2016 – Animal Activism Year in Review

In the world of animal rights, 2016 has definitely seen some positive changes worldwide. More people are vegan than ever before, and also many vegans have turned to activism to use their voices for animals. It has been my first full year of animal activism, and taking action for animals has became a huge part of my life. Here are some of my proudest achievements from 2016…

Essex Pig Save’s First Vigil

Read about it here.

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This was my first ever save vigil of any kind, and it was in my home county! I have always been a huge supporter of Toronto Pig Save, and was so happy that the Save Movement was expanding to the UK. This was the first of many vigils which went on to occur every month, with a growing team of activists. Our numbers have pretty much doubled since this very first vigil. We were able to bear witness to pigs entering Cheale Meats in Brentwood, Essex, and offer them comfort in any way we could. The next Essex Pig Save vigil will be held on 16th January 2017 – check out the Essex Pig Save Facebook page here for more information.

I Stand with Anita

Read about it here and here.

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This year I got to spend some time with Anita Krajnc and the rest of Toronto Pig Save as I attended a series of vigils in Canada. I also got to cover Anita’s court case, where she was put on trial for feeding water to a pig dying of dehydration. People around the world were horrified that Anita had been charged for simply an act of kindness. The trial talked about a lot more than this one incident, and ended up putting animal agriculture as a whole on trial. The case will be continuing in March 2017. Working with Anita has been a great honour this year, and I look forward to doing a lot more in 2017 to show the world that compassion is not a crime.

Japan – The World is Watching You

Read about it here.

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At the start of this year I took part in the London Against Taiji Dolphin Massacre March. We marched through the streets of London to the Japanese Embassy, using our voices to stand against this barbaric tradition that happens every year in Taiji. Documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove have meant a huge fall in profit for companies such as Seaworld. It’s so important that people know that every time they buy a ticket to a marine park that uses animals for entertainment, or partake in swim with dolphin programmes, they are actively paying for this yearly dolphin slaughter. The workers seek out the ‘Flipper’-like dolphins that have become so popular, while the rest are trapped in the cove to be slaughtered the following morning, and sold as dolphin meat. Many people in Japan don’t even know this is happening. Please don’t be part of it. Boycott Seaworld, marine parks and all swim with dolphin programmes.

Fearman’s ‘Pork’ Show No Mercy

Read about it here.

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Not long after returning from Canada myself, I watched this heartbreaking event live, as it happened, outside Fearman’s ‘Pork’, where I had protested earlier this year. Although the events of that day were completely incomprehensible, the stories of the pigs who died will never be forgotten. The incident gained worldwide media coverage, and people began to question whether eating meat can ever really be humane. A special thanks to all the activists who were at Fearman’s that day, and later organised a candle-lit memorial for all those who suffered such cruelty, all because of human greed.

Vegfest London 2016

Read about it here and on The Vegfest Express.

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In the build up to this year’s Vegfest London, I interviewed some of the speakers appearing at the Vegan Activists Summit – including Kate Strong, Rebecca Fox and Marta Zaraska. I’m so pleased that Vegfest is just getting bigger and better every year. I thought the speakers this year were particularly inspirational, and it was great to listen to such heroes as David Smith MBE talk about how a plant-based diet has changed their lives.

Ink Activism

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This year I also got my first ever tattoos which have been great conversation starters, and have also enabled me to visit some of the best vegan tattoo studios! My first was the animal liberation symbol, which I had done at Fifth Dimension in London. My second was the word ‘compassion’ which I had done at James Spooner’s Monocle Tattoo studio in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I do have the tattoo bug now and have heard of some other great vegan tattoo studios which I plan to check out in 2017!

Protesting with Emily from Bite Size Vegan

Read about it here.

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I attended an Essex Pig Save vigil with popular American YouTuber and blogger – Emily from Bite Size Vegan this summer. This was a very hard day as we said goodbye to truck-loads of pigs entering Cheale Meats to be slaughtered. But later on, I went to London to watch Emily’s speech, and my dedication and hope for animals was truly restored. Emily talked about the importance of bearing witness, and not turning away from what is happening to animals, but instead doing all we can to change it. I’m a huge fan of all the work Emily is doing.

Fiona Oakes – For The Animals

Read about it here.

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Also at the start of this year, I got to meet champion marathon runner and all round superhero for animals – Fiona Oakes, along with all the animals at Tower Hill Sanctuary. It was great to hear Fiona’s story and how she has managed to achieve so much for animals. Tower Hill looks after over 400 rescued animals, which is no easy task! She also uses her extreme marathon running (she has run a marathon on every continent, and the North Pole) to promote the vegan lifestyle… destroying the stereotypical view of vegans as ‘weak’.

Other mentionable animal activism achievements this year include attending the first East London Chicken Save vigil, meeting Renee and all the friendly folk at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, Texas, and volunteering at Piebird Farm Sanctuary in Canada. Overall, I’m really pleased with what I have accomplished this year, the world is definitely beginning to wake up to the realities that so many animals are forced to endure at the hands of humans. The Save Movement has grown rapidly in 2016, there are now 24 groups in the UK alone! It seems that ignorance is no longer bliss. I am looking forward to achieving much more for animals in 2017.

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Travel: Los Angeles, California – Top Vegan Food Picks

It’s only when you leave Los Angeles that you realise how easy vegans living here really have it. You’re never far from an amazing vegan restaurant, or places serving delicious vegan options. After my trip last year, I wrote about my food favourites from Southern California, check this out here. But last year was different for me as I was moving around a lot more, exploring as many beaches as I could possibly fit in. This time, LA was my last stop, ending six incredible weeks of travelling through Canada and the States. So I stayed in Venice Beach, and explored as much vegan goodness that this area has to offer. And trust me, there was a lot!

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Venice Beach Boardwalk.

First off, I would 100% recommend Venice Beach as a place to stay while visiting LA. It’s easy to get back and forth to the city, but you’re also right in the centre of some incredible beaches. Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan and Redondo Beach are all within close reach.

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End of Route 66.

Los Angeles is one of the easiest places in the world for finding vegan food, so I’ve decided to do a countdown of my top five food picks from this incredible trip (these are predominantly in the Venice area, as that’s where I spent a lot of time).

5. Veggie Grill

So in case you didn’t know, Veggie Grill is pretty much everywhere in So Cal. On my last trip, I was so surprised to see a vegan chain restaurant! I visited the Veggie Grill on North Fairfax Avenue, LA, just after I got a tattoo at LA’s only vegan tattoo studio which you can read about here. Good food, quick service and hugely convenient, I really hope Veggie Grill will expand to the rest of the world! (Check out ‘Vegan Life in Southern California – Food Favourites’ for more information on Veggie Grill).

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Indian bowl – yum!

4. M Cafe – Beverly Hills

So wandering through Beverly Hills gazing at shops I pretty much had no interest in (an abundance of leather, fur, alligator skin etc.), I was quite skeptical about finding any decent vegan food options here. But to my surprise, I was pointed in the direction of M Cafe. This is a dairy, egg, and meat-free restaurant, but it does sell fish (unfortunately). However there are plenty of vegan options, and the cookies looked amazing too! If you’re vegan and shopping in the Beverly Hills area, this is your best bet for fresh, wholesome, vegan food.

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Who knew a burger and fries could be so healthy?!

3. The Butcher’s Daughter

If you’re looking for something a little more fancy in the Venice area, The Butcher’s Daughter is definitely for you. Just a short walk from Venice, The Butcher’s Daughter is a vegetarian (but with a lot of vegan options) restaurant with style! Recently I’ve found a huge love for vegan cheesey pizza (check out my blog for Fat Gay Vegan about a new vegan pizzeria in England here), and the one I ordered here definitely hit the spot. I also love the name of this place, and the design and general feel of the whole restaurant. Thumbs up for The Butcher’s Daughter!

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So so good! Vegan cheesey pizza and vegan mac ‘n’ cheese.

2. Seed

Now Seed could not be more different to my last restaurant! This is definitely more of a take-out, quick snack type place, and I pretty much stopped here every day whilst I was staying at Venice Beach. It goes higher up on my list because it’s 100% vegan, organic and everything I ate there was 100% delicious! Smoothies, breakfast burritos, tacos, and even vegan cookies…this place has you covered for a day exploring the local beaches. Personally I would have been lost without it!

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Oatmeal with fresh fruit…goooood morning!

 

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The best kind of club.
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Ain’t no scramble like a tofu scramble!

1. Cafe Gratitude

Cafe Gratitude gets my first prize for vegan food in Southern California. Also located in Venice, the restaurant boasts 100% vegan, organic and locally sourced food. And the theme of gratitude is apparent throughout, even down to ordering from the menu, where you can say ‘I am…’ and then choose your desired feeling/food option. To be honest I’ve never been anywhere quite like it! Great atmosphere, incredible vegan food, and an all round one-of-a-kind restaurant. Even if you’re not staying in the Venice area, this restaurant is so popular there are a couple more around LA, and it’s no surprise why… Cafe Gratitude gets it spot on!

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I am…humble.
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Amazing deserts at Cafe Gratitude.

So that’s my run-down of favourite places to eat in Southern California. What’s your top So Cal spot for vegan food? 🙂

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View from The Big Wheel, Santa Monica Pier.

‘Compassion’ Tattoo at Los Angeles Vegan Tattoo Studio

So I’m back from six weeks of travelling Canada and the States, and it was pretty awesome! There are so many highlights which I’ll be writing about over the coming weeks, but one of the things I’m super happy about is finding an all-vegan tattoo studio in Los Angeles!

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Monocle Tattoo is owned by James Spooner and based in North Fairfax Avenue, LA. Even though I was staying in Venice Beach where tattoo shops were on every corner, I wanted to have my tattoo done somewhere that was completely free from animal products. I can’t think of anything worse going into my skin and staying there forever! People don’t often realise that a lot of inks used in tattoo shops aren’t vegan – but luckily there are alternatives. You can either contact your chosen tattoo shop to see if they can use vegan ink, or just choose somewhere completely vegan like I did.

I had my first tattoo done a few months ago, which was a symbol for animal liberation, at an all-vegan tattoo studio in London which you can read about here. For my next one, I wanted something to symbolise my time travelling, during which I got to work with the incredible group Toronto Pig Save and attend save vigils. I also spent a lot of time with Anita Krajnc, Toronto Pig Save co-founder, who was about to go on trial for feeding water to a pig dying of dehydration. You can read about the outcome of this trial here. So the word ‘compassion’ seemed pretty relevant to this, and also something that has become central to my life since becoming vegan.

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Cesar Hernandez did my ‘compassion’ tattoo, and I love it!

So if you’re travelling to Los Angeles and are thinking about getting a tattoo, I would definitely recommend Monocle! Great artists and 100% cruelty-free. Check out their website here.

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Interview with Gregg Lowe: X-Men Actor, Sea Shepherd Volunteer & Vegan

Last month, I met English actor (appearing in X-Men: Days of Future Past) Gregg Lowe. Having recently returned from Toronto, Gregg is now settling back into the London lifestyle, so I got to ask him a few questions about his experience working with marine animal protection organisation Sea Shepherd as part of their Operation Milagro II campaign to defend the endangered vaquita porpoise. Gregg explained that volunteering with Sea Shepherd was certainly an eye-opening experience.

“Sea Shepherd are amazing, I felt so blessed to be able to work with them. I think they’re such a great organisation and just being on the ship for a week was a great experience. What was amazing was that most of these people are there as a volunteer, because they want to make a difference and help in some way. It was a great energy. I’d love to work with them again for longer.”

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Operation Milagro II. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

Like many others, I have felt inspired by recent documentaries such as The Cove, shining light on the annual dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan. You can read my blog about a screening of The Cove with ex-dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry here and find about about my experience of the London Against Taiji Dophin Massacre March here. Gregg has also felt inspired by such game-changing documentaries to take action for marine animals.

“The Cove was just traumatic and engrossing in so many ways. It really inspires you to do something because you don’t realise stuff like that’s actually going on. I think we all know something’s happening, but when you’re faced with the realness of it, it really affects you.”

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Illegal gear retrieved during Operation Milagro II. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

In light of shocking statistics such as the prediction that there won’t be any ocean life left within the next forty years, I was interested to see what somebody who has actually been out in the oceans to defend marine life believes the biggest threat is to the under-water world.

“The biggest threat to ocean life? Us, probably! Over fishing, over consumption, silly markets like the Black Market and Chinese Medicine Market. In Mexico, the reason we were there was to try and save the vaquita (a type of porpoise). It wasn’t because they were being fished – a seabass called the totoaba was being fished for its gall bladder for the Chinese medicine market. They’re the same size as the vaquita and were being caught in the nets and getting wiped out – there’s only around twenty of them left now. It’s silly things like that, and also shark fin soup – shown in documentary Shark Water. We are the biggest threat to animals, well to our planet really. So I think its time that we recognise that, as people are, and start to live in more of a symbiotic relationship with animals in the ocean.”

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Great white shark found entangled in a totoaba net. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

In Operation Milagro II, Sea Shepherd have worked with local governments to prevent illegal fishing in the area, and are in turn protecting endangered marine life. So could working with governments be the way forward to protect the ocean?

“Definitely, it makes things easier and is a huge support. The problem with working with governments is a lot of them are so corrupt and if you’re taking money away from the country, they don’t really want to know because they don’t really care that animals are being killed when they’re making money out of it. That’s always the problem that you come up against. But the more support you can get, the better.”

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Sea Shepherd speaking with the Mexican authorities. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

As a vegan activist, Gregg’s interest in animal rights grew when learning about eastern philosophy. This developed into a strong interest in Buddhism and living a life centred around compassion, causing as little harm to the earth as possible.

“I was living in Thailand and Napal for a while, staying in different monasteries and studying Buddhism – it was during that period I was looking at things to do with animals. I haven’t always been vegan – I used to eat meat when I was younger, but during that time I found a new appreciation for life and started to see things from a different angle.”

There are a number of reasons why people may decide to choose a vegan lifestyle – personal health, environmental impact – but for Gregg the main basis for this decision stemmed from this idea of compassionate living that he discovered in Buddhism.

“As I learned more about compassion, it was definitely more of an ethical thing. Later on, I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and watched more documentaries like Vegucated. Once you start learning all that – you can’t unlearn it. It’s all about being passionate and living the most compassionate life possible, and for me taking care of animals, humans and everything around me is like the baseline for compassion.”

And with more information, naturally comes more debate. It’s fantastic that the vegan lifestyle seems to be something that is popping up all the time in the news, but this has also come with some criticism. One common topic is the palm oil debate – a product which is found in a lot of vegan (and non-vegan) products, the production process for which is causing severe deforestation to the planet.

“You can’t do everything to save the planet, you can only do as much as you can. It’s all about having the right intention. Being 100% cruelty-free is an ideal, not a reality. They talk about this in buddhism, their first precept is that they can’t kill, but inevitably they stand on the ground and they might kill some ants, but its having the broader knowledge of knowing that your intention is not to harm, so once we’re informed that something has palm oil in, which is harming the environment, then we can make those choices. Its a journey. Of course we all do things in our daily lives which can have a negative effect down the line, but its about trying to balance it out as much as you can.”

Gregg continues to explain that although the production process of products such as palm oil is devastating to the environment, there is still one clear factor that is the leading cause of deforestation, global warming and climate change amongst so many other things – animal agriculture.

“Palm oil is horrendous and it is causing deforestation, but as I’m sure you’ve seen in Cowspiracy, nothing is causing more deforestation than animal agriculture, so I still think you’re winning by living vegan. There’s cause and effect to everything, every action has a reaction so even doing good things will somewhere down the line have some kind of negative effect on something, but if you’re intention is right, then you can let that go.”

As well as appearing in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Gregg has also appeared in several TV series including Murdoch Mysteries, Doctors and Beauty and the Beast. So I was curious as to whether he has had the opportunity to incorporate his passion towards animal rights into his acting.

“I’ve been acting for a long time and I got to a point where I needed more of a purpose for doing what I do, other than just because I want to do it. I think we all get to a stage like that in life where we sit back and think ‘why am I doing this?’ ‘what can I offer to society and the world other than i’m doing this just because I enjoy it?’ and animal rights and veganism became my purpose for doing it because I can do interviews like this and put my name to things. Actually having those beliefs has supported me through tough times, it gives you more of a purpose and that extra support. When you’re not driven by a passion or a purpose, it feels kind of empty.”

Currently, Gregg has just finished computer game Assassin’s Creed which was released in February, and has just decided to move back to England to do some more voice-over work. Having enjoyed his experience volunteering with Sea Shepherd, he also hopes to get involved with more of their projects in the future.

“I’d love to work with Sea Shepherd again, but I’m staying in London for now…saying that I change my mind like the wind, and also with my work I travel quite a lot, but for now my base is in London.”

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Operation Milagro – Farley Mowat and Martin Sheen ships. Copyright: Carolina A Castro.

Welcome back to London, Gregg! Thank you for taking the time to talk about animal rights and your experience volunteering with Sea Shepherd. Sea Shepherd do some fantastic work protecting marine life in our oceans and need your support. Find out more about them here. You can also keep up to date with all of their latest campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.

Get Informed!

Gregg mentions a number of animal rights and environmental documentaries and books, check out the following links and inform yourself about important issues that are affecting our planet:

The Cove

Shark Water

Eating Animals

Vegucated

Cowspiracy

e.l.f. Vegan & Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Review Part 1 – Face

So a few months ago I blogged about switching my make-up to cruelty-free brands. I guess I was pretty slow on this having cut out animal products from my diet ages ago, but I definitely think it’s easier to just use cosmetic products without being aware of the suffering involved in the testing of them. In ‘The World of Cruelty-Free Cosmetics’, I talked about clearing out my make-up from brands that tested on animals, such as Mac, and replacing them with vegan cruelty-free products from companies such as The Body Shop and Urban Decay.

Unfortunately, it was only later I learned that Urban Decay is actually owned by L’Oreal, who’s statement on animal testing is as follows:

The Group no longer tests on animal, anywhere in the world, and does not delegate this task to others. An exception could be made if regulatory authorities required it for safety or regulatory purposes.

This is certainly a grey area, and if you’re anything like me, you probably like things a little more black or white. And when it comes to the suffering animals are forced to endure in animal testing, there really is no room for grey areas. L’Oreal cannot be classed as a cruelty-free brand.

So my quest continued to find a vegan, animal-friendly make-up brand to replace my old favourites. I’ve talked about Superdrug’s B Range which is great and I love quite a few of their products (particularly their red, matte lipstick), but I thought I’d try out an American brand that I’ve heard so much about – e.l.f. (Eyes, Lips, Face). E.l.f. is completely vegan and cruelty-free! So I will be reviewing some e.l.f. products in the coming weeks, and today I’m starting with the Flawless Finish Foundation and Pressed Powder.

 

Part 1 – Face

 

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First off, e.l.f. is way easier to come by in the U.S. than the U.K. Apparently you’re never far from somewhere selling these cosmetics in the States. Unfortunately over here the delivery time is a couple of weeks as it’s coming from over-seas. Although still priced pretty well with only a £2.95 delivery charge.

Flawless Finish Foundation – £7.50

I always struggle with foundation. Mostly because I have really pale skin, and it can be hard to find one that’s pale enough! So I opted for the colour porcelain as this was the fairest.

I really liked the design of the foundation – simple and stylish. Also it came already with pump, which makes me think it’s pretty ridiculous that other companies make you buy the pump separately. If e.l.f. can include a pump for a foundation costing £7.50, why can’t everyone?

Previously a fan of Urban Decay’s Naked Foundation, I was impressed with the thickness of this foundation, actually a little thicker than Naked. It applied to the face well, and blended in nicely with my concealer. It also has SPF 15, which funnily enough, some of the more expensive foundations don’t have.

I put on my make-up for a night out and it stayed on the whole night without needing to reapply. The shade was probably the closest I’ve ever had to my skin colour, and it didn’t feel heavy on, nor was I blinded by a shiny glare from it when consulting the mirror.

The only downside was I felt like I had to use quite a bit for a full coverage, so I’m not sure how long it will last. And as the delivery time is quite a while, maybe next time I’ll get two!

Overall I’m pretty happy with this product, and costing just £7.50, I’d change that to super happy. Perfect colour match, nice design, easy to use, full coverage and brilliant price. Winner!

Pressed Powder – £4.50

I also got this in the porcelain shade to match my foundation (and my incredibly pale skin!). I really liked the design of this pressed powder. It came with a sponge, (although I used a brush) and a handy compact mirror.

The powder set my foundation off perfectly. I reapplied a couple of times throughout the night to keep everything in place. It didn’t feel heavy on and left me with a nice matte looking finish, controlling any unnecessary shine.

Again, an absolute bargain for £4.50. I’m really happy with this product and will definitely be purchasing again.

So my first impressions of e.l.f.? I think I may have found another vegan & cruelty-free favourite brand! Keep an eye out for Part 2 of my review where I check out some of e.l.f.’s eye make-up.

N.B. – The un-edited picture in my header was taken about half way through the night. I’m second from the left 🙂

Sources for information:

http://www.loreal.com/csr-commitments/l’oréal-answers/the-question-of-animal-testing

http://www.crueltyfreeinternational.org/why-we-do-it/what-animal-testing

 

Vegan Life in Southern California – Food Favourites

This week I’ve finally got round to going through my photos from last year’s amazing trip to California. I wrote about my trip to Farm Sanctuary in ‘California Dreaming – A Trip To Farm Sanctuary’, and thought it would be rude not to reminisce about the huge selection of vegan food that was available during my trip. Here are some of my highlights that I would recommend to anyone travelling to the Golden State:

1. Veggie Grill

God bless you, Veggie Grill. You became a part of my daily routine when travelling through So Cal. This chain restaurant is 100% vegan and the great thing is, it’s pretty much everywhere. I visited Veggie Grill restaurants in L.A., Irvine, Long Beach and San Diego, not to mention a couple of others I stopped by to pick up ‘take out’ for a ‘road trip’. The food is delicious, nutritious and great value for money. They also cater for every mood; vitamin-packed salads and bowls for when you’re feeling the California health buzz, Mac-n-Cheese and a selection of faux-meat favourites for when you’d prefer some comfort food. Together with vegan treats (the carrot cake was ridiculously good) smoothies and juices, Veggie Grill wins my gold star for eating in California!

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Veggie Grill Menu
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100% vegan. 100% delicious.

2. Whole Foods Market

Now I know Whole Foods isn’t anything new to people in England as we have a few in London, but believe me, Whole Foods in the U.S. is a completely different experience. For one, it’s so much bigger. I almost got a little emotional when confronted with the choice of dairy-free milks and cheeses in the supermarket, and wondered why the hell I hadn’t visited America sooner?! Whole Foods is a California vegan’s paradise. Completely spoilt with a wide selection of organic, fresh, vegan goodness, and with stores always within easy reach, Whole Foods makes you laugh at all that time you spent staring at the ‘Free From’ section in Tesco. Not in California.

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Dairy-free milk? No problem!

 

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Whole Foods aim to please…with vegan cheese!

3. Nature’s Health Food & Cafe, Palm Springs

My final recommendation goes to a hidden gem that I’m really pleased I found in Palm Springs. This was a stop off en route back to California from Las Vegas. I was tired, hungover, hungry and when the sign for Nature’s Health Food & Cafe appeared in the distance, I felt like my guardian angel had intervened to save me.

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Hallelujah! Vegan cafe on the drive back from Vegas

The smoothies here were incredible, and there was a large selection of healthy and organic vegan food. I opted for the faux-chicken fajitas which were delicious. The cafe is inside the health store, which is also stocked full of vegan products – perfect to grab a few necessities for the rest of your journey.

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Holy fajitas! Plenty of protein at Nature’s Health Food Cafe

Overall, California was truly a Vegan Boho success! I’ve never had as many options for food as I did here. I’m currently planning my next trip to the U.S., and am looking forward to re-visiting Southern California to experience more vegan food favourites. What are your California vegan recommendations?

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Welcome to Long Beach, CA