Ava Szajna-Hopgood
October 19, 2013 11:00 am

“One extra large mighty Meatosaur pizza with extra ground beef. And then one thin base Vegetable Supreme-o with no cheese and no extras. No, not mozzarella, nothing. In fact, put the extra cheese on the Meatosaur.”

This is our pizza order. My boyfriend sometimes jokes that he is offsetting my veganism. As hard as I (subtly) try, I know if I am out for dinner, I will come home to half-eaten chicken curry, or at least, leftover spaghetti bolognese. So when we order pizza out, he jokes he’s eating meat for two.

You might ask what the point is of me being vegan and my boyfriend eating meat, as we both cancel each other out. But that’s the thing – it’s precisely not the point. The ‘what difference does it make?’ argument is one of the first questions most vegans are faced with: one person eating vegan food doesn’t stop billions of animals being killed each year for consumption. It doesn’t even bring a single factory farm’s conveyor belt to a halt. But it does start a debate. We don’t live in vacuums and since turning vegan, I’ve realised what I chose to put (or not put) on my plate can speak a lot louder than words.

I’ll admit, in the first few months of going vegan, I was ready for a fight with anyone. I had acquired all this new knowledge concerning the food industry, but couldn’t understand how my boyfriend was still happy eating the way he always had. Why didn’t he want to read the same books as me? Why didn’t he want to put himself through hours of awful, harrowing video footage to know the truth about a system he paid money into every day?

I had a million and one ideas going on about the kind of person that chose to ignore what I now saw as so obvious, but judging the people closest to you doesn’t help anyone. Your veganism, your vegetarianism, your belief in whatever you sustain yourself with, are all choices. Yes, this becomes a grey area when someone’s diet involves eating other sentient beings, and I’m not going to deny the times I’ve chosen to force the issue on why my boyfriend still eats bacon, why he can still drink milk and why he still orders ground beef on his pizza.

But hey, guess what, not one of those rows have ended with him changing any of those decisions. We’ve had joke rows and full on “I don’t understand how you can’t make the connection” rows and he still has the same pizza order he’s had for five years. Whether discussing the moral dilemma of our shopping list starts with a sarcastic text or a shouting match, the end result has never changed: he’s not for turning, and neither am I.

The reason I’m okay with this is because he is okay with this. He doesn’t cringe over my When Harry Met Sally-style orders in restaurants (I’ll have the cactus burrito but if it comes with feta then no feta but if it’s the corn salsa then extra salsa to replace the feta but no dressing and you get the picture…) and he doesn’t cook things like sausages or bacon when I’m at home. I didn’t ask him to do this, he just worked out it would be a better way for us both.

The reality of living with an omnivore is that you can’t avoid the issue when it’s on your plate three times a day. But it doesn’t have to define everything, either. I love hanging out with my vegan friends as there’s a shared understanding, but I think it’s also vital to show that as a vegan, you can live alongside other people and not in a tofu bubble. When you share a vegan meal with your meat-eating friends, your choice becomes possible, feasible, maybe even, dare I say it, normal.

Shouting and statistics and judging the people around you probably won’t get them to feel any better about veganism as a choice they can make. But showing them that day-to-day you still get to eat amazing food, some of which they may never have thought could be veganised? I think that sounds like a way better conversation to start.

I may not have been able to turn my boyfriend vegan outright, but we eat exactly the same dinners five nights a week. It didn’t happen through battles won or lost, it happened through life and having jobs and a zillion other things to do- we will both cook, but it’s always vegan. It turns out he got sick of the cheese, butter or meat he bought going bad as he couldn’t eat it in time before the use-by-date. Now he says he feels healthier and leaner without so much meat, dairy and eggs in his life. Apart from cow’s milk, our refrigerator is 100 per cent vegan, and every meal we eat that’s the same, I know my boyfriend is helping save the lives of animals, whether he planned to or not. I think the pizza order is just a guy thing.

So here’s a recipe for a super-warming polenta cornbread and vegan pumpkin chili, perfect for sharing with friends who won’t even know they’re ‘missing’ anything. It’s also gluten free and soy free, so should work for whoever comes round for dinner.

Makes enough for 6

Ingredients

For the chili:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 large white onion, chopped small
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped small
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 small pumpkin, seeds hollowed out and peeled, then cut in to chunky bitesize cubes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 5-6 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 29 oz. tin chopped tomatoes (about 800g)
  • 1 29 oz. tin black eyed beans, drained (abou 800g)
  • 4 tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  • Handful of chopped coriander

For the polenta cornbread:

  • 1.6 cups of polenta
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1.0 cup of vegan margarine
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • Good pinch of salt

To make the chili, grab a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat the oil over a medium heat, before adding in the onion to sauté . After about three minutes, add the garlic, carrots and pumpkin, and mix in with the onion so the flavours can start to develop. Then add the chili powder, paprika, chipotle powder, cumin and bay leaf, along with some salt and pepper. Turn the heat up a little and cook until you start to smell all of the spices in the pan.

Now add the vegetable stock, lentils and tomatoes, and turn up the heat again until the chili starts to boil. Once it is bubbling away, turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Once the lentils are cooked, add the beans, sliced tomatoes and coriander. The tomatoes are optional but will add more texture and freshness to the chili against the lentils and beans.

Heat your oven to 375°F /190°C, and while the chili cooks for another ten minutes or so, you can start to make the polenta cornbread.

In a saucepan, mix together the polenta, water and almond milk on a medium heat. I find using a whisk is the easiest way to keep an eye on the texture, as you want to make sure it doesn’t burn. After about 5-10 minutes the polenta should thicken up so that when you stir the mixture, you can see the bottom of the pan. Once you’ve reached this point, turn off the heat and stir in the vegan margarine, lemon juice, paprika and salt.

You’re now ready to assemble the chili. Take it off the heat and pour into a large, oven proof dish. Level out the mixture, then top with spoonfuls of the polenta cornbread, smoothing it out so that it covers all the chili.

Cook in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the polenta starts to brown a little at the edges and the chili starts to bubble through the topping. This is great eaten straight away and can be saved for lunches and leftovers too.

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