Friday, December 31, 2010

Seitan!

With a house guest for the holidays, I've been doing a lot more cooking. One of the things I decided to tackle was something I haven't done in many years; I made up my mind to whip up a loaf of seitan. I used an old favourite recipe, Jo Stepaniak's "Roasted Breast of Seitan Turkey" from Vegan Vittles. You can find it on page three of this document or find adaptations of it on various online blogs. Vegan Vittles is a great little book, however. I've used it for years and have used it often and recommend it to anyone interested in playing around with seitan or mock cheese recipes.

I first assembled the gluten flour, soy sauce, onion and garlic powder (and water) to make my dough. A little bit of kneading was all it took to come up with a nice gluten loaf in a bowl. It's important to knead it thoroughly to ensure that all of the flour gets moistened and that you don't end up with knots of hard dough from dry lumps.

I then assembled the ingredients for my marinade: olive oil, toasted sesame oil, thyme, 3 garlic cloves (instead of the two called for in the original recipe), poultry seasoning (I had no plain sage on hand and there's plenty of it in poultry seasoning) and pepper. I usually use extra virgin olive oil, but last-minute holiday shopping left me grabbing what I could at the local market when I ran out.

I mixed together the marinade's ingredients and proceeded to rub it well over the gluten loaf, which I then placed in the smaller bowl in which I'd mixed the marinade. I covered it and stuck it in the fridge overnight, occasionally pulling it out to rub the marinade in the bottom of the bowl over it again, enjoying the scent of the yummy toasted sesame oil whenever I did so.

The next day, I preheated my oven to 350F and prepared my cooking / basting liquid. I then placed the loaf and what hadn't been absorbed of the marinade into a rectangular casserole dish, poured half the basting liquid over it and popped it into the oven for an hour and 10-15 minutes, occasionally taking it out (say, every 10-15 minutes) to baste it with the liquid in the pan and adding a bit more as what was in the pan got absorbed or reduced.

When it was done, I took it out to cool it, continuing to baste it every once in a while. Once it was cool enough to handle, I sliced it into strips for later use in sandwiches and stir-fry. It turned out fairly well, albeit less "turkey"-like than the recipe's title would suggest thanks to the extra dark mushroom flavoured soy sauce I'd had on hand and used. I wasn't looking to mimic this or that taste, however, but was just looking for some cheap tasty protein to use.

This did the trick!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hot Noodle Soup on Xmas Day

My non-vegan guest is a huge fan of chicken noodle soup, whether his mother's or from a can. While he was squeezing in a nap after our simple veggie burger lunch, I made the following no-fail easy noodle soup, adapted from one in Dorothy R. Bates' TVP Cookbook. This stuff always reminds me of the lazy Sunday lunches when I was a kid, when Mom would pop open a can of Campbell's soup or pouch of Lipton's and serve it up with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Noodle Soup


What you need:

1 medium to large onion (red or yellow), diced

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

6 cups water

1 cup TVP granules

2 cups noodles of your choice, broken

1 vegetable bouillon cube

salt (if any) to taste

1 Tbs dried parsley

1/3 cup good quality nutritional yeast (I prefer Red Star)

Whatcha do:

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pan and add diced onion. Cook until onion has softened and just started to brown.

Add the water, noodles, TVP and break the bouillon cube into it. Stir well and bring to a quick boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until noodles are on the verge of being perfect (around 10-15 minutes or maybe less depending on size of noodles you're using). Mix in parsley and when noodles are perfect, stir in the nutritional yeast until it's dissolved.

Ladle into hot bowls and top with a pinch of dried or fresh parsley for garnish.
Serves 4-6.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Latest from The Sexy Vegan

He's writing a cookbook, it seems, and I very much look forward to seeing what he slaps together. You can find out more (and check out archived videos) at his website: The Sexy Vegan.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Vegans Eat

I'd thought about devoting a post to some of the holiday treats being shared by vegan food bloggers online, but figured that I'd use December's "what vegans eat" post to nose around for things I'd like to try to make over the next few weeks while I entertain a house guest from Pennsylvania. There'll be no elaborate multi-course meals and no extravagant baking of sweets over and above what most would consider modest for the holidays, but the quest for eclectic noms is on nonetheless. I plan to test out a variety of new recipes, as well as to explore quick-fix meal options such as sandwiches and wraps, salads and one-pot dishes. So here are a few of the things recently (and not-so-recently) posted by vegan bloggers that have caught my eye:

I will be making seitan at some point over the holidays. There -- I said it! There's no backing out of it now. Aside from the odd gluten burger from an old Seventh-Day Adventist cookbook I picked up at a garage sale many years ago, I have not made anything even vaguely resembling seitan in well over 4-5 years, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can make a half-decent batch of it that can be put to good use. The recipe for Hearty Beefless Stew on the Vegan Good Things blog sounds good, as well -- a bit of a change from my usual (and favourite!) Farmhouse Stew by Joanne Stepaniak. What I'd really like to try again, however, is to make some decent vegan Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. I'd made some back in September using the PC Blue Menu Meatless Strips they sell at the Real Atlantic Superstore in my city; they're made by Gardein and are great, but are also pretty expensive considering that you can easily make 4-5 times the amount of homemade seitan for the close to the same price.

Claire's Samosa-style Twice-baked Potatoes at Chez Cayenne are definitely on my "to do" list. She had them with a curried lentil soup, but I'd be tempted to just serve these up with greens of some sort of a salad (although the soup itself looks really good and I may just be compelled to try it out separately -- lentils are just so awesome).Since they're so quick to prepare and an easy way to clear out a crowded refrigerator crisper (and since my guest enjoys them), Asian-themed stir fries tend to get thrown together at least once or twice a week when we're visiting with each other. He's a noodle-lover, so this recipe for Lo Mein from miss v's vegan cookbook will most certainly be on the menu at some point soon.

Another thing I'd sworn to myself I'd try to make this time around is cornbread. During one of my previous visits to Pennsylvania, we'd picked up some cornbread at Whole Foods and during another, a box of mix to make some. I haven't made cornbread from scratch in several years. It's not something I generally seek out, but it seems to be a favourite of my guest's, so I'll try my hand at baking some, using a recipe like this one posted by trktos at the rants & recipes blog. It should go really well with the three-bean chili I'll invariably end up improvising some morning when I hop out of bed early (although after checking out so many new blogs these past few days, I think that I've found a chili recipe that may become my new indulgence -- Slow Cooker Smoky Pumpkin Chili from the Cooking for a Vegan Lover blog.

I may try out these pasties by Vegan Dad who is back after a brief blogging hiatus. I was hoping to find a pot pie recipe, but these may do the trick. I love filled things! In fact, I may even try my hand at making this pita bread recipe from Bankrupt Vegan to fill with falafel using this recipe from Vegan Epicurean posted back in August or to make some seitan gyros.
I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks of vacation and to starting off at least a few frosty mornings sharing some mugs of hot cocoa with my house guest. Lee at The Vegan Version recommends using So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk in cocoa, which sounds delicious!

Seriously, who needs cookbooks with all of these amazing vegan food bloggers plugging away? The food photos were taken from the blogs referenced, by the way. Visit them and visit them often!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Hope

"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Friday, December 03, 2010

Vegans Gabbing it up Online

Social Networking

I spend a fair amount of time "talking" to other vegans. In the non-virtual world, at least in my immediate circle of friends, family and acquaintances, I don't get to indulge in this at all. I've met a few vegans, sure, but could I pick up the phone to call one up to head out for a soy latté to maybe bounce a couple of blog post ideas around, or to bemoan an upcoming staff lunch at the local gourmet burger joint? Not so much. I can sometimes bend my sweetie's ear, but although he's a decent sounding board when it comes to things having to do with group dynamics or trying to hone in on a point about which I want to write, his eyes glaze over noticeably after what he calls "too much AR talk".

But I
do get to communicate with other vegans on Facebook, on Twitter, in various discussion forums, by email and even by Skype. I do this daily. Sometimes we discuss educational projects in which we're involved, while sometimes we discuss news stories about animal rights issues. More often than not, we end up talking about simple details of our lives and of our respective interactions with the non-vegans around us. Vegan parents find themselves weighed down with more than the average parent's share of unwanted advice from family, friends and strangers alike and commiserate with each other. Holidays like like this past Thanksgiving invariably lead to an exchange of stories concerning family dinners. Basically, a lot of the communication that goes on is just the same sort of gabbing in which anyone would indulge, except that it generally -- or at least very often -- involves discussing veganism or animal use.

24/7 Advocacy: A Moral Imperative?


Recently, I've noticed some folks on social networking sites expressing a fair amount of indignation and irritation with some of their fellow vegans. Take Twitter, for instance: A couple of "tweeters" who'd been following me started up about what a complete waste of time it is for vegan activists to "follow" and communicate with other vegans on Twitter, and that these activists' time would be better spent offline engaging in face-to-face advocacy by talking to non-vegans. Some of the tweets I've seen along these lines have been overtly reproachful.

There is an assumption being made that vegans talking to each other online about animal rights issues and regular old life stuff don't, in fact, engage at all in offline activism. Of course, there's absolutely no evidence to back up this claim. It's a false dichotomy, ignoring the fact that
it's possible to engage in both activities--or to (gasp!) do other things altogether having nothing whatsoever to do with animal rights. Some of us actually spend some of our free time volunteering for causes that even have nothing directly to do with animal rights. Heck, some of us even spend much of our free time doing things like knitting or napping.

Yeah, that's right -- napping.

And the thing is that even if we do engage in other activities, that still wouldn't preclude initiating or participating in face-to-face advocacy at some other point during the day or over the course of a week. And ultimately, is it really another advocate's business in the first place if I spend a few minutes or even a few hours a day on the internet rather than doing 'X'?


Where and When and Who's Watching, Anyway?

A few months ago, Dan Cudahy wrote a great little essay called "On Advocacy Media Preferences" in which he examined the question of whether one forum of advocacy, online or otherwise, is more effective. His conclusion?

Of books, magazine articles, scholarly journals, blogs, forums, emails, street stalls, leaflets, event tables, speeches, presentations, casual discussion, and whatever other forms of communication might be effective, it seems to me that what is communicated and how it is communicated is far more important than where or through what media a message is communicated.
I agree with him wholeheartedly on this. One point he makes which I'd like to explore further, however, concerns what he describes as the need to target a non-vegan audience. Some advocates have too narrow an interpretation of how we can educate and the truth is that there are many ways to engage non-vegans directly, as well as many ways to engage them indirectly.

According to a blurb on Wikipedia about lurking, I'm not so sure that vegans talking to each other online aren't, in fact, doing a fair amount of indirect outreach. Lurking on the internet happens when someone registers for a discussion forum, for instance, where members exchange information with each other, but this individual -- known as a "lurker" -- doesn't jump in and ask or answer questions, but instead spends a lot of time just reading and soaking in whatever information is offered up. Research shows that "lurkers make up over 90% of online groups". So when vegans are indulging in the purported waste of time known as talking to each other about veganism (aka preaching to the choir), this means that there's a really good chance that many others are reading the anecdotes being shared and the tips being traded.

I follow around 260 "people" on Twitter, for instance. There is no way that I do -- or could -- tweet back and forth with all 260 every single day. Most of those Twitter accounts belong to real folks (mostly vegan) who spend their time gabbing with others. They end up in my Twitter time-line and I read what they have to say; if I think that I have something interesting with which to chime in, I will. Otherwise, I just lurk and learn, particularly about how other vegans handle being vegan in what is an overwhelmingly non-vegan world.
I assume that for each person following me on Twitter that there are probably many who don't jump in to discussions I try to start up, but who read the exchanges that ensue.

Those Pesky Forums

Before Facebook and Twitter, there were --
and there still are! -- online discussion forums. While some of them have been set up as communities to facilitate vegans' exchanging information and supporting each other, some of them are more inclusive and lead to debate between vegans and non-vegans, welfarists and abolitionists, and so on. Many advocates avoid engaging in online debating in such venues because it can seem pointless to rehash the same arguments over and over again. It can be exhausting. Yet, what I wrote above concerning lurkers applies just as much to old school public forums as it does to sites like Facebook and Twitter. As sociologist Roger Yates wrote in his short piece "Vegan Education on Public Forums":
it is important to remember that many people seem to read these exchanges without actually taking part in them. It is for them that contributing to public internet debates is important.
And he's right. Furthermore, a lot of these public discussion forums (particularly the ones targeting vegans or people interested in learning about veganism) provide a venue for vegans to support and encourage each other or to engage in earnest dialogue when and where differences may occur and this takes me back to the beginning of this post.

That vegans gab together isn't a lost opportunity for advocacy; others are watching, weighing our words and learning from them. Vegans gabbing together provides something more, though, and it would be unfortunate to ignore or to downplay that when vegans talk to each other online -- when we offer each other tips on the day-to-day aspects of living in a non-vegan world -- we're also helping each other to be happier vegans and helping each other to stay vegan. We're helping to build some sense of community for ourselves so some of us can feel a little less isolated or lost. In the end, it makes us better agents and advocates and that, surely, is no "waste of time".


Follow me on Twitter or visit the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Vegans Eat, The US Holiday Way

I've been so busy with work, school-related red tape and meeting new abolitionists over at the Abolitionist Approach Forum over the past few weeks that I haven't been doing much of my usual nosing around online to check out the projects in which others have been engaging. Sometimes it's good to step back and disengage from things a little. Last night, however, I did spend some time wowing at the prolific posting that's been going on by some noteworthy vegan food bloggers this past month.
It would be a bit bizarre to write about vegan food blogging this month without acknowledging the numerous posts that have written to share variations on traditional Thanksgiving fare just in time for the US holiday. One that really caught my eye was shared on Facebook a short while ago by cookbook author Robin Robertson. Her Almost One-Dish Thanksgiving Dinner (aka Thanksgiving Pie and pictured above) sounds as if it would be absolutely delicious served up with a side of oven-roasted vegetables and some cranberry sauce. Angel Flinn and her pals over at Gentle World also shared some Thanksgiving meal ideas recently, offering up a "Vegan Menu for a Gentle Thanksgiving". It includes recipes for Thanksgiving Stuffing, Holiday Stuffed Butternut Squash, Herb Roasted Vegetables, Holiday Mushroom Gravy, Holiday Candied Yams and Pumpkin Pie.

Oregonian writer Grant Butler also shared some animal-free versions of traditional Thanksgiving recipes (or recipes that remind him of meals shared with his family while growing up in the US South) in an article this past Monday. In it you'll find Green Beans w/Mushrooms, Acorn Squash w/Pecan-Cherry Stuffing, Roasted Cauliflower and Classic Macaroni and Cheeze. Butler describes bringing sides to a family meal as a sort of vegan advocacy through food. I'm also a big fan of bringing good vegan chow to potlucks and shared meals to let everyone see how delicious vegan food can be.
Leinana at Vegan Good Things shared a number of recipes -- all ridiculously delicious-sounding -- in a Thanksgiving-themed post over the weekend -- Porcini & Pecan Pâté, Celery Root Soup w/Granny Smith Apple & Chive Oil, Butternut Squash & Macaroni Casserole (pictured above), Brussels Sprouts, Pumpkin Cheesecake and Oven Roasted Banana Rum Cheesecake w/Spiced Pecan Crust & Maple Rum Sauce.

You should also check out an article with general Thanksgiving tips Houston food writer Joel Luks shared with me on Twitter earlier today. In his article, Luks talks about how easy it is to substitute typically animal-based ingredients like cream, butter, broths or cheese to win people over with the most decadent of recipes. You also need to try the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes w/Cream Cheese Frosting he shared.
For more ideas geared towards dessert, try the Frosted Pumpkin Cookies (pictured above) or Maple Walnut Roasted Apples from Meg's Cooking Addiction. Or for a theme-appropriate beverage, you can try the Pumpkin Nog recipe by Alyson at Manifest: Vegan.

So there you have it! Go forth and spread good noms!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

There's No Such Thing As a Vegan, Revisited

"Hey, I'm snarky and I'm going to rip the world's vegans a new one in one fell swoop with my cleverness. Um.... Well, how about with my bad logic and shoddy writing skills, then?

Dave might like to
read this piece dealing with the same tired "there's no such thing as a vegan because whatever you eat requires killing" excuse used by those who choose to exploit non-human animals to somehow attempt to justify their deliberate use of non-human animals. And he should ask them about accountability and complicity in animal slaughter, instead of wasting his readers' time by mocking those who actually do their best to live lives that reflect taking the rights and interests of non-human animals seriously.

Here's the "cold hard truth", Dave: You have the choice to live your life so that each and every day, you avoid using animals as things by refusing to consume animal products and to participate in animal exploitation as earnestly and thoroughly as you can. Small animals may be killed during agriculture, but how on earth do you think it follows that, bearing this in mind, we should all throw our arms up into the air and say "Gee, well I guess that I'd better go back to deliberately using animal products in every single aspect of my life, then." You're right to have written "we all make choices in our lives but once you make that choice be honest and accountable about it".

Veganism
is about accountability in our choices. Where's the accountability in yours?

For further reading on veganism and agriculture, please check out Dan Cudahy's excellent essay
"On the Environmental Disaster of Animal Agriculture" on his Unpopular Vegan Essays blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meeting Halfway for Good Eats

During two separate trips to Pennsylvania this past year, I found myself developing some pretty strong emotional ties to a little place in Reading called Good Eatz Green Cafe. Initially started as a gluten-free bakery, Good Eatz eventually rolled out a cafe to accommodate various food allergies and preferences. I first heard of it after a few internet searches to find someplace near my host's family's home where we could sneak out for a bite and where I could find some vegan fare. No, it's not a vegan restaurant, but it was within an hour's drive of where I was staying, had the most intricately labeled menu I'd ever seen in a non-vegan restaurant and had a sort of laid-back "mom 'n' pop" vibe that left my friend and I feeling comfortable from our very first visit.

Some of my favourite picks from the menu were the Harvest Salad (roasted butternut squash and grilled asparagus on mixed greens, tossed with a cranberry white balsamic vinaigrette with dried cranberries, spiced walnuts and carrots), the Sautéed Vegetable Wrap (containing broccoli, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, peppers, grilled asparagus and hummus) and the Vegan Grilled Reuben. The Marinated Tofu "Burger" was OK, as was the Vegetable Burger, but if I get to visit again, I'll likely go back to that scrumptious Harvest Salad or try out one of the numerous other vegan options they have on their menu (the Vegan Shepherd's Pie and Vegan Veggie Lasagna were tempting). Their wraps and sandwiches are all served with a fresh date, some pieces of orange, a pickle and one of the 2-3 salads of the day (either fruit, pasta, potato or rice based and so the waitress told me, always with at least one vegan option).

The servings were generous and the service was great. The prices were reasonable, too. A few of the times we went, someone was setting up to do an open mic sort of thing and the crowd was always a balanced mix of college students and older ordinary looking folks. We always managed to find a table in the small place that offered us privacy, which was really nice. I've lost track of how many times we ate there -- four or five? I'd been looking forward to four or five more and do
hope to return someday.

I hadn't felt comfortable blogging about it up until now, because the truth is that the place does sell animal products, which is usually greeted with a sigh and a shrug by those of us who are stuck in towns or cities with no vegan restaurant options. The place also perpetuates the whole "organic is better" myth, unfortunately, when it comes to the animal products it serves. One waitress informed me during a visit, however, that the vegan portion of the menu at Good Eatz has been increasing quickly and significantly since they've opened and that the demand for vegan fare is obviously there and growing. Fingers crossed that this place of which I've grown nostalgic for other reasons does at some point end up with a completely vegan menu. In the interim, if you're ever in Reading, PA and in need of a place to eat, check them out and talk to them about wiping the animal products off their menu.

The Good Eatz Green Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Some Musings on Hosting

This past September, I had a house-guest for longer than I've ever had a house-guest. I think that he stayed just a bit shy of a month. I whipped out my cookbooks weeks in advance, I sifted through my favourite vegan food blogs and made notes of some old favourite dishes that I've lapsed in making for some reason or another over the years. Having cooked for said guest before, I had few worries that I'd have any difficulty accommodating his taste preferences; having stayed with me before, he was willing to appreciate that the meals I'd be making would be free of animal products.

Coming from a meat and potatoes upbringing in an area he referred to as "dairy country", my guest admitted to me that starches and animal products had made up most of his diet for years, with the starches including such things as white rolls, noodles and pretzels (i.e. as opposed to things like the sprouted whole grain wraps, brown rice and rye crackers I ordinarily keep in my own kitchen). Soy was something dark that came in a bottle that you sprinkled on Chinese food in his home. Raw produce was generally limited to things to put on sandwiches with cheese and deli meat. Sound familiar?

So? What did this whole foods loving vegan decide to do? On top of trying to prove to him (what I'd already, unbeknownst to me, proven to him before) that vegan food can be absolutely delicious, I decided that I would try to prove to him that changing his diet
over and above that would leave him feeling more fit and lively. I would fill him up with whole grains and legumes; I would expose him to a multitude of fruits and vegetables. I would change his life! (Okay, not really, but you get the picture...)

I used whole wheat flour and flax seed in the peanut butter cookies I baked. I made three-bean chili and argued the merits of whole grain rolls and crackers during our grocery store trips. I made soups with chickpeas and whole grain noodles, blending vegetables together to thicken the broth.
I snuck raw greens into fruit smoothies. And to appeal to his omni side, I stocked my freezer with Gardein "chicken" breasts, soy burgers and Tofutti Cuties and I froze and thawed blocks of tofu to marinate for stir fry.

And my guest? He got a stomach ache and a spectacular range of gastro-intestinal issues to boot.

I'd thought I was doing this wonderful thing, Instead, I ended up turning someone's dietary habits completely inside out and going down a path I generally avoid myself by using meat subs to give some of my dishes a sense of familiarity that I'd hoped he'd find appealing. He told me at one point that he ended up eating more fruits and vegetables in a single day spent with me that he'd ordinarily consume in over a month. He was like an an alien who'd landed on a planet with completely foreign foodstuff, even though all he'd done was cross the Canada/US border. In my haste to do too much at once, I'd inadvertently done more harm than good. I'd pushed too hard, too fast and ended up with a house-guest who, halfway through his visit, didn't feel all that great.

My good intentions hadn't been well thought out, mostly because I don't eat a low-fiber diet that revolves around simple carbohydrates, meat and dairy. As he pointed out to
me himself, I'd spent years adapting to eating a high percentage of fruits and vegetables in my diet. I'd spent years integrating various high fiber grains and legumes into it, as well. And he was right. As for soy? Soy is actually something that I've generally phased out of my diet, myself, over the past couple of years because I try to avoid processed foods and because it sometimes irritates my own stomach if I have too much of it. So I exposed someone who was unused to eating it at all (except in the bits that show up in processed foods, or in soya sauce) by preparing it in every other meal? Oy.

It got me wondering if some of the new vegans who make a sudden switch and sometimes complain of digestive issues end up trying too hard to substitute animal products with processed soy products, or maybe go health food store crazy by suddenly discovering that there is edible plant life other than iceberg lettuce. It got me wondering if maybe some of them end up making some of the mistakes I ended up making with my guest.

So we started having basmati rice with the curries I made. Stir-fry became a vegetable-only dish over regular noodles. We bought his and hers rolls for sandwiches. He tried (and liked) almond milk in his morning coffee. We munched on nuts -- almonds, pistachios and so on. And we ate out a bit more, mostly to take some of the edge off my feeling I'd failed as a cook and hostess. There's a huge difference between fixing the odd meal once in a while for friends and asking someone to suddenly change
everything he or she eats for a sustained period. By this I am not referring to the omission of animal products, but instead I'm referring to adding all at once an overwhelming number of foods someone is not accustomed to eating in the first place (particularly when those foods contain a lot more, uh, fiber than the person is used to eating).

But the next time I'll know better. I've learned my lesson and sent heartfelt apologies to my house-guest; I should have introduced him to fewer things and done so more gradually. It wasn't switching out the animal products that was an issue, but it was feeding him too many things all at once to which his system wasn't accustomed. Fingers crossed that he decides to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and whole foods into his diet moving forward and for his own well-being. Fingers crossed, as well, that I did enough repair work and pleased his palate enough to not have permanently scared him off this vegan's kitchen --it's definitely not a mistake I'll repeat. Writers are often told to know their readers and it seems that cooks need to keep this in mind, too!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Crossing Fingers and Staying Hopeful

A little over four years ago, my life changed pretty drastically in one of those ways where you find yourself suddenly unable to breathe. A lot. I had left a steady tech-writing job at the beginning of the year to go back to school full-time to finally finish off the BA in philosophy I'd left dangling for so long, when life did that thing it does and I found myself suddenly living alone, unemployed and living off dwindling savings. With one elective left and with winter coming, I walked away from school to find work -- any work -- to be able to catch up on bills, fill my heating oil tank and find my feet. I had no money left and everything I could scrounge up went into food and meds for my feline family.

The job that I finally nabbed ended up being the first job from which I've ever been fired, mostly because I really (really, really) hated the job in the worst way. But at the time, I did what I felt I had to do to look after myself and to look after the five cats left in my care after their other human skipped out on them. Sometimes you have to suck it up and do something that you don't want to do and resign yourself to it being a temporary place while you're sussing things out and planning for a better place. There's no shame in it.

And you know what? Almost every single day of the fall and early winter I worked there, I got to stand outside and look at this at the end of my shifts. And even today, I can't help but feel that that it made things a whole lot more bearable at a time when I could have really used "more bearable".You can tap into happiness wherever you are if you look for it. It can be found in the most unlikely and simplest of things. Here I am four years later, not remembering the crap job I had and hated, but remembering lingering outside my office to watch the sun set every day -- and looking forward to it every single day. Not bad for "bearable".

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Anything but Sentience

I'd blogged about Nicolette Hahn Niman back in June when she'd written about taking on "Mad Cowboy" Howard Lyman in a "debate" in Berkeley. She's the wife of "happy meat" producing Niman Ranch founder Bill Niman and she publicizes that she's a vegetarian to present herself as a well-rounded commentator on the issue of whether or not it's ethical to use animals. The Nimans are still ranching, so it's no surprise that the missus would argue for the morality of eating (or otherwise exploiting) animals. I mean, it's her bread and butter, right?

Although in her debate with Lyman, Hahn Niman focused on attacking the environmental arguments that are sometimes used against animal agriculture, in her latest piece in The Atlantic ("Dogs Aren't Dinner: The Flaws in an Argument for Veganism"), she instead opts to attack the validity of comparing one species of non-human (e.g. pigs) to another (e.g. dogs) to educate others about this strange aspect of speciesism of which Gary L. Francione has written extensively in his books and on his website. She writes:

[L]ately, it seems as if every time I turn around, a vegan is insisting that feasting on a pork chop is morally equivalent to eating a hunk of dog meat. It's irrational, illogical, and hypocritical, they say, to treat pigs as meals but dogs as friends.
Hahn Niman makes it clear that the thought of eating her own beloved dog is "mortifying" to her, but that regardless of being "pummeled with this argument at every turn" that she thinks it's full of flaws.

Custom and Culture, Oh My!

According to Nicolette Hahn Niman, people have let things like "income, geography, climate, culture, heritage, habit, and even, to a certain extent evolution" dictate what is or isn't food for years and holding a belief that it is wrong to eat dogs stems from this and that it's "no more contradictory to eat a pig but not a dog than it is to eat arugula but not purslane". She also asserts that the "glaringly obvious issue of relationships" gets ignored when people point out the irrationality of calling one animal "food" while calling the other "pet":
The human relationship with dogs is unique. For as many as 30,000 years, dogs have literally been indispensible [sic ]members of the human family. Quite naturally, many humans have qualms about eating a family member.
So, just because something has come to be a certain way and has been a certain way for a long time, it's flawed to question that this has been so? I mean, once upon a time someone like Hahn Niman would not have been allowed to hold-- never mind express -- an opinion about the workings of the world. For a very long time in the West, a woman's place was in the home, tending to the needs of her husband and raising his children. When arguments were raised that women were as intelligent, as rational and as worthy as men -- that they were and are persons, those arguments were met with appeals to tradition and other such balderdash, as well.

Hahn Niman then goes on to talk about how different cultures have different taboos and how up until recently in Hawaii, for instance, it was quite ordinary to raise pigs
and dogs for human consumption. She describes this as being a bit of an exception to how most of us in the West view dogs and goes on to talk about how the evolution of humankind's relationship with them -- the evolution of our assignment of a particularly use or role to them -- is what has established our present-day relationship with them, as well as what has led to the taboo that many hold dear against consuming them. Hell, Hahn Niman even quotes good old Temple "Down the Chute, Bossy!" Grandin to establish why it is that many humans won't eat dogs. I won't repeat her condensed history of canine domestication here, since you can read it for yourself in the article (and you may very well have read all about it before). It certainly explains one aspect of what feeds into our speciesism and explains our favoured treatment of one type of animal we've come to use, but is it really sufficient in indirectly providing a justification for why we should not consider whether to use and eat others?

Sentience

So, Nicolette Hahn Niman tells us why many humans will not eat dogs. Her given throughout her piece seems to be that animals are here to be used by people and the majority of them to be eaten, with the exception of a favoured few such as domesticated members of the Canidae family who've found themselves a higher calling by being more useful to our ancestors than in just conveniently filling their bellies. The truth is, however, that
these days Fido's role has less to do with helping us preserve our lives or to preserve the lives of our family members, and more to do with being a cute and fluffy giver of affection in the home. No doubt, as Hahn Niman suggests, the fact that dogs have ingratiated themselves to us and have come to be considered family members of ours comes as the result of the short stint by which canine-human relations were symbiotic. But do we really keep bringing dogs into our homes because we feel we owe them a favour for having helped our great-great-great-great-great-grandparents hunt once-upon-a-time?

We've conditioned ourselves to view dogs as off-limits when it comes to what we put on our plates, but are we incapable of factoring other things into our consideration of how we use animals now? For instance, when abolitionist animal rights advocates bring up speciesism, it's not to question how we've come to view this or that species, but rather, to point out that the criteria we use is sort of arbitrary unless we factor in
what Francione illustrates in his work should be the only basic criteria determining whether or not we should use other animals: sentience. Hahn Niman argues that culture has shaped our culinary choices, but what animal advocates ask in talking about speciesism is that we dig further to consider the morality of animal use rather than shrug off this or that use and write it off to tradition. Are we not capable of becoming moral agents and of determining right from wrong and then making our choices according to this determination?

When comparing one animal to another, we are asking our fellow humans to consider the tortures we inflict on a certain species and to examine their justifications for it and whether those justifications would hold up if those same tortures were inflicted upon our beloved dogs. We point out that pigs have as much interest in living out their own lives as do dogs and that it's simply bizarre to exclude an animal such as a pig from the moral consideration we'd give to an animal such as a dog. We ask that instead of writing off this inconsistency to culture or tradition that people instead consider that the same reasons we would most viscerally protest putting a dog through the hell that we do animals raised for food are just as applicable to those animals we raise for food.
Of course Nicolette Hahn Niman disagrees, which as it turns out is lucky for the beloved Great Dane she mentions in her article, but not so lucky for the animals she and her husband profit from as raise them and send them off to slaughter.

To learn more about speciesism, sentience and what we really owe non-human animals, please visit Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.

My Face Is on Fire on Twitter

For anyone who's been following me on Twitter, I'm tweeting from @MFIoFV now. C'mon and join the condensed conversations that have been going on!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Such Thing as a Vegan?

A friend of mine who likes to play devil's advocate occasionally sends me articles or other materials he stumbles across online that appear to challenge veganism. Last week he sent me a graphic from the Gizmodo website with the headline "There Is No Escape from Cows" and with the smug sentence "There's no such thing as a vegan" running across its bottom (see below).

The one thing that is certain is that the graphic illustrates quite well how pervasive the use of animal products is in our daily lives. What's not certain, however, is that this is a reflection in any way of whether or not a person can be vegan. The thing is that veganism isn't about maintaining a state of absolute purity. It's about making informed choices to refrain from using animal products so that you remove yourself as much as it is possible from the cycle that perpetuates a demand for the continued exploitation of non-human animals -- and by "possible" I really, really don't mean "convenient".

As most vegans already know, animal-free alternatives to many of the items listed off can be found quite easily (e.g. shampoo, vitamins, cosmetics, deodorant, detergents, candles, candy, fertilizer, pasta, cake mixes, et al.) and many are just altogether easily avoidable (e.g. anti-aging cream, matches, et al.).
It may not always make life convenient to look for alternatives or to refrain from using certain products, but veganism isn't about doing what's convenient for us. Veganism is about not using non-human animals as things that exist for our convenience.

In cases where animal-free versions of certain products cannot be found and where the use of such products is unavoidable and necessary (e.g. certain medicines), then we all do what we need to do to stay healthy and alive. It's important to remember that with certain medications contain animal products used as fillers or inactive ingredients (e.g. gelatin capsules) that it is entirely possible to seek out and find versions that do not contain any by simply sourcing the medication from a compounding pharmacy. This should always be explored and chosen if it's an option. On the other hand, there are cases where a medication's active ingredients are animal-derived and where the use of this medication is required. In those cases, such use may not feel "right", but it can certainly be excusable (and even justifiable). I have as much interest in continuing my life as any other human or non-human animal, no?

That this is so by no means entails that "some use" of non-human animals can always be excused or justified, of course. Context is everything. Is it possible in this overwhelmingly speciesist world to live a life that is 100% free of the use of animal products? Of course not. Does this mean that it's OK to sneak in the occasional chicken wing for kicks and still call yourself a vegan? Again, of course not. But veganism is a lifestyle that's the hands-on application of an ethical framework where every single day you need to inform yourself so that you can assess situations and make the proper choices. Some of those choices we make as vegans when it comes to our own self-preservation end up being very personal ones, but those decisions we take and those choices we make need to be taken and made in good faith.

To learn more about going vegan and about the abolitionist approach to animal rights, check out the Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website and stop by its brand new discussion forum.

(Note: Edited to clarify a few potentially confusing points.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Vegans Eat: Soup!

The time for iced drinks and cold soups has passed. At least it has in these parts where it's no longer unusual for me to spot frost on the neighbour's car as I hop on my bicycle to go to work in the morning. After having spent most of September with (and cooking for) a house guest, I seem to have gotten back into the habit of making slow-cooking tasty pots of warm goodness -- soups, stews and other improvised dishes. The timing is right with the seasons changing. The cats and I now end up spending a fair bit of time chatting each other up in the kitchen while I hover around the stove, adding a pinch of this or that and getting back into a routine of cooking from scratch that's more than I have in years.

Here are a few recipes for soups that some of my favourite food bloggers have been sharing recently or that I've dug up on their blogs or websites as I've looked around for new ideas:

I stocked up on coconut milk a few weeks ago when a local grocery store had an unbelievable sale. It made me particularly happy to find this recipe last week from Claire at Chez Cayenne for a Thai Tofu Noodle Soup that is absolutely delicious. I topped it off with the maximum two jalapeno peppers suggested as optional because I'm bent on upping my spice tolerance. I love a soup you can handle with chopsticks and this one really hit the spot!

Speaking of spices... Keri at I Eat Trees featured a recipe for a tomato-based slow cooker Fiesta Soup not long ago. Fragrant with chili powder and cilantro, it's uncomplicated to make with its mere handful of ingredients, most of which you might already have in your cupboards. I'll be testing this one out over the weekend, but have a hunch that it will be a keeper.

The prolific and ever-cheerful Jessy at happyveganface posted about a more soothing "comfort food" sort of soup her sweetie made for them recently. I love using butter beans / lima beans in soup since they do indeed cook up so incredibly creamy, so I look forward to trying out his Creamy Butter Bean-Potato-Kale Soup. In her post, she also links to a simple little Red Lentil Soup w/Lemon from another blog that sounds really easy to make (not to mention that it also sounds really yummy).

I've been enjoying the photos of her feline family shared by Renae at i eat food. She included some wonderful ones in her post a little over a month ago about her Roasted Tomato Lentil Soup. Check it out!

And then? Oh gosh, and then there's the Vegan Epicurean website, where I could spend hours sifting through the wide variety of recipes there. Some -- but not all -- of them are a bit more elaborate than what you'll find on most vegan food blogs, but trust me that the extra effort ends up worth it. Just yesterday, she posted a recipe for a Lightly Smoky Mushroom and Corn Soup in a Tomato Sage Broth that sounds so luscious. A little over a week ago, there was a Creme of Tomato and Brown Rice Soup that caught my eye. If you search the blog's archives, you can keep yourself in soup and stew for months, I swear. You'll find recipes for German Inspired Kale Soup with Whole Wheat Spaetzle, Shitake Mushroom and Barley Soup, Creamy Broccoli and Kale Soup, Italian Tomato and Onion Soup and so on.

If you have any favourite soup recipes from vegan food blogs you enjoy, please feel free to share them below. 'Tis the right time of year to curl up with a hot bowl with some crusty bread and I plan to indulge a lot in the coming much colder months.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Hilarity of Losing Property


A friend sent me a link to an article a week ago and I've been meaning to write about it. His email's subject line was "Grist" -- and indeed, the article was grist (as far as the ol' idiom goes, anyway). It was a link to an October 6 piece written by Marci Riseman on the Salon.com website ("My chicken's $300 vet bill") and it was overflowing with fodder for me to try to process to address in a blog post. My disgust with the piece left it on the back-burner until today.

The article starts off with Riseman's family taking in chicks left over from her son's first-grade classroom experiment -- chicks otherwise destined for a farm after having "outlived" their educational use. The chicks went from being a classroom experiment to Riseman's "urban farming experiment" and grew into four Plymouth Rock adults, two of whom she named, albeit admitting that she couldn't tell one apart from the other. They became commodities.

Riseman describes how her family has been providing the chickens with basic necessities so that they could collect and use their eggs -- eggs she says they "feel a bit smug about" since the members of her family are purportedly "masters of [their] urban farm". She insists that they live in "harmony" with these chickens, but that they draw a line concerning how they perceive them:

I can't quite say the chickens are our pets, not in the way our cat is our pet. Yet they are somehow part of the family[.]
And it is while keeping this strange jumbled explanation of her relationship with them in mind that Riseman tells of coming home one day to find one of the chickens "listless" in their backyard coop. For the sake of the article, she calls the chicken Tallulah and proceeds to write of her decision to take Tallulah to the vet's. Out of sincere concern for her ailing chicken? Uh... right.

My friend Patrick was visiting from Boston, and I'd dragged him along[...]. Patrick and I looked at each other and tried not to titter in this somber place where people brought their beloved pets, a place where we had brought a farm animal.
As they listened in on other patients' conversations with the vet, their hilarity overflowed and they "glanced at each other and couldn’t contain [their] nervous laughter any longer". When Riseman goes on to describe her own turn in the examination room, she first mocks the vet's somber and earnest tone during Tallulah's examination, and then conveys her own near-inability to suppress her laughter over the chicken's predicament:
I bit the inside of my lip to keep from giggling. [...] I pressed my lips together and flared my nostrils in a moderately successful attempt at mirth suppression.
And then:

The vet was so earnest, so impassive. She did not know whether we considered Tallulah to be livestock or a treasured pet; I wasn't sure either. I just knew that when the vet proposed the options, they sounded absurd -- and I chose among them anyway, the way I would have for our cat[.] Extreme measures for our cat made a certain amount of sense. She was our pet, we slept with her at night, she purred and loved us back. I was not going to let her go blind. In that spirit, I agreed to an X-ray and a fecal analysis. I thought: That makes sense.
Was there some sort of epiphany where Riseman suddenly saw that the chicken's life was worth anything outside of her use to Riseman's family (i.e. worth that was either earned through eggs or snuggles)? Did she suddenly feel concern for Tallulah's condition? Not really.
It was not until I was in the car driving home that I was overcome. Not with a giggle, or a chuckle, but with crazed, swerve-into-oncoming-traffic laughter as I understood the ridiculousness of this situation. For authorizing exorbitant tests, I was ridiculous. For not feeling more pain over Tallulah's obvious distress, I was ridiculous and wicked.
And it was with these thoughts that Riseman informed her husband of the predicament -- of the tests and associated costs, and he too became "maniacal", pointing out to that for the $300 or so they'd be spending, they could "buy 150 new chicks".

Riseman makes sure to assure her readers that the $300+ wouldn't be spent for the chicken's sake, but the sake of her human children who would obviously be more distressed than their mother. The vet finally called with a nightmarish diagnosis of what was wrong: Tallulah's stomach had literally exploded and its contents had spread throughout her body "causing widespread infection", and although surgery was possible, the prognosis wasn't great. And Riseman? Riseman fought back the temptation to ask about the cost, fearing she "would not be able to ask without chortling".

Riseman had left her friend with the chicken and he went through the motions of dealing with the euthanasia. In her article, Riseman mocks the thoughtfulness and consideration of the staff at the veterinarian's office. They treated the friend as someone who'd shared some sort of emotional bond with the hapless chicken and if any of you have ever gone through the sad, sad experience of having to say your goodbyes to a beloved non-human in this setting, you may--as I did--feel a bit of extra disgust for Riseman's derision for these professionals who help people deal with actual loss on a daily basis.

When the chicken was gone and Riseman's friend was released from his temporary role as token pretend care-giving human, they "dissolved into peals of laughter" with "tears streaming down" their faces. The vet bill, you see, would have covered the cost of "191 chicks, 128 dozen supermarket eggs, or 55 dozen of the most expensive, organic, free-range farmer's market eggs". Riseman says of herself at one point: "I was aware that I was a small-hearted person who did not deserve to own chickens." The sad truth, obviously lost upon Riseman, is that nobody deserves to "own" anybody.

One chicken's life broken down into dollars and cents; one chicken's life for a day's worth of hilarity. That's w
hat happens when we allow ourselves to view sentient beings as things.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Veganism in the Media


A solid little article debunking some assumptions or stereotypes about veganism in Milwaukee's
UWM Post got my attention this morning ("Not your regular '-ism'"). In it, Sarah Hanneken writes about how veganism isn't a religion (although veganism and religious or spiritual beliefs are certainly not mutually exclusive), that true animal rights advocacy isn't about sensationalist propaganda, that veganism isn't about asceticism and self-deprivation and that advocating for the rights of non-human animals doesn't mean that you're against human animals. In describing what veganism and the animal rights movement actually are, Hanneken clarifies that the "goal is to put an end to prejudice and bigotry based on physical differences" -- to end speciesism. She emphasizes that animal advocacy is essential for "dissemination of the truth and an end to ignorance" about animal exploitation and asks us to question our moral schizophrenia:

In addition to disseminating the facts, veganism encourages people to question the societal norms we’ve been brought up with. Why is it socially acceptable to kill and eat a chicken or a pig but not a dog? It’s the same kind of arbitrary distinction that whites used for centuries to rationalize the enslavement of blacks and other racial minorities. This all goes back to ending discrimination. We cannot justify our arbitrary categorization of sentient beings for the sake of convenience or pleasure.

Veganism is about deconstructing popular worldviews that involve discrimination and subjugation and extending compassion to all living creatures, regardless of their genetic similarity to humans. Sentience is similarity enough.
After making these points, Hannekan ends her piece by referring to what she calls "poor ambassadors for the cause".

She describes the "Oh woe is me!" vegans who cling to martyrdom, constantly whinging that veganism is difficult. The truth is that this sort of behaviour isn't exactly conducive to getting non-vegans around us to stop treating non-human animals as things and to go vegan; it makes something logical and doable seem incredibly daunting. Hannekan then mentions "preachy" or "self-righteous" vegans, who certainly
do exist and are often people who would be bragging up other things about themselves if not doing so about their veganism.

The sad truth, though, is that speciesism is so deeply entrenched in our society that even merely
talking about not using animals is often viewed as proselytizing by non-vegans and non-vegans toss the word "preachy" around to shame and silence those who speak up for non-human animals. Asserting that using others is wrong when you refrain from engaging in exploitation as much as you can yourself can also lead people (who may or may not feel guilty about their own complicity in exploitation) to label you "self-righteous". I think that it would have been effective for Hannekin to contextualize her comments because of this. Otherwise, for non-vegans who assume that all vegan advocacy is unwanted and self-important preaching, her comments at the end may merely feed into that unfortunate taboo against vegans' speaking up for non-human animals.

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The Huffington Post featured yet another opinion piece yesterday by someone trying to convince the world that she is a concerned and conscientious animal exploiter. In "Meat, greet, eat", Ellen Snortland talks about the importance of getting to know the animal whose body parts end up on your plate:
Some of you might recoil at the idea of being on a first-name basis with your dinner. I understand that reaction. However, I think being intimately involved with your food is important and far more empowering than buying factory-farmed meat or produce shipped from another hemisphere.
Snortland goes on to say that she doesn't "take food for granted" and is careful not to waste any bits of the plant or animal she prepares for human consumption. Basically, efficiency and lack of wastefulness is somehow meant to convey a more ethical sort of animal consumption. Lest you worry whether she may actually have some sort of reverence for the animals that end up on her plate, she throws in the obligatory insensitive pun when she mentions that "we've all got a major steak -- err, stake" in where our food is sourced.

Something this opinion piece accomplished was to reaffirm my strong belief that animal advocates pimping the works of guys like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer as gateway books to veganism are ultimately just leading non-vegans into a speciesist fog. Snortland recommends both and writes:
[y]ou may become a vegetarian from your research, or you may be like me, an often-conflicted yet steady omnivore deeply concerned about the care of our food sources. I go out of my way to "do the right thing," to buy "organic" or "free range," and I'm furious because, according to Safran Foer, consumers who try to be conscientious are being duped over what "cage free" or "free range" often means. Since there are no government standards for these terms, they can be abused.
So basically, Foer (who repeatedly praises "happy meat" farmers in his book and in interviews about it) has purportedly educated her about the fact that consumers trying to "do the right thing" -- but stopping short of considering not using animals -- are somehow being done wrong by fraudulent claims of "happy meat" production. The focus is on how non-human animals are treated, and the knowledge that treatment is generally heinous and that even those claiming to be treating animals better (which in and of itself is completely meaningless, since all use is abuse) doesn't sway Snortland. Nope! She absolves herself of any accountability by just conveniently blaming fraudulent producers for misleading her. Of course, even these so-called horrors of animal treatment haven't been enough to convince Foer himself to go vegan, so her reaction to his work isn't much of a surprise.

Nevertheless, Snortland claims that falling short of not using animals, we can still "get moral about our food" by eating locally, choosing animal products that are
"certified humane" by the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) program. She plugs them emphatically and ends her article conveying perfectly just why it is that animal advocates desperately need to keep talking to the public about going vegan and need to shift their focus to educating others about ending the use of non-humans -- not just changing how we treat those we use:
If you can handle being vegan, do it. So far, I can't, but you can certainly learn to make vegan dishes for your vegan loved ones. Meanwhile, I continue to thank Bluebell and every sentient being that has ever helped me grow and live.
Please spend some time this week talking to people about how easy it is to cut animal products out of their lives and of how eating animal flesh and secretions is unnecessary for either human health or taste bud satisfaction. Talk to them about sentience and about how "thank[ing] Bluebell" doesn't change the fact that non-human animals aren't ours to use any more than our fellow humans are ours to use. For more information, please visit the Abolitionist Approach website.