Why do I live in the UK? ‘The vendetta waged against vegetarians’

From the Independent in December last year: Raw deal! The vendetta waged against vegetarians

A new survey reveals that diners who don’t eat meat are dished up a poor choice by high street restaurants. But it’s all too true, says Martin Hickman, our consumer affairs correspondent, who became a vegetarian 18 years ago and is fed up with being offered boring cheese bakes…
A lack of effort and imagination characterises the failing of vegetarian food in Britain.
It isn’t a problem of availability, generally. Apart from the countryside, pubs, or an Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse, you can almost always find something a vegetarian can eat.
No, the problem is that the lone, sad “vegetarian option” is there because the restaurant is expecting to serve a lone, sad vegetarian. It is not meant to be delicious; it is perfunctory it ticks the box.

But, as Ethical Consumer magazine has found in a new survey, most high street restaurants are emphatically unimpressive when it comes to vegetarian food. The author, Sarah Irving, writes in the January edition: “Vegetarianism is a fairly mainstream dietary choice nowadays… so it is surprising and depressing how poorly vegetarians and especially vegans are served in chain restaurants.”

My emphasis above. I guess I’ll never really understand it – it’s as if chefs in the UK have a huge blind spot when it comes to vegetarian food. So many places don’t go beyond ‘take the meat out and serve what’s left, which is a real shame because other countries manage to produce amazing vegetarian food. If Montreal can combine a French and English heritage with an open imagination to come up with tasty veggie meals, why can’t they manage it here?
Anyway. It’s not like food is generally amazing here anyway, though it gets better all the time, and in the meantime, check out The New Vegetarian column in the Guardian (and go to Ottolenghi’s for properly amazing salads when you’re in London).

Montreal and London

Montreal was really quite cool. Lots of restaurants, cafes, bars… good museums, live music. I met some ace people, and had too many late nights. The nicest (i.e. shabbiest) cafes are the ones with free wifi, and I basically spent my first two days there soaking up the sun. Later the weather turned cold but that sun was worth it.
I’ve come back to lots of grey London skies that are barely distinguishable from the grey buildings, and news of the mole man. At different times that place has been on my route home, and I always hate walking past that house. Not because I think the footpath is going to cave in, but there’s something about the intensity of his life that hurries my steps.
Walking home one night this week, I saw three homeless men on a bench. The one at the edge was cradling a man sitting on the ground like a pieta with added Red Stripe.

Rudd says, go home

I missed this cos I was away but it would have been ace to go and bear witness to his Ruddness. OTOH, fat chance I’m going home any time soon.
Go home, Rudd tells expats in London

What was one of the hottest gigs in London this week? Kevin Rudd’s lecture at the London School of Economics on Monday.
A thousand people, largely expatriates, attended and all tickets were snapped up within 15 minutes. Another 300 people queued outside, hoping for a spot.
Mr Rudd, half in jest, urged the 200,000 Australians living in London to think of returning home, or at least contribute ideas, via the internet, for the 2020 summit the weekend after next.
Time overseas was “time well spent”, he said. “I know it’s great being here but we need you back home, too: there’s a lot of things to do, big challenges. If you choose to stay here, I’ll be speaking to [the British Prime Minister] Gordon [Brown] to make sure some of your visas are revoked.”

(I’d laugh at the last bit if Gordon Brown didn’t already seem so keen to make it harder for evil foreigners to stay in the UK.)
They really were taking submissions for Australia 2020, which is cool.

Montreal so far…

Not that I’ve done much – I’ve realised I probably can’t get any more cash out for a few days while a bank transfer goes through, so it’s places that take credit card or very cheap things only for me! I’m uploading photos to Flickr from my phone as I go so check there for stuff too.
From my phone yesterday: “First impressions of Montreal – I thought the airport was a construction zone, with loads of sand heaps, but it was old snow.
Not the most glam people so far, but earthy and good humoured. Not sure where I got earthy from after only five minutes, to be honest. Maybe the [arrivals area] reunions and slight roughness of aspect?”
I managed a quick dinner last night before passing out – every time I fly, I hate it a little bit more. I had to leave home five hours before my flight to get to the airport on time – ridiculous! Give me a train anyday.

Swapping language skills and making friends for travel…

From the Guardian (with bonus traditional Gruaniad typos, I’ve corrected the URLs below and emailed the editor): Going local in Colombia, a story with some really good links to sites where you can swap language skills, as well as great reason to try it:

I met Luz Marina in London through Gumtree.com, a classified ads site most commonly used for job adverts and house lets, but with less well-known branches for making travel contacts and swapping skills (namely languages). [The direct link for London is http://www.gumtree.com/london/language-tuition_546_1.html] It was the latter that brought Luz Marina and me together.
She became my temporary Spanish teacher and we had a month of conversation practice across numerous London bars and cafes until she went back to Colombia.
Now, one year on, we’re driving around Bogotá together, having lunch in the bohemian Usaquén district and sipping coffee around stylish Parque 93.
It’s not a scenario I would have predicted, but I imagine language lessons have produced many more long-distance friendships. It’s certainly become an increasingly popular thread, with Thai, Russian and Turkish just some of the languages currently offered in exchange for conversation with native English speakers. (See also friendsabroad.com and www.voxswap.com.)
Next week, I hope to take the same concept on the road and use www.mylanguageexchange.com to combine Spanish lessons with seeing Cartagena, Colombia’s colonial gem on the Caribbean coast. Cristobal’s profile says if I meet him he’ll be my “best friend in the whole world”. I’m slightly scared by this level of enthusiasm, but my curiosity about the man behind such a statement is too great to resist.

UK ISPs and ‘Phorm’ issue goes on… is it illegal?

BBC: ‘Illegal’ ad system scrutinised

Technical analysis of the Phorm online advertising system has reinforced an expert’s view that it is “illegal”.
The analysis was done by Dr Richard Clayton, a computer security researcher at the University of Cambridge.
What Dr Clayton learned while quizzing Phorm about its system only convinced him that it breaks laws designed to limit unwarranted interception of data.

Is Australia racist?

Interesting. Based on my experience as an Australian in Europe, Tampa changed how Australia was viewed – I’m not sure how that perception can be repaired, and while it’s heartening to read that ‘Australia generally is one of the least racist countries in the world’, even one ‘pocket of racism’ is too many.
The Age: We’re not racist, but …

There seems to be agreement among the experts that Australia generally is one of the least racist countries in the world. Instead, they point to “pockets of racism” across the country.

But Kevin Rudd’s apology might be the stimulus for changing attitudes towards indigenous Australians. Waleed Aly says it tapped into a sense of unease that perhaps Australians weren’t doing all they could on race. That, he says, suggests that we are aware of the criticism that Australia has problems with racism and that we want to shed that image.
“I would argue that Australia is among the least racist societies on earth,” he says. But he has no doubt that Australia is perceived poorly by other countries on matters of race. He believes past policies on refugees, Tampa, the stolen generations, the White Australia policy, Hansonism and Cronulla have damaged Australia’s reputation — somewhat unfairly.
“The reality of Australian society is complex, but the international vision of Australian society is usually simple.” And superficial.
One leading multiculturalism researcher, the Australian National University’s James Jupp, argues it is the outdated images — of Anzac, of battlers and of the outback — that should be a starting point for change. “Lots of countries have myths that are out of date, in fact most countries do, but it makes people who weren’t born here feel that the country doesn’t belong to them,” he says.