Hippiescience - what is it and where does it come from?

I think anyone who's been working out long enough has come across the term 'broscience' and their fair share of broscientists. These are people who make wild claims about the effectiveness of certain workouts or nutrition programmes without any evidence whatsoever other than their own anecdotes.

Unfortunately, anyone who has been involved in the vegan health and fitness scene will also have to contend with broscience's raw fruitarian sidekick. For lack of a better term, let's call this 'hippiescience'.

What is hippiescience?

Hippiescience is a form of pseudoscience that is particularly prevalent within health and fitness, and is mostly commonly encountered in vegan communities, but is also espoused in other niche fitness movements.

Hippiescience is a pervasive force that's, at best, embarrassing for the vegan health and fitness movement, and, at worst, downright damaging to people's abilities to live a healthy lifestyle.

Like broscience, there’s little to no real science to back most hippiescience up. Instead, it consists of extremist health claims about the body’s nutritional needs (such as claims that protein is pretty much unimportant, or that any supplement other than spirulina is evil) and what constitutes healthy eating.

Wander the forums of vegan fitness communities, and whilst the vast majority of people are trying to have intelligent discussions about nutritional needs and exercise, there'll be at least a handful of people spouting unfounded statements about yoga, detoxing, fruit, superfoods, RDAs of protein being 20 grams, or even worse (read: crystals and antivaccine).

hippiescience

How does pseudoscience begin?

Fitness communities and ‘expertise’

Fitness communities aren't made up of nutritionists, trainers, athletes, doctors and experts. In an ideal world there would be an abundance of them in any community, ready to educate and advise. But actually, fitness communities only have a sprinkling of those folk in them, and the vast majority of people tend to be your everyday person who doesn't work in the industry of health, fitness, and wellbeing. These are people who range from being extremely unhealthy and are looking for advice on how to get on track to a healthier lifestyle, to those for whom fitness is like a second job to them and meticulously track their workout and nutrition routines. Most people are somewhere in the middle. And there's a wildly varying degree of knowledge from person to person.

Thus, besides the minority of qualified professionals, the newbies will look for people they can aspire to: the unhealthy, overweight, and struggling, will look to the fit, healthy, and seemingly knowledgeable. The former are people who may be at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives, and are lost when it comes to their health, and will take others' word as gospel when it comes to advice.

Distilling research

To add to this problem is the issue of research going into many fitness topics being limited or even non-existent, and that which does exist may be mired with bias and problems, as highlighted in our recent article on HMB. All too often though this research, problematic as it may be, will be snapped up, stripped of 99% of its content, and stuck on someone’s blog with the claim that this is the ultimate exercise to lose weight, and that that is all you need to eat to grow chunky biceps.

Whilst peer-reviewed research papers allude to the myriad of errors that might plague the research, or point to what could be done better, Joe Bloggs’… well, blog, doesn’t point to any of that and just dives straight in with ‘this research shows that adding this weird chemical supplement to your diet is the BEST way to gain muscle’ without any consideration for the errors at hand for the unwitting fitness public to read up on.

How does pseudoscience, and particularly hippiescience prevail?

There are a series of social and psychological problems that lead to the spread of pseudoscience, some unique to veganism, some not. We'll look at five key reasons here. Most aren't malevolent or greedy but are still harmful. Some are motivated by greed, however, so let's look at that first...

1. You can get away with it on the internet

Mycotoxins... Mycotoxins tho.

Mycotoxins... Mycotoxins tho.

The internet is a haven for liars. It protects anonymity, and thus allows anyone to say anything without being at any real risk. At most they’ll get challenged on their claims, and they’ll disappear to a new comment thread or forum article to spread their smatterings elsewhere. Anyone can claim anything, and everyone has an equal voice. It’s both the great opportunity and the great danger of the internet. Disingenuous comments will be shared, and sooner or later the truth is entirely concealed. This is furthered by the use of Photoshop to edit together images.

This can happen for a multitude of reasons, including downright maliciousness. Most commonly though there’s commercial gain to be had. Whaddya know, the person making these wild claims is also peddling some overpriced product, and furthering bogus claims to support it is just part of their marketing activities.

A recent case in point (although actually targeted at the paleo crowd rather than vegans) is Bulletproof Coffee – a company which made wild and unsubstantiated claims about harmful mycotoxins in coffee. Good marketing to the paleo community, and the coffee was getting snapped up for about four times the price of a normal bag of high quality coffee. Only a few years later have the claims about mycotoxins been debunked, but I have little doubt that people are still buying this stuff by the kilo.

2. Community confusion and groupthink

Linked to this is the problem of group dynamics. Much of our society is built on the idea that the majority are correct. Democracy, you may wanna cover your ears for a mo…

Unfortunately, due to the psychological phenomenon of ‘groupthink’ we are far more likely to allow erroneous claims to go unchallenged, especially when such a claim is being spouted by numerous members of a community. It’s natural for most of us to actually avoid conflict, and allow those claims to go on.

Thus, in our natural desire to move towards cohesiveness, more and more people will get swallowed up into the erroneous points of view, and before long, factually incorrect information is being spread as the truth and going totally unchallenged.

As the group dynamic grows, so too does the difficulty of nipping it in the bud. With regards to hippiescience, perhaps this is most prevalent with the antivaccine movement: a vast but entirely irrational body, which completely ignores the decades of research disproving its beliefs. Because the group is so large it has become difficult to break it, despite scientific refutation of pretty much every single claim.

3. Protection of views

Despite our inherent desire to avoid conflict, we are also incredibly defensive of our views. Even when we are disproved by rational science, we cling to our original remarks, occasionally altering them to fit the elements that were disproven. When’s the last time you enjoyed being wrong? Exactly. This is a result of cognitive dissonance – we find it difficult to reconcile the fact that we’d hold irrational beliefs, but rather than altering ourselves, we try to alter others.

Discussing fruit with a hippiescientist is like discussing evolution with a creationist.

Discussing fruit with a hippiescientist is like discussing evolution with a creationist.

I recently walked smackbang into some hippiescience in action on the Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness Facebook page. A girl on there asked if it was ok to use frozen fruit and veg for her smoothies, as she couldn’t afford fresh. One respondent claimed fresh ‘is always best,’ but I pointed to some studies showing that frozen is actually more nutritious, based on nutrients being ‘locked in’ (rather than being leeched from the produce over the days it gets shipped to the supermarket), and due to it being allowed to properly ripen (most ‘fresh’ produce, is actually picked before its ripe to allow for shipping time).

To this one comment, I received a wall text with several different wild claims including one about frozen fruits inhibiting the absorption of vitamins and minerals, one saying that we require water in the fruit to enhance absorption, and told that I could ‘believe’ what I wanted to ‘believe.’

Others jumped in to back up my point and link to further rational, scientific evidence. To which came the response that we cannot trust scientists, as they all have an agenda.

The common backup argument of the hippiescientist is that scientists are all funded by big corporations, and when this argument is dug out of its box it’s time to walk away. It's the hippiescientist equivalent of Godwin's Law. There’s very little reasoning to be done here. The hippiescientist here went on to claim that all food should be eaten raw, and despite people stating that they could not digest some raw food, she told them to just keep going until the ‘digestive system heals itself from the lifetime of eating meat, dairy, and grains’. Again, this could actively hurt people, and thus it’s fair to judge this behaviour as morally reprehensible.

4. Desperate to promote veganism

Admitting we need B12 isn't admitting the defeat of veganism. 

Admitting we need B12 isn't admitting the defeat of veganism. 

This commonly occurs in vegan fitness communities when people deny all nutritional facts that have come before and approach healthy eating with a clean slate. Shrugging off protein and B12 as either not necessary or simple to attain by just eating fruits and veggies seems tempting at first – after all, if we can easily get our nutritional needs from those sources alone then veganism is a no brainer, right?

Well, sadly that’s not the way the body works. Yes, you can survive on a fairly low level of protein. But studies on protein for athletes have been done to death, and consistently show that, at an absolute bare minimum, we need 1g per kg per day. As for B12, there are two decent sources: animal products, and a pill. To deny all this isn’t going to turn more people towards veganism; it’s actually going to hurt the movement. It makes vegans look like idiots who’ve got very little nutritional knowledge.

Instead we should be promoting a varied and nutritious diet with good levels of protein, and supporting vegan protein companies and those working towards providing good alternatives to animal protein, such as Beyond Meat and Muufri. I met Patrik Baboumian a couple of years ago, who is arguably the world’s strongest vegan. He gets approximately 200-300g of protein per day.

This image is regularly shared on social media. Broccoli vs beef for protein. Firstly, that's a fairly inaccurate estimation of the protein content - beef typically contains about 15g per 100 calories. Secondly, basing this on calories presents an misleading picture. You'd need to be eating a ridiculous amount of broccoli to hit your RDA of protein from that alone.

This image is regularly shared on social media. Broccoli vs beef for protein. Firstly, that's a fairly inaccurate estimation of the protein content - beef typically contains about 15g per 100 calories. Secondly, basing this on calories presents an misleading picture. You'd need to be eating a ridiculous amount of broccoli to hit your RDA of protein from that alone.

Hell, even if a head of broccoli did have your RDA of protein in it, we have to face facts – people don’t eat meat for health reasons, but because it tastes good. The hippiescientist can talk until the (free-roaming companion animal) cows come home about how you can get your RDA of everything from cucumber skin, but in all honesty it wouldn’t make a difference even if you could. If you want to further veganism, both from a nutritional standpoint and as an ideological movement, then support the companies making strides into the animal protein alternatives out there.

5. Most people just want to help

Perhaps the biggest reason for the spread of hippiescience is an entirely innocent one – people genuinely just want to help. They may have read some hippiescience elsewhere, or tried something that worked for them, and will then pass it on to others looking for guidance. As mentioned above, most people aren’t experts, and they only know what they’ve read elsewhere in vegan health and fitness communities.

The problem is that giving the wrong advice is only going to exacerbate people’s health issues, and cause them problems later on. Offering some advice is fine, but it’s best if it comes from someone in the know. Wherever possible, recommend people see a vegan-friendly nutritionist for the best advice. Speaking of which, I guess this is an apt time for me to say I am not a nutritional expert myself, so take everything I’ve said with a pinch of (low-sodium, iodine enriched) salt. Yes, even the thing about not being able to get all your vitamins from cucumber skins… you never know.

How to change it?

Stay educated – keep reading up on nutrition if you’re going to advise people. I don’t mean blogs, and I certainly don’t mean exclusively vegan groups where there’s a clear agenda. I mean scientific and evidence-based approaches. Examine is a good place to start.

Educate others – when you know, share the knowledge. Link to sources wherever possible. Invite people to read the studies, or at least the abstracts. And don’t spread hippiescience.

Support vegan nutrition companies – there are a ton of brilliant companies out there producing vegan nutritional supplements, protein powders, animal-protein replacements and more. They need our money if they’re going to thrive though.

Challenge hippiescience – if you see blatent hippiescience, don’t be afraid to challenge it. Especially if it’s being recommended to someone who seems to be new to veganism and is looking for advice.

Yoga, spirulina, and raw foods all have their place - I've equally seen people jump too far the other way and rubbish anything commonly espoused by hippiescientists. Actually, yoga, 'superfoods' and raw eating are all awesome, and there's scientific evidence to prove it, but aren't the be all and end all to balanced healthy lifestyles.

Live by example – at the end of the day, even common nutritional pillars aren’t applicable to everyone. Yes, there may be people out there for whom certain hippiescience mainstays have worked. But the best thing to do is find what works for you, and build on it. Tell people it worked for you, but just remember to include the caveat that you’re not an expert. That said, I’ll never wear a crystal. Sorry.

EthicalStores - a new ethical product marketplace

EthicalStores launched just last month and is aiming to become a new one stop shop for ethical goods, clothing, food and more.

Somewhat similar to renowned crafts site Etsy in its design, anyone can sign up to EthicalStores and list their product(s) on the website. The twist is, however, that all items are vegan, cruelty-free, and ethically superior to that which you'd find elsewhere. It takes a matter of minutes to get a product listed, where users can leave images and descriptions of the products they want to sell.

EthicalStores is a new online marketplace for ethical products

EthicalStores is a new online marketplace for ethical products

Customers can then find the products via search functions, or a featured products section on the front page of the site, as well as featured businesses that appear in the sidebar. 

In addition, EthicalStores is a non-profit organisation. Volunteers from all around the world have collaborated in making EthicalStores a reality. With a mission of promoting ethical products and lifestyles on a global scale, EthicalStores is aiming to grow and stock a wide variety of products for every area of one's life. At this point in time, the store is stocking anything from beauty products, to jams and preserves, and homeware items that would make great gifts for others... or a fitting addition to your own kitchen.

To find out more about EthicalStores, head to www.ethicalstores.com.

Ben and Jerry's vegan ice cream is coming

Kings of the ice cream world, and of doing business differently, Ben and Jerry's have announced they are working on vegan ice cream flavours.

FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) - a charity organisation that works to end the use of animals in farming - has been badgering Ben and Jerry's in the wake of their annual free cone day which occurred on 14th April 2015. A slew of campaigners have been shown holding placards outside Ben and Jerry's establishments saying why they want vegan ice cream on the menu, and FARM has also been pushing the agenda on Twitter and via a petition.

Ben and Jerry's have responded though. And it's good news.

Yup, vegan Ben and Jerry's ice cream is on its way

Yup, vegan Ben and Jerry's ice cream is on its way

At this point there's no confirmation on what flavours will be veganised, or how long it'll be until we see vegan Ben and Jerry's on the shelves, but we hope to see some old favourites like Cookie Dough and Phish Food soon.

To support FARM's ongoing campaign to push for vegan options, check out http://demanddairyfree.com/ and sign their petition to Ben and Jerry's, which currently sits at over 21,000 signatures.

Why going vegan helps people

The moral and ethical reasoning behind veganism so often focuses on animals. Yet no matter how solid the reasoning, for some people this just isn't enough. No arguments about animals will sway them because animals just don't have enough worth.

Meat tastes good. I get it. But what about going vegan for the sake of other people? In an attempt to build on the understanding of veganism, here are five key reasons to go vegan for the good of humanity – how can humans benefit from a worldwide shift to a vegan diet?

Antibiotics overuse

We are approaching D-day in the medical sector. Antibiotics are being squandered, and it’s no longer realistic to expect them to be available forever. Without antibiotics, simple surgery will kill thousands of people through infection. Childbirth will be a hugely risky endeavour. And a minor chest infection could kill a healthy adult.

We are breeding an army of superbugs through our overuse of antibiotics. Scary, no?

And how are we squandering our antibiotics? Well, the animal agriculture industry unfortunately. In the US, the industry has been routinely pumping about 70% of antibiotics produced into healthy animals. This prevents the animal from getting sick, and causes a minor and unexplained increase in growth. Great for the industry, terrible for the future of medicine.

A growing body of research is linking the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture to antibiotic resistant superbugs. However, until the industry is changed, no single farm is going to want to risk changing its own practices for fear of losing profits in a highly competitive environment. One way to expedite the industry changes is to boycott it yourself.

For more information, we recommend the film Resistance.

Resistance is a documentary focusing on the massive overuse of antibiotics. One of its focal points is animal agriculture.

Resistance is a documentary focusing on the massive overuse of antibiotics. One of its focal points is animal agriculture.

Eradicating food poverty

Meat consumption hampers efforts to feed poverty-stricken countries. Not to oversimplify matters, but the answer to the challenges of charities such as Oxfam is actually blatant, and that is to leave meat off your plate.

Animal protein is horrendously inefficient to produce, requiring vast amounts of grains, soy, and other crops to feed the 50+ billion animals used in agriculture per year. There are only 7 billion humans on the planet at the moment, yet we are struggling to feed them.

A UK government report on the future of farming published back in 2011 highlighted how this problem will only worsen as the population grows to 9 billion over the next few decades, demonstrating how there needs to be a massive shift in the distribution of food as it stands. A plant-based diet is the best way to commit to this shift on a personal level.

Protecting oil supplies

Whilst veganism is often intertwined with the renewable energy movement, it would also protect what limited non-renewable energy resources we have left, and ensure they can be used more efficiently. With current estimates pointing to oil running somewhere around the middle of this century, this is a pressing issue.

There are numerous stages within the animal agriculture industry where these resources are used in abundance. Manchester-based artist Mishka Henner highlights this eloquently.

His series of aerial shots of feedlots and oilfields hint at the interrelationships between these two massive industries. Feedlots are the final feeding stations for cattle before slaughter – in the last few weeks of their lives the aim is to fatten them up, adding about 4 pounds of weight per day. Masses of corn and grain are provided to the animals.

Mishka Henner's work includes aerial photographic images of Texan feedlots and oilfields, subtly hinting at the interrelationship between them driven by animal agriculture.

Mishka Henner's work includes aerial photographic images of Texan feedlots and oilfields, subtly hinting at the interrelationship between them driven by animal agriculture.

These crops are grown elsewhere, and shipped to the feedlot. By food activist Michael Pollan’s estimations, each bushel of corn (about 8 gallons) requires a whopping 1.2 gallons of oil which is used primarily in chemical fertilisers.

We’ve already mentioned the inefficiency of turning plants into animals for consumption, but this affects the future of the world’s non-renewable energy supply, at a time when inefficiency cannot be afforded.

Personal health

Despite ongoing debate on nutrition and long-term health, a shift towards a plant-based, vegan diet filled with fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, healthy fats, and lean vegan protein is consistently shown to be optimal for long-term health.

Only a month ago, an independent US government advice committee (The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) published a report highlighting the necessity of a shift towards plant-based eating for the long-term health of citizens.

There are plenty of proponents for other diets, but consistently a plant-based one comes out on top for long-term health. This particular committee is entirely independent and aren’t swayed by bias.

You can either read the full 571 page report, packed with evidence… or just take our word for it. A vegan diet is optimal for personal health.

The slippery slope

Leo Tolstoy had some awesome ideas, and an even more awesome beard

Leo Tolstoy had some awesome ideas, and an even more awesome beard

This is a slightly less palpable point, as it’s more conceptual than practical, but bear with me.

When discussing vegetarianism, Tolstoy stated that for ‘as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.’

Tolstoy’s point was that violence begets violence. When we see it as possible to subjugate what we would call ‘lesser beings’ where will we stop? The slippery slope leads us from subjugating animals, to cultures and peoples we see as inferior. Our compassion makes way for violent traits within us, and those violent traits dominate.

Tolstoy illustrates that we can never be sure where those violent traits will end, and to whom we will extend them to. Thus, by exercising compassion over animals, we are more likely to exercise compassion over man.

Nirbhaya Play Review

My viewing of the theatre piece, Nirbhaya, was in a rather timely manner. The last few weeks have been saturated with debate about the documentary India’s Daughter – a documentary which covers the same event that is the focal point of Nirbhaya. That event being the gangrape and murder of 23 year old doctor-in-training Jyoti Singh.

Whilst India’s Daughter has spurned a wave of debate on a spectrum of issues, from sexual violence in India, to capital punishment, to those defending Delhi against its new label of ‘rape capital of the world’, Nirbhaya remains focused on one issue alone: breaking the silence.

Nirbhaya, a word that was attributed to Jyoti Singh under circumstances when she could not be named as the victim of the crime, means ‘fearless.’ This theatre piece, and the cast within it are beyond deserving of that title. Nirbhaya sets out to tell the story of Jyoti Singh, and how the events of 16th December became a catalyst and a source of strength for women across India. Suddenly, silence was an option no more.

Jyoti Singh, or 'Nirbhaya' played by Japjit Kaur

Jyoti Singh, or 'Nirbhaya' played by Japjit Kaur

The piece explores four true backstories of the cast in the play. Each of them highlights the ubiquitous and rampant gender violence and injustice sweeping India, ranging from those who were abused as children to those as adults, and those for whom it was by close family to those for whom it was by a complete stranger. It was perhaps halfway through that it clicked with me that the stories being told weren’t just true stories, but were attributed to the cast members portraying the story too – a realisation that hit incredibly hard.

In a Q&A following the show, one cast member explained her feeling of regret in keeping her story locked up for so long, highlighting that Jyoti Singh may still be alive had gender violence been an issue that was challenged sooner. With all that is going on in India at the moment, and the global focus on India’s culture in the wake of India’s Daughter, this piece is harrowing but absolutely essential. Nirbhaya, indeed.

 

View the website for more on Nirbhaya and for upcoming shows.

It Follows Review

A smart and suspenseful horror that toys with traditional tropes before moving into true originality.

Year on year we are granted with the same supernatural endeavours by seemingly incestuous teams. The Paranormal Activities, Insidiouses, Conjurings, and Sinisters of this world perpetuate Tobe Hooper’s classic plotline in Poltergeist of 1) An innocent family moves into a house 2) house is haunted and gets gradually more dangerous. The threat is invariably a spiritual being, and the solution is often made gradually more tangible as the film progresses. Indeed, ideas are running so low that Poltergeist itself is set for a 2015 remake.

Enter It Follows, and we’re presented with a supernatural horror that breaks these trends and unsettles viewers like the original Poltergeist did those many years ago.

Maika Monroe takes the lead role as Jay in It Follows.

Maika Monroe takes the lead role as Jay in It Follows.

The title of It Follows is apt, as that is the plot for the bulk of the movie. The protagonist is Jay, a 19 year old girl from a sheltered suburban environment. Just beginning to grapple with growing up, she is soon thrown into a damned future after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter. Chloroformed by her partner, she awakes tied to a wheelchair. He explains that he has ‘passed it on’ to her and he previously had it passed onto him. It never ceases to follow, and it is slow but it isn’t stupid. It can take the form of anyone, from a stranger in the crowd to a best friend or parent. The only way to rid yourself is via a sexual encounter, thus passing it on.

There is no slow build-up of gradually increasing danger over weeks in Jay’s life, as the aforementioned films typically do. Instead, the film thrusts into suspense, confusion, and fear for its remaining duration.

Jay and her childhood friends band together to try and comprehend what’s going on. This cohort aren’t savvy frat-house guys or screaming sorority girls; they’re real teenagers making it easy to develop empathy. They’re goofy but caring, making in-jokes about one another whilst never faltering in their attempts to protect Jay. In this regard the film was similar to Spielberg’s Super 8, itself a homage to 1980s childhood adventure movies like The Goonies and Stand By Me. Adults are resigned to the background or as the current chosen form for ‘it’.

‘It’ is perfectly terrifying. Inspired by director David Robert Mitchell’s repeated childhood nightmare, its origins are never explained – a bold move as that sense of closure is never reached for the viewer. Instead we know those few rules we were given.

And the concept is terrifying. It always follows and never sleeps, even when Jay does. And its shape-shifting means that the viewer is constantly questioning background characters and whether they’re shuffling slowly towards Jay or merely ambling through their daily lives. The use of human characters as the source of horror is effective, with some variations of ‘it’ being truly haunting, as with The Sixth Sense’s various ghostly creations, which similarly had the viewer guessing as to what was real and what was an apparition.

All of this wouldn’t have had the profound effect that it does had it not been for the impeccable cinematography and sound design. Dream-like hazy visuals of suburban America merge with jarring suspense-building shots of ‘it’ gradually approaching. Some of the films finest moments include beautiful widescreen shots of Jay’s sleepy neighbourhood, and panoramic visuals of the environments.

This is married with Richard Vreeland's impeccable score. 80s synth is most prevalent, shifting perfectly between the said dream-like haziness to an unsettling noise when in the presence of ‘it’. The result is Drive-esque; rich, striking, and at times visceral. It is the third major component to a movie that is otherwise about Jay and her friends, and ‘it’.

The lingering sense of paranoia when you leave the cinema sits alongside the overwhelming sense of novelty from the movie. In recent years, many have tried to reverse typical horror tropes, such as Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and Cabin in the Woods. It Follows doesn’t do this in such a palpable and overt way, and should be rewarded for that subtlety. Instead, it makes those tropes its own, not unlike Eden Lake, and as such sets a new benchmark for supernatural horror.

Score: 4.5/5

ind out more about It Follows on IMDB.

The Almond Tree Review

The Almond Tree is a small café based in Brighton serving exclusively vegetarian and vegan food. Its modest, unassuming exterior hides some of the best quality and lovingly created food in the south-east of England. The aim is not to impress with long lists of fancy ingredients and decorative displays of food, but neither is it to offer simple and easy dishes to the masses. It's a labour of love, where every single dish feels like it has been made especially for you. Many restaurants aim for that home-cooked meal feeling but fall short, whilst The Almond Tree has you enjoying good food, whilst evoking a hint of nostalgia for familial cooking.

I've been to The Almond Tree several times before, but this review is going to be slightly different. Firstly, the café closed for several months towards the end of 2014, and has recently been refurbished. Secondly, this is taken from their Valentine's Day special menu - the first of their planned event evenings. Normally, they shut in the evenings, so food is a breakfast/lunch affair. But this three-course meal provides an apt opportunity to review the café anyway.

Review

Before headed for the Almond Tree, my partner and I picked up some drinks. This was a BYOB event, which I think is always a plus. You get to choose exactly what you'd like, without paying obscene amounts for a bottle of wine or a few beers. If BYOB isn't to your taste, there were still drinks on offer at the café, so really it's a matter of preference, but you can't deny having the option is a bonus.

When we turned up, the lovely staff greeted, introduced themselves, shook our hands and took our coats. It's that initial personal touch that makes The Almond Tree an experience, and not just about the cuisine.

But it didn't stop there. Just a couple of minutes after we'd be shown to our table, we were offered a (free) glass of Prosecco to start the evening. We sat sipping our Prosecco, and were able to see the chef cooking our meals in the open plan kitchen just metres away. This filled the room with rich aromas of roasting vegetables and gentle spices.

The first course was a parsnip and ginger soup, topped with sliced fried tofu and kale crisps. A warm, thick, wintery soup that was smooth and packed with flavour. The tofu was fried to perfection - chewy yet tender, and marinating before my eyes in the delicious soup, whilst the kale crisps provided a nice contrast to the texture. Initially I thought they may be a bit out of place in this soup, but as soon as I tasted the combination it all felt right, with the kale slowly turning soft as it sat in the soup. A brilliant start.

Ginger and parsnip soup with kale and chewy tofu

Ginger and parsnip soup with kale and chewy tofu

Tofu and spinach bake

Tofu and spinach bake

Our main was being prepared as we ate, ensuring wait times between dishes was minimal. I was unsure what to expect from the main. The menu read 'tofu and spinach bake on a celeriac and nutmeg puree, served with cherry tomatoes confit and crispy vegetables.' I saw the chef finishing the meal, and the other staff armed with cameras taking photos of the creation, again showing the real sense of pride about the dishes that were coming out of the kitchen.

Rest-assured, the food was delicious. The tofu and spinach bake was reminiscent of an omelette. Again, beautifully cooked tofu presented a meaty texture which began to crumble in the mouth. The cherry tomatoes were divine, and the puree added a sweet flavour to the other components of the dish. The vegetables acted as a nice side, but the main event was definitely the bake itself. My tofu misadventures (particularly baking and grilling efforts) have demonstrated how difficult it is to cook with that good ol' block of soya, so this was really quite an impressive dish.

The final dish on the menu was fresh fruit, soya and coconut whipped cream, and chocolate drops. That description does not do this justice. I was fully expecting (and would have been happy with) a plate of fruit and chocolate chips, and a side pot of cream. What came out was more like a sundae; a martini glass with the components layered. Whilst the initial soup was like a farewell to the cold winter months that had just passed, the dessert was like a greeting to summer. Sumptuous fresh berries marinating in juice combined with a thick, sweet cream and shavings of dark chocolate. So simple, yet the superlative point of the meal. Delightful.

Coconut cream sundae

Coconut cream sundae

Enjoying the lovely Almond Tree!

Enjoying the lovely Almond Tree!

And before we could leave, we were brought a plate of homemade truffles - thick, sticky dark chocolate to end a brilliant meal.

As mentioned, The Almond Tree is a labour of love. Every ingredient to the experience, both literal and otherwise, is provided with the sole aim of creating dishes that can be deemed as perfect. It'll never win awards for innovative cooking, or gastronomic brilliance. But instead it offers something much more important: a sense of passion in everything they do.

Minimo - an interview with founder, Izzie Whitfield

Minimo is a minimalist wallet that was funded on Kickstarter. The wallets are designed and made in the UK and are highly customisable, and both very comfortable and also stylish. We caught up with Izzie to find out about the wallets and funding through Kickstarter.

Interview

1. So what's Minimo all about?

Minimo is, essentially, a slim, user-friendly wallet that stops users carrying junk and is highly customisable.

2. Where did you come up with the idea?

Minimo came about after I lost my old wallet. It was bulky, faux leather and full of pointless cards, receipts and coins. That’s why I lost it - it literally slipped out of my pocket due to the weight, size and material. Having seen other minimalist wallets around, but not quite liking any of them enough to buy them, I decided to design my own.

Minimo wallets come in an array of different colours, and the individual components can be customised.

Minimo wallets come in an array of different colours, and the individual components can be customised.

3. What sets Minimo apart from the other minimalist wallets that are on the market at the moment?

I saw a lot of awesome slim wallets around and they often looked amazing, but every one I came across seemed to lack functionality. Removing cards, for example, often involved prying the wallet apart and awkwardly holding it open or removing all your cards each time. For that reason, one of the most important aspects of Minimo had to be functionality, without compromising on size or aesthetics. You can easily spread all your cards apart to find what you want, can split them into two compartments, see cards from either compartment or from both at the same time, you can carry cash and hold cash/other items under the band. On top of that, as it’s made of aluminium, it helps to protect against RFID data theft. Minimo also comes in 15 different colours and each of the four components can be whichever colour you’d like, giving over 20 thousand (so I’m told!) colour combinations.

I looked at issues that other slim wallets had and found ways to overcome them. For example, with one similar wallet, users were complaining that their cards were scratched when sliding them out. All the interior surfaces of Minimo are highly polished.

The band also helps to prevent the wallet sliding (or being taken) out of your pocket.

4. Your Kickstarter was tremendously successful, coming in at well over the goal. What made you choose Kickstarter as a platform to get Minimo going?

It wasn’t much contest for me. I’d had a look at other sites but Kickstarter was by far the most popular, cleanest and most user friendly looking and clearly ran a lot of product design projects.

5. Do you have any advice for any budding Kickstarterers? What tips do you have to help them to get their projects funded?

Be as open and honest as possible. Backers are putting their money towards unknown people and new products (or films/businesses etc) so deserve to understand what’s going on. I encountered a few manufacturing issues along the way which, in turn, caused delays. I kept my backers completely in the loop with regular updates, telling them, honestly, about the problems that were occurring and was met with support and kind words. I’ve seen other project creators face problems and go silent which leaves backers frustrated and confused.

6. What's next for Minimo?

I’m going to further develop the wallet before anything else. I’d like to perfect manufacturing techniques and possibly introduce some new colours and different types of plates. In terms of new products, I have a few ideas but there’s nothing set in stone. The general idea, however, will be giving a new edge to existing, every day products.

For more on Minimo, check out their website over at http://www.minimostore.com/ where you can find out more about the wallets and order one yourself.

Is HMB about to be the biggest supplement you’ve never heard of?

A new study published this week in the European Journal of Applied Physiology has pointed to HMB as being hugely beneficial in lean muscle growth, with subjects putting on upwards of 5kg of lean muscle over a 12 week period. This was placed alongside a placebo group, whose respective gains were minimal.

HMB, or beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid (try saying that three times fast), is a component of leucine, an amino acid frequently encountered in another popular supplement, BCAAs. Whilst the human body synthesises a small amount, studies have previously shown a beneficial effect with regards to muscle gain and in maintenance of muscle tissue too if taken in higher doses.

However, none have laid such wild claims as the latest study. All participants were initially tested for their one-rep maxes on various lifts, as well as their peak power output. Body composition was also measured. All participants were men, who had previously trained with weights.

Over the following 12 weeks a resistance training programme was set up, basically involving 3 workouts per week, and one group was supplemented with 3g of HMB per day (taken at 3 intervals), whilst the placebo group went without.

After the 12 week programme, participants were again assessed. Their lifts had shot up by about 18%, whilst the placebo group saw increases of only 6%. They lost body fat and increased muscle mass. In addition, their level of ‘perceived recovery’ (a subjective measure of feeling recovered from the workout) was much better than the placebo group.

So, should we all be rushing out to buy HMB immediately? Probably not. This is an initial study, and these findings should be treated as such. It needs to be applied on a much larger scale. This is most obvious in the number of subjects used – 24 people. This is an incredibly small sample size and thus even minor errors are going to be magnified, making this study difficult to generalise to the wider athletic community.

Perhaps even more worrying is the little sentence under the Conflict of Interest area of the study. It’s funding comes from Metabolic Technologies Inc. – a supplier of HMB supplements. And three of the contributors to the study are on the payroll for MTI.

Without further evidence, it is difficult to recommend HMB from this study alone. It's cheap though, so try it for yourself.

Without further evidence, it is difficult to recommend HMB from this study alone. It's cheap though, so try it for yourself.

This has not been the first time the benefits of HMB have been potentially exaggerated. Many of the initial studies on its benefits were performed by Steve Nissen – the very same guy who initially discovered HMB and patented it. Many studies that have been performed from more, shall we say, objective sources have found minor benefits from HMB but nothing to write home about.

Where does this leave us then? A great resource for sifting through the truths and the exaggerated truths of HMB is Examine, who have a clear and concise page on HMB. As always though it often comes down to the simple question: does it work for you? HMB is a relatively cheap supplement and giving it an initial go will cost you a few bucks. Not all manufacturers list theirs as vegan, but there are some out there. Perhaps it's worth giving it a try.