Food & Drink

Becoming vegan

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I watched Simon Amstell’s mockumentary film ‘Carnage’ this week, which is available on iPlayer for the foreseeable future.

Set in 2067, the film depicts a future world in which the entire population is vegan, and meat, eggs and dairy are banned. It tells the story of how we used to live and how and why we changed, reminiscing about the the meat-guzzling decades of the past with a sense of macabre horror: brightly coloured 1990s fast food adverts, depicting smiling, happy families ploughing dripping burgers into their mouths take on a different quality when cut with footage of cows being shot in the head and male chicks being gassed on egg farms. As we move through the decades, vegan activists become prominent figures, the animal rights movement grows force, and environmental issues including widespread, devastating flooding starts to make people think more seriously about the environmental impact of their choices.

Amstell himself is a vegan. If you go and see one of his stand-up shows he will talk about veganism in his usual apologetic, self-effacing way. The film reflects this, being as it is not full of science or facts and figures, and seems quite personal in its experience of changing views. I saw a lot of parallels with my own experiences in it, having been vegetarian now for almost 15 years. Vegetarianism for me started as a gradual phase-out, and I now eat no mammals or birds (I still eat a bit of fish). At first it was quite hard not eating meat, but after a few years I realised one day that I no longer saw meat as food. I would look at a sausage or chicken breast and feel just as I would if I was looking at a stone or a table. It had left my food vocabulary as an edible product.

Some years later, another shift occurred. I was in Tesco and found myself accidentally in the meat aisle, cutting through to another part of the store. On a shelf were whole chickens, piled up in rows, and I suddenly saw them for what they were: the dead bodies of former living creatures, industrially massacred so we can enjoy a cheap and probably forgettable dinner. I have never had a problem with looking at meat in itself and am completely comfortable with the concept of dead flesh (I was a total dissection geek at school), but the concept of filling my body with the commoditised product of a genocide upset and disgusted me. How would you feel if you walked in and saw a shelf piled up with the cling-wrapped flesh of dead dogs for sale? And what is the difference?

Last year I was at a festival and amongst the activities you could take part in was one where you would be shown how to skin and prepare a dead rabbit, before eating it. I overheard a girl complaining about how she loved eating rabbit, but that the idea of preparing it made her feel sick. To me, the idea that you could find the preparation process revolting but willingly put the results inside your own body is completely incomprehensible, and just goes to show how completely detached we have become from a true appreciation of what we are eating.

Watching Carnage also had an impact on me as a non-vegan. Watching footage of cows suffering obvious pain whilst being forcibly inseminated to keep them producing milk made me realise how incongruous it is to continue to consume dairy whilst not eating flesh. So I will be making more effort to cut out dairy where possible.

I will be recommending Carnage to people whenever I can. The film works so well because although its subject matter is hugely serious, it’s not presented in a serious way and is actually very funny. The future depicted in the film features support groups for elderly people who are trying to deal with their meat-eating past, and viral videos from a Farage-esque angry old man who wants Britain to make meat great again. The film doesn’t have an overt, stern education message, but simply shows that cultural norms are not always rational, and attitudes can change. Sometimes I feel i am just quietly waiting for everyone else to cotton on.

The Coffee Awards 2016

Welcome to the Still Life with Flat White Coffee Awards 2016! Formerly the Weimar Republic Coffee Awards, but new blog, new name, so I suppose these are the inaugural SLWFW Coffee Awards.

I have not really had to stray too far from home this year to get some excellent coffee. The Nottingham coffee scene has exploded in all its rich creamery over the past year or so, to such an extent that we even created a bit of a stir in the national press! Anyhow, stray occasionally I did and here are my favourites from the past 12 months.

Greenhood Coffee House, Beeston, Nottingham

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Greenhood is out in the Nottingham suburb of Beeston, near the university, but is easily reachable by tram/bus/train/bike and well worth the trip. Owned and run by Rory, whom we first encountered some years ago behind the counter of Beeston stalwart The Bean, Greenhood is a beautiful, stylish Sydney-style cafe where you can sit comfortably and enjoy an extremely well-crafted coffee, as well as excellent cakes and light lunches (I recommend the bagels!). Rory also makes a superb matcha latte, for those of your who like your drinks green!

The Speciality Coffee Shop, Nottingham

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Lucy and Michelangelo will give you one of the warmest welcomes you will find anywhere in a coffee shop I am sure. Speciality is a bright and airy cafe up on Friar Lane, and being a couple of doors down from the Nottingham Law Society offices I find myself here quite often whenever I am up there on a course! I love watching Michelangelo make the coffee, he puts so much enthusiasm and love into each one, and they offer some fantastically full-flavoured, rich and tangy coffees. You can also get some really great breakfast here – try the smoothie bowls.

Laynes Espresso, Leeds

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I’m noticing that it’s a good year for green/blue coffee cups, but this one bucks the trend with a classic pure white. Heading north now, and right into the centre of Leeds to Laynes Espresso. A tiny little coffee bar, but squeeze in and you will get yourself one of the most beautiful, rich, creamy flat whites you can find anywhere in the country. Also, exceptionally good avocado on toast, if that sort of thing floats your ice cream!

North Tea Power, Manchester

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Staying in the north for this one, this cute little flat white can be found at North Tea Power, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. A couple of years ago, I found myself regularly up in the North West for work, and often used to retreat here in the early mornings for some toast and a coffee. It’s a lovely, friendly cafe and one of those places that always seems full of interesting people. I also last went there the morning after Cosmosis Festival back in March, and they were playing basically the full Brian Jonestown Massacre back catalogue in their stereo (BJM headlined Cosmosis), which ticks all the boxes in my book.

Caravan, London (Kings X)

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Back to the south. I love Caravan for its consistently excellent food, drink, and the generally all round good atmosphere that always exists in the Kings Cross branch. They roast their own coffee and do one of my favourite blends (‘Special-Bru’), which is delightfully fruity. I always make sure I take a bag home whenever I’m there. I’ve included this particular flat white, which I had back in February, because it should at least probably win best latte art of 2016 for that swan!

Small Street Espresso, Bristol

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My home city, like my adopted city, has some great coffee. Small Street Espresso is one of my favourites and the one I find myself going back to time and time again. Another tiny little cafe, but with an astonishingly wide range of coffee options. Good cakes too.

Cartwheel Cafe and Roastery, Nottingham

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And finally, if there were a first prize in the SLWFW Coffee Awards, I think this would be it. Cartwheel is a pure joy and to my mind one of the best places in Nottingham right now. Owner Alex, also formerly of Beeston’s The Bean, has created a beautiful Australian-European style cafe with a full kitchen dishing up wonderful breakfasts, brunches and lunches, and of course exceptional coffee. This little beauty in the photo bought a little sunshine to a grey day of Christmas shopping in December, but is just one in a long line of wonderful flat whites and cortados I have had at Cartwheel over the past few months. Long may the line continue!

Thanks to all the above for making the awards such a joy this year! Honorable mentions should also go to Outpost (Nottingham), Wired (Nottingham), 200 Degrees (Nottingham), Workshop (London) and Monmouth (London).

Also I should probably thank the Apple Photos app on my iPhone/Macbook, for very helpfully being able to tell me the address at which each of the above photos were taken, and therefore helping me sort between 20-odd very similar photos of flat whites in green/blue coffee cups.