12 Nov 2015

5 of the best travel destinations for lovers of vegan food

So many of us long for the joy of travel - the excitement of experiencing a new culture, trying new food, meeting new people, and relaxing far, far away from the daily grind. It's wonderful to have the privilege to enjoy cuisine from half-way around the world, taking in the refreshing atmosphere and enjoying the new sights, smells and flavours.

Unfortunately, not all parts of the world will cater for vegans. For some, the vegan movement is completely unheard of, and meals will generally be filled with a wide variety of animal products. That's why it's important for vegans to do a little research before travelling to avoid any problems when dining abroad.

This list is in no particular order.

1. The USA

At first, this may seem like a ridiculous suggestion - why would the fast-food capital of the world be a great place to vegans to visit? Well, the reason is kind of related. The USA has such a huge variety of places to eat that you're bound to find many vegan cafes and restaurants. It also depends where you go. States such as New York, California and Washington are great places to go for vegan eating - although, as far as I know, all of the other states have options too. Of all the states, if I had to pick one, it seems that California is the place to be. With 103 vegan/vegetarian restaurant and cafe options listed on HappyCow in a small section of Los Angeles alone, you'd be kicking yourself if you didn't visit! New York city has 163 listings, Washington D.C. has 93 - even Austin, Texas (a state known for its love of steakhouses) has 66 listings! With all of this taken into consideration, its clear that the USA is heaven for lovers of vegan food.

2. India

With a population made up of approximately 40% vegetarians and vegans, India is an obvious choice for lovers of vegan food. Because of the large population of vegetarians in India, many restaurants offer exclusively vegetarian meals, and the majority of vegetarian food is clearly labelled.

"With a population made up of approximately 40% vegetarians and vegans, India is an obvious choice for lovers of vegan food."

When eating vegetarian meals in India, you should watch out for ghee, which is a popular ingredient in Indian cooking. It it a type of 'clarified' butter, and it is not vegan. Egg is not commonly used in Indian dishes, but keep your eye out for it anyway. Common vegan Indian dishes include dal, vegetable korma, alu gobhi and mushroom masala.
Many Indian dishes are traditionally vegetarian

3. Israel

Israel has one of the largest vegan populations in the world, and the prevalence of the movement is growing rapidly. The Israeli army even offers vegan meal options for soldiers. Israel is also home to the Vegan Fest, where over 15,000 guests gather annually to celebrate the vegan lifestyle. Domino's Pizza in Israel offers dairy-free, vegan cheese. There are over 400 certified 'vegan-friendly' food establishments. This country-wide vegan trend has come only recently, with the percentage of Israeli vegetarians and vegans jumping from 2.5% in 2010 to over 8% in 2015. When surveyed, a further 13% of Israelis said they were considering vegetarianism or veganism. Most vegan action in Israel is centralised in Tel Aviv, so definitely consider making the beautiful, ancient city your next travel destination.

4. The UK

Long before 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' food labelling was mainstream in Australia, I saw it used in the UK. On my first visit to England as a vegetarian (in 2004, when I was 10), I had no trouble finding food to eat because everything in the local supermarket was clearly labelled with a green 'V'. This kind of thing is widely seen in Australia now, but England is definitely a forerunner.

"The Vegan Society, the oldest registered vegan organisation in the world, is based in the UK."

Under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, food manufacturers in the UK are not permitted to falsely label their products as 'vegetarian' or 'vegan'. The Vegan Society, the oldest registered vegan organisation in the world, is based in the UK. The society's founder, Donald Watson, is credited with coining the term 'vegan.' The Vegan Society offers their own vegan certification for food products through an easily recognisable sunflower symbol. So, if you're not a fan of reading twenty-ingredient-long lists when doing your weekly grocery shopping, why not try the UK on for size?

5. Italy

According to Wikipedia, Italy boasts the largest percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the European Union, at 10% (or over six million vegetarians). Italian food is a staple in the diets of many vegetarians - personally, I don't think I've gone a week in my life without eating at least one pasta dish. I live for pasta. HappyCow.net lists over 137 results for vegan and vegetarian health food stores, restaurants and cafes in Rome alone. And options, of course, stem far beyond Italian cuisine - with Western and Indian dishes being popular alternatives. Italians are known around the world for their skills in making hearty and flavoursome food, so definitely don't pass it up if given the chance to visit.

I'm hungry just looking at it!

As you probably know, this list isn't exhaustive - there are many, many other countries around the world that offer a wide variety of vegan foods to eat. I just don't have the time to list them all here! I have heard, for example, great things about vegan Thai food - which doesn't surprise me, as Thai cuisine is one of my favourites to eat at home. So, if you're lucky enough to have a chance to travel outside of your home country, consider giving the above places a try, as well as anywhere else you'd love to go. Just make sure you do some research first - it'll make things so much easier. And don't forget to explore your own country's options if travelling abroad isn't in the cards for you.


3 Nov 2015

The real reason why vegans don't support horse racing

Warning: This article contains distressing and mildly graphic images of abused horses.

Lots of people have different reasons why they think horse racing is wrong. They may disagree with the horses' welfare standards - maybe they want to get rid of whips, or jumps racing, or harnesses. Others may squirm at the thought of a dead horse, like the two horses who were killed last year while racing in the Melbourne Cup. Others want horses to roam freely in soft paddocks at the end of their careers - they don't want horses to be killed and made into pet-food, as many are. These are all valid reasons to oppose horse racing, but they all distract us from the real issue here. The bottom line. The underlying reason why most vegans are so against horse racing.

Exploitation is the key word. In fact, this could be simplified even further: use. Veganism, in its simplest form, is about rejecting animal commodification. We don't use them for food, we don't use them to make clothing or furniture, and, to keep in line with this philosophy, we don't use them for entertainment. That's the basics, and that's the real reason why horse racing isn't vegan.

"Veganism, in its simplest form, is about rejecting animal commodification. We don't use them for food, we don't use them to make clothing or furniture, and, to keep in line with this philosophy, we don't use them for entertainment."

Many proponents of horse racing will talk about how well the animals are treated, how much they are worth, how much their trainers love them, and how they will live out their post-racing lives in peace. In some cases, this may well be true. I am sure there are many racehorses who are cared for. I'm sure there are many jockeys who feel love for the horses they race. But, even if the horses are treated like royalty, they are still being used for human entertainment. They are made to race, and have no choice in the matter. Humans use and exploit these animals for their own enjoyment, a concept that completely goes against the vegan philosophy. Horses do not exist for humans to ride.

One horrifying consequence of using animals as commodities (image from www.horseracingkills.com)

This information is especially relevant now, on the day of the Melbourne Cup. It's a day of celebration and gambling, as many Australians take a day off from work to dress up, spend money, and hope to win something back. Many see Melbourne Cup day as an important aspect of Australian culture. But it's time to shift our thinking. Most of us don't think about why we use horses. We just accept it as 'normal'. Some of us may worry if a horse falls and hurts themselves, or if a horse dies in the race. We may start to think about race safety standards. Of course, issues like this are important. But, the way I see it, we desperately need to focus on the underlying problem. Why do we think we should have the right to use animals in this way? Why do we think we should have the right to own and use animals, to ride them, and to profit from the whole affair?

"Why do we think we should have the right to own and use animals, to ride them, and to profit from the whole affair?"

We would never use humans in this way. Of course, humans race, and many enjoy it - but it would be considered abuse to force a human to race against their will. It is sickening to think of an event in which 'lesser' humans are forced to race while the more privileged humans bet on the outcome. This kind of behaviour would never be accepted in today's world. So why do we impose this fate upon non-human animals? Why is it any different?

Horses cannot express their desire to race. They cannot tell us if they feel tired, or if they don't feel like running, or if they never want to race again. They are voiceless. This is why animal activists must speak out for the animals, encouraging all horse-racers, gamblers and fans to think about whether or not the party is really worth it.

If we treated horses with the respect they deserve, this tragedy could have been avoided (image from www.horseracingkills.com)

If you'd like to show your support for horses, please donate to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses or any other horse-protection charity of your choice. Many ex-Melbourne Cup attendees have chosen to donate the money they would have once used to bet on a horse. With our support, we can hope that, one day very soon, horses will live lives free from human exploitation. My point is not to downplay the importance of ensuring that horses don't suffer or die - I want only to highlight the underlying issue, the cause of it all: the idea that animals are commodities. If we care about animals, and want them to live full lives, we must accept that they do not belong to us. We must give them the freedom they deserve.