Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

I haven't been posting much in December, since work and new friends have kept me occupied. It feels as if I just shared photos of the various concoctions I've thrown together recently. With almost two weeks' vacation looming, I anticipate having more time to spend updating this thing. In the interim:

Grape tomatoes, scallions and roasted red pepper hummus on a small whole wheat pita. Steamed asparagus with Dijonaise sprinkled with nutritional yeast.

Sweet and spicy Thai coconut curry soup with red lentils, coconut milk, onions, turnip, carrots, green pepper, jasmine rice, green curry paste, organic brown sugar and keffir lime leaves.

Organic tofu marinated in tamari, dredged through whole wheat flour/nutritional yeast/black pepper and pan-fried. Dill pickle, hot banana peppers, mustard and tahini on whole wheat. Vanilla almond milk.

Spicy green Thai coconut curry with onions, carrots, green pepper, potato, tofu and water chestnuts. Sesame-ginger udon noodles with scallions.

Brown rice and lentil casserole with onions and soya sauce.

Plain (salt/sugar-free) organic peanut butter and organic strawberry jam on kamut bread. Hot cuppa tea.

Tofu marinated in tamari, coated in multigrain flour/nutritional yeast/garam masala, coriander and pepper and pan-fried. Tangy dipping sauce. Stir-fried green and orange bell peppers, zucchini, sprouts, crushed garlic, ginger, tamari and sesame oil.

Asian stirfry with a bit of mild leftover Thai curry paste and tamari. Onions, celery, carrots, green pepper, mushrooms, zucchini and mung bean sprouts.

Homemade seitan, ketchup, long macaroni noodles with seitan gravy & extra nooch, chopped spinach cooked with a bit of coconut milk & curry paste.

A wrap before the wrapping: Lettuce, tomato, red onion, hot banana peppers, dill pickle, roasted red pepper hummus, Vegenaise and ground flax.

Soup: Pinto beans, quinoa, tomatoes, collards, green beans and carrots. Seasoned with chipotle, smoked paprika, garlic and dried orange peel.

Whole wheat pita w/roasted garlic hummus, tofu/carrots/celery cooked with salsa & crushed garlic. Steamed frozen asparagus (which isn't half as nice as steamed fresh asparagus).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

HSUS: Carving Out a Niche for Family Farmers One Campaign at a Time


HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle has popped up in dozens of mainstream articles over the years to defend HSUS to American farmers. Pieces in which he insists that HSUS is not a pro-vegan organization have shown up anywhere and everywhere to assuage the fears of those who raise animals for human consumption. Now it seems that even those who raise animals for slaughter themselves are stepping up to defend it for the work it has accomplished to make the idea of consuming animal products even more acceptable (dare I say 'palatable'?) to the general public.

HSUS' director of rural development and outreach, Joe Maxwell, is actually a Missouri hog farmer. He recently spoke on HSUS' behalf at a Nebraska Farmers Union state convention to explain how HSUS helps both facilitate and ameliorate sales for American farmers who raise animals for slaughter. Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen even emphasized its'

"commitment to help develop and expand marketing opportunities to help reward farmers and ranchers for producing livestock in a mutually agreeable fashion."
Perhaps I'm oversimplifying things, but to me, this sounds an awful lot like taking the millions in donations HSUS receives each year and investing them into animal agribusiness to help promote and perpetuate the continued exploitation of animals.

Joe Maxwell, as it turns out, could be a poster child for how lucrative HSUS' welfarist or regulationist work has been to American farmers. According to the article, Maxwell
is not only a member of HSUS, but also raises hogs and is part of a cooperative group of farmers who sell certified pork into whole foods and other markets for a premium using a value-based method of humane animal production.
The "humane" label, it seems, can indeed be more profitable to farmers. Lump HSUS' rewards to them in with this aforementioned premium and it sounds as if collaboration with HSUS can only be a win-win situation for them. Maxwell reinforces this clearly, stating: "They have helped create a market that has allowed my family to continue to raise pigs when most people can't find a way to do that."


HSUS' mandate seems to be to give a kinder gentler appearance to the raising of nonhuman animals for slaughter. According to Maxwell, even its support base consists of those who choose to continue to consume animals. One suspects that its supporters and staff would also like to think of their continuing to do so as somehow possibly involving a kinder gentler process, as Maxwell defends HSUS as striving to bring this to its supporters:
"They want to find more ways to assist family farmers," Maxwell said. "Why do they want to do that? Because they believe that it is more likely family farmers are exactly who HSUS' 11 million people are likely to buy products from."

He said 95 percent of the members of the HSUS are meat eaters and HSUS is not a "vegan organization."
Although Pacelle and some of his HSUS cronies like Paul Shapiro have already made it repeatedly clear in mainstream media that HSUS is not a pro-vegan organization, it's interesting to hear its director of rural development and outreach overtly describe both HSUS' financial supporters and staff as being the people with perhaps the greatest interest in the success of HSUS' campaigns so that they too, in turn, may continue to consume nonhuman animals and their products with less guilt:
"They want to find more ways to assist family farmers," Maxwell said. "Why do they want to do that? Because they believe that it is more likely family farmers are exactly who HSUS' 11 million people are likely to buy products from."

He said 95 percent of the members of the HSUS are meat eaters and HSUS is not a "vegan organization."

[...]

HSUS would rather reach out to organizations, such as the Nebraska Farmers Union, that are willing not only to work toward common goals of humane animal welfare, but also to create marketing opportunities for those producers to sell their animal products to a growing market of people who are asking for that type of accountability when it comes to the humane treatment of farm animals.
So perhaps, then, it isn't an oversimplification to assess HSUS' goings on with the millions in donations it receives as its -- quite literally -- investing in the continued practice of treating nonhuman animals as things existing for human pleasure. It's also become even more undeniable that their goings on are tantamount to what Gary L. Francione has described as the selling of indulgences. But as Francione has written,
buying a few shares of cage-free egg compassion from some organization is not going to keep animals out of the hell that most certainly exists for them and in which they suffer and die every day.
Perhaps even more so than ever before, we need to focus on formulating and delivering a clear unequivocal message -- the simple message that nonhuman animals are not ours to use, that their exploitation is immoral, and that their consumption is in no way necessary. It may not be profitable to deliver this message, but in terms of what it is that we each owe nonhuman animals, it is surely the right thing to do. To learn more, please visit Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

Vegan food is boring! Vegans can't eat anything! Vegans only eat sprouts and potato chips! (Yeah, whatever!)

Raw carrot and green pepper strips. Roasted red pepper & paprika hummus. Coleslaw with clementine orange segments.

Cream of tomato soup seasoned with dried orange peel, crushed garlic, smoked paprika and topped with shredded kale. Hummus sandwich with Nayonaise, sliced cherry tomatoes, hot banana peppers and shredded kale on 12-grain bread.

Root vegetable stew with potatoes, turnip, onions, shredded broccoli/carrot and peas. Seasoned with "herbes salées", nutritional yeast, coriander, thyme, black pepper and sage.

Super dilly noodle soup. Gardein strips, dill pickle, broccoli slaw, black olives, Vegenaise and ketchup in a folded whole wheat pita.

Noodle soup with onions, tvp, broccoli, carrots and zucchini. Seasoned with parsley, nutritional yeast, black pepper, turmeric and salt. Pan-fried dilled zucchini and cheddar Daiya on whole wheat pita, grilled in the oven.

Vegetable soup with green lentils, brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, carrots, collards and wax beans, seasoned with a variety of Indian spices (hot!). Roasted garlic hummus, Vegenaise and slaw in a wrap.

Cabbage salad tossed w/roasted garlic vinaigrette and and dried cranberries. Potato salad made with Nayonaise, onions, nutritional yeast and freshly-ground pepper. Oven-baked marinated tofu sticks. Cherry tomatoes.

Spaghetti squash with garlicky gomasio and basil. Steamed broccoli and cherry tomatoes on lettuce and sprinkled with lemon juice.

Oven-roasted potato wedges, ketchup and plain thickened soy yogurt (using cheesecloth) mixed with lots of crushed garlic & a bit of dill weed. Kale!

Red lentils, onions, carrots, kale, celery, garlic and crushed tomatoes with sambar seasoning.

Tater tots, navy beans in tomato sauce, pickle and ketchup.

Gardein strips, lettuce, sauerkraut, Vegenaise and ketchup on a kamut roll. Beet greens sautéed with olive oil, garlic and a wee pinch of salt.

Shredded kale, broccoli, cherry tomatoes and green pepper on lettuce. Topped with a drizzle of dressing, oat bran/rye cracker "croutons", ground flax and a couple of Gardein strips.

Homemade seitan and gravy on half a kamut roll. Oven-roasted beets, potatoes and carrots.

Panang coconut curry with potatoes, onions, collards and zucchini. Sesame-garlic udon noodles. Clementine orange segments.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom of Choice

Vegan, Feed Thyself

As a single vegan who lives alone and who loves to cook, meals are pretty much no-brainers for me most of the time. With several stores just a quick zip away on the bike, the only possible thing constraining my choices at all when it comes to what I eat at home would be laziness or snowstorms; even then, though, I generally keep a well-enough stocked kitchen where more often than not, the simplest things to throw together (e.g. salads, fruit smoothies, wraps, et al.) are coincidentally some of the healthiest things I have kicking around.

Living close to work, I often have the option to go home for lunch, although I usually just pack leftovers and bring fruit and nuts along for snacking. The absolute worst case scenario with which I'd have to deal if I forget my lunch is to have to walk to the corner to spend a whopping $3 for some tabbouleh or a few bucks for a couple of chickpea or lentil samosas. Worse, I might have to take a five minute bike-ride to pop in to the nearby grocery store to leave my head spinning from all of the convenient options available to me.


The Bread We Break


Whether single and living solo or otherwise, occasions invariably arise for vegans to share a meal with others (or sometimes with
one other). Some of us will invite friends and family into our homes to try to entice them with any of the wide variety and multitude of incredibly scrumptious vegan dishes we've taken it upon ourselves to learn to make. Other times, we find ourselves venturing out and eating on someone else's turf. We may in turn visit family or get invited to a friend's home for dinner. We may find ourselves whisked along for impromptu Friday lunches with coworkers (or dragged into the sometimes dreaded more official business lunches). Sometimes we'll just hooking up with old pals over casual munchies and a mug of beer. Then there are other times where some of us will end up sitting across a table from a first date, nervous enough about just making tentative basic conversation, never mind about getting into the ins and outs of why we refrain from consuming animal products. Most of the people with whom we'll share these meals will be non-vegan. Unless (as some vegans do) we actively avoid visiting non-vegan restaurants, many of the venues in which these meals will be shared will be non-vegan.

The Self-Sabotage of Over-Complicating Things

Let's face it: Mealtime sometimes feels like the most vexing time to be vegan. It's not because going vegan is difficult -- it isn't! Additionally, with the most minimal planning, finding something to eat generally really isn't all that difficult either. Even in the worst-case scenarios where last-minute work-related lunches have been sprung on me and arrangements have been made to meet at the most vegan-unfriendly restaurant, I've always managed to find something on the menu, if only a salad or pasta dish. When I haven't, I've often been able to ask to have something served up minus this or that ingredient. One of my favourite local pubs, for instance, offers a veggie nacho. I asked one day if they could hold the cheese and sour cream and the waitress threw in extra guacamole and salsa on the side. I've learned over the years that wet nacho toppings don't generally sit all that well on plain tortilla chips (the chips tend to get really soggy), but not so with this place. With its thick seasoned chips it held up incredibly well and has become a once-in-a-while treat that's so wonderfully self-indulgent that I could too easily find excuses to have it more than that "once in a while".

My point, however, is that you won't know what's available to you until you actively find out. Also, when eating out, planning ahead -- either by calling a place to see what's available and selecting or suggesting a more appropriate venue to a lunch or dinner partner -- is often an option, especially when it comes to informal social outings.
Even when a menu looks the most bleak, merely asking a few questions could leave you pleasantly surprised. Of course, some so-called animal advocates will tell you that even asking one or two simple questions about ingredients (Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich, this means you) will somehow be "detrimental to the vegan cause"; they insist that by merely opening your mouth to inform yourself and to make your needs known that you're apparently making veganism seem too difficult and making vegans look to uptight and demanding.

Considering that veganism is about
not participating in animal exploitation and that this extends to food, saying that a vegan should shut up and just keep his fingers crossed that there won't be an animal product on his plate is rather ridiculous. It takes what is a thoughtful and conscious lifestyle choice and twists it up to portray being earnest and unequivocal about it as somehow shameful and embarrassing. And the funny thing is that if you replaced "vegan" with "lactose intolerant" or stated that you had a food allergy, these same nay-saying advocates would likely deem it perfectly reasonable to ask very basic questions about ingredients and to request that some of them be omitted from a dish. In effect, the issue is not so much about the asking itself, but seems to be about one's taking animals rights and interests seriously enough to ask.

Undo Those Knots!

Maya Gottfried wrote a piece for Huffington Post a while back ("Learning to Navigate My Vegan Social Life") in which she discussed being vegan and hanging out with non-vegans over meals. I've no idea of who Maya Gottfried is or of her politics and affiliations. I simply cite from her piece because some of what she wrote in it was so straightforward and made so much sense. As she described below, we do set obstacles for ourselves when we let our fears of appearing to be socially inept get the better of us (whether or not we twist ourselves up over it or are encouraged to do so by other vegans).

I wanted to go vegan for a while before I did, convinced it would be too difficult for me. One of the fears binding me was the thought that I would never again be able to go to a non-vegan's house for dinner. I thought requesting a meal other than the one that was planned would be so rude and imposing. I envisioned my social life diminishing dramatically.

I also imagined that going out to a meal with non-vegan friends would be near impossible. How could I possibly suggest to an omnivore that we meet at a vegan restaurant? If I went to a non-vegan restaurant would I end up just dining on bread and water while friends indulged? And what about dating? Would omnivore men think I was being overly demanding or picky by not eating any animal products?

All these fears and questions spun around my head. They kept me from moving forward into the truth I was so certain of. And they all proved unfounded. When I made the commitment to cut animal products out of my diet, these fears fell down around me.
The truth is, as Gottfried stated, that it's easy to knot oneself up into a ball ahead of time (particularly after being exposed to so-called animal advocates' social anxiety inducing fear-mongering and shaming), but that in the end, living by one's convictions can be an incredibly uncomplicated thing to do. The added bonus is in knowing that it's also the right thing to do.

I've been a little perplexed about why it is that some would nix open communication and consistency as vegans and instead opt to side-step their ethical choices with an unfounded appeal to good manners. It's as if some vegans really believe that it's somehow rude to clarify the boundaries of one's ethical consumption choices and preferable to instead participate in the animal exploitation -- and they seem hell-bent on shaming other vegans into following suit, rather than allowing them to hammer things out politely and honestly when it comes to ensuring smooth social interaction.


Speaking of Chips


An American friend of mine with whom I had exchanged visits over the course of a few years mentioned to me one day that he felt that I had, as a vegan, imposed my will upon him by restricting his options when we had dined out together. I had done so, he told me, by being the one who would ultimately select where we would -- where I could -- eat. Basically, he felt that my veganism had led to his options being limited, whether we were on his turf or mine. He couldn't choose a particular restaurant he'd like to try out without my vetting it first to find out if there was something on the menu I could eat; although sometimes things worked out, sometimes we'd need to pass it over for another venue.

The crux of my friend's complaint was that he couldn't just spontaneously pick a spot that sounded appealing to him so that we could pull into the parking lot and hop out with fingers crossed. Of course, some would argue that this is no way to pick a restaurant, regardless of one's ethical choices. Others would insist that they thrive on the opportunity to take chances -- to dive into the old "hit or miss" and hope for a hit. We did pull into many parking lots, though. Once there, regardless of the menu options, we stayed. I figure, though, that if you know you're going to be going out for dinner and have the means to research or plan ahead, then it's probably worth the planning ahead to ensure that wherever it is you end up, you can actually
have and enjoy the intended dinner.

I thought about the times I'd traveled to the US and of how I'd quite excitedly done so much advance research to find conveniently-located vegan (where possible) and vegan-friendly vegetarian restaurants for us to explore during my visit. I thought of how amazing and bizarre it had been when, for the first time in well over a dozen years, I got to sit down in
a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet and was able to sample anything I wanted to try. Both of us had been able to sample anything off that menu and we had both raved that the food had been delicious. So? Wash, rinse, repeat for the next couple of vegan restaurants we checked out. There were variations of this in one very vegan-friendly non-vegan restaurant which became a regular haunt because of its location, atmosphere and decent food. The haunt featured various dishes with animal products from which my host was free to choose and although he did so on a few occasions, he also admitted that the vegan dishes he had ordered from their menu had been just as delicious. The truth is that these few forays were exceptions to the rule and that, for me, they were rare and welcomed treats.

Freedom


Given all of this, it seemed strange for someone to shame me over my veganism's having purportedly restricted his or her own freedom of choice within the context of eating out. I'll state the obvious by saying first that when it comes to the human exploitation of other animals,
those other animals certainly aren't being given the freedom to choose not to be bred into captivity, to spend their lives being treated as things until it's most financially lucrative to slaughter them for human consumption. Also, considering that almost every single eating establishment we visited -- vegan or otherwise -- left him able to choose from 100% of the items offered on its menu and that -- vegan or otherwise -- he enjoyed most of them, it seems really bizarre to have been issued a complaint about having restricted his choices because of my own ethical choices. It seemed both weird and unfair on top of this, considering the lives of others at stake, to have this portrayed in any way as my having committed some sort of injustice.

Choice(les)s?


As a vegan who rejects animal exploitation and who avoids consuming animal products for ethical reasons, walking around in this overwhelmingly speciesist world means being faced with others' exploitation every single day. It means constantly being handed reminders that this exploitation is the status quo. These reminders are constant when it comes to breaking bread with non-vegans, and particularly so when breaking bread with non-vegans in non-vegan restaurants. We end up weighing whether we should encourage non-vegan restaurants to provide more vegan options by providing demand for them, or avoid spending money in a non-vegan restaurant since it's ultimately tantamount to financially supporting someone who profits from animal exploitation.

Although some vegans tell me that the smell of charred animal flesh is something they still sometimes associate with nostalgic events, others generally dread walking into a room saturated with a smell which is as unwelcome as the stench coming out of a long-forgotten food container in the back of the fridge on garbage day. For some, the smells in a non-vegan restaurant simply evoke vivid images of all that is involved in landing that piece of an animal's body on that plate across the room. Worse, though, is when it ends up on that plate just across the table, being consumed with gusto by a friend or other loved one throughout your shared meal.


Communication

I certainly understand now, more than ever, why other vegans choose to opt out of dining in non-vegan restaurants whenever they're able to do so. It's something I have wrestled with myself over recent years as I've become more comfortable in my own skin about being vegan and less comfortable compartmentalizing others' animal exploitation. The thing is that it's certainly not unreasonable to ask someone you know with whom you'll be breaking bread informally to share a meal together at a vegan restaurant if you have one in your area.

If there are no vegan restaurants in your area and you're not altogether uncomfortable eating at a non-vegan restaurant, it's certainly not unreasonable to ask that one with a fair shake of vegan options be considered. I mean, if you were gluten-intolerant, it would be deemed perfectly reasonable to ask to go somewhere other than a pancake house. If you really disliked spicy food, it wouldn't be unreasonable to seek out something other than a Schezuan restaurant. Why on earth should it be deemed unreasonable for a vegan to express a preference for a place where he can actually get something to eat that doesn't contain products from enslaved and/or slaughtered animals. Is it so far-fetched that, all other things being equal, this same vegan might appreciate the occasional opportunity to break bread with non-vegan friends and to not have it involve
watching someone chugging down milk meant for someone else's baby, or ripping flesh from someone's bone?

As Gottfried suggested, though, we vegans tend to over-think ourselves into corners sometimes, anticipating worst-case scenarios when it comes to social interaction. I've found myself pleasantly surprised over the years when friends have brought up going out to dinner and have suggested local vegan-friendly places and ended up asking me to recommend a good vegan dish on the menu. One dating experience this summer involved a suggestion for a vegan picnic, with my date insisting on providing a simple spread of raw vegetables and a variety of cut fruit. Another date -- our very first date, no less -- insisted on not consuming animal products while we were together and instead asked me thoughtful questions about what it's like to be vegan in a non-vegan world. He's since gone on to explore veganism himself.

The bottom line is that, as vegans, we do have choices. We can set our own boundaries and need to not be ashamed of doing so. If we express these boundaries clearly, we could be left surprised at the consideration given to us by some of our loved (or liked) ones. We needn't compromise our ethics in the process, nor do we need to ostracize ourselves. Communication is key, though, and although the the outcomes aren't always ideal, it's important to realize that there's no shame in being vegan and that there's certainly no shame in not wanting to self-flagellate with perpetual reminders of what it is we chose to leave behind. We have options. We really do.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

It's not hard to tell what sort of food kick I've been on by eyeballing photos of some of the dishes I make. I've definitely been on a tahini and nutritional yeast kick lately, using it in salads and as a spread and dip for sandwiches, crackers and raw vegetables. (I have a lengthy tahini post in the works that I hope to wrap up sometime this week. Consider yourselves forewarned!) Avocados were on sale in most local supermarkets earlier this month, so garlicky guacamole showed up again and again. So did Thai seasonings as I've been working my way through a new favourite cookbook and learning about using curry pastes and various Thai ingredients. Here are a few things that showed up on my table these past few weeks:

Hot organic fair trade coffee with loads of plain almond milk. Shredded broccoli/carrots, cherry tomatoes, hot banana peppers and tofu (marinated in soy sauce and toasted sesame oil) on romaine lettuce. Sprinkled with ground flax, garlic gomasio and a bit of rice wine vinegar.

Curried sweet potato soup with chickpeas (seasoned w/curry paste, amchoor powder, Indian chili, cilantro and lime). Gardein strips on a toasted kamut roll with guacamole, Vegenaise and (did I happen to mention that I like) hot banana peppers.

Shredded kale tossed with tahini, nutritional yeast, crushed garlic & a pinch of salt. Topped with green bell pepper, tomato & scallions.

Gardein strips with homemade guacamole, salsa & a sprinkle of dried chipotle in a whole wheat pita.
Split green pea soup with brown rice, turnip, carrots, kale, celery, peas, herbes salées, garlic, liquid Mesquite smoke and ground black pepper.

Green Thai curry, this time with onions, zucchini, green beans and red bell pepper. It gets hotter and hotter each time I make it. I love it!

Sesame noodles with garlic & ginger. Organic tofu marinated overnight in sesame oil & soya sauce, dredged through flour/nooch/crushed ancient grains cereal and pan-fried. Onions, zucchini and red bell pepper chunks stir-fried with Massaman curry paste.

Improvised super spicy green Thai curry w/sweet potatoes, marinated tofu, red bell peppers, onions and water chestnuts, coconut milk and finely minced dates (because I had no brown sugar on hand). Served on Thai rice and topped with chopped cilantro (not shown, obviously).

Tomato, avocado, Spanish onion, radishes, kale and parsley on a bed of lettuce and later drizzled with a garlicky lemon vinaigrette and ground flax.

Thai soup seasoned with green curry paste, keffir lime leaves and galangal. Onions, broccoli, green beans, red bell peppers and quinoa. Toasted coconut on top.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm Vegan: Gary L. Francione

Watch part of the I'm Vegan documentary project below, as Prof. Gary L. Francione talks about his own journey to veganism and discusses the inherent differences between the animal welfare and animal rights movements:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meat-Free McCartney

Animal advocates on various social networking site have been getting excited over the news that Paul McCartney (formerly of some band or other) has just released a cookbook. Why the excitement? Some say that it's another step forward for nonhuman animals. Me? I say it's another step backwards, thanks to another well-intentioned celebrity who doesn't understand that animals aren't ours to use.

The Meat Free Monday Cookbook -- by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney -- has just been released to further promote McCartney's campaign (i.e. its namesake) to get people to not eat meat one day a week. According to The Telegraph, royalties from the book will go directly into funding for the ongoing Meat Free Monday campaign McCartney's been promoting for the past few years now, whose greatest accomplishment thus far seems to have been to make people feel better about themselves for meaninglessly shuffling around various animal products so that they omit one particular type one day a week. "But meat-free Mondays promote veganism!" I was assured earlier today by a fellow vegan. "You're being too cynical," I was told by another.

Not unlike the North American Meatless Monday fad, however, the Meat Free Monday campaign doesn't concern itself with persuading people to go vegan. It doesn't really concern itself all that much with animal use at all, actually. The McCartney family's statement from the official website:

"By giving up meat for one day each week you can save money, reduce your environmental impact and live a healthier life.

In 2006, a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, highlighted the environmental impact of meat-eating and the importance of making more environmentally and socially conscious food choices. In 2009, we launched the Meat Free Monday campaign as a simple and straightforward idea to show everyone the value of eating less meat – and to make it easier for us all to do so.

We’re not asking you to give up meat completely, we’re encouraging you to do your bit to help protect our planet."
Where do animal rights fit into all of this? How does this campaign purportedly promote veganism? Right! It doesn't. In fact, the recipes link on the official site leads to a veritable smorgasbord of animal products, with milk, cream, butter, a seemingly never-ending variety of cheeses, eggs and honey.

If you have any lingering doubts about where veganism fits into McCartney's campaign, a couple of preview glances on Amazon UK's page for the book should clear things up for you. The very first recipes listed from Page 19 of the book are for Blueberry Pancakes (which include unsalted butter, organic milk, buttermilk and organic eggs), along with one for falafel and another for quinoa salad (both of which are free of animal ingredients). The second page of recipes listed (Page 44) lists recipes for a dish called Laban Bil Bayd (which contains unsalted butter, Greek yogurt and organic eggs), then an Asparagus Tray Bake (with crème fraîche, Parmesan cheese and eggs) and then a final recipe for Lemon Pistachio Biscotti (containing eggs). The third page of recipes listed (Page 159) lists recipes for Poached Quince with Vanilla (with a suggestion to serve it with yogurt), Puy Lentils with Roasted Red Peppers and Goat's Cheese (containing the aforementioned goat's cheese) and then Cheese and Chive Potato Jackets (which include butter, organic milk and Cheddar cheese as ingredients). The very last page of recipes featured (Page 222) lists three recipes which happen to be free of animal ingredients. Basically, out of 12 recipes from the book happening to be featured on the Amazon UK site, over half of them use animal ingredients -- easily avoidable animal ingredients.

If you're vegan and thinking of picking something up for a non-vegan friend or family member, please don't waste your time or money buying this book. There are so very many excellent vegan cookbooks available on the market right now. Why waste an opportunity to show someone you love how delicious food can be without animal products? A book like McCartney's accomplishes nothing but to to reinforce to the public that animals are ours to use and that food somehow requires animal products to be tasty. We know better, though, don't we?

Help your non-vegan friends and family connect the dots about what we owe nonhuman animals; please don't follow Paul McCartney's lead and merely confuse them further.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Veganism 101: Back to the Basics

I think it's pretty clear that most of the posts on My Face Is on Fire are written for folks who are either already vegan or who are, on some level, already making the transition. I don't spend a lot of time writing persuasively about the basics of going vegan, though, and it's something that's nagged at me for a while now. I can't help but wonder if spending so much time writing for people over the past few years who are generally close to being on the same page as I am on many advocacy issues -- people who are at the very least conscious of the pervasive speciesism in this world -- has led to my stumbling into fewer discussions with people who are curious, but for whom "vegan" is still a strange and misunderstood word and for whom going vegan may seem daunting.

Writing with a vegan or already-moving-towards-vegan readership in mind has left me not spending as much time as I should reminding myself of what it's like to be taking those initial steps towards going vegan, and of the bumps and obstacles sometimes encountered during those initial stages. It's easy for me to forget the wide range of questions -- from the simplest to the most complex -- that sometimes creep up at the strangest of times for new vegans, particularly since my own veganism has sort of become second-nature to me over the years. At this point, family and friends have at least a basic understanding of my needs and if not always an understanding, at least a begrudging
acceptance of my choices. Between this and my spending a fair amount of time engaged in online discussions with other vegans, I think it's become too easy to forget what new vegans walk into as they begin to make the changes in their own lives to reject animal exploitation and often find themselves answering to others about those choices while sometimes looking for answers, themselves.

I
do have ample opportunity to have the same types of run-ins with non-vegans and it does indeed happen, but answering many of the same questions that pop up over and over again (e.g. "Where do you get your protein?") has left me pretty much tossing out answers almost by rote. Situations that used to feel awkward or even confrontational are no longer a big deal. I live in a mostly rural Canadian province whose forests and streams ensure that most who grow up here take it as a given that killing non-human animals is "fun". Even with the increased frequency of the word "vegan" coming up in mainstream media, I still get a lot of blank looks when I drop the word, and even more blank looks if I mention my reasons for being vegan. More often than not, I just get labeled a big softy who's too sensitive to deal with what's regarded as the "normal use" of other animals. I can shrug that off now, but I realize that I need to remind myself of what this experience is like for someone who is newly transitioning to veganism in what sometimes feels like being under a microscope with the people you love most and the people who are in your daily life expecting you to have a perfect answer to each and every question they throw at you -- and sometimes promptly challenging or discounting your answers.

The truth is that I say that veganism has become second-nature to me, but I mean this more in terms of knowing basic questions to ask or certain items or activities to avoid when situations arise. In terms of dealing with other non-vegans, when I
do let someone new into my life on a level which surpasses the occasional crossing of paths over a cup of coffee or plate of food -- someone I'd like to actually let in and maybe consider keeping in my life for a spell, I do get a sharp reminder of what it's like to have to introduce someone from scratch to the idea of my being vegan in a way that elicits memories of the tentative awkwardness with which I used to sometimes field queries from non-vegans around me when I'd first gone vegan. It's a damn good reminder.

A few months ago, I'd picked the brains of some fellow vegan friends and acquaintances to ask them what, in hindsight, they'd wished they'd been given as bits of advice when they'd first gone vegan themselves. It was interesting to find myself reading some things I hadn't consciously weighed in many years (as well as of a few things I'd never really weighed at all). The responses covered a wide range of aspects of transitioning to veganism and reflected common-sense, a wizened sense of rolling with the punches, and in some cases a little bit of shared self-deprecatory humour. I figured I'd take some of those results and weave them into a
series of posts, starting with this one.

Taking the Plunge?


So you've spent some time mulling over what's involved in the human use of non-human animals and you've decided that the only choice you can make at this point is to go vegan. Maybe you'd been wondering what motivated a friend or family member to go vegan, or you'd been wrestling with and weighing the arguments which may have been presented to you by a vegan you know. Maybe you'd come across a story about a specific case of animal abuse in a newspaper and decided to explore things further, only to have it hit you that the specific case was actually reflective of the more wide-scale horrors in fact inherent in animal exploitation. Maybe it was something as simple as ending up at the vet's with a non-human family member in crisis, and suddenly thinking to yourself how strange it is that you could adore your cat so much and feel so much distress over his potential loss, yet think nothing of grabbing a hamburger and milkshake on the way home while stressed out over Fluffy's being in surgery. Regardless of what brought you to this point and of how long it took you to get to it, you've made the decision: You're committing yourself to going vegan.

Research

Going vegan can indeed be fairly easy once you've made the decision to do so, and that decision is without a doubt the right choice. The thing is though, that as with any sort of significant change in consumption habits of any sort, it does require that you do your homework and inform yourself about nutrition. It's also important
that you actually follow-through on what you learn -- that you apply that knowledge. It also requires that you consciously re-examine various aspects of your life to identify where animal exploitation occurs and how you can refrain from being a participant in it. What's funny is that what may seem very obvious to some may not be so clear to others at first. Remember that when each one of us goes vegan, we undo a lifetime's worth of generally taking most animal use for granted.

Track down a book, web page or shmancy app for your phone that can provide you with a list of hidden (and not-so-hidden) animal ingredients. Familiarize yourself with some of the more common ones and get into the habit of reading the ingredients listed on items at the store. This may seem time-consuming at first, but you'll find it getting easier as time progresses.
I used to carry around a little copy of the E.G. Smith Collective's Animal Ingredients A-Z. To make life a little easier and to dodge a huge chunk of those hidden animal ingredients, try opting for more unprocessed foods -- whole grains, legumes, fresh produce, nuts and seeds. Experiment with these with or without the help of a few good popular vegan cookbooks. Spend some time reading vegan food blogs.

Spend some time learning about other forms of animal use. Contrary to what the mainstream media and some PETA-adored celebrities would like you to think, veganism isn't just about what you put in your mouth; going vegan means eschewing all forms of animal consumption and exploitation, where reasonable and not just those animals whose flesh and secretion some call "food". Animals are used to make clothing and furniture, they're exploited for human entertainment, they're used for the testing of a wide range of ingredients that end up in things like household products and cosmetics. Animal use is everywhere and the more you learn about when and where it does occur, the easier it'll be for you to make the transition. It may feel overwhelming at first, but arming yourself with information is key to making a smooth transition.


Support

Look around to find a vegan group in your area. Barring that, find an online vegan forum or Facebook page or group where you can go and actually talk to other vegans about whether certain ingredients are vegan, whether certain less obvious activities involve animal exploitation, and where you can get tips or information on substitutes from others who've walked in your fabulous new non-leather shoes. There are many animal advocacy organizations right now offering vegan "kickstart" or "pledge" programs where for a limited period of time, they will hook you up with a vegan mentor of sorts -- a go-to person for any questions you may have -- and set you up with everything from nutritional info to meal plans for anywhere from 1-4 weeks. The Vegan Society has its Vegan Pledge program, for instance. For those living in the Philadelphia or Phoenixville areas in Pennsylvania or near Baltimore, Maryland, Philly's Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) offers a similar program, but with a focus on "in person" meetings, cooking classes, guest speakers along with the meal plans and mentoring. The Boston Vegan Association (BVA) offers newcomer orientation sessions and monthly meetings, guest speakers, invaluable information resources on its website and a discussion forum for the exchange of further information. The bottom line is that there's information out there and that there are vegans who are ready and willing to help you make the transition. Make contact with them! Heck, if you have any questions about any aspect of going vegan, feel free to drop me a line. If I don't know, I'll at least know where to look and would be glad to help.

Oh, and...

Cravings (if you have 'em) will subside. Better yet, if you do get the urge for this or that dish that you used to enjoy, there's a good chance that some fabulous food blogger has long-since veganized it and that the non-vegan main or secondary ingredients which would have been used in a given recipe have tasty vegan equivalents available on the market or are even altogether unnecessary. Hopefully, as you settle into being vegan, you'll also learn to look beyond the notion that most non-vegans hold that meals need to revolve around a chunk of animal protein and you'll learn to explore recipes which don't require vegan facsimiles of those chunks of animal protein. That being said, there are tons of substitutes for most animal products available on most store shelves right now, particularly for meat and dairy and whether or not you choose to use them is up to you. Whatever you do, if you poke around, you'll see that there's what seems to be an infinite number of scrumptious vegan recipes to be discovered, whether online, in cookbooks or by word of mouth in vegan discussion forums. Get out there and explore!

Cut Yourself Some Slack!

Nobody expects you to be an expert overnight. You may choose to start shuffling animal products out of your life gradually or you may clear your fridge, closet and medicine cabinet and go vegan immediately. Chances are that you'll fall somewhere in-between those two scenarios and the thing is that regardless of how quickly you decide to transition and of how determined you are, you may very well slip up and find yourself inadvertently and unintentionally consuming an animal product. You may miss an obscure ingredient on a package and suddenly find yourself noticing and identifying it as you're throwing the balled up plastic away. You may end up taking a huge bite out of one of the cookies a coworker's brought to the office after hearing assurances that it's vegan, only to find yourself then hearing "You eat eggs, don't you?" just as you've swallowed that bite. Accidents happen. Don't beat yourself up, but instead, learn from them and move forward.

To learn more about veganism and animal rights, please visit the Abolitionist Approach website.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

The thing about eating is that it provides a never-ending series of opportunities to snap photos of awesome vegan food. I mean, barring coming down with the flu and curling up beneath a blanket for a day or trying a fast, I end up making something or other pretty much at least every other day or so. Some things look (and taste!) less spectacular than others, but hopefully sharing the photos here can at least serve some sort of purpose, even if only to give folks some ideas for easy things to whip up or to show others considering veganism that eating vegan by no means mandates self-deprivation.

Swedish gingersnap cookies, fair trade coffee with maple syrup and plain almond milk.

Chunky tomato sauce with onions, carrots, banana peppers, kale, garlic, basil and red pepper flakes. (I had this for dinner over baby lima beans -- yummy!)

"Garlicky Cheezy Kale" and tabbouleh with pea shoots.

Green Thai coconut curry with broccoli, carrots, onions, tofu, water chestnuts and chow mein noodles ('cause I'm not a huge fan of rice noodles).

Pita pizza topped with homemade red sauce (seasoned w/crushed garlic, fennel, basil, dried chipotle), pickled hot banana peppers, green olives, onions and cheddar Daiya. Salad with lettuce, Spanish onion, radishes, sweet banana peppers from the garden and parsley tossed with a sweet onion/lime vinaigrette.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Vegan Eats in Halifax: Heartwood

I recently spent some time in the Halifax, Nova Scotia area -- old stomping grounds for me from my first few years out of high school. It involved my first year at university followed by another year of spending too much time spinning vinyl at a college radio station and getting sneaked into bars for gigs by the radio station's program director and some of the other volunteers there at the time. I was still figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up (and go figure that I still haven't quite figured that out). My time in Halifax preceded my initial interest in vegetarianism and my ensuing transition to veganism. However, I was aware even then of the existence of one vegetarian restaurant at that time, Satisfaction Feast (a Sri Chimnoy restaurant, methinks), which as it turns out, closed its doors permanently just days before what was to be my first visit to the city in over 10 years and my very first as a vegan.

Thankfully, though, Halifax does indeed have its share of fairly vegan-friendly restaurants (although none of them, as far as I know, are actually vegan). One of those is a place called Heartwood located on Quinpool Rd within a short walk of downtown Halifax. It's described as "vegetarian" and "organic" and when I mentioned the place to my host, he piped up that he'd had the most amazing tofu scramble breakfast there and that he'd love to go again. All it took was one look at their fabulous menu for me to decide that I was all in. I'd not only love to go there once, but determined after a few glances at the menu and then letting the indecision over the options set in that I would undoubtedly want to visit the restaurant a few times during my stay.

I live in a tiny city which up until a few months ago, had nothing even resembling a vegetarian restaurant, never mind a vegan restaurant. A juice bar and self-described bistro opened up earlier this summer, offering salad and a daily soup option, dehydrated kale chips, a few raw dessert balls and a rotating mostly-raw dinner option based on whatever local ingredients the chef has on hand. I've checked the place out a few times and have enjoyed it, but have been frustrated at the lack of options and the never knowing from one day to the next what dish or dishes would be available. The few times I do eat out locally, I usually gravitate towards vegan options at a handful of decidedly non-vegan ethnic restaurants. Heartwood offered up a wide variety of sandwiches, bowls, a veggie burger, a burrito, a tofu dish, some salads and a bunch of vegan dessert choices.

The day after my arrival in the Halifax area, my host Mike and I hit a few farmers markets and lucked out, after munching on a couple of large but somewhat disappointingly bland potato samosas, to stumble upon a table set up by the operator of The Kind Cookie, featuring vegan and gluten-free baked goods. We each gobbled down a whoopie pie after some tentative initial bites and discussion of the butter-cream-iness of their filling and of how different they were from the super-sweet versions of homemade whoopie pies we'd each enjoyed as kids. We agreed, however, that they were quite tasty. We scooped up a small bag's worth of peanut butter and oatmeal-raisin cookies and ended up taking a stroll outside the Halifax market to enjoy the sun and gaze at the harbour, only to find ourselves dipping into said bag to discover that the cookies -- teff flour based -- were quite possibly some of the best cookies we'd each had. They were awesome and I wish I'd had a camera on hand to photograph them. If you're ever in the Halifax area, do visit the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market and try them out. I digress, though...

After a day spent enjoying the farmers markets, the ferry across the Halifax harbour for a stroll in nearby Dartmouth, a return ferry and then stints at JWD -- a favourite used bookstore from back in my college days -- to pick up vegan (for my host) and vegan-friendly ethnic (for me) cookbooks and at the Strange Adventures comic book store to gawk at boardgames, we decided to hop in the car and head over to Heartwood to get a late lunch. Although they serve an all-day brunch on Saturdays, we decided to forgo the Organic Tofu Scramble with its Herbed Organic Potatoes and Sourdough Toast. No, we gave in to the temptation of splitting Heartwood's Classic Vegan Pizza, ordering their Guacamole and Hummous Platter first. The waitress brought us water and delicious cups of strong coffee with a tiny dispenser of soy milk to indulge in while waiting. The platter arrived shortly thereafter, large and luscious with sliced red bell pepper, cucumber and zucchini slices, organic corn chips and garlicky foccacia to dip into generous bowls of yummy hummus and rich guacamole.

We were still picking away at the crisp vegetables and dredging them through the dips when our pizza arrived. With its thin spelt crust coated in splotches of red sauce, the thing was fully-loaded with roasted red bell pepper, spinach, marinated portabello mushrooms, artichokes, (what I think was tamari) marinated tofu and was covered with dollops of the most incredibly tangy tofu-garlic sauce. I suspect there was some sort of cashew and lemon thing going on with that sauce. I should have asked. We decided then and there that it was quite possibly the best pizza either of us had ever had. I've been a pizza-addict for many, many years and due to the lack of vegan options in my city and my general dissatisfaction with vegan frozen pizzas in terms of taste, topping amount and price, I've made my own pizza -- with homemade pizza crust or with large pita bread -- for years. This pizza was simply awesome. It was incredibly rich and my greatest regret is that I did not have a camera on-hand to photograph it before we devoured it. It's definitely too much for one person to handle in one sitting, we agreed. When next I return to Halifax, it will be a priority for me. I would travel to Halifax again, just to enjoy this pizza. By the time we were done and the waitress tried to entice us with dessert options, we realized fairly quickly that anything over and above that pizza would have been uncomfortably excessive. We paid the bill and left, still discussing the awesomeness of the pizza, even as we agreed that we were both more than full and sort of in need of naps to compensate.

I didn't get a chance to return to Heartwood for a meal, but did take advantage of a jaunt into Halifax later that week to swing by to taste-test their supposedly infamous Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake. The photos in this post were all taken on that day, incidentally, which was a Wednesday afternoon just after 3 pm. (When my host Mike and I had popped in on the previous Saturday afternoon, the restaurant had been full. When I walked in on Wednesday, a couple of the booths were occupied and several customers came and left with takeout orders. There did end up being a lull, which left me happily snapping away for a while, thus the photos.) The cheesecake was priced at $7.25 a slice. I ordered some, along with the coffee I'd loved so much on the previous visit. My first few bites of the cheesecake were disappointing. It was creamy-rich, but the chocolate-y taste reminded me of that sort of half-hearted result you get with carob or with cheap frosting. It was really sweet, but not fulfilling. The coffee, however, complemented that well, and as I picked away at the slice and got closer to its heel, the peanut butter kicked in and was just super. I sat there munching and sipping away, watching passersby on Quinpool while old 1920s jazz played quietly, really loving being there. And hell, it looked lovely before I tore into it.

Would I get it again? Likely not. I've since been told by Haligonian vegans that The Wooden Monkey (another vegan-friendly but non-vegan restaurant) is the place to go for mind-blowing vegan cheesecake in Halifax. I will, however, definitely revisit Heartwood when I hit Halifax again, if only to allow myself to taste that incredible vegan pizza again and to actually branch out a bit and try a few other entrees on their menu. I did end up visiting The Wooden Monkey later that evening, but it was cheesecake-free and that story's best left for another post.

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