Thursday, August 19, 2010

Veganism in the Media

You'd think that with all of the misinformation readily available to most with the simple click of a mouse that advice columns with anonymous advice-givers would have become superfluous. A column in the Lifestyles section of today's Richmond Times-Dispatch ("What to feed a visiting vegan") illustrated that someone thinks this shouldn't be the case. A reader wrote in to ask: "A friend I haven't seen in a while is coming for a visit and is now a vegan. What should I have on hand for the visit?"

The response starts off defining veganism as a diet, offering up the following jumble of generalizations and erroneous "facts":

Some vegans also exclude honey and foods that are processed with animal products, including refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin and some wine and beer.
I guess that if a person subscribes to Vegan Outreach's school of the vilification and watering down of "veganism" that hearing that "some" vegans exclude honey (which is an animal product, which means that it is not consumed by vegans -- learn more here). As for gelatin, I'm not sure why the advice columnist lumped it in with "foods that are processed with animal products" since it is extracted from the bones, tendons, skin by boiling these animal parts (i.e. it is made of the tissue of non-human animals and, like honey, is an animal product). On the other hand, high-fructose corn syrup, which albeit of questionable nutritional merit, is actually free of animal products. The situation with refined sugar isn't as cut and dried as the advice columnists generalizes; only refined cane sugar is sometimes processed using bone char, while refined beet sugar actually isn't, and is safe for vegans.

The columnist asserts that vegans need to "properly replac[e] the nutrients found in animal-sourced foods" as if the primary source for them are animal products and as if plant-based sources are secondary or mere replacements. In discussing protein, he or she mentions commonly known sources of plant-based protein (e.g. legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains) and then meat analogs, but then goes on to perpetuate the incredibly out-dated protein myth and to list off fortified soy-based milk substitutes as good sources of calcium. No mention is made of the many non-processed plant-based sources of calcium (e.g. collards and other greens, tahini, almonds, et al.).

There's no doubt that the individual asking what to feed a vegan would have likely fared better sifting through the information available online with a click or three of a mouse. Given the quality of the response to the question, it seems that the Richmond Times-Dispatch's respondent could have benefited from a Google search or two, as well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quinoa!

I'm not a vegan food blogger, but am a vegan who loves to eat good food. Like many vegans, I'm often told by family, friends and acquaintances how limiting they assume a plant-based diet must be. I almost always laugh when they do say this to me, because the truth is that -- particularly in terms of cooking for myself at home, which I really enjoy doing -- the dietary aspect of veganism is not only one of the easiest things about it, but is probably one of the most fun and interesting things about being a vegan. Amongst other things, going vegan meant having to rethink previous attitudes about food and having to break out of long-held routines. This provided an opportunity to research and explore new ingredients and new flavours. It provided an opportunity to experiment with new ingredient combinations and new cuisines. On a never-ending quest to ensure that I eat a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, grains. nuts, seeds and legumes, I am constantly learning new information and tasting things for the first time. In many ways, in terms of diet, going vegan was actually one of the most liberating things I could ever have done.

Not-So-Strange New Things

There are some ingredients -- some foods -- that are not unknown to me, but that I've just never gotten around to shuffling into my kitchen because I've had so many other things to try
out and enjoy. One of those was quinoa. I'd often heard about it and had actually tried it and loved it once at a local restaurant, but had never gone ahead and made it myself -- until this weekend. I posted on Twitter, asking if I should just treat it like rice and top it with some stir fry and my tweet was met with a surprising number of responses from other vegans, mostly just expressing how much they love the taste of quinoa and how versatile it is. Minku from the video posted below told me that he sometimes even has it with raisins, banana and agave or maple syrup for breakfast.

So What's the Deal with This Quinoa Stuff?

Some might be surprised to learn that quinoa is not a grain. It's actually the seed of a plant which is related to beets and spinach and which was once-upon-a-time cultivated by the
Incas. Its greens are actually edible, although unless you grow it yourself, you'd be hard-pressed to find them in most North American markets. Wikipedia calls it a "pseudocereal" (as are amaranth and buckwheat) which while not a true grain, can still be ground and used in much the same that grains can be used. This makes a lot of sense when you consider a few of quinoa's often-touted selling points: It's gluten-free (which makes it a hit with those with sensitivities to gluten, which is found in grains) and it's high in protein. Quinoa also delivers in terms of overall nutrition. Just a quarter cup of uncooked quinoa provides 10% DV for fiber and is high in manganese (48.00% DV), magnesium (22.31% DV) and iron (21.83% DV).

What Do You Do with It?


If you buy quinoa in bulk, you'll want to rinse it, soak it for a few hours and then drain it and rinse it again to remove the waxy bitter saponins that coat it. Some take a shortcut and merely rinse it for a prolonged period while moving it around vigorously to rub the seeds against each other. Processed quinoa generally doesn't require this, although it can't hurt to check the directions on the box or bag in which it's enclosed. A good rule of thumb to follow is to use twice as much water as you do quinoa to cook it. When I prepared mine, I put the water and quinoa together in the pot and then brought it to a boil, adding a bit of salt, then lowering it to a simmer as I would with rice. I used a cooking guidelines table in the back of a cookbook to make mine and it stated that it would take 20-25 minutes for the quinoa to cook. It didn't. It took around 15 minutes and a few Google searches confirmed that this is closer to the length of time it's actually expected to take. You cook it until the germ separates from the seed and looks like a tiny curl and then let it sit for around 3 minutes to fluff up completely.
I cook intuitively, rarely carefully measuring anything unless trying a recipe for the first time.

When I made my quinoa, I mixed in some chopped sundried tomatoes before letting it sit for the last 3 minutes. I sautéed half a Spanish onion, around a half cup of diagonally sliced baby carrots, a small zucchini, half a green bell pepper and some peas with turmeric and then tossed everything together when the vegetables were done. It was delicious.
I took some time this morning to dig up quinoa recipes that have been posted by some of my favourite food bloggers so that I could share them here. If you've never tried to make quinoa before, try out one of the following recipes and prepare to enjoy:

I found a Tabouli Style Quinoa and Veggie Salad recipe from Vegan Epicurean that sounds awfully quick and simple to make. Quinoa shows up often on the FatFree Vegan blog. For a quick meal, you can try the Ridiculously Easy Curried Chickpeas and Quinoa. If you have a bit more time on your hands, Susan's Farmer's Market Quinoa (a variation on a Robin Robertson pasta recipe) looks absolutely wonderful, as does her Quinoa Vegetable Paella. The Vegan Dad blog features a couple of very yummy-sounding recipes which incorporate quinoa, including Tofu and Sweet Potatoes over Cajun Quinoa and Creamy-Spicy Seitan with Coconut Quinoa. The Vegan for the People blog has a recipe for Roasted Sweet Peppers with Quinoa Stuffing (see photo to the right). Since I can never resist a good veggie burger, these two recipes from happyveganface caught my eye: Plantain-Chickpea-Quinoa Burgers and Smoky 'n' Spicy Lentil-Potato-Quinoa Burgers. Check out Jessy's Breakfast Quinoa recipe, too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm Vegan

Watch and hear Minku of Chicago's Broad Shoulders Rescue talk about how he became -- and why he is -- vegan in this installment of the upcoming I'm Vegan documentary.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Veganism in the News

I read a disappointing piece about veganism this morning on the North Jersey website ("It's vegan, but is it healthful?"). Writer Jeanine Stein found a couple to profile in her article about the unhealthiness of plant-based diets. The couple consists of one self-labeled vegan and a fish-eating non-vegan who doesn't eat dairy, eggs or other animal flesh. Stein basically found the vegan naysayers pot of gold in their kitchen, writing that

a lack of time and planning has cornered the couple into relying on fast-food burritos, protein bars and potato chips. They cook few dinners at home, and Watson’s diet is dangerously low in protein and calcium. Neither gets all the vitamins and minerals needed; even some of the processed vegan foods they favor are low in essential nutrients.
The vegan of the two claims to have gone vegan for environmental reasons and is described as a die-hard reader of labels who only checks labels for animal ingredients (i.e. obviously not for nutritional information). When the writer Stein raids their fridge, she finds little produce, but mostly processed foods (albeit, some of it enriched garbage) -- lots of meat and cheese substitutes, soy mayo, some buns and almond milk. Making an assumption that too many non-vegans make that specific plant-based substitutes are also supposed to substitute the exact nutritional value of their animal-based counterparts, she paraphrases a registered dietitian as noting the low protein content of the almond milk and the low calcium content of the cheese.

What's not mentioned is that the meat substitutes in their fridge are very likely very high in protein (check the side of one of a package of some of the stuff and you'll see what I mean). Also, Stein goes on to describe the contents of the couple's cupboard, which include "high-protein pretzels, plus cans of green beans, lentils, garbanzos" -- all high-protein items, thus making the dietitian's fear mongering about the vegan's possible protein deficiency thanks to her almond milks and cheese substitute seem even more pointless.

A token mention is made of a kitchen garden in which the couple grows some lettuce, tomatoes and herbs, but the truth is that they're not eating anything vaguely resembling a healthy variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. Along with the aforementioned potato chips, the vegan's favourite daytime snacks are listed as crackers and cookies. And where the dietitian could step up and address this lack of fruits and vegetables in the couple's diet, the focus is left on the protein shortcomings of the almond milk and cheese substitute and it's then pointed out that vegan's diet is also potentially very low in calcium. Considering that a cup of the almond milk in their fridge ordinarily contains 25-30% of the recommended daily value of calcium and that a cup of those chickpeas in their cupboard would provide 8-10%, would it have been so hard to mention that adding a cup of kale or spinach a day to that would add another 22-24% and that a cup of calcium fortified cereal could provide 10-100% while a cup of calcium-fortified orange juice could easily provide 25-30%? Yet, the dietitian suggests supplements, adding that "B-12 and iron supplements might be in order as well".

It's unfortunate that the article will be interpreted by most readers as illustrating shortcomings in a plant-based diet, when it's really an article about people who eat poorly. The focus is kept on the potential deficiencies arising from not consuming animal-based products, and no mention is made of the serious deficiencies that could arise from not consuming fruits and vegetables, which the couple examined in the article are obviously not doing in any sort of healthy way. It's also unfortunate that instead of recommending animal-free options for the couple, the dietitian falls back on pill-popping. Worse, though, as far as I'm concerned, is that the writer presented a horribly lopsided piece dealing with nutritional inadequacies in a plant-based diet without balancing it out with a look at a vegan doing it right.

Monday, August 09, 2010

What Would Miss Manners Say?

I read a piece a week ago that reminded me a heck of a lot of a story about which I'd written back in February. It was half about basic communication and half about sucking it up and behaving like a grown-up when that communication fails. In a nutshell: Vegan plays guest to non-vegan host, vegan stays consistent about his or her veganism, non-vegan rants about said veganism after the fact. The more recent story I read was published on BC's Times-Colonist's website on July 28 ("Visiting vegan leaves carnivore cook wondering"). In her article, Pam Freir writes about a recent week-long visit with a vegan and of how although her guest seemed polite and non-confrontational, Freir still walked away from the visit with heaps of resentment for her guest, which she promptly transformed into resentment for her guest's being vegan.

Freir establishes off the bat that she's no vegan or vegetarian and then spends the rest of the article focusing on food. She dives into discussing the various dishes she ended up preparing during her guest's stay, ranging from a mushroom-pecan burger she found in a Rebar Modern Food cookbook (which was a success), to a cake made from a 12-year-old's recipe upon which she... ah...
stumbled upon somewhere online (and which ended up being merely OK). Then there was the failed risotto whose failure she decided to blame on its lack of animal products, and it's from this point on that the anti-vegan rant begins, apparently revolving around her conclusion that it's unreasonable for her to be expected to risk ruining a recipe for everyone by making it vegan:

Bottom line: Cooking for vegetarians is a relatively simple undertaking. Cooking for a vegan narrows one's options significantly. I found vegan cookery to be an ongoing exercise in compromise. A risotto without butter and cheese proved to be a pale shadow of its dairy-drenched counterpart.

And because one pot of risotto per meal is my personal limit, I chose not to repeat the process to satisfy the tastes of others at the table. We all ate the vegan risotto. Not all of us applauded the experience. Vegan rules. Like it or lump it.

Maybe instead of merely omitting ingredients in an animal-product-saturated dish, Freir should have taken the time to do a Google search or two for risotto recipes that incorporate substitutes (such as this one by Bryanna Clark Grogan) or some of the many tried and tested risotto recipes, some incorporating animal product substitutes and some not. over at VegWeb.com. Or, quite honestly, maybe Freir could have just found a different recipe that isn't traditionally saturated with animal products. If she had wanted rice, why not opt for an Asian stir-fry with rice? If she had wanted something Italian, why not a pasta dish with marina sauce? Or maybe she could have simply asked her guest for meal ideas?

Although Freir admits that not once did her guest even suggest that her host (or that others present) should also eat animal-free food, Freir's gripe is that by virtue of merely being there, the vegan somehow forced Freir to feed everyone animal-free food (that ended up somewhat less than palatable at Freir's hands) for the sake of convenience:

How is it that despite there being only one vegan present at a meal for four, three out of those four acquiesce, without comment or complaint, to the preferences of one?

(The risotto is just one example. The eggless cake is another. Coleslaw minus mayo was a vegan-dictated compromise as well).

I was struck by the deference vegans demand -- not overtly, not in so many words but defer we did because it was just too much hassle to do otherwise.

Had Freir done a bit of research, or had her guest perhaps been a bit more experienced with staying with non-vegan hosts for extended visits, they could have resolved this so incredibly easily. Not all meals have to be one-pot meals, for instance. A variety of different things ordinarily viewed as "sides" could have been served (vegetables, grains, salads of all kinds, et al.) that would have easily left everybody happy. Wraps and sandwiches are unbelievable easy to prepare and would have left diners able to shuffle various ingredients in or out. Certain types of ethnic cuisine (think Asian or Middle Eastern) traditionally offer up vegan-friendly fare, as well.

Perhaps her guest should have been proactive and offered up suggestions or volunteered to cook for the family for a few of their meals. It's quite possible that her guest did so, but Freir doesn't mention anything along those lines. Instead she focuses on what an inconvenience cooking for a vegan ended up being, and on how this inconvenience left her stewing. One can only assume from Freir's article that communication was minimal both leading up to and during her guest's stay.

So what's a vegan to do or say, then, when planning an extended stay at the home of a non-vegan? What steps can be taken to make life easier for host and guest and to facilitate things running smoothly? I asked some vegan friends on Twitter, and here were the suggestions they had to offer:

"If they'll be cooking their own food during their stay, then that's pretty simple. If not, tell them to explain their requirements to the person cooking so there won't (hopefully) be any unpleasant surprises in their food/drink."

"What I had to do: pack a cooler with my food essentials. No one felt put-out/inconvenienced and I still had food to eat
."
"Bring money for food, go shopping as soon as you get there and make sure you know where your top 3 veg friendly restaurants are.""Take some great recipe books and offer to do most of the cooking!"
"Last visit I had like that I came armed with favorite recipes and took a trip to the grocery story when I got there. I made it about sharing great recipes and cooking together, and the side effect was that I had plenty to eat!"
"Explain your lifestyle & buy your own groceries."
"Assume the worst, plan to shop, cook, pack food, fave recipes if possible and share. Smile, maintain ethics w/dignity and clarity if baited."
"Pack plenty of vegan treats, plan to hit the grocery store & help cook, find vegan-friendly restaurants in area on HappyCow.net."
"Go shopping as soon as possible, make food to share, explain your reasons for being vegan away from the table. Be firm but polite turning down food. Offer to bake- cookies win people over."
"Remember to be nice, but firm. It's very important to set clear boundaries."
Are you picking up on a few reoccurring themes here? Bring/buy your own food. Offer to prepare your own food and to share it. Find a vegan-friendly place to eat outside your host's home once or twice while you're there. Be clear and firm about your needs and be nice when doing so. At most, you and your host will find yourselves enjoying a wonderful stress-free visit.

At the very least, you won't find yourself surprised when you stumble across a rude rant online from someone who, rather than try to make the most of an awkward situation, opted to let her frustration fester to the point of publicly taking an unwarranted and irrational swipe at veganism, complaining that in finding herself struggling to meet the simple needs of her vegan guest, her guest's "personal choices become expectations foisted, unthinkingly, on others".

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Monzo

I'm bad with dates. I forget birthdays, I forget family members' wedding anniversaries and if I don't write them down on paper, I forget appointments and meet-ups of all sorts. I've just never been a numbers person. There are some kinds of dates I don't forget, though, and yesterday's was one of them. Three years ago, on July 31, a tall long-haired beauty of a boy who'd been a part of my life for all but 11 months of his 13-1/2 years passed away in the night while I was sleeping. Monzo died from complications stemming from hyperthyroidism. He and his brother Tarwater came to live with me when a friend's then-girlfriend had decided to bring them to the SPCA since she had allergies and asthma and neither suddenly disappeared as Tar and Monzo grew themselves out of kitten-hood.

Monzo was the most inquisitive cat I've ever met. No piece of furniture was too high for him and he'd often find a way to the top of a 6' tall bedside bookshelf in the middle of the night to prove this, making sure that he was noticed by jumping off said bookshelf, directly onto my (non-waveless) waterbed. His favourite perch was the top of the refrigerator, from where he could observe cooking and kitchen parties, waiting patiently for a treat or pinch of catnip for his troubles. Shortly after he came to live with me, he taught me how to play fetch, surprising me by returning wads of paper I'd toss for him to chase after; I guess I should really say that he taught me how to play "throw" and that he trained me (and anyone else who sat on the right end of the sofa) quite well.

Everybody fell in love with Monzo. He was just so alert and engaging and so, so beautiful. He was always friendly to other humans and non-humans, including the other feline adoptees and fosters who stayed with us over the years. He never seemed to begrudge any of them the attention they required and always approached them with earnest curiosity. In some ways, Monzo seemed to fall in love with everybody else. At least, he left those around him thinking as much and adoring him accordingly. He knew how to work anybody.

Three years later, he's still very much missed. He comes up in
conversations with my friends quite often, and even today when I look at Zeus and Sophie, I can't help but think of them as the wee kittens they once were, trailing after Monzo with anticipation. He was always patient with them, willing to let them curl up around him for naps and always gentle with them, even when they were at their most clumsy. I can't help but wish that he was still here for us to continue to share our lives with him. Three years later, I still miss his voice. I figure that three years from now, I'll be thinking the very same thing.