Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Vegans Eat

With the holidays just a few days and a nearly two-week long internet hiatus looming for me, I figured that now would be as good a time as any to take that periodic peek at what's been happening on some of my favourite vegan food blogs.

Nathan Kozuskanich shared a recipe for Green Potato Soup on his Vegan Dad blog a little less than a week ago. With heaps of leeks, chard and spinach, it looks as good as I've no doubt it tastes. It sounds like the perfect thing to ladle into a big bowl and curl up on the sofa with to watch holiday claymation specials.

Mike K at Vegan for the People posted a couple of recipes over the past few weeks that caught my attention and that I hope to try out soon. One is for Sesame Long Beans with Five Spice Tofu and the other for Somali Sambusas. The sambusas are filled with lentils , scallions and cilantro and seasoned with spices like cardamom, cumin and coriander. They sound wonderful --and I'm not just sayin' that because I'm a huge fan of filled things and finger foods.

Speaking of filled things, check out the Baked Whole Wheat Empanadas recipe Alicia shared with her readers on the Vegan Epicurean blog. This blog is relatively new to me and I'm already sold on it after looking over the dozen or so most recent recipes and their photos. I also appreciate that she includes nutritional information on the recipes she posts. I'll be lurking over there a fair bit in the New Year, I'm sure.

Just in time for holiday entertaining for those who like to cater to their guests sweet tooths, Claire at Chez Cayenne offered up a recipe last Saturday for Orange-Chocolate-Chocolate Chip cookies. She also provided a recipe for those who like to cater to those guests who like to indulge a little to engage in their holiday merrymaking: Vegan Irish Cream! (By the way, for some great info on chocolate and what is or isn't vegan, check out this 2006 blog post by cookbook author Dreena Burton!)

Cookbook author Bryanna Clark Grogan featured a recipe for a simple Rustic Apple-Almond Cake on her blog a few days ago that does indeed sound like a yummy treat to have on hand for family or friends who might come calling.

Finally, the six vegans over at Cooking from 1,000 Vegan Recipes have been busy! As of last Saturday, they'd prepared 155 out of the 1000 recipes in Robin Robertson's book. Go have a look at the gorgeous photos of the dishes they've reproduced from it. Better yet, buy the book and cook along with them, using their notes as pointers.

So there you have it--the last instalment of "What Vegans Eat" for 2009. If you think that going vegan is hard because your food options somehow become limited, or, if you're just stuck in a food rut and can't think of what to make for dinner, read the food blogs mentioned above (as well as those whose links I've listed off to the right) and let yourself be convinced otherwise.

Go vegan and stay vegan and enjoy the good healthy eats that come with it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Erik Marcus Really Needs a New Domain Name - Part 2

Jonathan Safran Foer mentions 'suffering' over and over throughout his interview with Erik Marcus, making it clear, in case any of his readers or the podcast's more distracted listeners were still somehow left wondering, that his concern is with the treatment--not with the use--of nonhuman animals. His views on those who do take issue with the use of animals altogether get revealed as the interview takes a less-than-interesting turn and vegan advocacy suddenly gets kicked around like a crumpled soda pop can on a dirty beach. That old familiar shaming game begins and Marcus and Foer play off of each other to display how they have a heap more in common than merely having written books about factory farming.

It's sad enough when those who are either unsupportive of or outright opposed to veganism and vegan advocacy (and who themselves choose to exploit animals) can't articulate their stances any better than to ridicule vegans and equate consistency with fanaticism; it makes me wonder about what truly motivates people to say the things they do, however, when someone who is purportedly a vegan decides to turn on other vegans for having the (gasp!) audacity to talk to people other than vegans about veganism. Considering that as early as p. 6 of his book, Foer brings up the term "proselytizer" in his first mention of someone's having talked to him about the ethics of eating animals, the remainder of the interview, although horribly disappointing, is not particularly full of surprises.

Marcus' voice takes on an almost gleeful quality as he suggests that in writing his book, Foer left himself open to criticism "from hardcore level 5 vegans in our movement". Foer insists that he's all for criticism and then indulges in a fair bit of it himself, dancing a little jig around the ethics of eating animals while talking about "steps". Foer questions whether we should really be asking people to take the "first" step (i.e. any lessening at all of animal consumption) or the "last" step (i.e. veganism); he then suggests that it is altogether unreasonable to ask people to start by taking the "last" step. He insists that asking people to take the "first" step introduces the issue in a way that is "cast less militantly" and "opens a conversation".

For someone who asserts in this interview and elsewhere that he is no animal activist, Foer certainly seems to have rather strong opinions about how advocacy and activism
should be carried out. The thing is that I can understand to a certain extent why an on-again, off-again vegetarian of many years who has yet--even after researching a book about the horrors of factory farming-- to make the decision to go vegan would perpetuate the myth that going vegan is extreme or that going vegan is difficult. We all have baggage when it comes to personal weakness; it seems somewhat disingenous, however, for Foer to project his weakness on to the public and to so grossly underestimate the average person's ability to hear and respond to a clear vegan message. And that Marcus, a vegan, should not see fit to point that out to Foer was what was perhaps the most shameful part of the interview.

But it doesn't stop there...

Foer insists that taking a first step (e.g. skipping meat for one day a week) always leads to a second and further step. Prof. Gary L. Francione, though, has successfully argued here and here both how and why this isn't the case. Foer then backtracks by asserting that even if those small steps "are the only steps made" that it still "makes a tremendous difference". The truth is that coddling anyone into thinking that any level of animal exploitation is OK since they've made a "tremendous difference" in dropping this or that animal product does a disservice to them and merely confuses them about what it is that we in fact owe animals. Marcus, however, states explicitly that he condones small changes that never lead to veganism. He describes what he calls his "two track activism", by which on one hand he a) purports to want to convince anyone and everyone that veganism is simple, but that b) if they're "absolutely unwilling", he still thinks that it's "a big win" to convince them to eat less meat or at least buy "more expensive" meat from animals that are not factory farmed. It's patronizing at best and dishonest at worst to communicate this sort of wishy-washy message in lieu of a clear and honest message. Furthermore, it would be an understatement to express the disservice that holding this mindset, and consuming accordingly, does to the nonhuman animals who do happen to be the unlucky ones who continue to be used by humans who've received this message from purported animal advocates. Is focusing on that first step and following it up with a pat on the back not really more akin, then, to taking two steps back while losing an opportunity to get someone to consider veganism?

Foer and Marcus bring up abolitionism and eventually switch the term out to opt for 'absolutist'. Foer describes abolitionism as drawing a line in the sand and then focusing on how to get others to draw their lines in the same place, rather than getting them to work "toward" that line as a "goal". In saying so, Foer shows a complete lack of understanding of the abolitionist approach to animal rights and the way in which vegan education is often conducted. Prof. Francione has repeatedly said in interviews, himself, that incremental change is encouraged as long as it involves moving forward towards the ultimate goal of going vegan. What's not condoned by abolitionists is the sort of incremental change that goes nowhere and merely serves to reinforce someone's views that in giving up this or that animal product, he or she has done enough and should not feel concerned or guilty about continuing to exploit nonhuman animals.

Where abolitionists believe that people have the ability to hear, process and react to a clear vegan message, Marcus takes an altogether different view. He describes assessing which message should be communicated to non-vegans as an issue of "trust", where someone like Foer feels that getting someone to the first step and then letting that person suss things out (whether or not this entails a progression to the logical conclusion of going vegan) shows that Foer "trusts" the recipient of the message. On the other hand, according to Marcus, others who are adamant about delivering an unequivocal vegan message don't, in fact, trust the message's recipients:

I think a lot of the absolutist position really has to do with distrusting your listener. [...] I am going to proscribe for you exactly what kind of behaviour you should be carrying out and if you come up anywhere short of that, or god forbid you advocate lesser steps to others, then you don't get to be in the camp of good people who care about animals.
Not only is this a total mischaracterization, but it is completely mean-spirited (and that's as generous a term as I could come up with). Marcus knows better than this, which is why I have to ask why he would deliberately try to deceive his listeners about abolitionists who are unequivocal about the need for nonviolent creative vegan education, and who instead put a great deal of faith into the ability of others to be able to connect the dots when presented with a clear message concerning the immorality of using nonhuman animals.

Furthermore, Marcus rants that the most "objectionable term" he's heard is the expression "moral baseline" and that using it suggests to people "that if they don't go vegan, automatically they're immoral people" and Marcus says that the more you "judge other people's integrity or quality as a person" the more opportunity you have to "alienate" those people. The irony in all of this is that on top of completely misrepresenting advocacy or education that has an unequivocal vegan message, Marcus is pretty much doing exactly what he accuses abolitionists of doing--finger-pointing, judging, questioning integrity and alienating.

Insisting that not consuming or exploiting animals should be a starting point--a moral baseline--for expressing that one is taking their interests seriously is logical. If one were advocating against rape, would Marcus tell us that it's objectionable to insist that if one is to take the interests or rights of rape victims seriously that one should start by themselves not raping others? It would be speciesist of Marcus to agree with one scenario and not the other. (For more information on why veganism needs to be the moral baseline of the animal rights movement, please read this essay on the Abolitionist Approach website by Prof. Francione.)

Erik Marcus ends his interview with Jonathan Safran Foer by stating that if you want to consider yourself an activist or if you're truly seriously interested in animal protection that you absolutely "have to" read Foer's book. I disagree and assert that if you want to consider yourself an animal rights activist and are truly seriously interested in animal protection that you should start by going vegan. In his write-up for his podcast interview with Foer, he claims that Eating Animals "will become the default title recommended by vegetarian activists for the next decade". Perhaps that is so, but I am fairly confident that, contrary to what Marcus in all of his confusion may also believe, Foer's book will never become the default title recommended by vegan activists for the next decade. I am also fairly confident that vegan Erik Marcus will never become the default animal advocate whose name gets recommended by vegan activists for the next decade. At least one can hope.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Erik Marcus Really Needs a New Domain Name - Part I

I've been reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, for the past couple of weeks now, squeezing in a paragraph here or there during lunch breaks and usually scribbling as many words down--shaking my head in disbelief--as actual words I've read. Around a month ago, I had a conversation with a vegan writer on Twitter about Foer's recent media darling status. She asked if I'd read the book and I told her 'no', and that the idea of actually spending money on such a thing was disconcerting to me, given all that I'd read about it. She suggested I contact the publisher to obtain a sample copy to review for my blog, and so began my slow trudge through what I'm starting to suspect may end up being the most beautifully written piece of absolute garbage I've ever read. (I'll reassess that once I get to the end, of course, when I plan to write a review of it--an autopsy, more or less.)

So Foer has been all over the news on the internet, in magazines and in newspapers. Kathy Freston, vegan cleanse diet guru (who enjoyed her own fifteen minutes of being a media darling a few months ago thanks to PETA-approved Oprah), recently called him
"the Michael Pollan of a younger generation". Now, the last time I checked, Michael Pollan wasn't trying to talk anyone into going vegan. Neither is Jonathan Safran Foer, for that matter. In fact, from interviews, it seems that Foer isn't even necessarily bent on talking anyone into becoming a vegetarian, so it made enough sense that someone who made her name talking a famous talk-show host into adopting a vegan "diet"either for a month for health reasons should compare him to a guy like Pollan, who is known for promoting a trend known as "ethical" omnivorism. They're all people who seem to be cashing in on various food-related trends that, on some level or another, either directly involve or lead to the excusing away of varioius types of animal exploitation. What amazed me, however, was to hear fellow-vegans pick up on the Foer-mania and start lauding him for supposedly promoting veganism.

One such vegan is Erik Marcus, who's apparently written a couple of books about factory farming (neither of which I've read) and who happens to own the domain Vegan.com where he serves up what he refers to on Twitter as his "snark" (often just links to news stories about meat consumption, with a line or two of commentary) and where he features episodes of his podcast which is listed on iTunes as VegTalk (which, given the number of times Paul Shapiro has been a guest during the past several months might be more appropriately called HSUSTalk).

Marcus recently announced on Twitter that he'd be interviewing the non-vegan Foer and asked his followers what they'd like him to ask Foer. No surprise that many of the responses included asking Foer 1) why he doesn't promote veganism and 2) why after having done all of the research into factory farming that he did for the book, Foer is not vegan (he's on the record as being an on-again, off-again vegetarian at best). Marcus blew a gasket after Adam Kochanowicz, host of the Vegan News, offered his suggestion:

AbVegan @VeganDotCom Ask yourself why you're interviewing him. Ask Foer why he's not a vegan.
To which Marcus responded, tweeting:
VeganDotCom I should ask Foer how he's already managed to accomplish a million times more for farmed animals than what you've done. @AbVegan
Numerous tweets from various animal advocates imploring Marcus to elaborate upon what it was, exactly, that Foer had supposedly accomplished that was a million-fold better than Kochanowicz for "farmed animals" more or less went unanswered (albeit with Marcus' repeated insistence that Foer's having merely appeared on "Martha and Ellen" was somehow concrete evidence of his having made a difference in the lives of the animals we enslave to slaughter and eat). Other ignored tweets pointed out that on his own website's main page, Foer directs people to where they can buy locally raised turkeys to eat. Why indeed, as Kochanowicz asked, would a vegan who claims to be pro-veganism get excited over interviewing someone who exploits animals and enables and assists others in exploiting them?

So on with the interview...

Marcus starts the interview off gushing over how much he and Foer have in common, particularly since they've both written about factory farming (Marcus returns to this gushing state several times in his interview, but in the interest of not overstating what was already embarrassingly overstated, I'll refrain from revisiting it myself). They talk about the wrongful vilification of farmers, described by Foer as being mostly people who "care" about the animals they raise for food, but who are somewhat helpless when it comes to whatever technology they use to confine and kill and who are ultimately driven by consumer demand. Where demand driving exploitation is concerned, they get it right. Unfortunately the portrayal of helpless and caring farmers gets carried a bit far by Foer as he goes on about all of the farmers he met who were bona fide members (or former members) of PETA. He then goes to talk about what he calls "values" these farmers apparently share with
"animal rights activists", citing this as the reason there is a need for animal activists to move "away from obsession with the divisive questions which, frankly, right now, in America, are not the relevant questions".

At this point, I wondered how much coaching Marcus did before this interview. I don't recall Foer ever using the term 'divisive' before, but it's been volleyed at abolitionists (and particularly at Prof. Gary L. Francione) innumerable times to silence differing opinions (usually when those abolitionists' opinions involve rejecting regulationist welfarism--which
perpetuates the continued exploitation of nonhuman animals--and insisting on vegan advocacy that has as its goal the end of the exploitation of nonhuman animals). It's no wonder that Foer would conflate animal advocates with farmers, or confuse animal rights advocates with animal welfare advocates, given that throughout the interview, Marcus himself refers to the animal movement as the "vegetarian movement" and sometimes seems to use 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' interchangeably. But I'm getting sidetracked when there's so much more to cover...

I'll be doing that in Part II of my Marcus/Foer love-in review tomorrow.

THE WORLD IS VEGAN! If you want it.

Yesterday, Prof. Gary L. Francione wrote on his Abolitionist Approach website about setting up a virtual billboard to "spread the message that nonviolence against our nonhuman brothers and sisters is possible—if we want it". To do so:

Send this message on all your social message boards and ask your friends to send it on theirs. Text your friends and ask them to text their friends. Add this message to your signature line on your emails. Let’s start a friendly wave of creative, nonviolent vegan education.
Today, the remarkably multi-talented Vincent Guihan (who writes the We Other Animals blog and maintains the abolitionist Animal Emancipation discussion forum) created some banners that can be used for this very purpose. You can find them here (along with their HTML code) and re-post or distribute them freely.

Take the opportunity to share your vegan story when you do, or to talk to people about how easy--and right--it is to go vegan!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Veganism (?) in the Media

I read several months ago how singer Alanis Morissette ended up getting a good little chunk of media attention after having shed 20 lbs. The press, of course, is eternally obsessed with publishing reports about women entertainers losing and / or gaining weight. In this case, Alanis made the rounds attributing her weight loss to her switch to a vegan "diet". Back in January, the "green gossip" site Ecorazzi was proclaiming:

Alanis Morissette has joined the ranks of compassionate celebrities by making public her commitment to the vegan lifestyle! HELL, YEAH!!
Of course, the size of the grain of salt with which I took that statement can be surmised just by reading the last sentence of the Ecorazzi blurb, which encourages readers to "join" Alanis by making "the resolution to go meat-free in 2009". Later in October, I'd blogged about another Ecorazzi story applauding more examples of (meaninglessness) supposed celebrity veganism.

Of course, when you actually step back and look at the big picture, adopting a vegan "diet" as an end in and of itself for weight loss purposes (i.e. while continuing to use animal products in every other facet of your day-to-day life) is really just another variation on the same sort of piecemeal eschewing of animal exploitation that going meat-free ultimately is, no? Welfarists will insist that "every little bit counts" and that somehow, whether the people picking and choosing which animal products to consume (or not consume) know it or not, "every little bit" is a potential step forward towards complete veganism.

Today, I read a story that served as a good reminder of how as long as our own self-interest is the motivation to stop consuming this or that animal product, there's no guarantee of any forward motion at all. In fact, in the January 2010 issue of Runner's World, Alanis proclaims that she's taken a few steps back and is now a "semivegan" and that she's "about 90 percent vegan". She said she thinks that veganism is "good for training"; it's a shame she doesn't think that veganism is good for nonhuman animals.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

So Says Twitter About Dear Peter Singer

Recent news making the rounds on Twitter is that utilitarian ethicist and animal lover Peter Singer, has agreed to participate in a debate with abolitionists Gary L. Francione and Gary Steiner. That is, he's "agreed" to do so for a $10,000 fee, and only after being permitted to discuss the proposed topics beforehand because of issues he has with them. Oh, and the $10,000 fee would be forwarded to welfarist organization "Vegan" Outreach. General consensus amongst many whose eyes got sore rolling at the news on Twitter is that Peter Singer seems to have become more interested in posturing and self-promotion than in actually engaging in dialogue or debate to earnestly further animal interests. It's a shame that given an opportunity to articulate his beliefs to educate others that he would choose, instead, to make what seems to be some sort of thumb-nosing gesture. Could it be that the purported father of animal liberation has become a deadbeat-dad of sorts?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Veganism Needs to be the Moral Baseline

Here's a short 2008 interview on Animal World with Prof. Gary L. Francione discussing why veganism needs to be the moral baseline of the animal rights movement.

A Closer Look at Animal Rights from Gary L. Francione on Vimeo.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Not 'How', but 'Why'

I read an article this morning by columnist Anne Else of New Zealand's Independent News Media ("A fair adjectival cow: Why cubicle farming is a really bad idea") that got me thinking again of how crucial it is that abolitionists continue to educate people--whether inside or outside of the animal advocacy movement--about the immorality of using nonhuman animals. When welfarists focus on regulating the treatment of animals, they miss the whole point; this focus implies that one some level, it's moral to continue enslaving nonhuman animals and depriving them of the very basic right to live out their own lives without existing solely to satisfy the selfish pleasures of those who exploit them and the others who provide the demand for this exploitation. There are so many people talking about treatment right now for any number of reasons; reading their morally confused arguments and assertions just adds so much more weight to my conviction that to do anything other than focus on use detracts from the problem at hand. Focusing on treatment is in fact detrimental when attempting to educate others about taking the interests of nonhuman animals seriously.

So, Anne Else wrote an article expressing a fair amount of outrage over a recent plan in New Zealand to house 18,000 cows being used for their milk in cubicles. In all fairness, Else makes it clear that she is not an animal activist. She writes:

I'm not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, and I don't stick to organically produced food. But I do care about how the animals that produce my food are treated. And I'm convinced that ensuring our already rather battered claims to be clean, green and 100% pure become a reality is the only way our economy can survive, let alone prosper.
So Else is not someone who thinks that it's wrong to consume animals or their products. She consumes them quite happily herself, whether or not they have the sort of meaningless so-called humane stamp of approval they would have if certified as having been produced according to organic standards. Nope, Else is concerned about appearances. It would look bad to consumers if New Zealand farmers were to start adopting means of raising cows since the "clean green" image [they] depend on so heavily will be completely down the tubes" and the "reputation of [the] entire dairy production will be tainted". She even quotes a member of New Zealand's Green Party as saying: "British consumers literally taste freedom when they eat New Zealand butter."

Freedom, huh?

Else goes on to shift her focus somewhat to how the cows in question will be fed and the environmental impact this will have. She writes that the cows will likely be fed the recent subject of much media controversy--palm kernel expeller, and that New Zealanders will become complicit in the destruction of "fragile rainforest environments". For insight into the palm kernel expeller controversy in New Zealand, please read Elizabeth Collins' Independent Media Centre piece from this past September ("Why are we blaming the farmers?") and listen to Episode 38 of her New Zealand Vegan Podcast. There's not much else that I can say about it, except to agree wholeheartedly with Elizabeth that if there was no consumer demand for cow's milk, this palm kernel expeller fiasco wouldn't be an issue in the first place. (But I digress, since Else's article isn't about use, but about how they are used--their treatment.)

Else raises other concerns about the cubicles that deal with the cows' health and the discharge of their effluent into the surrounding area and the ensuing environmental toll. With this, she brings the article's focus back to her initial concern--that of appearances:
Even if they do manage to meet all the requirements and keep damage to cows' health, and to the environment, to a minimum, what is the point of farming this way in grassy, temperate New Zealand? There can be only one answer: because it enables inhospitable, fragile, and otherwise "unprofitable" landscapes, such as the stunning Mackenzie Basin, to be turned into a conglomeration of giant factory farms. We will indeed be catching up with the rest of the world.
So throughout this article, which takes issue with a new method introduced in New Zealand to confine cows used for their milk, it's made clear that this treatment of them will harm New Zealand's reputation as a provider of happy grass-fed cow produced milk. Hell, it will also harm the appearance of the landscape surrounding the area where the cows will be confined! This really big knot of superficial concerns revolves around the 18,000 or so cows at the center of the story who will, indeed, continue to be used as things to produce the milk products the industry wants to sell to the consumers who are demanding them.

Else managed to write an entire article loosely focused on the treatment of these 18,000 cows, and nowhere in it is the use of these cows ever questioned, since it's a given to Else (and others who in any way ever discuss the treatment of nonhuman animals) that these cows will indeed continue to be used, however it happens. It's also a given for welfarist groups like HSUS, which uses millions in donations to mount campaigns that concern themselves with how animals are used instead of questioning why they are used. This is why it's crucial, if the actual interests of nonhuman animals are to be taken seriously, that someone deliver a clear and consistent abolitionist message; this is why it's crucial that nonviolent and creative vegan education be a strong main focus of animal rights campaigns. Otherwise, we're not leaving people asking why nonhuman animals are being used or considering the morality of their continuing to use them. If we truly want to strive toward abolishing the exploitation of nonhuman animals, we need to get others asking the right questions--not 'how', but 'why'.

Talk to someone about veganism today.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Makin' Tempeh!

My friend Mark makes his own tempeh and recently documented his latest attempt for me so that I could blog about it. I'm including his instructions and the photos he kindly took to accompany them.

Homemade Tempeh
(makes about 2 lbs)


1 lb (2.5 cups) dried, cracked, dehulled soybeans

2 tsp tempeh starter
vinegar (lowers the pH, discouraging growth of competing bacteria)


Method 1 (my way): If you have a grain mill that can be adjusted to crack soybeans to dehull them, then this is the way to go. Once they are cracked (in around two pieces--not much more than that), take them outside on a dry and very windy day and pour the cracked beans back and forth between two large containers. The wind carries away most of the hulls leaving only the cracked soybeans for the next step. (I’ve seen suggestions to use a strong fan or hairdryer if the weather is not cooperating.) Soak these (at least overnight), covering them in water with a tablespoon of vinegar. Proceed to recipe.

Method 2: Buy the soybeans already cracked & dehulled. These are sometimes called ‘full-fat soy grits’. Soak these (at least overnight) covered in water with a tablespoon of vinegar. Proceed to recipe.

Method 3: Cover whole soybeans with boiling water with 1 Tbs of vinegar, and let soak at room temperature at least overnight. Next, pour off the water and rub the beans in the pot vigorously between your hands to slide off the hulls and split the beans into halves manually. Fill the pot with water and stir to allow the hulls to rise to the surface. Skim off the hulls and repeat the process till most of the hulls are gone. (Ugh!) Proceed to recipe


1) Rinse the soaked soybeans, place in large pot with 10 cups of water and 1-1/2 Tbs vinegar. Bring to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as hulls and foam will rise to the surface in the beginning and can overflow. Skim off the hulls/foam as they rise to the top (it gets less touchy after the first 15 minutes or so).

2) Drain beans into colander and then transfer into large clean bowl. Let beans cool uniformly by pressing the beans into the concave shape of the bowl till about room temperature.

3) Sprinkle 1-1/2 Tbs of vinegar and mix thoroughly using a clean wire whisk. Now sprinkle 1 tsp of tempeh starter over the beans and whisk in thoroughly. Add the other 1 tsp of tempeh starter and mix thoroughly again.

4) Press inoculated beans into clean containers or Ziploc bags. Avoid touching the beans with your hands (even though you washed them very well, with soap, before you started all this, right?). Beans can be anywhere from 1/2" to 1-1/2” thick. If pressed into a container for incubation, cover lightly with plastic wrap so top does not dry out before it gets a chance to colonize.

Note: I have made myself plastic tempeh moulds out of old margarine containers. Any clear plastic containers would do (so you can see the progress). Drill small (around 1/8”) holes spaced about an inch apart and in a grid pattern into the container. Perforated Ziploc bags can be used too.

5) Tempeh needs an ideal temperature of 86-88 F. (30-31 C) to incubate. Slightly cooler (down to 80 F / 27 C) will still work, though much slower increasing chance for contamination, and too hot can kill/end the process. The easiest method without building/buying some contraption is to use the oven with just the light on inside, but you have to use an accurate thermometer to figure out how to have the oven temp ‘hover’ around that ideal temperature range. An outdoor thermometer will work fine. Variables include room temperature, which rack inside the oven you're using, how close to the bulb your have your stuff, whether the oven door is closed or propped open more (or less). Do all of this temperature experimenting BEFORE your first batch goes in and you should succeed the very first time!

Incubation takes about 20-24 hours at the proper temp. About 2/3 of the way through, the tempeh starts generating it’s own heat (a lot of it--you can really feel it). At about this time you should a) move the tempeh to a lower rack, or b) prop the oven door open a bit more wider, or c) turn off the oven light altogether to avoid overheating. Sometimes you’ll see the corner of the tempeh closest to the heat source seem more advanced; rotate the tray so that the other side can ‘catch up’.

6) When the tempeh looks all white and firm (pretty much like the store-bought stuff) you can cut it up and use it, refrigerate it, or freeze it. If you let it continue to grow it will begin to produce surface spores (grey to black). This is no problem and is still edible. Ammonia overtones will increase and tempeh will get stronger if allowed to over-ripen and is still safe, within reason (some people even prefer it this way). If it starts smelling foul or turning odd colours or textures, maybe you’ve gone too far and it’s time to toss it and make a new batch.

Note: If unavailable at your local health food store, you can order tempeh starter online from a place like GEM Cultures.

Monday, December 07, 2009

What Other Abolitionists Have Been Saying

I've been too busy over the past couple of weeks to keep up with the sort of posting I'd ordinarily like to be doing. That being said, expect a nice lengthy abolitionist's review of on-again, off-again vegetarian Jonathan Safran Foer's now famous animal welfare tome Eating Animals sometime over the next week and a half. Fellow-abolitionists, on the other hand, have been keeping busy and I figured that I'd take the opportunity to spotlight what a few have been up to:

Just a short while after Bucknell University's Gary Steiner ended up on the receiving of criticism from meat lovers and animal welfarists alike for his op-ed piece on veganism in the New York Times ("Animal, Vegetable, Miserable", Nov. 21), Prof. Gary L. Francione invited him to participate in his Aboltionist Approach Commentary podcast. In it, they discuss Steiner's guest editorial and the reactions to it, as well as discuss the abysmal failure of welfare reform in general. Dan Cudahy recently posted on his Unpopular Vegan Essays blog in response to welfarist Erik Marcus' short attack of the Steiner piece.

Adam Kochanowicz of The Vegan News also recently finished tweaking and uploading all seven parts of his recent interview with Prof. Francione at Rutgers University. You can watch the entire thing here at the Vegan FM website.

The word on Twitter from Bob Torres (aka @veganfreak) is that the updated version of Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World (co-written by Bob and his wife Jenna Torres) has finally left the printers and is on its way to stores at this very moment. You can also order it here (it is apparently shipping out on December 15).

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Vegan, you look like HELL!

Here's a favourite video of mine from YouTube covering some of the things that well-meaning friends and acquaintances may say without thinking to you if you're vegan. Visit porolita22's channel there for more videos about veganism.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What Vegans Eat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plant-based Eggs and Confrontational Conversation Bombs

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

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


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

Monday, November 09, 2009

Oh, What to Eat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mumblings and Musings About Earnestness in the Animal Movement

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

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

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

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

Omnivorism as the New Vegetarianism

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

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

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

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

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

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