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!