I am lucky to live very close to good local health foods shop. My relationship with it has been strained at times, as they often seem to stock everything except what it was I actually wanted. But today I love them deeply and dearly, for they have started selling the one thing I really wanted. Something which has been very difficult to get hold of outside of North America, and which has taken up a couple of kilos of my baggage allowance on many an occasion. Yes, vital wheat gluten is now available in the UK, approximately a minute from my front door! Not as cheap as buying it in the US, but definitely more convenient. They do mail order too.
Looking at the search terms which bring people to this blog, I’ve noticed a lot them are questions about buying sea vegetables, usually in London.
Now, I don’t live in London, and only visit two or three times a year, but I do know the answer to that question, and it includes general information that can be applied to anywhere.
- Organic and whole foods stores usually have the Clearspring range, which includes the Japanese staples, plus dulse (one of my favourites). Clearspring products are more expensive than many, but the quality is outstanding. There’s a list of stockists online.
- The Japan Centre on Regent Street, next to Mitsukoshi, has the Clearspring range, several Japanese brands plus some obscurities. There is a small cluster of Japanese shops nearby on Brewer Street which also sell a range of sea vegetables.
- Chinese supermarkets are another good source, and there are a number of those in Chinatown. The quality is more variable than in the health food shops or Japanese stores, but there are Chinese supermarkets in many cities.
I do not usually use this blog for political issues, or for discussion of the ethics surrounding veganism. I especially do not use it to discuss religion, but today I will make an exception.
Some religious groups, notably the 7th Day Adventists and some Buddhist organisations, operate vegan businesses. These groups tend to be open about who they are, and you will find material about their beliefs, and how veganism or vegetarianism fits in with them, and yet they tend not to be pushy about them (it would drive away customers, especially me).
They weren’t always so, of course – a quick look at the introductory material in many 19th century vegetarian cookbooks will reveal many pious assertions. While there are always the fringes, these groups are “mostly harmless”, and the businesses primarily staffed by people trying to live by their own principles. There have been allegations of the exploitation of illegal immigrants in some businesses (see the first comment to this entry), but this shit is rife in catering generally.
There are other places that are both by religious groups and are openly used by those groups as a means of recruitment. Again, they’re open about what they’re doing, and I quite simply avoid those restaurants as I find such behaviour incredibly annoying.
There is a third category of business, not limited to the vegan and vegetarian market, which are operated by some of the more dubious religious organisations as a means of raising funds or of gaining access to vulnerable people. They rarely mention this, or will couch it in weasel words, because they know potential customers will be put off. Lists of businesses that are fronts for various organisations of concern can be found easily online.
Today, I learned that special diets foods retailer Goodness Direct is a front for the coercive cult, the Jesus Army (some of the comments might be triggering, so tread carefully if you have issues). Now, this is the type of religious group to which I really object and do not want to fund in any way. Even the Evangelical Alliance won’t have anything to do with them! I haven’t used the site myself, but I know many vegans do and that many vegans also try to use ethical businesses wherever possible.
I am privileged to have a reasonable (for the UK) whole foods shop close to where I live, but for more unusual animal-free products, I have good personal experience of shopping with Vegan Store, which appears to be a small, independent, vegan-owned company.
And now I shall resume normal service. I’m still in Japan thanks to that unpronounceable volcano, and have a backlog of restaurant reviews.
At first sight, the market doesn’t have much to offer the vegan, with an excess of meat stalls, and a couple of cheesemakers. They even have leaflets on the market information stall from the Meat Marketing Board promoting industrially-produced meat! But it’s not all unhealthy stuff, don’t worry.Phantassie is an organic vegetable farm in East Lothian, and they are at the market a couple of times a month. This time round I bought red spring onions, smoked garlic, pea shoots (a green leafy veg), broad beans, white turnips and shiitake. Another regular is East Coast Organics, another East Lothian farm, who are at the market every week. Their stall provided me with a bunch of onions, another of carrots (carrot greens make good soup), one of radishes, a knobbly cucumber (good for Japanese recipes), a red kohlrabi and yellow courgettes. Meanwhile, my partner bought some fantastic plum tomatoes on the vine, and some baby plum tomatoes from the adjacent J & M Craig (one of the last remaining Clyde tomato growers) stall. The aroma from them is fantastic.
A couple of my favourite stalls weren’t there today. Ardnamushrooms grow shiitake and other fungi, and were the source of our organic shiitake block, an experiment in very local food we’d be glad to repeat some time. Carrolls Heritage Potatoes are only there on the first Saturday of the month, when tatties are in season, but they produce potatoes that I like — ones that taste of something. They have blue potatoes, purple potatoes and loads of flavoursome spuds from days of yore. I note they are now selling online, though, and have a stockist in Leith (if I can bear going into a fishmonger — I might have to send himself).All that shopping can be hard work, so we had a couple of snacks whilst there. I ignored him having his pig in a bun (which he complained wasn’t very good – ha!) and chose a spicy noodle soup from the Good Soup Group — the noodles were rice noodles, making the soup both vegan and gluten free. Special dietary requirements seem to be a particular concern at the Good Soup Group, and they try to source everything locally wherever possible. And then there’s The Chocolate Tree, lurking ready to ruin all of your healthy eating intentions. They do a massive range of chocolate bars, vegan chocolate hazelnut spread and vegan chocolate sorbet. The cones for the sorbet are not vegan, but they are more than happy to serve it to you in a cup instead. Messy, and delicious, afterwards my face resembled that of a three-year-old after a bath in cocoa. And I don’t care!