This post post appears a bit early and the next one will be on Sunday 19th February


I have been missing out on important things to a lamentable extent lately . Only recently have I learnt about the ominous pan-European vegetable crisis and the fact that strict rationing has started in UK supermarkets. The augustly named ‘British Leafy Salads Association’ whose boss is called Dieter Lloyd (a bit fishy eh, as opposed to leguminous, with that Teutonic and unBritish handle?) has been making itself heard, and now Tesco has put an embargo on more than 3 iceberg lettuces and 3 heads of broccoli being purchased by any one individual.  Morrison’s have countered with a pitiless maximum of 2 icebergs per punter, and LIDL meanwhile have declared that the price of an iceberg has gone up from 42p to £1.19, an increase of almost 300%.

All this is classic arseways about logic, of course. No individual in their right mind (restaurant owners and family fruiterers usually drive at the crack of dawn to city markets and wholesalers) would think about buying 3 supermarket icebergs which taste exactly like wet lawnmower grass crossed with sawdust and celery, unless they had been put into panic mode by the supermarkets. It is the same when a bread crisis is threatened and everyone is trying to buy 100 loaves, most of which will be turfed out mouldy once the crisis stops, and as if in fact to counter the wisdom of Scripture by asserting that man really does live by bread alone. More worryingly for me, 2 weeks ago when I was in the UK and staying in Suffolk and Leeds, I had a hell of a job finding aubergines anywhere, though I had no idea why. I wanted to make a sumptuous Indian spread for my daughter Ione and for lovely Jan, and it was like looking for gold in Leeds’ massive and enjoyable indoor market, trying to find decent sized brinjals. In the end, at a Middle Eastern stall, I had to take baby aubergines which you can only handily stuff Gujerati-style by making 3 or 4 cuts along their length and then rubbing a fancy masala including coconut, mango powder, hing (asafoetida to you, and an eerie botanical name if ever there was) and turmeric…whereafter, you stew them in a frying pan for an eternity in vegetable oil and yoghurt. Ditto on the Saturday, when the three of us met some of Ione’s oldest pals in Harehills, a lively cosmopolitan part of Leeds full of Kurdish grocers and Ethiopian eateries, and the Kurds could likewise only provide baby aubergines, though as far as I know they are not part of Kurdish cuisine. Once back in Suffolk, Jan and I failed to score any eggplants at all in the massive Bungay Coop and in the end, it was in a small family grocers in nearby Beccles where Jan successfully purchased 2 beautiful whoppers at a cost of £5.50, meaning dearer than salmon steaks or trout fillets and proof that crisis yes indeed there was, though again I had no reason why (by the way, if you think that Beccles and Bungay, both small Suffolk towns, cannot be real places, and must be where Enid Blyton’s Noddy comes from, you are wrong in the first instance and right in the second).

Incredibly, around 80% of all of Europe’s off-season vegetables come from Southern Spain, especially Murcia. The winter there like everywhere else in Europe has been dreadful, and just as there has been snow in the Cyclades including Kythnos, so Spain has had its vegetable fields drenched and destroyed. Hence my exhausting quest for eggplants all over the UK, though it still doesn’t explain why the best ones were not to be found in bustling ethnic Leeds but in quaint little Beccles which is about as ethnic and cosmopolitan as deepest West Cumbria, my, in every sense, monochromatic home area.

Another and altogether bizarre culinary enigma was evident in Norwich, the extremely handsome and atmospheric capital of East Anglian Norfolk, which has an extensive outdoor market in the city centre, though sadly dozens of the numerous stalls were closed up, presumably defunct. Half way through our wandering around the winding streets, which included inspecting excellent antique fairs and 2nd hand CD shops selling imported jazz, God bless them, I suddenly awoke from a weird reverie and said to Jan that I had seen a startling ten or more signs, both in the restaurants and on random lampposts and notice boards all over the city, promoting exclusively vegan meals and vegan nutrition in the city. Vegan breakfasts, vegan lunches, vegan specials, vegan guesthouses, vegan weekends, vegan diet lectures, you couldn’t get away from the seeming monopoly, just as in former days you couldn’t avoid garish UK pub ads for T bone steaks, or even earlier than that, and the gorge rises at the thought of it, chicken in a bloody basket, ugh, where the basket always tasted better than the chicken. I asked Jan what it was all in aid of, was there some massive Norwich vegan festival starting up, and she said no, no, and explained, reasonably enough, that veganism was now suddenly all the rage and presumably it was like this in every fashionable city in the UK.

But that was the mystery. Only last April walking past the numerous restaurants and cafes  of several attractive areas of North London, there was no sign at all of any vegan promotional campaign, and in mid-January when Ione, Jan and I were wandering round fashionable Leeds with its Harvey Nicks, glamorous dockland development and state of the art designer chip shops where you can pay for fish and chips at £10 a head with American Express, again there were no hints of any vegan efflorescence. The point is that veganism as opposed to vegetarianism, takes an admirably pure and ethical dietary stance, where you not only eschew meat and fish but all dairy products, plus eggs, and if you are really serious, only wear shoes made of plastic and not of animal hide leather. I admire vegans very much, but sadly I cannot do without my milk and cream and butter and eggs, and I have only once tasted vegan yoghurt and was rooted in painful existential consternation at the experience. It had an overwhelming flavour of stale vanilla and just possibly very diluted Camp coffee. That said I have a Scottish friend, a Greenock woman whose brother runs a vegan restaurant in Glasgow, and she tells me it is of such gourmet repute that you have to book for weeks ahead. I have also heard of meat eaters who regularly go vegan for a week or so, in an attempt to cleanse and tone themselves up so to speak in the struggle for fitness and longevity.

And of course, wherever there are controversial ethics, there are always to be found media celebrities, and one of these is the redoubtable and admirable film actor Woody Harrelson (born 1961). Woody is a celebrity vegan, raw foodist and political activist, and you may remember him as a barman in the TV series Cheers between 1985-1993, or as the shrewd and dry bounty hunter with the stetson in No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers 2007 masterpiece. Though best of all was when he was to be seen as one of the serial killer-hunting sleuths in the first TV series of True Detective (2014) alongside his colleague, another virtuoso actor Matthew McConaughey (born 1969). The meditative and philosophical if understated dialogue between these two, as they drove together on their quest to get the lunatic killer was so good, you simply wanted to cheer as you watched it, glued as you were to the screen.

Woody’s activist profile is so high that he has appeared on US stamps as one of 20 famous veggies (let’s hope that celebrity vegetarian Adolf Hitler wasn’t one of the others). He has also been named by PETA = People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as ‘one of the sexiest vegetarians of 2012’ (five years ago, I myself, against massive competition,  won the highly-esteemed NE Cumbrian version of this trophy you might wish to know) alongside film star Jessica Chastain (born 1977) of Kathryn Bigelow’s acclaimed thriller Zero Dark Thirty (2012) fame.

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