Love it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day is a great time to celebrate the special someone in your life. Also, like it or loathe it that the nature of Valentine’s gifts and activities are a lot more errm, shall we say standardised than on birthdays or Christmas… Oh ok then, it’s a bit cliché as far as celebrations go!
However, those clichés are not necessarily friendly for vegans and vegetarians, especially ovo-vegetarians those that avoid milk. To help make it easier to navigate, I’ve put together a 3-part guide to help you out with the all important gifts and meal plans; whether you are a seasoned vegan, happen to be wooing one or new to the scene and keeping Veganuary going into February!
So let’s start with the traditional gifts
Pretty much expected or accepted by everyone for Valentine’s, and no points this time round as to why chocolate is not always vegan friendly. Every year we see plenty of red, hear-shaped assortment boxes but where are the vegan options?
image source: www.boojabooja.com
You can never, ever go wrong with Booja Booja chocolate truffles. I never met anyone that doesn’t enjoy them. They’re high quality, taste utterly luxurious and honestly melt in your mouth. They also come in attractive boxes which vary depending on the range or flavour.
Even better, you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong box, as all their products are vegan. In addition, they are organic, soy-free and gluten-free, so they tick the boxes for people with further dietary requirements (but not nut allergies!). So you only have to pick the flavour.
Oh the flavours! The Fine de Champagne truffles are certainly delicious and Valentine’s appropriate. My other personal favourite is the rich Around Midnight Espresso. Others include, Cherry Cognac, Rum Sozzled Sultana and Stem Ginger. You can also get selection boxes containing several flavours. I have both given and received the Gourmet Selection; scrumptious!
I can wholeheartedly recommend these as I’ve been enjoying them for about 8 years! I fell in love with them before I was even a vegetarian; back in my City days I discovered them in Pod.
Their quality comes at a price though; at around £7 for a small box (9 truffles), £13.50 for Special Edition box (12 truffles), and £17 for the Gourmet Selection (20 truffles).
They are a good replacement for people that enjoy higher quality chocolates like Charbonnel et Walker or Lindt. However, if you are on a budget, or need a vast quantity over quality, then there are certainly other options for you.
You can pick Booja Booja up online at Amazon, Ocado and Sainsbury’s. They are also available in store at Holland and Barrett and many health food shops. Note that they should ideally be kept in the fridge.
Hotel Chocolat are also aboard the vegan train! Just use the ‘Vegan’ filter on their website to see the whopping 78 items to choose from! But before we get too excited, that does, bizarrely, include body products, like body mists and scrubs, and drinks, so it’s not all edible.
You’ll find quite quickly that their vegan offering tends to be darker chocolate (no milk), though they now have a 65% Supermilk Vegan bar. So if your beloved prefers a creamier or milkier chocolate, you might want to consider truffles that combine more interesting flavours and pleasant textures.
I personally adore their Rose and Violet Creams and the Gianduja Bombe chocolates. They come in the small packs that you can do a mix and match on, so whilst tasty, the presentation isn’t terribly exciting. Happily, they do now offer a Vegan Chocolate Hamper Collection (£27.50 for 6 items), but it is “All Dark”.
Surprise, surprise! Poundstretcher is selling a version of the popular Ferrero Rocher which is vegan-friendly! They are called Kavici Choco Spheres, and come in a heart shaped, domed box, individually wrapped in gold foil, just like the original. They don’t have vegan certification, but all the ingredients are vegan.
This is frankly ingenious, as vegans have been missing out on being spoiled by the ambassador for too long!
They are easy on the pocket too, at just £1 for a small box or £2.99 for a larger box. Now, I haven’t tried them yet, so don’t take this mention as a solid recommendation, but for a pound, they’re worth a try I reckon!
The classic British high street chocolate shop, Thorntons, sadly does not have a clear vegan range, and you will need to do some investigating. (Also, I haven’t eaten Thorntons for nearly a decade so I can’t recommend from experience.) However, a quick look at the website shows that again dark chocolate is a good place to focus on for their few vegan friendly offerings.
There aren’t any vegan-friendly truffles or collections available, but they do have some chocolate blocks: Dark Chocolate with Orange Block (£12.00, 297g), Coffee and Walnut Chocolate Block (£3.50, 90g) and Mint Crunch Dark Chocolate Block (£3.50, 90g). A word of warning, the personalised block uses milk in the writing.
You can check out their dietary information here.
What isn’t vegan about flowers I hear you ask? Well not much that you can really do anything about. One of the things you will come to accept, if you haven’t already, is that you cannot live a 100% vegan life.
Those flowers for Valentine’s or the veggies from your supermarket, will likely have been grown in fertilised soil which includes an array of animal by-products. They typically go beyond the usual rotted manure (i.e. horse poo) to “fish, blood and bone” or “hoof and horn”. Yuck. It’s a sad but unavoidable fact, that is unless you grow everything yourself. (There is vegan compost available which I have experimented with, but that’s a post for another time!)
I certainly prefer to buy fairtrade flowers but sometimes it just isn’t possible due to availability or cost restrictions. At Valentine’s, buying flowers can require a large financial commitment for even a single rose!
Go wholesale and get creative!
So what is my suggestion? If you’re going to do something ‘wrong’, do it ‘right’! Depending on your available budget, consider going overboard and use a wholesaler to get a ton more flowers than you ever could through Interflora for the same money. The prices will still be higher due to increased demand. However, you’ll get a much better deal if you are willing to cut, trim and arrange the flowers yourself. It’s a lot easier than it sounds; trust me as I did my own flowers last year for my wedding and (sadly) for my Mum’s funeral.
If you aren’t up for the experience of negotiating with experienced florists, then go online.
Consider mixing up traditional roses with other romantic flowers. For example, ranunculus and carnations and multiheaded flowers like alstroemeria, lisianthus that give a bit of extra impact for the cost. Don’t forget your gorgeous greenery to give it the real florist treatment: ruscus and eucalyptus are my favourites.
Wholesale flower tips
If you decide to go the wholesale route, here are some top tips:
- don’t forget to budget for VAT and delivery/parking
- wholesale prices require that you buy in set quantities; so remember you’ll be buying in 10s, 20s and 30s of a particular flower, rather than picking out individual stems.
- consider going in with a friend and share the cost of the flowers & delivery
- give yourself 2-4 days extra to allow the flowers to open up in time
- consider the length of the stems of all the flowers you buy especially as you have to trim the stems; there’s no point getting flowers that are too short to fit in a vase, or don’t blend well together
- use the appropriate flower food; some flowers die in traditional flower food
- get the right tools for the job; clean scissors, a thorn remover, buckets etc
- if you need to hide the flowers somewhere in advance of Valentine’s then consider the garage or a shed. Flowers will need some light but can tolerate the cooler temperatures having been kept in carefully managed flower fridges.
If all that sounds like waaaaay too much work, then just get a few different flowers from a local florist and make up the bunch at home yourself. You could put them in a beautiful vase and add some ribbon to make an impression. With a little effort you can stun your sweetheart with a truly personal take on a traditional gift.
Booze! Ok, the good stuff; champagne and wine
Did you know that not everything you drink is vegan or vegetarian friendly? Yeah, they find ways to use animals in our alcohol and soft drinks too, either in the recipe itself, or in filtering/production processes.
When in doubt, Barnivore is indispensable, but here are some pointers to get you off to a good start!
Champagne – pop a cork with these vegan friendly bottles
If you are looking to impress with a bottle of the real deal, the following champagnes are all vegan friendly and should be easy to locate online, or at an off-license or supermarket:
- Krug Champagnes
- Moët Champagne
- Taittinger Champagne
- Perrier-Jouët Champagne (but not Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut)
- Champagne Lanson
- Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne
- Veuve Clicquot Champagne
The Best of the Supermarkets: Sainsbury’s, M&S, Tesco
I will only recommend things that I have either enjoyed personally or have great faith in, so in the interest of honesty, we are more of a beer household than wine! Having said that, there are a few things I can tell you with confidence.
Sainsbury’s is my go to place to pick up a bottle when I don’t have to worry about impressing with a fancy brand, as they have a wide range and are clearly labelled. Their Rosé Cava (£6) is a favourite with my bubbles-swilling girlfriends, and I am more than partial to their red SO Organic Cabernet Sauvignon (only £6.50 a bottle).
M&S also clearly labels its wine, and Tesco has been upping its game recently I’ve noticed, with more bottles being labelled clearly too, in store and online. We will sometimes pick up a bottle of Tesco’s Pinot Grigio from the local Tesco Metro, or if ordering online, we get the Stellar Organic Fairtrade Sauvignon Blanc from Ocado (£8.99). Now this isn’t an own brand wine, I just haven’t seen it anywhere else. It is easy to drink and we’ve got it at least a half dozen times.
It’s easy to find vegan-friendly wine when searching the supermarket’s own. Generally the labels are clearly marked on the back with the tasting notes; a V for vegetarian and a V with ‘vegan’, for, well, vegan. No ‘V’, then it’s more than likely not vegan. If you aren’t sure, check on Barnivore or at the supermarket’s website.
Whether you’re buying it for yourself or for your lover, the main thing you need to look out for is silk. Silk is not a vegan-friendly fabric as it is made from mass-produced silkworms.
The usual procedure is for the silkworms, whilst in the caterpillar stage and have spun their cocoons of silk around them, to be boiled alive before they break out as moths, in order to preserve the lengths of silk fibres which is turned into thread.
Not so pleasant, but luckily easy to spot as silk is still seen as ‘a good thing’ for advertisers. So stick with the usual poly-satins for a cruelty-free treat. This is one category where I will keep my recommendations to myself (haha!) but you can’t go wrong with starting your search for a nice set at Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Figleaves or Bravissimo.
Aftershave & Perfume
image credit: wikipedia.org
There are some truly disgusting ingredients that go into fragrances. These include various animal secretions . These include ambergris, which comes from sperm whale intestines, and the anal secretions of animals such as African civet cats and beavers. Needless to say that unthinkable animals suffer in unthinkable ways, all for the sake of us wanting to smell good. The African civet cat is endangered, due in part to the high price paid for its role in perfumery.
But why? A primary reason is that animals are good at spreading their scent, and it typically lasts. So humans have been ‘extracting’ that quality from animals by keeping them in cages or killing them for it. Yet, perfume houses are under no obligation to declare these ingredients on their bottles. Truly hideous, and unforgivable behaviour in this day and age.
In addition, animal testing still goes on. Many companies claim to be against animal testing, however, this does not mean that their products are not tested on animals regardless.
The problem with China
China still demands compulsory animal testing on all cosmetics products that were not manufactured there, but sold in China. The enormous Chinese consumer market is too lucrative for many companies to ignore despite these terrible rules.
Therefore companies claim to be against animal testing, yet fully know that the Chinese government will test their products on animals. This is demanded by Chinese law, and demonstrates utter hypocrisy. For a perfect example of this, check out the previously well-regarded L’Occitaine’s statement on their expansion into China.
As a result, you can be sure that big names that sell worldwide like D&G, Hugo Boss, Chanel etc have been tested on animals. Many may still use animal ingredients, particularly high-end, expensive perfume houses with a long tradition and aversion to changing their formula.
Take this as an opportunity to try out something new and support a smaller or more ethically sound company. Some options are:
Dolma Vegan Perfumes
Last year when my lovely husband Tom was still my fiancé, he asked what I wanted as a wedding gift. I had been without a good perfume for a while, so I asked for that. He did the research and came back to me with a selection of samples from Dolma Vegan Perfumes, as well as an aftershave for himself.
I honestly liked them all for different reasons and couldn’t choose, so I asked him to select one for me as to make it more of a personal gift. The scent lasts well through the day and lacked the chemical tinge that so many bigger brands have.
Obviously. Lush are the ultimate in vegan friendly, non-animal-tested, cosmetic products on the high street. Their perfumes can be pretty pricey though and vary from £19 to £45 for a 30ml bottle. But you might find just what you are looking for, so definitely worth a look.
Marks and Spencer
M&S clearly states on its website whether their toiletries are suitable for vegans or vegetarians. Cruelty Free International advises that the whole company is certified as cruelty-free and does not test on animals (also, they are also no longer in the Chinese market). Well at least for it’s cosmetics and household products; meat, milk and eggs can hardly be considered cruelty-free…!
I particularly liked their Per Una Bird of Paradise Eau de Toilette which was a bargain at around £8 but it appears to no longer be in stock. Still, definitely worth having a look to see what might suit you or your loved one.
Other High Street heroes
Other places approved by Cruelty Free International and that are believed to sell vegan friendly fragrances are Molton Brown, Superdrug, Primark, Sainsbury’s, the Body Shop and Morrisons. However, it is always worth checking the labels and online to see whether or not the product you are looking at meets your requirements.
I really hope that Part 1 of the Vegan Valentine’s Guide has been useful to you! Head over to Part 2 for some new Valentine’s ideas to win extra brownie points this year.