To be honest, I’m fed up. I’m perturbed, you might say. There’s no running from my malaise as it’s everywhere I turn; I encounter it amongst people I know, people I don’t know, read about it in the paper, see it on social media, hear it across the street, encounter it expectedly and unexpectedly, find its pungence has seeped irrevocably into quotidien interactions. You may have heard of it as discrimination.
Let me clarify. Just because I’m a bit brown, doesn’t mean I’m not from England. Just because I’m British, doesn’t mean I take high tea at 3pm and speak the queen’s English. Just because I don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean I hate those who do. No, really; I’m confronted with that a lot.
A mixed race Brit of Chinese heritage, ambitious female Northerner vegetarian is often greeted with exclamations and confused looks, wherever in the world I may be at that moment; people who don’t fit in boxes, the blurring of margins, the dismissing of categories…this is currently confounding people in all walks of life.
Let me help you out, if you are one of the confounded. Why panic when the category isn’t clear? Why feel discomfort at a new outlook on life? Be proud of who you are and of what makes you who you are but don’t feel the need to consign everyone a title and conveniently tidy square box.
Indeed, the most fascinating moments arise from the premise that each individual views their own culture differently and so, naturally, within each culture are millions of variations on a theme. Ethnicity is a multifaceted thing and social acceptances are there to be challenged in order to grow; at the core of discrimination, I sense a global susceptibility to blind generalisation. I wonder, why is it such a revelation that human beings are ethnically and socially diverse?
My experiences, living and travelling with people of various nationalities and cultures have often left me feeling disappointed in the interactions that reflect some kind of stereotyping and varying degrees of discrimination; each seemingly too shocked by cultural divergences to delve deeper and understand one another. However, I have, more positively, also experienced some brilliant bromide busting instances during my work and travels. These include discussing the insensitivity with which stories of African culture are often portrayed in Hollywood with a group of Russian colleagues; having dinner with friends who didn’t share a common language but who engaged with each other like old pals; introducing British humour (Hot Fuzz, Inside Number 9) to some of my Russian friends and have them fall in love with it. The truth is that our similarities have the potential to bring us together and the power to teach us where we differ.
I hope you don’t take this as a barrage and certainly not a barrage on you personally. I’m really just attempting to be heard amongst the noise that, at best, goes as unawareness and, at worst, blatant ignorance.
To elaborate on a theme of social observation I’ve become quite prone to, I’ve lived, so far, roughly six and a half years in Russia; the first four, training to be a classical dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, then continuing to work in the country for a further two and half. In this time, I’ve encountered an extremely diverse cross section of people in both my educational and professional environments (my room/flatmates have been of a variety of nationalities- American, Japanese, Kenyan, Estonian, to name just a few). My life in Russia has been countered with intermittent trips back home to the UK and touring Italy, also the UK and China with work. I’ve been the minority in the room in a variety of walks of life, receiving incredulity at the knowledge of my background and/or how I choose to live my life (meat free, unashamedly goal-oriented). Upon returning from my second tour throughout China, I felt the need to let off a bit of articulated steam.
And I want to know, what do you have to add to my experiences, both positive and not so? In particular, do you have any stories that, for want of a less corny expression, put your faith back in the world? Please write to me! I’d love to know-I believe these moments need sharing. Something that also needs sharing, is this sugar free recipe for treacle tart which I made directly after my flight from Shanghai back home for a little R and R before continuing the ballet industry season with my company in Russia. I guess I must’ve been craving something more relatable and reflective of myself: British but not quintessentially so…
This recipe is adapted to be sugar free from the original in the masterpiece that is Sweet by Helen Goh and Yotam Ottolenghi. I’ve also changed a few other ingredients to ones that better suit my lifestyle so feel free to search out the recipe that uses the more conventional dairy butter, cream, etc.
8 medium sage leaves
1 large egg white
25g maple syrup
My Favourite All Purpose Pastry (happens to be grain free):
3 cups ground almonds
1 cup kefir
2 egg yolks
3/4 tsp baking soda
180g walnut halves, toasted
110g unleavened rye bread (the sort often in whole food or Eastern European food stores)
1 tsp yeast extract
finely grated zest of 1 small orange
100g date syrup
220g maple syrup
30g dairy free spread or coconut oil (pus a little extra to grease the tin)
100ml kefir thickened with cashews (I usually make a large batch of this that I keep in the fridge as a double cream substitute by soaking cashews overnight then blending with enough kefir to cover them, resulting in the pouring consistency of double cream)
2 eggs, lightly whisked
For the garnish, preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius Fan. Whisk the the egg white and maple syrup together. Brush the sage leaves on both sides with the mixture. Spread out on baking tray and place in oven for 5 minutes or so, keeping an eye on them until they turn crisp but not burnt. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
For the pastry, mix all the ingredients together, gather into a ball, cover and chill for at least 20 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 180 degrees Celsius fan. Grease a 26 or 27cm tart tin with dairy free butter or coconut oil, then press the chilled pastry in an even layer covering the bottom and sides of the tin. Bake for 20 mins. Set aside to cool as you make the filling.
For the filling, reserve half the walnuts while blitzing the remaining ones with the rye bread to form fine crumbs. In a saucepan over medium low heat, melt the dairy free butter or coconut oil with the yeast extract and syrups. Pour into a bowl with the crumb mixture and all remaining ingredients, plus the reserved walnuts. Pour into the tart case and return to the oven and bake for 50 mins so there is a slight wobble to the filling still.
Remove from oven and, once cool, garnish with the sage leaves. Serve with kefir or cream and absolutely go back for seconds.
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