The desert island question. If you are vegan, the first thing that probably sprung to mind was “But if you were stranded on a desert island with no food but animals, would you eat them?”. Anyone else, though, might be more familiar with the old “Which 1/2/3 foods/movies/people would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?”. Sometimes, the question is posed with you hypothetically on death row rather than on a desert island.
I’m not sure which is most statistically likely but I have never been good at any of these types of questions. I’m not good with choice and will generally make myself like whatever I’m thrown. But I have become more fond of this question for sentimental reasons; for whatever reason, in one of our early conversations at the gym, Ben had asked me what my request for my last meal would be. At the time, my work lunches were generally comprised of lentils or rice, finally chopped raw salad veggies and greens, tightly compacted into a small plastic container and smothered in tahini – not very elegant, but I was always excited about my lunch – so, after a split second of mild panic, I mumbled something about lentils and tahini and, in an effort to distract from such a lame inside-the-box response quickly blurted out “I’m vegan!” and readied myself for a tirade of questioning and doubt and unsolicited nutrition advice.
I guess one way to test whether you’re onto a winner is to tell an omnivore you love lentils so much you would eat them for your last meal on Earth. Ben met my revelation with respect and curiosity, and now almost five years later we cook together and eat together and I eat far fewer lentils.
I still have no idea what three foods I would take with me to a desert island (assuming my nutritional needs have been met, and that there are no shelf-life issues). But luckily, I’m vaguely focussing on food memories this month – for I think much better inside the box, thank you – so let’s consider the items I have eaten most consistently and obsessively for most of my life:
- Apples: I had apples at break-time at school, apples after my school lunch sandwiches, apples cut into wedges and served in a plastic bowl or plate in front of the TV, apples as a bedtime snack propped up in bed with a book and maybe a Digestive biscuit.
- Bananas: Apparently, there was a phase as a baby when I didn’t like bananas. What?! Who is this child? Admittedly, I can’t remember eating much banana through school, though I’m sure they figured on some of the fruit platters my mum would make me for breakfast. In my second year at university, breakfasts were either sliced banana with soy yoghurt and flax seeds, or porridge with banana and cinnamon – in my third year, I was having rye bread with banana and peanut butter before training. Now, banana is either cooked into porridge, eaten on its own or with peanut butter, layered into soy yoghurt with frozen blueberries and seeds, frozen and blended with vanilla into banana soft serve… In fact, a couple months ago a cashier at our local supermarket asked Ben and I what we did with so many bananas as she had noticed we “always buy a lot of bananas”!
- Bread: I see it as my duty as a personal trainer to atone for the slander of bread by the fitness community, which is convenient as I happen to love bread (as long as it’s fresh and none of that dry-sponge stuff). I’m not even going to get started lest we have another sandwich post.
- Carrots: I used to have carrots so frequently at break times – peeled and wrapped by my mum – that a friend’s dad actually suggested she gift me one for a birthday (don’t worry, they gave me other presents too)! I almost always have a bag of carrots in the fridge drawer, and I snack on one most days, usually as I am thinking what “real food” to eat.
- Chocolate: Need I say more?
- Peanut butter: It has always been there for me; on bread and rice crackers as a kiddo, on toast as a teenager, on porridge and banana as a young adult, and straight off the spoon as a night-time snacker. Nothing quite compares to the added-oil added-salt Calvé Pindakaas, and I had a bit of a meltdown when the jar I was bringing back to the UK after my first holiday from university got callously discarded from my carry-on bag for being “too wet”. It wasn’t until my third year of university, after much experimentation with surprisingly disappointing peanut butters, that I discovered the 1kg tubs of Meridian peanut butter and haven’t looked back since (although Cashew Dream from the new Luxembourg-based Nux Spreads gave me reason to pause).
- Tofu: Mum and I had one failed experiment with tofu in my early days of vegetarianism, where it predictably came out bland as, well, tofu (nothing that a dousing of soy sauce couldn’t fix), but since then it has been smooth-sailing across a glassy tofu sea: diced into stir-fries with soy sauce and sesame oil; marinated in satay sauce and grilled on the barbecue; thinly-sliced and pan-fried with garlic before being tossed into pasta with a good drizzle of oil and black pepper… or crumbled with black salt (kala namak) and a touch of turmeric for a convincing scramble; blended into a quiche filling; folded into homemade praline for a healthy homemade truffle centre (that was a fun night); or blitzed into a creamy vanilla cream pudding. Those are all great for plain tofu, but I have to give a nod to favourites Taifun Tofu Rosso and Tofu Basilico, equally delicious raw in salad or sautéed into a comfortingly messy pile of vegetables.
- Yoghurt: Yoghurt is central to my first memory of first going vegan. I was, at the time, having fruit and dairy yoghurt before school – but I suddenly could no longer face eating the yoghurt. I left it a couple of days, until my mum asked me why. I explained that I just didn’t like dairy, and she suggested we switch to soy yoghurts to ensure I didn’t miss out on any nutrients. Although I only stayed vegan for about a year – aged about 15 to 16 – I haven’t touched dairy yoghurt since that day. I have, however, eaten far more soy yoghurt than I ever ate dairy yoghurt and although the new ultra-creamy Alpro Cremoso yoghurts are probably the best out there, and I now usually buy the 500g tubs of plain yoghurt, the original strawberry Alpro 125g serving pots will always hold a special place in my heart.
Guys, you’re not actually going to make me pick just three things are you? Can we assume there is some fruit on the island?
- Chocolate is just sensible, judging by the last 8 years or so the probability of me wanting chocolate on any given day is significant, and nothing can stand in for dark chocolate when a craving hits. 85% please, and tell me it won’t melt.
- I’ll have to take something savoury because, shockingly, sometimes I don’t really want something sweet. Also, sometimes I just want bread. There’s a bakery in Luxembourg that do a loaf of bread called “Duofit“. It is soft and spongy with a heavily seeded crust. It’s moist enough to eat on its own, and dense enough to be satisfying. In a pinch, I’ll take some ciabatta. Or baguette. Or anything involving flour.
- If there is no fruit on this island, I’d better take some banana. And if I have all the fruit I want… then I’ll take peanut butter. Deal?