Monday, November 30, 2009

What Vegans Eat


I'd hoped to kick-start a periodic vegan cookbook review feature on My Face Is on Fire but have been too swamped at the office to follow up with the vegan bloggers and food-lovers who'd volunteered to submit occasional reviews several weeks ago. In the interim, here's an update on what some of my favourite vegan food blogs have been offering up over the past few weeks:

The
VeganDad blog's writer's home must be smelling wonderful this month given his recent posts for Ethiopian Sweet Potato Stew and Ethiopian Lentils. I've never cooked Ethiopian before, but am intrigued by the use of garlic with cinnamon in these two recipes, along with all of the other wonderful spices called for in either.

Speaking of the aroma of spices filling a kitchen: I can just imagine how scrumptious it must have been to just stand beside the stove while Sinead over at Kitchen Dancing prepared her Parsnip Perfection soup with its ginger, cumin, chipotle chilies and lime. (While you're at it, do check out her blowtorched Green Tea and Almond Crême Brulée recipe from a week and a half ago.)

My friend Thomas has been visiting me from Pennsylvania this past week and a half, and just yesterday we were discussing "cheesecake" and I was telling him about how I used to make a killer chocolate tofu cheesecake. Maybe I should test this cinnamon-y Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe posted by Ed recently at his Eating Consciously blog over the next few days.

Speaking of pumpkins,
Vegancognito's Batgirl offered up a recipe last weekend for her chili cook-off contest winning Pumpkin Mole Chili w/Chipotle Creme and Homemade Cornbread Croutons that also calls for--cinnamon! She describes the chili as "spicy, smoky, rich, deep, and complex" which seems like a dead-on description just from reading its ingredients.

Have you ever thought that vegan cooking's too complicated? Have you found yourself having a hard time knocking your kitchen "know-how" out of the box to play with new seasonings and to try different things? Just keep your eye on vegan cooking blogs like these (see the numerous ones listed off to the right of the screen in the "Vegan Cooking and Nutrition" links list) and I guarantee that you'll soon find yourself wondering what you've been missing.

Going vegan is easy. Not only is it ultimately the delicious thing to do, but most importantly, it's the right thing to do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shocking People into Short-Term Change (a.k.a. Animal Advocacy Fail)

Samantha Friedman, writing for Boston's Daily Free Press, took the opportunity today to explain (in a really, really roundabout manner, I'll admit) why nonviolent vegan education is the only sensible method to use to lead people to commit themselves to living the remainder of their lives without exploiting nonhuman animals. What Prof. Gary L. Francione describes as "blood and guts" advocacy can sometimes miss the mark altogether. As Friedman writes:

PETA, also known as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, is responsible for the reason I can no longer stomach a beef gyro. You see, PETA has conducted an array of investigations on the management of slaughterhouses throughout the United States, and I was lucky enough to learn about their studies. Given little time for mental preparation, my health class began showing clips of animals all mutilated in the process of mass meat distribution. Before that, my theory was, “If you don’t have to meet it, then why can’t you eat it?” However, this video greatly challenged my ability to continue turning the other cheek. I realized that these helpless chickens and cows had families, careers and homes, all beyond our understanding.
Friedman then proceeds to write about her ensuing period of vegetarianism and how she spent all of it drooling all over herself with her near-madness-inducing cravings for the flesh of dead animals. Until the day a turkey pecked her and purportedly gave her an excuse to eat turkeys again. I'd hate to see what she'd do if a toddler slapped her shin or her cat stepped on her arm in her sleep.

Now, obviously Friedman's piece is none-too-serious. I suspect that she wrote it with her fork firmly lodged in her cheek, bent on writing something titillating in time for Thanksgiving. However, I thought that her PETA example provided a good opportunity to address the issue of using violent imagery to discourage people from maintaining the daily habits that leave them, in turn, participating in the cycle of violence that is the continued exploitation of nonhuman animals.
As Prof. Francione points out in his piece "A Comment on 'Blood and Guts' Advocacy", there are many ways in which using violent imagery becomes problematic when one is engaging in animal advocacy. First, you risk alienating some people (thus losing the opportunity to educate them about veganism) since some will flat-out refuse to look at the images and shut themselves off altogether. On the other hand, thanks to overexposure to graphic imagery on the telly, at the movies and so on, attempting to shock people out of consuming animals could be met with a shrug of indifference.

The most problematic aspect of using graphic imagery to advocate for animals, however, is that it can often turn the focus away from
use and instead leave it on treatment, as if the fact that nonhuman animals were being raised to be slaughtered would somehow be more acceptable if the images were of "happy" animals. Take, for instance the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) recent investigation into the treatment of calves at Bushway Packing, Inc., where they claim to have discovered signs of "shocking" cruelty at this one location. As Wayne Pacelle states in his A Humane Nation blog:
It’s always deeply disturbing to see the mistreatment of animals, but there’s something even worse when the victims are babies and seem so utterly vulnerable and frightened.
The footage is indeed shocking, but it's not exactly breaking news. Every single nonhuman animal bred and raised for human consumption is forced to live an existence that is "disturbing", where he or she is deprived of living a life according to his or her own interests; every single nonhuman animal bred and raised for human consumption is merely shuffled and shoved according to whatever is most convenient and cost-efficient until the day comes when his or her life is taken. And what for? To end up with pieces of his or her cooked flesh on a plate. Every single animal bred into slavery as part of a cycle that leads to his or her consumption by humans is "utterly vulnerable and frightened". This is not the exception--it is the norm.

So HSUS presents its "shocking footage" and instead of taking the opportunity to inform the general public that this is, indeed, the status quo for most animals we call "food" and to press for the general public to disengage itself from this cycle--to stop providing the demand that perpetuates this cycle of slaughter, it uses footage such as this to prompt people to continue funding its anti-cruelty campaigns seeking to regulate what is ultimately the continued use of animals. As Prof. Gary L. Francione has illustrated and explained repeatedly over the years,
regulating the treatment of nonhuman animals is beside the point:
We certainly ought to make clear to the public the nature of the treatment of the animals we consume. But we also should make it clear that this system cannot be fixed in any way that would address the fundamental moral concerns. We should not promote the idea that some of this is “abuse” and some is not. It’s all abuse. It’s all morally unjustifiable. We should never use the word “humane” to describe any component of this machine of violence, torture and death.
There is really no such thing as "humane" treatment and images such as those captured by HSUS in this (and numerous other investigations) are the bona fide norm, and not exceptions that can somehow be "fixed" by HSUS or any other welfarist or new welfarist organisation. As Prof. Francione states, "We have got to get away from this fantasy that it is possible ever to produce animal products without torture. It’s impossible. [...] Consuming animals necessarily means that we support torture."

The bottom line is that violent video footage may shock some people into making changes in their lives, but those changes may be the wrong ones. And even if they are the right ones, there's no guarantee that the shock won't wear off sooner than later, particularly if the imagery ends up associated with treatment instead of use, and that any false-impression given that treatment has improved won't lull humans back into that same sort complacency that allowed them to turn a blind eye to the cycle perpetuated by their initial demand in the first place. The truth is that many welfarist groups use violent imagery as a tool to emphasize the need for further regulation of the continued use of animals and that the general public is most often exposed to those images within that context and with that subtext.

The current paradigm can only be shifted by making people understand why it needs to be shifted.
The only meaningful, unequivocal and lasting manner in which to convey to people how and why sentient nonhumans have the same right not to be treated as things as sentient humans is through nonviolent and creative vegan education. You cannot rely on images alone without explanation, and for advocates seeking the abolition of the use of nonhuman animals to really make a difference in the lives of thos nonhuman animals, that explanation needs to address the immorality of using animals as things in the first place.

Outlook

"You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible."
--Anton Chekov (1860-1904)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

There seems to be a hell of a lot of confusion among animal advocates about what it means to promote and support the abolition of the exploitation of animals. The abolitionist approach to animal rights, as developed by Prof. Gary L. Francione, makes it quite clear that regulating the use of animals in no ways leads to the abolition of their use. Furthermore, regulating their use ultimately does more harm than good, by reinforcing the belief held by industries and most of the general public that nonhuman animals are ours to use in the first place--that they're our property, as well as by making people feel better about continuing to consume them.

This slide show presentation, taken from the The Abolitionist Approach website clarifies what indeed is meant by "an abolitionist approach to animal rights":

Theory of Animal Rights from Gary L. Francione on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plant-based Eggs and Confrontational Conversation Bombs

The Baltimore Jewish Times ran an article today about preparing Thanksgiving dinner for a group that includes omnivores as well as vegetarians. Hilary Belz (described as a former vegan) was interviewed for supposed tips on how to accommodate. The piece was weirdness incarnate on many levels. For instance, the founder of EarthSave, Baltimore is quoted as saying that some vegetarians "will put a piece of turkey (on their plate) so as not to make waves in the family" at Thanksgiving. Where the article mentioned vegans, however, is where it got my attention: "Vegans don’t eat any animal products but, in addition, some won’t eat eggs and/or honey either."

So, um, do eggs and honey grow on trees?

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This student commentary in The McGill Tribune was a nice change from most of the muck that comes up in in online media concerning veganism. I can completely relate (as I'm sure that many other vegans can) to the experience of having non-vegans feeling compelled to share with you stories of the most delectable (to them) dead animals they've enjoyed in the past, whether to tempt or taunt you. That being said, I can't help but think about possible opportunities for vegan education that could arise if more vegans were comfortable defusing sometimes apparently (and sometimes obviously) confrontational conversation bombs. Any tips or tricks anyone would like to share in comments are most welcome!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Oh, What to Eat?

Vegan Examiner Adam Kochanowicz's recent post ("How to eat vegan: practical ideas") reminded me this morning that it's been a while since I've poked around online to see what some of my favourite vegan food bloggers have been tossing together in their kitchens. I've said it before that it was 1) the availability of vegan recipe sites and cooking threads in vegan online communities, as well as 2) the assortment of decent vegan cookbooks I accumulated that both taught me how to really cook for the first time, as well as facilitated a healthy transition to a plant-based diet. These days, those who are adopting the vegan lifestyle also have an incredible number of vegan food blogs to peruse for everything from cooking tips to recipe suggestions (or even plain old tempting photos of vegan dishes).

As Kochanowicz points out in his article: "It's not just the presence of non-vegan food but the absence of vegan food which creates a barrier for you to immerse yourself in a vegan way of
living." I agree with this and also think that an absence of meal preparation ideas can be detrimental for vegans--particularly those who've never really spent much time cooking for themselves. When you just don't know what to make or how to make something, it's all too easy to reach for junky alternatives. Not being a food blogger myself, I'm grateful that I can pick and choose from a wide variety of offerings from others online and highlight them here from time to time. I also hope to begin a regular (and possibly monthly) series of guest cookbook reviews within the next few weeks, thanks to some fellow vegans who've offered to pitch in occasional posts. In the interim:

Claire over at
Chez Cayenne shared a recipe for Tempura Nori this past weekend. I could definitely see these becoming quite an addictive snack.

Gaia at
Live It Up Vegan! posted a recipe for James Barber's Tofu on Pita. I remember watching Barber's old cooking show The Urban Peasant in my pre-vegan days, too. It was a CBC staple.

Kitchen Dancing's Sinead salvaged some leftover Halloween pumpkins to make Scavenged Pumpkin Buns, using whole grain spelt flour and the kinds of spices that leave a kitchen smelling that almost comforting sort of way it always should when the weather starts to turn cold -- of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg. (You should check out Sinead's other web project--her Ask Science Dude website and podcast.) Speaking of pumpkins...

Mihl at
Seitan is My Motor posted a recipe a few days ago for Curried Pumpkin Soup with White Wine and Seitan, with a link to one for another blogger's Pumpkin Chili.

Finally, if you want an eyeful of what gorgeous and delicious vegan food looks like, check out Cooking from 1000 Vegan Recipes. Better yet, pick up a copy of Robin Robertson's book 1000 Vegan Recipes and cook along with them. So far, the six bloggers have 79 recipes down and 921 to go.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mumblings and Musings About Earnestness in the Animal Movement

I like communication. No, really. I like to bounce ideas off of people and also appreciate it when someone else takes the time to contextualize his or her opinions or conclusions for me, whether by filling in blanks with information previously unknown to me, or by walking me through the process of how he or she came to connect certain dots. I listen as well as I can, and being human, I'm as guilty as the next body of being preoccupied with personal matters or of wielding my grains of salt unapologetically. Whether or not I have a pretty good hunch that I'll disagree with what's presented, I have--at the very least--a genuine interest in listening and in trying to understand where the other person is coming from and how he or she got to that point. Every once in a while, I get to note where he or she may have missed a dot; sometimes not. At the very least, I walk away from the experience with something to consider, whether or not my own opinions regarding the subject at hand have budged a hair's breadth.

I rarely plug my ears unless it becomes clear to me that someone is just arguing for the sake of arguing and that his or her opinion or view isn't grounded in anything other than a need to just be plain old contrary. Going out of your way to give people the benefit of the doubt leaves you running into a lot of people like this, but it also leaves you better able at assessing when to walk away from a discussion that's really just someone's indulging in an opportunity to snipe or browbeat. I also walk away when it becomes apparent that someone is merely engaging in so much rote recitation--the passing on of a convenient "this is how it is and I don't have to justify a thing to you" sort of statement that might as well be a "no comment" as far as its usefulness and sincerity are concerned. I see less of that with individuals and more of it with enormous and well-funded welfarist orgs that actually keep people on the payroll to come up with variations on empty and dismissive statements (or to bombard people with simplistic propaganda). For instance, I sometimes wonder how many spay/neuter surgeries could be performed with the money HSUS spends on Twitter PR alone any given month, but I digress...

Call me naive, but I guess that on some level, I'd like to think that at least some people are also willing to listen, and by this I don't mean just staying mum while contemplating the next thing they'll say, themselves, while you're yammering: I mean an earnest sort of open-minded listening that--at the very least--leaves them with a better idea of how I came to connect my own dots. Only when two participants in a discussion are willing to listen will anything fruitful come of the discussion for both those participants. I see people in the animal movement who could save a lot of time and energy in learning to listen.

By this, I don't necessarily mean learning to let themselves be talked out of their convictions and am certainly not saying that everyone should hold hands and pretend to
share the same convictions. What I think would help tremendously, however, would be to spend time discussing how we came to our conclusions rather than just repeating those conclusions over and over again to each other--and to all around us--just to try to drown each other out. We don't have to agree; we also don't have to walk away from disagreement. I'd like to think that most who are seriously committed to helping nonhuman animals are willing engage in critical thinking and possess a certain amount of intellectual honesty. Maybe that's just my still being very much immersed in learning theory and learning the history and politics of the movement, myself. Maybe I merely belie my nasty naive streak in expressing hope for dialogue so that we can--at the very least, and even as we disagree and debate--maintain some sense of civility and stay focused on the issue at hand rather than get lost in the politics and posturing.

Omnivorism as the New Vegetarianism


I guess that there's only so far down a slippery slope someone can push an issue or an idea. Once you get to that point, it's sometimes easiest to cry uncle and
go on your way and effect change where things haven't been left a heaping mess. This morning, Prof. Gary L. Francione tweeted a story from the BBC's online News Magazine ("The Rise of the Non-Veggie Vegetarian") -- the sort of article that leaves you walking away with sore eyes (i.e. after you've rolled them so damn much). The article focuses, for the most part, on what one friend often calls 'pesky-tarians'--that strange breed of purportedly ethical eater that insists on self-labeling as 'vegetarian'.

The article points out that Britain's Vegetarian Society, "the custodian of British vegetarianism since 1847", defines a vegetarian as someone who "does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacean, or slaughter byproducts" and then goes on to explain the justifications those who eat fish give for doing so. In some cases, eating fish is defended for health reasons (and the article counters this by clarifying that "some nutritional benefits of eating oily fish can be gained" from eating substances like nuts and seeds). In other cases, those who cling to the vegetarian label, yet choose to eat fish, do so because they attribute less ethical weight or worth to fish, even though according to Revd Prof Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics:

"There is ample evidence in peer-reviewed scientific journals that mammals experience not just pain, but also mental suffering including fear, anticipation, foreboding, anxiety, stress, terror and trauma."
"The case for fish isn't so strong, but scientific evidence at least shows that they experience pain and fear. Anyone who wants to avoid causing pain should give up eating fish."
Of course, many will also point out or acknowledge that the "cuteness factor" has a lot to do with attitudes towards fish. Neither furry nor cuddly, they don't evoke the same reactions as wide-eyed calves or of fuzzy lambs teetering on shaky legs.

While the article does provide quotes and explanations of why, by definition, eating animals is not vegetarian, and although it clarifies how health and ethical arguments touted by some as justifying the eating of fish are more or less bunk, it continues to use the term "fish-eating vegetarians" to describe those who eat fish. Then it slips into an exploration of the words that have come and gone to describe these non-vegetarians who seek to associate themselves with vegetarianism. The word 'pescetarian', one that's been used to define omnivores who eschew all flesh other than that of fish, is described as being somewhat out of fashion; the newer term 'flexitarian' (which, let's face it, really just means 'omnivore') is brought up as the up-and-coming label to use for non-vegetarians who want to be identified with vegetarianism. The article goes on to describe 'meat avoiders' and 'meat reducers' and asserts that "one of the reasons it's so hard to assess the level of vegetarianism is because of the multiple definitions of the term."

The truth is that strong arguments have been made that the term 'vegetarian' as it is now commonly understood (i.e. as describing one who refrains from eating animal flesh, while still eating and / or otherwise using animal products)
does not reflect a lifestyle that differs in any significant moral way from omnivorism. So one could ask if it's even worth the bother to concern oneself over whether we now have so-called "fish-eating vegetarians". Is it really even all that relevant, since there's no moral distinction to be made between the consumption of animal flesh or of animal excretions? It seems to me that the issue at hand, with regards to terminology, should be to keep what's clear and consistent from being conflated with this whole heap of confusion from ongoing attempts to co-opt the term 'vegetarian'.

Perhaps it's time for vegans to stop concerning ourselves with the variations involved in the dietary choices of those who are on the path to veganism or who've stalled along the way to reach a plateau they feel is "good enough". Instead of arguing over whether or not we should commend people for shuffling out this or that product and worrying over the watering down of the term 'vegetarian', our focus--particularly for vegan abolitionists--should remain to deliver the clear and consistent message that all animal exploitation needs to be abolished and that the only truly ethical lifestyle choice one can make when it comes to our consideration of nonhuman animals is to go vegan and to remove oneself altogether from the cycle of slavery and slaughter of nonhumans. Think about it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Part I - Gary Francione Interview

This is the first part of Adam Kochanowitz's interview with Prof. Gary L. Francione, filmed recently at Rutgers University.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Something to Ponder Before Uttering a Single Word

"Liars when they speak the truth are not believed."

--Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), from Diogenes Laertius

Bits and Pieces

Seattle's Jones Soda, best known for manufacturing a Thanksgiving-themed turkey-flavoured soda in recent past, has decided to carry on their tradition this year--with a vegan twist. Check your store shelves soon for Jones' vegan-friendly Tofurkey & Gravy soda. (I'll weigh in with a 'blech', although if the kind folks at Jones want to send me a sample, I'll be glad to post a review.)

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Denver food critic Jason Sheehan weighed in this week with his assessment of ethical eating (and particularly on "that whole NOT EATING MEAT thing, which is just right the fuck out"):

As for me, I'll be down the street drinking beer and eating tacos, because for all this talk about animal rights and ecological consequences, there's still a part of me -- a big part of me -- that has all the food-morality of a blood-mad shark, that refuses to entertain notions of animal ethics when the dinner rush is coming in, that just looks at a cow and thinks, "Hmm, dinner..."
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A story that's been making the rounds since an article first appeared about it on the BBC's website is that Windsor Castle will be holding its first ever vegan banquet tomorrow. Prince Philip is co-hosting a multi-faith conference and to keep matters simple in terms of various religions dietary restrictions, a decision was made to put on a completely plant-based feast. You can see the menu for yourself here. It sounds absolutely delicious.