic to who you are; if it’s a natural expression of what you would be doing or wearing ordinarily, then it’s ok. It’s when it becomes artifice and there’s some other agenda that’s built into that, where it become something else entirely, that’s where it becomes problematic.

Until my next, namaste.

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To eat, or not to eat? That is the question.

There are few subjects that are so simultaneously prosaic and emotive as food.

We photograph it, comfort eat it and watch programmes about it. We spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals, or spend a fortune in restaurants trying out new and delicious dishes. We read about how to eat ourselves healthier; how to make our skin brighter and our hair shinier through our diets. The internet is full of advice on how to treat certain ailments with a variety of ingredients, or how to improve athletic performance through what we eat. So why then, with all of these positive associations, is food also so inextricably linked with guilt, shame, obsession and illness?

While I know that my guilty pleasures aren’t as decadent as they might be, calories are calories whether they come encased in an avocado skin or a chocolate bar wrapper. I can’t be alone in feeling guilty for mindlessly chomping through a bag of cashews to get me through an afternoon of editing, for curling up with a hot chocolate before bed rather than a herbal tea, or for sneaking a wholly unnecessary round of toast with nut butter as I laze around with the weekend papers, only to regret these decisions just moments later. As my brain flits from gratification to guilt in the blink of an eye, it brings to mind a book I read about the psychology of eating and how we completely confuse ourselves with such mixed messages of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’. How can it be that something which one minute we associate with a pleasurable treat then next fills us with the pain of guilt and anxiety?

More to the point, I worry that it it’s abnormal to get so hung up on food in this way – either as an indulgence or as a deleterious presence – and often wish I could just embrace an indifference to eating: a food equals fuel equation, removing all other associations, pleasurable, painful or otherwise. This, I recently discovered, is exactly what Andrew ‘Spud Fit’ Taylor has done. Andrew has taken dieting to the extreme, removing everything from his plate for an entire year with the exception of one thing: potatoes.

I discovered Andrew’s story in a recent interview on the Rich Roll podcast and it really struck a chord with me. Despite being a vegan, Andrew admitted to spending a lot of his life struggling with his weight and suffering from the all too familiar yo-yoing effect of dieting. He came to realise that all of his attempts to lose weight were actually only touching the surface of a much deeper-rooted issue, a food addiction.

It was only a short while before listening to this episode that I had been discussing a similar topic with a friend and former GP. When we spoke she compared food addiction to drug abuse or alcoholism, but with the added difficulty that with food you can’t go completely cold turkey, or wean yourself off it with the eventual aim of giving it up completely. I remember thinking then how hard it must be to curb an addiction when the source of that addiction is also something that you need to survive.

Andrew’s solution was to research and explore nutritional science more deeply to find the perfect single food source of nutrition that could sustain him for an entire year. The answer? Potatoes. By eating potatoes for every meal he was able to take away all thoughts about food; from the practical thoughts – meal planning, food shopping lists, checking if there is something you can eat at a restaurant before attending etc. – to more detrimental or destructive thoughts – cravings, hankerings, obsessive calorie counting and restrictions.

With food out of the equation his hope was that he could retrain his brain ‘to get comfort, pleasure and emotional support from other areas of life’ and to become ‘less reliant on food and therefore have a better relationship with it’.

While this may sound extreme it was interesting to listen to him talk through this process of unshackling himself from the draw of food. From acting as a crutch when he was down to a source of celebration when he was happy, food had played such a central role in his life and now he had to find something else to fill that space. It certainly made me think about all of those times I turn to a snack because I’m bored, or tired, or over-indulge on treats to celebrate some arbitrary event, or else as a source of comfort if I’m feeling down. While my relationship with food certainly isn’t as extreme as Andrew’s was, there are elements of emotional attachment to what I eat that I would certainly like to sever and Andrew’s story is an inspirational way of showing that this is possible.

I would really recommend listening to the interview and exploring Andrew’s blog.

Until next time, eat mindfully, and perhaps take a moment to reflect on where exactly the void is that you are trying to fill next time you turn to the fridge.

Tuscan adventures and new beginnings

I realise that it has been quite a while since my last post, for which I have the (fairly reasonable?) excuse of a wedding and honeymoon. Twelve months almost to the day that we got engaged, R and I tied the knot in Tuscany last month, surrounded by our closest friends and family, on what was genuinely the happiest and most fantastically fun day of my life.

img_6216From swimming laps with my bridesmaids before breakfast and racing across the pool on inflatable pizza slices with my pals (I had to burn off the nervous energy somehow!), to exchanging our vows in a beautiful hill-top town hall and dancing the night away in a Tuscan castle, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day.

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I can’t tell you how grateful we both felt to have so many of our wonderful friends and family members fly out to Italy to share the day with us. While I have always acknowledged how amazing the people in our lives are, having them all there together – and seeing new friendships form between our respective friends and relatives – filled me with so much happiness and gratitude; I really do feel so amazingly privileged that we are able to share our lives with such incredible people.

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After the wedding – and following a few days de-compressing with our families – R and I spent two weeks travelling around Italy. It’s amazing how taking a step out of your everyday routine really shifts your perception and allows you the time and headspace to reflect on where you are in your life, and to appreciate all that you have. It was so wonderful taking time to talk about everything and nothing – discussing our life plans, politics, art, our future together and our career goals – rather than simply worrying about what meetings or deadlines we had coming up at work or who was cooking dinner that evening (the usual topics of conversation in our everyday lives!).

Our lifestyle took on a whole different pattern too: we were getting plenty of sleep, spending all of our waking hours outside, walking, cycling and swimming – in the sea, in pools and in lakes – dining out on good food and eating when we were hungry, rather than when we were bored or tired. We read book after book, appreciated amazing art works  and architecture and took the time to pause and notice the little things in the world around us.

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And after what felt like a terribly indulgent couple of weeks I returned to the UK feeling healthier and better than I have done for a long while.

As you can imagine, coming back to London has been quite the fall back to earth, and despite an active holiday, rising early for my pre-work yoga and getting back into my running routine has taken a bit of a push. No matter how much you love it, London life is not serene by any stretch of the imagination and it is amazing how exhausting just commuting while surrounded by hundreds of people can be!

While we are falling back into many elements of our pre-wedding day-to-day routine, there are some habits from the holiday that I’m trying to maintain and some feelings that were stirred up from the trip that I don’t want to let go.

Post-wedding I’m taking the time to pay attention to the little things in the world around me – the way the light passes through the clouds, the autumnal freshness to the air, the changing colour of the leaves, the shapes and colours of the city, the little alleyways and interesting architectural features high-up on buildings that are so easily missed.

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I’ve continued to read fervently, burying my head in a book on my commute and in little cafes during those lunch breaks when I don’t go running.

Having allowed myself to eat freely and mindfully during the honeymoon – enjoying good and nutritious food, including a lot of bread and pasta (something I would have considered sacrilege pre-wedding!) and resultantly eating to satiety rather than over-eating – I’ve adjusted my eating habits since I’ve returned home. I’ve taken to eating slightly more at breakfast, as we did on our honeymoon, and to keeping an afternoon snack on hand to stop me from getting over-hungry come 7pm and devouring too much at dinner.

Finally having had the time for my mind to wander and whirr, to be filled with history and art, political ideas and literature, I’m looking at opportunities for further study. Be it via an ever increasing reading list that I’m creating for myself, evenings in the British Library or lengthy conversations with my academic friends, I’m starting, once again, to feed that little intellectual sprite that sits on my shoulder and makes noises about a PhD.

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So as one chapter of my life has come to an end, and as I ride out the inevitable dip that comes post-wedding-and-wonderful-honeymoon, a whole new and exciting chapter is beginning, and I’m embarking on it as a Mrs with the best man in the world at my side.

More soon.

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10 reasons I love London

It’s really easy to take various elements of your life for granted. Whether it’s your home, job, friends or even the city you live in, you can get so bogged down in day-to-day life that you stop seeing the wood for the trees. You may see the beauty in other places but overlook all of the amazing things right on your doorstep. You may praise the art, architecture, cafe culture or music scene in another city but then fail to acknowledge how great all of those things are in the place that you live.

So over  the bank holiday weekend I took some time to slow down and really enjoy my city.

Whether you are a fellow Londoner or just thinking of coming for a visit, I wanted to share some of my favourite elements of London with you (and I’ll admit to cheating and squishing lots in to keep to just ten points!)

1. The art galleries and museums

IMG_4295The National Gallery, the NPG, the Royal Academy, the Courtauld, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Library, The British Museum, the V&A, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Foundlings Museum, the Design Museum, Museum of London…the list goes on, and on.

London has some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries, with blockbuster exhibitions and incredible permanent collections, many of which can be accessed for free.

Being able to mooch around the permanent collections and the National Gallery or NPG, seeing a show with my dad at the RA, or enjoying a Friday late at the V&A with my pals is such bliss and something I feel so lucky to be able to do.

2. The river and the canal

IMG_5574A run or stroll along the Thames is still one of my absolute favourite things and 9 years after moving to London I’m still totally in love with the view of London from the river.

Whether it’s the approach to St Paul’s while crossing Millennium Bridge, the skyline of the city from Tower Bridge, gazing across at Parliament and Big Ben from the South Bank at Westminster, or the bright bridge at Chelsea viewed from Battersea park, there are so many beautiful and ever-changing vista across London from the banks of the Thames. I still love the hectic south bank and packed pavements from the Royal Festival Hall at Waterloo, past the Globe and into Bermondsey. I love St Catherine’s dock and Wapping to the north and the quieter stretches out at and Putney and Richmond to the south; no trip to London is complete without a stroll along the river!

A close second to the Thames is the canal, with beautiful stretches from Regents Park to Camden Town, around lazy Little Venice, and from Angel to the Olympic Park at Stratford, all worth exploring. I’ve spent so many Sundays running along the tow paths, dipping in and out of the parks, admiring the boats and soaking up the blissfully serene canal-life atmosphere.

3.  The transport

airlineThe tube, bus and over ground system in London is so efficient you can easily travel from one end of the city to the other without even thinking about getting into a car (which suits me very well!).

From Brixton to Walthamstow on the Victoria line takes little more than 30 minutes and this stretch can now be navigated 24 hours a day with the new night tube. The over ground means that from Highbury to Peckham is only 35 minutes and from home I can be at the Olympic Pool in Stratford in little over 20 minutes! If you want a more scenic view of the city river buses run from Hampton Court out west to Woolwich Arsenal in the east and the Emirates Airline provides the most stunning views over Greenwich. Who needs a car?!

4. The parks

IMG_5037Whether you are looking for sculpted flower gardens, parks with play areas for children, open heaths, swimming ponds or just a little green space to lounge in the sun with a picnic or barbeque, London is rich in areas of green space. Londoners treat the parks as an extension of their own gardens (normally as so few of us actually have gardens!) and in the summer they are packed with people enjoying the sun in their lunch breaks, out running, cycling or enjoying a glass of Prosecco after work.

I’m so lucky that my office in situated in Green Park, with St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens only minutes away. A run along the river can quickly see me in Battersea Park, while my running route home allows me to pass through Regent’s Park and onto the tow path past London zoo. From home I can wander down to Clissold Park, where there is a children’s play area, petting zoo, cafe and plenty of green space to lounge and run around, and just beyond is the newly opened Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve. Highbury Fields is only a couple of minutes’ jog away, where there are tennis courts, as well as a weekly Park Run, which R and I attend, and Finsbury Park is not much further away. Perfect park life.

5. The theatres and cinemas

Whether you are looking for a musical or comedy show, a blockbuster-play or small independent production there is no shortage of theatres in London. From the West End to smaller venues in all boroughs of the city, there is so much choice and diversity for live shows and performances.

If it is a movie you are looking for options range from summertime outdoor screenings to secret cinema productions, and from independent cinemas such as the Picture House and Everyman, where you can enjoy a glass of wine in your seat, to the mainstream VUE, Odeon and Cineworld centres.

6. The pools and lidos

olympic poolFrom Hampstead ponds to Brockwell Lido and from the Olympic Pool in Stratford to the Serpentine in Kensington, there are plenty of options available for indoor and outdoor swimming.

The ‘Better’ gym company, who manage many of the council pools in London, make sure that access to most of the pools in the city is affordable on a ‘drop in’ basis, meaning that you don’t have to be a member of an expensive gym to have access to a 50m pool.

7. The architecture

IMG_4294 (1)From the Shard to the Globe and from Tate Modern to the Tower of London, London’s architecture is diverse and beautiful. Combining new buildings such as the Millennium Dome, the ‘Gherkin’ and the ‘Walky-talky’ with historic structures including Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and rich in palaces from Buckingham Palace and St James’s, to Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, London offers a beautiful and rich array of architectural structures.

This is city with so much history, but also so much innovation and vibrancy, all of which can be read through its architecture.

8. The cafes, restaurants and markets

IMG_1553Once you’ve exhausted yourself running in the parks or along the river, seen every exhibition, been to the theatre, caught a movie and strolled through the streets taking in all of the architecture you might fancy a bite to eat. London is replete with restaurants and cafes, with cuisine from all over the world, serving everything from early morning breakfasts, lazy Sunday brunches, quick working or leisurely lunches and intimate suppers. Whether you want cocktails and small plates, afternoon tea and cake, or just a coffee and a place to sit with the paper or a good book, I honestly think you could eat and drink at a different venue every day and never run out of options.

And if it’s food to go you are looking for, the market culture is also rich and delicious, from the now well-trodden slabs of Borough Market, to the crowded stalls of Camden lock and Covent Garden, and from the real food market at Waterloo to the stands at Old Spitalfields (where you can also pick-up clothes, crafts and antiques) or just off Brick Lane.

9. The diversity of the people

You can go out in London wearing a bin bag and wellies, with bright purple hair and a hundred piercings and no one will bat an eyelid. The city is so diverse that nothing seems to shock, and even the most bizarre ensemble is met with nonchalant acceptance.

This sense of diversity isn’t limited to fashion; every country seems to be represented through the people, shops and cuisine in London. You rarely get on a tube without hearing another language spoken or visit a restaurant without reaping the benefits of the cultural diversity of the city. My friends come from all over the world and I feel that my life, and the life of the city, is richer as a result.

10. My pals

IMG_5023All of these amazing elements are made all the better by having my pals around to share them with me.

Whether we are wandering around an exhibition together, watching a rubbish movie with popcorn, lingering over brunch well into lunchtime, buying over-priced vintage clothes, running along the canal, picnicking in the park with cans of g’n’t from M&S, or watching the sun set over the river from a rooftop bar or balcony, I can’t imagine London without all of my wonderful pals around for fun and nonsense.

5 Veggie restaurants that even meat eaters will love

As a vegan I love having the opportunity to eat at veggie restaurants. It’s so nice to not have to make a fuss when choosing a meal: not having to ask for one thing or another to be removed or added to a generic salad, or being faced by yet another stuffed pepper. It’s also nice to know that the chef empathises with my views and that the food I’m being served is 100% animal product free.

However, with lots of omnivorous friends I’m anxious not to push a veggie-only meal on them unwillingly. What does help to mitigate this is the number of amazing vegetarian restaurants in London, which serve the most delicious meat-free food. So, with the help of my omnivorous pals, I’ve created this shortlist of vegetarian havens in the city. If I go to any of the following restaurants I am pretty confident that whether I’m accompanied by fellow vegans, meat eaters or by a mixture of the two everyone will enjoy their meal.

The Gate

IMG_4296.JPGThe Gate is one of R’s favourite vegetarian restaurants and the place we take our parents when they are in town. With beautifully presented dishes inspired by Italian, French, Indian and South American cuisine, there is always plenty to choose from, plus they have great wines and a good cocktail menu.

This is a restaurant to push the boat out at and on our last visit I went all in with three courses: for starters I had the three lentil pate terrine – red lentil with smoked paprika and sun dried tomato; green lentil with fresh sweet basil; beluga lentil and olive served with our homemade red onion marmalade and crispy bread. For the main glazed and grilled teriyaki aubergine, stuffed with horseradish, coriander pesto, roasted pepper, shiitake and ginger, with crispy noodle salad with peppers, flat beans and carrots, and mango and coriander salsa. And for pudding a vegan coconut ice cream.

Rasa N16

vegan dosa rasaTucked away in beautiful Stoke Newington there are two versions of this restaurant, one of which is totally veggie. Rasa serves the best vegetarian Indian food I’ve ever eaten; the food is mouth-wateringly good and we always over-order! The street snack starters with an array of chutneys are delish, as are the starters, which include plantain with a peanut and ginger sauce and black bean cakes served with a coconut chutney. For the main we usually order two dishes and one rice to share – normally one of the dosas and then a curry. The prices are rock-bottom too, so you can over-indulge without stretching your purse strings too much!

Bonnington Café

bonnington-cafeDon’t be fooled by the website, this super cosy cafe is a veggie collective serving the most delicious dishes.

You need to book in advance by emailing the chef for the relevant night and Thursday is vegan night. The menu is different every time you go, which makes coming to a decision on what to order all the more tricky!  It’s BYO booze, and meals, despite being hearty and really tasty, come in at less than £15 for three courses. A delicious bargain!

The Black Cat Cafe

IMG_4930A new discovery in Hackney following on from a recommendation from the Fat Gay Vegan. Like the Bonnington this is a veggie collective, BYO restaurant with hearty delicious food and next-to-nothing prices. The menu changes daily, depending on what is available and seasonal, but on our trip I had an amazing savoury mixed vegetable pancake, topped with cashew cheese and served with quinoa, beetroot and mixed leaf salads, while R had a smoky vegan burger with chips. It was so tasty that we are definitely planning a return visit.

Ethos Restaurant

IMG_1553A relatively new find, I stumbled upon the Ethos Restaurant when looking for a brunch venue with my pals the Twins in Trainers. We ate from the breakfast/brunch menu – enjoying a delicious kale and sweet potato hash, sautéed in coconut oil with scrambled tofu and turmeric and a superfood smoothie – but we lingered so long that we ran over into lunchtime and discovered an amazing array of hot and cold salads, which you pay for by weight, as well as delicious sounding cakes such as the vegan chocolate peanut butter bomb and the vegan ‘healthy’ black bean brownie.

We didn’t get to sample any of the lunchtime menus so we will be going back!

For more of my favourite vegan-friendly restaurants in and out of London visit the Eat page on my blog and if you have any recommendations to pass on do let me know.

5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.