Is This the Best Burger in the World?

We’ve all been asked that question: ‘What’s the best burger you’ve ever had?’

If you’ve been to the adrenaline junkie hub of New Zealand – Queenstown, then it’s more than likely Fergburger would be up there in your considerations. And what’s not to love about a burger joint that’s open to satisfy your potential 4:30am munchies?

Open 21 hours of the day, this hunger-crushing heaven seems to have gained reputation as the gold standard of burger houses not only in New Zealand, but internationally. And I’d be first to raise my hand to vote Ferg #1 (make that two hands), as even the classic  Ferg is utter mouth bliss with their genius combination of tender meat, soft buns and that sweet, sweet aioli (cue drooling).

Whatever various health-related hold-backs you have, throw caution to the wind and abandon them for one perfect night with one of these bad boys. Tucking cautiously into half of one of these guys was – albeit at doctor’s instructions – my first baby step into breaking over three years of vegetarianism, and I can say it definitely set a high standard for further reintroduction of meat. That said, I hear the vego options here would give the carnivores a run for their money.

If you’re beyond that simple life and game enough (*cough* intoxicated enough) for a feast, prep yourself for one of the Big Als. This monster isn’t even part of the main menu, and sits not-so-humbley at the bottom of the page waiting for some worthy soul to step up and attempt to consume a tower of burger bliss.

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The Big Al. Image via Google

If you time your plan of attack well enough, it’s possible to avoid the often hour-long queue from fellow burger enthusiasts. There are generally two lulls in the constant stream of hungry travellers (let’s be real – there are virtually no actual Kiwis in Queenstown): the first being around 10:30am when the breakfast burger goers are all nursing their food babies or getting out early to suss out their activity game plan. You want to get in that line before people’s early lunch hunger kicks in, so plan for a solid brunch burger. Then the dinner rush seems to extend till around 9:30, and the wise drunks who’ve decided to soak up their night’s efforts and succumb to those Ferg cravings come out around midnight, causing burger-tantrum-inducing wait times. 11pm is perfect for minimising the suspense so you can sink your teeth into one of these legends and avoid any serious burger withdrawal symptoms.

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Burger with a view?

Best burger in the world? Let’s just say my plans to go back to Queenstown in ski season aren’t just for the skiing…

“Do You Even Lift?” The invisible issue that we’re not addressing

Sexual objectification of women. How many times so far this year have you heard that issue get raised? Infinite? Me too.

So much of current social awareness seems to be focused on the relentless objectification of women, and the measures we can take to prevent this. While I am all for the removal of this objectification, I can’t help but feel that there might be another side of this issue that we’re overlooking.
Every. Single. Day.

Sexual objectification of men. I said it. We’re living in a society where “do you even lift” and gym culture are the norm. Many issues are raised about the need for more realistic representations of women in the public eye, but don’t we see that this should work both ways?

If we look at the image of something as trivial as children’s toys, the difference is so blindingly obvious. Barbie. Side-stepping the hilarious fact that the inspiration for this iconic ‘50s doll was actually based on a German doll designed for adult men – not children, the toy has has been resized, ditching the “implausible proportions” of their previous dolls, to “better reflect the diversity of the product’s audience”. Barbie is now complete with “solid thighs, a waist able to accommodate vital internal organs and biceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling”, with the thigh gap “officially gone”. While this is undeniably great for the image of women, show me the resizing of the Ken Doll, or show me any man doll without ripped abs and bulging biceps. We’re so worried about presenting unrealistic bodies for women, but what about the pressures of body expectations that young, growing, and adult men face too?

This is the era of Marvel films. It’s the era of superhero bombardment into our media left, right and centre. And it’s not just superheroes; male protagonists on the screen and in the public eye are expected to be ripped. Little boys and girls are flooded with images of men who have spent months preparing for a role. There is an oversaturation every day of shirtless men whose bodies consume all their time. The recognisable, lanky physique of SpongeBob has made a comeback in the new movie, but now features huge muscles. Being on the low end of the muscle spectrum just isn’t represented in the media, but that doesn’t seem to be as ludicrous as it is about women. Curves are in for us. Kim Kardashian’s glorious behind is celebrated, plus-size models are endorsed, but what’s the equivalent? Where’s the “embrace your figure” attitude towards men who don’t fit a mould?

We need to address this. Too often it’s brushed off as a joke. Women seem to be able to share how they’re feeling about these issues – full support at the ready, but we still appear to have the “man up” attitude when it comes to how men are actually feeling. The number of times I’ve opened up about how I feel about this to my male friends is countless, and the number of times I’ve heard them open up about body image to me, or other dudes, is approaching zero. And what would be said anyway? “Feeling low about your body image? Why don’t you just go to the gym then?”

When you find out a woman has been suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, it’s such a delicate and supported issue – and rightly so. But these obsessive, overly disciplined, and often exceptionally unhealthy behaviours are paralleled so frequently in the gym-junkie lifestyle, without the same concern, but rather with expectation and encouragement. It is expected that men go to the gym. It is expected that men work out – often for over four hours a day, and at the expense of friends, family, work and commitments because of the standards of what’s “attractive”. “Buff” is now the standard, and extreme is commended.

Surely it’s this unhealthy mindset filled with pressures and expectations of a possibly unachievable standard that we’re trying so hard to fight. The movement towards a more diverse selection of female models is ever present, yet male models are almost exclusively shredded. Where is their diversity? I saw a billboard last week displaying a male underwear model with no ridiculously chiselled form.

This shouldn’t be novelty. This shouldn’t make my jaw drop through the floor.

Too often I hear women in the street discussing how hot some guy is across the road. Of course he’s ripped etc. How are men affected when they hear women saying these things about someone who’s just spent their entire afternoon in the gym?

We’re so hyperaware of how women are affected by objectification, but it’s time to extend that respect and sensitivity towards our men.

Multiculturalism: 2 Aussies in a Russian-Inhabited Portuguese City in India

 

A quick Google search of “Goa” will show you this:

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Image via Google

Pretty nice right? You drooling too? Those White sandy beaches featuring palm trees and relaxed, clean vibes aren’t the only things to behold in this southern state of India. There is much more character to the vibrant ocean-side culture than displayed on the beach, and the area’s fascinating Portuguese architecture alone is reason to put your shoes and helmet on and stray inland.

My own first impression of Goa was being chased down a dark highway at 10:30 at night by an angry taxi driver who was determined to drive us to our hostel (NB: don’t express interest in one taxi driver, and then tell him later that you’ve found another way – turns out Goa airport takes their employees’ opportunities quite seriously. A suggestion would be to research every other transport option before you arrive, only falling to the horrendous airport taxi prices as a last resort).

In Goa, drug dealers seem to be as common and persistent as street vendors in crowded Mumbai – where else would you be offered “LSD or ecstasy for you, my friend” when in a traffic jam on your motor bike? (It would have been easier to ignore this had I been wearing a helmet – another of Goa’s cheeky dismissals of safety.) As a result of this easy access to nevertheless “prohibited” substances, the taxi driver we did end up escaping with (literally, we jumped into the car, locked the doors and yelled “GO” as we could see the angry airport employee running down the road), was quite content speeding along to deafening trance music while blowing puffs of his hand-rolled marijuana joint out into the Goan night/my sleepy face in the back seat.

After an hour of swerving down narrow, windy backstreets at midnight, we pulled up outside a 50s style yellow set of buildings in the bush. Much like the position of accomodation one would expect a horror movie protagonist to enter. It turns out much of Goa has a similar outback feel to it, and there aren’t really big cities in the same way there are in the other states, making it an ideal getaway.

There are, however, denser areas with amazing architecture of Portuguese influence. On route to the “Church of Immaculate Conception” (turns out it’s actually not an IVF clinic), we were stopped by “police” who were suspiciously only pulling over white people to check their licenses. My intuition says that even if we had been carrying our Australian licenses, we still would have been charged the $30 “fine” (or bribe – it’s hard to be sure).

I found that Goans, along with many other Indians I’ve been fortunate enough to come across, are excellent cooks. Every aloo (potato) dish I encountered in Goa was outstanding, and as I always examine milkshake standards, I discovered they too got a double thumbs up (unlike other areas of the country).

That said, ice cream vendors were a different story… I passed on every ice block I bought to my boyfriend for fear of permanently scarring my tastebuds, and was not impressed at the vendor’s attempts to short-change us (CHECK YOUR CHANGE!). As with other parts of India travelled, there seems to be some communication difficulty with the word “orange”. Apparently it is synonymous with “mandarin”, and if, like me, mandarins make you gag while oranges are liquid heaven, steer clear of “orange juice”. Apart from that, the communication was surprisingly ok, except when the kind people at the train station tried to poison me by sprinkling peanuts onto my rice, despite written and verbal assurance in both English and Hindi of my peanut allergy. I was waved away and brought a separate bowl of rice, while they left the peanuts in front of me. An interesting approach.

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Happy Anaphylaxis!

If there’s one thing Indians are not known for, it’s their alcohol. With a predominantly Hindu population, this is entirely understandable, but given that I tried repeatedly on the beaches of Goa to amend this common theme, it must have slipped my mind continuously. If I were to offer one piece of advice to fellow Goa explorers, it would be not to touch the alcohol unless you pour it yourself (the $2 bottle of rum we shared with our Russian neighbour as we practised the art of communication was delightful). Hopefully the only time I’ll ever secretly tip my cocktail over the wall of a beachside bar was in Goa. As it’s safer than the water, it seemed like a good idea to continue trying their drinks, including the local “fenny”, which has claimed first prize in the definition of “vile”. We were unsure if “Rainbow Bar” just served us toilet cleaner, though, by the state of the toilet, I’d assume toilet cleaner isn’t something they come across often. Maybe they should use the fenny for it and save everyone the two awful experiences.

At least the Goans can drive. Or can they? As it wouldn’t really be travelling if no one left their passport somewhere, we had to make the 90 minute taxi ride between our hostel and the airport three times in twelve hours. This included a road trip at 2 am with a car that shouldn’t have been on the road, a visually-impaired driver who stayed above 100 km/hr even in the concealed, windy back roads (sports bras can only do so much when you go over speed bumps at this speed), and barely missing a cow on the highway.

Despite the madness of Goa, I found myself instantly missing the warmth of the Indian ocean and the super relaxed atmosphere as soon as we left. A beautiful and exciting adventure for any fellow wanderlust victims.

Sand, Stars and the Space In-between

Have you ever seen one of those cliché coming of age movies? You know, the ones where a mellow song comes on just as the protagonist is staring out of the car window questioning life pensively? Well, much of my three-week bus trip from Zambia to Cape Town was a constant priceless movie moment. The wild, African roadside was the setting, and I was the stargazing traveller.

Days after days of watching country-sized game parks fly by the window, and observing giraffes gently grazing by the side of the road led me to fall head over heels in love with Africa. About a week into the trip, I entered Namibia – a golden, duney land of desert that is home to ‘Mad Max Fury Road’, and a sizeable segment of my heart.

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While preparing for the impending heat, we were warned about the necessity of hats and sunscreen, and most importantly, water. Lots and lots of water. Every two days or so, we would stop at a store and have to buy at least one five-litre water container each. Hydration was even more vital in the desert (three hours was the ballpark given to us for survival time without this precious liquid).

During the briefing at our campsite one night, our fellow travellers enquired as to how much shade there would be, the quality of hand-dug latrines, and tactical escape plans from encounters with deadly scorpions (eternally grateful for tent zippers). It was thrilling to say the least. Camping at its finest.

Now imagine that scene from Jaws where the townspeople are discussing their plans to deal with the shark, and the eerie but experienced bad guy from the back forewarns them of the tragedies that may ensue. It was like that as one of the Dutch girls in our trip spoke up to caution us about the desert.

“Some people lose themselves in the desert… They go insane… They just can’t take all that raw, open space, and it drives them to madness…”

If I’d had a mouthful, I would have gulped. It was terrifying.

But despite the warnings, the next leg of our trip proved to be the most exhilarating travel I’ve experienced yet. The endless hours of watching the glare bounce off uninhabited, illuminated, sun-scorched, red earth in every direction for as far as my eyes could see.

Key expectations from an African adventure:

  • Layers of sand on top of sweat on top of bug spray on top of sunscreen on top of more sweat.
  • Getting stage fright when trying to pee behind the truck when on the road.
  • Sunrise and sunset yoga in bikinis atop wildlife viewing towers while your washing dries in seconds from the intense dryness of the air.
  • Watching out for scorpions when you need to relieve yourself during the night
  • A canvas of stars so vivid and unaffected by light pollution that Van Gogh himself would surely trek to the desert with paintbrush and easel at the ready
  • Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn in upwards of 40 degree heat
  • Sunbathing on mattresses in the middle of the desert at sunset (with ample supply of ‘Savannah’ beer)
  • Learning how to make fire with natives
  • Trudging aimlessly (and slightly deliriously) across the desert with no guide, map or water supply, but merely the directional gesture of a local driver

 

It was somewhat frustrating on the drive to and from Spitzkoppe (that magical word still gives me chills). My tent buddy and I were unfortunately at the back of the bus as we drove along the very bumpy and long dirt road between the main road and the towering dunes. The frequent and painful lurches of the bus kept causing my earphones to dislodge themselves, disrupting my movie-moment-window-gazing bliss (and the stomach contents of one of the poor Germans). Once the pure-hearted had proved their worthiness by managing to endure the hour-long road hurdle, they would find themselves in the middle of the Namib desert, surrounded by Mad Max-style splendour like no other. It was surprising that I found such bewildering beauty in this place that was so bare and expansive. Hello insights! The peaks were surprisingly easy to climb, and we took full advantage of this by perching ourselves high above the sparse trees to behold a flawless sunset. Incomprehensible distance existed at every angle: our vision only hindered by the natural curvature of the planet.

 

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Cue epiphinal moment #846 from this trip. You know how people argue over whether it’s black with white stripes or white with black stripes? What we witnessed in the sky this particular night would no doubt be considered a white backdrop with fleeting moments of darkness, as the celestial glow that lit up the Sossusvlei as we sat (wide-eyed, stunned, and possibly being nibbled by scorpions) outshone every inch of empty night space. Stargazing in silent awe, we literally tilted our heads from side to side, trying to take in the sheer number of stars that was spread across 180 degrees of African sky.

 

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We continued to be exposed to this splendour long into the night where, in our sand-infested tents, our unobstructed stargazing blurred into existential questioning. Somewhere amidst all the sleepy “what is life” moments and shooting star anticipation, I fell into the most restful sleep in this magical, star-kissed land.

 

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Untouched and unforgettable

Indian Toilet Situations

I’m quite confident when home in Sydney that I can ask any shop, restaurant, or pub if I can use their bathroom and they’ll accommodate. Maybe the hook on the door will be broken off, or there won’t be a handle to grab and slide on the lock. Perhaps the half flush won’t work and I’ll be obligated to use the full flush button, but that’s about as horrific as it gets.

 

When I was being grilled by friends and family about the dangers of India, no one seemed concerned about the toilet standards or warned me of the traumas that would result when nature called…

 

A few days before boarding the plane, I discovered the Indian custom of toilet-going. As I understand it, the standard is to use the “left hand method”. Basically this is an absence of toilet paper, in place for using a cup of water and one’s left hand. I was petrified when I discovered this and ran to the bathroom cupboard to cram full toilet rolls into my backpack for fear of being stranded in a cubicle by the side of the road, merely with a bucket and cup. For this reason, there were countless times where I exited the toilet and ran, as I had disobeyed the “no paper in toilet” sign. I have definitely disrupted the sensitive Indian sewerage system.

 

Upon arriving in Mumbai, I determined this anarchy must be myth, as the airport toilets were quite western (apart from the curious hose next to the paper dispenser – which I later found out to be a bidet). This familiarity did not last long. From there on, it was stealing napkins from restaurants, asking hostels for paper supplies, and rationing my tissue packets. And you can forget about soap. If ever in India, note how everyone you see (including the cooks) only really put their right hands near the food…

 

I had been wondering what the poor Indian women did when there was no paper, but after having to stop on the bus ride from Udaipur to Jodhpur, I found out…

 

Let me preface this incident with an overshare of my toilet habits: I am a big utkatasana fan (“chair pose” in yogi terms – think epic squat). I don’t think I’ve had direct contact with a public toilet seat for any of my adult life thus far. No. Just no. So as you can probably imagine then, I’m not afraid of those non-western squatting toilets, of which there are many in India. Where I do find trouble however, is when women are expected to hang out in their burning quads, waiting to dry in the polluted Indian breeze.

 

But surely that’s just highway toilets right? Wrong. The “public” toilets in Jodhpur were just that: public. Imagine your worst squatter toilet nightmare, then minus the cubicle door. Then add a population density of 383 per square kilometre featuring lovely main street views. I suppose I did want to learn more about Indian men and women…

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When you are fortunate enough to find a four-walled bathroom with a ceiling, it requires a certain level of contortionism to use.

 

And it gets worse. After the evening bus ride to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, I concluded that the nicest toilet facilities I’d seen on the trip were the luxurious aeroplane ones. Squatter toilets and no paper is one thing, but no toilets in the cubicle is a whole other level. I have no problem with relieving myself in the bush – my experiences using the African “bush toilets” (think private foliage and shovel) were infinitely more pleasant than the collection of unearthly sights and smells I beheld at this particular pit stop…

 

Imagine an outdoor diner bustling with Indians enjoying their evening meal. I was pointed towards a roofless concrete building the size of your classic Aussie shed, whose walls barely came up to my nose. Of the two “cubicles” inside, the first was clearly a shower or something else as it was empty except for a small puddle in the corner. I decided I’d be more comfortable in the second cubicle anyway as it was further inside the complex, which could make up for the absence of doors. If I was quick, I could squat, throw my paper in the unfortunate plumbing, and leg it. There was, however, no item in this room either… There was a similar puddle in the corner though, funnelling out through a crack in the wall. It took me several painful seconds of doubt and “oh dear God, please no!” before I settled on this peak disrespect of basic human hygiene. I looked around the corner, and down the little concrete hall to check for any encroaching toilet-goers, and then went for it. And as though young, blonde women travelling in India don’t get enough stares, I felt the familiar sense of eyes on me and realised I’d attracted the attention of some old Indian women, and possibly a young boy, who had gathered to have a peep into my cubicle. Inspected in my most vulnerable time, bare-bottomed and in severe bladder distress. Given the choice, I would absolutely rather my boyfriend’s pit-stop experience: being shown to the garbage tip out the back of the diner, and then watched by the bus driver until his stage fright led him to retreat back to the bus awkwardly.

 

After the horrors were over, I bolted from the smelly scene at full speed, back to the safety of the bus. There is not enough hand sanitizer in the world to restore my cleanliness or dignity.

 

I can safely say that my appreciation for Australian toilet standards is endless.

Why breaking veganism has made me a happier vegan

#vegan.

There’s still a decent amount of stigma associated with that word.

It’s a much-hyped trend, and causes substantial eye-rolling from parents, doctors, and anyone else sick of the latest restrictive diet.

I was vegan for over a year, and breaking it for a while has proved to be extremely beneficial in adapting to it again for the following reasons:

Firstly, it’s amazingly eye-opening being on the non-vegan side of things.

When you’re part of such an exclusive group, I think it’s easy to become ignorant of what else is going on: how people view you and how you should view others who have made different choices from yours. Experiencing how myself and other animal-product-consumers treat those that have chosen an animal-free way of life made me realise how much of a rift I had created in my own head. Turns out that non-vegans generally are not intolerant to our plant-based buddies or their choices, but are often quite open-minded with curious attitudes towards the lifestyle.

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The stereotype is real. And delicious. Thank you “Sexy Food” Cape Town!

On my two-month trip to Africa last year, I made sure to keep my mouth shut as much as possible about my dietary decisions so as not to come across as “ramming it down their throats” (thanks mum, does she realise the pun?), however, due to my awful stereotype-filling at the cafeteria which featured much salad, rice and potatoes on my plate, word got out and I got a lot of questions. By that stage I had existed egg and dairy-free (and nut and wheat-free, but that’s a different story) for over a year and was used to the instantly confused and very defensive responses I usually got from non-vegans, which often included unwarranted excuses for why they themselves couldn’t do that: “I just can’t because of my iron”, “protein is just too important to me” or “but cheeseburgers!” I have literally had a doctor reprimand me for my inconsiderate eradication of a potent source of calcium (before he checked my blood results to see that everything was perfectly fine and I wasn’t at death’s door).

Naturally, the second I stop, everyone I know starts turning vegan or vegetarian or “mindful” of their meat intake (nice timing universe). It’s wonderful that there is such growing acceptance of this and it makes it so much easier to feel supported in the community. So a support network makes all the difference for sure.

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Making this vegan oreo cake for a party where most where keen to ditch dairy and choose coconut (eternally grateful that oreos are vegan)
During my break, I realised how easy it is to feel intimidated and judged by someone who is making substantial effort. Somehow after living this very lifestyle for yonks, I can end up feeling defensive myself for why I am not living that way. It can definitely be challenging and I think that can be intimidating to those who have not made a similar choice. Especially in a society where our focus has swung so heavily towards environmental awareness, such a commitment is quite commendable, and I think this may be a potential threat to some egos.

So I’ve absolutely learnt how to go about discussing it, as I’ve now experienced what it feels like to be the non-vegan in the conversation. There is a lot less hate between vegans and non-vegans than I had created in my head.

I think round two will be better practically as well because I have learnt from my mistakes from last time. Making such a big change is not something that should be done instantly, and is certainly not always as easy as it seems. There is a transition period, and having watched several friends go through this period, I can now see how valuable it is to avoid an extreme or yoyo kind of attitude towards it.

The first time I went vegan, it was a snap decision after watching the film “Earthlings”. I had been vegetarian for a year and it was easy to make the switch emotionally. My choice was almost entirely ethically-focused and so was fuelled predominantly by a passionate anger. I was confused, resentful, and absolutely judgmental for many months – of others and myself- and it broke my heart that people I respected for their intellect and caring nature had not come to the same conclusion. This difference in habit affected my relationship with my mum at times. For a while all other values got put on hold and many uncalled for comments like “great, it smells like dead animal in here again” were thrown her way.

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A true cafe staple. If you don’t smother your toast in both avocado and Vegemite, are you really Australian?

Combined with my competitive nature, veganism was, in some aspects, a frustrated girl who was seeing how long she could go without touching dairy and trying not to break that perfect streak. Coming back to it a second time is based on logic and productivity. This makes sense to me, and I know it’s doable, gently. The decision is not emotionally-charged, and I’ve realised that “vegan” is not a trait that defines someone. It is simply a lifestyle choice that is easily “broken” – accidentally or otherwise- and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, that you don’t care about the environment or that you hate animals. Some of the most kind-hearted and loveable people I’ve met can tuck into a cheeseburger like there’s no tomorrow – and that’s ok! I love them for what’s inside and not what’s on their plate.

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Helloooo Zambia! That feeling when the only thing you can have is “chips and salad please”…

I also feel like I have a healthier attitude towards dairy and egg products. No they’re not “bad” or “gross”, nor do they make those who consume them “bad” or “gross”. I can put them in my body if I choose to, and it will function just fine.

Having this more rounded view of it means I’m fully able to laugh at veganism, make fun of it and accept it for what it is: a social and environmental movement, dietary fad, and Instagram hashtag. Yes I will embrace the beautifully cringey jokes and memes: “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Because they tell you!” Yes I still appreciate the smell of bacon and barbecues and will make sure my friends keep giving me whiffs of their steaks.

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Cape Town was MUCH more accomodating…
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How many probiotics can we fit in ONE bowl?
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If you’re vegan then you are automatically a health addict and automatically are obsessed with quinoa… right?

In round two, I’ve been reminded of how convenient it is that this pretty much cuts out all the junk… Since most overly-processed, plastic-wrapped, sugar-laden, and eight-line-ingredient-list foods are generally inclusive of milk products, it certainly makes eating “whole” unavoidable. I’m not going to say it’s easy all the time though. Not being able to snack on whatever is going can be downright annoying, and cafe-hopping can be a challenge, but being pushed to learn how to cook proper, balanced meals from scratch is never going to be a bad skill.

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Vegan ways have opened my eyes to this super easy brekkie: overnight oats. They take 20 seconds to prepare the night before and are YUM

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Experimenting with pasta (aka food of the gods) and grilled eggplant. Who says vegan is just boring salads?
That said, it is definitely not a miracle. I come across so many articles about how veganism “fixed” everything. Yes, a lot of things are going to change and hopefully improve if you replace a steady source of slow-to-digest products that are high in saturated fat with whole grains and veggies, but claiming that it makes hair grow more or that it can cure cancer just seems ridiculous. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this journey so far, it’s that you have to listen to your body. If it seriously craves yoghurt, give it yoghurt. Everyone is different. Maybe veganism will make one person’s nails weak, and another person’s eyes twinkle. Maybe several serves of bacon per day will make someone’s split ends vanish forever. I’ve met people who have quit animal products and their skin has gone crazy! I’m talking acne flare-ups having a field day all day every day…

We all respond differently and at the end of the day aren’t we all just trying to work out what works best for us?

So with a hopefully more realistic and open-minded view of this lifestyle, and more respect for other people’s choices and my health –both body and mind- I embrace round two of this vegan adventure.

Now, where’s that lettuce at…?

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What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

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Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

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Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.

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#health

When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

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Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

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Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.