Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's Sometimes Hardest


Let's face it: Old habits can be a pain in the arse to change. Whether it's something as general as procrastinating (for which I am notorious) or something as specific as biting your nails, knocking yourself out of cycles that have become part of your daily routine or of your regular way of flittering about in the world can be hard. When I talk to people about going vegan--particularly to people who seem open to the ethical arguments against animal use--I am asking them to change their consumer habits so that where possible and reasonable to do so, they refrain from using animal products. I'm not just asking people to change one habit, but am asking them to change the way they make all of their choices as consumers. That can seem pretty daunting, I've no doubt.

"Is this vegan?"

I remember spending hours reading off ingredients on items at the supermarket when I first started moving towards going vegan. (Thankfully, since I've spent much of my adult life cooking mostly with whole foods, I didn't have to spend all that much time double-checking ingredients in most of what I put into my fridge and cupboards.) I also remember learning to cut myself some slack when I inadvertently ended up making a mistake--something I still work hard to do today, because there is ample opportunity to inadvertently consume animal products in a world in which almost all processed foods on supermarket shelves either contains or comes into contact with some sort of animal product. In some cases, like sugar production, the edible item is sometimes actually processed with animal products. There's a lot to learn in the beginning, but for those of you still transitioning to veganism, you will eventually get the hang of it and the knowledge you acquire about different ingredients will make it easier for you to sift through options at the store as times passes.

Where non-food items are concerned, it can get even more tricky unless a product is specifically labeled "vegan" or "free of animal products". There are guides you can obtain or print-off from websites that list common animal-derived ingredients, so those can be helpful until you find a product you like enough to buy regularly (e.g. dish-washing liquid, shampoo). Even when you find a product and opt to stick with it, however, it's always important to check to make sure its ingredients haven't changed.
Thankfully, vegan-friendly options have become more common and clear labeling has been making shopping much easier over the past several years.

It's Not Just About Food

Veganism is a lifestyle that turns ethics into action through the avoidance of activities that involve using non-human animals as things existing for human use. Veganism is about respecting the interests of non-human animals and taking those interests seriously by refusing to use non-human animals as resources or commodities existing for human use and pleasure. Some would qualify this by saying that the devil is in the details of where this avoidance is reasonable. I could start an entire blog discussing this and do manage to cover bits and pieces here and there concerning the finer points of being vegan. What I want to emphasize right now, however, is that veganism isn't just about what you put into your mouth or on your body. A new vegan might feel bogged down with those aspects of going vegan at first, but if you ask other vegans, they'll assure you that with a little bit of research and practice, dodging animal ingredients will become more and more easy to handle as time goes by. I swear that it will.

What's Actually Sometimes Hardest

The truth is, though, that most "seasoned" vegans will nod emphatically when you suggest to them that the hardest part of being vegan in an overwhelmingly speciesist world isn't finding things to eat or products to use, but that it's dealing with other people in our lives. Those of us living with non-vegan family or roommates find ourselves continually faced with animal use in our immediate daily lives, sharing a kitchen--often a table--with friends and family preparing and eating differing animal parts and products in various states of decay.

Some vegans insist that their being vegan is a "personal choice" and that they don't "judge" others for consuming or otherwise using non-human animals, or that they even don't care whether or not others do so. This seems incredibly strange to me if and when it comes from vegans who purport to reject animal use for rights-based reasons and who refuse to use animal products themselves because they have come to the conclusion that it is unethical to do so. I mean, if I think that it's unethical for me to punch a toddler in the mouth, wouldn't it sound strange for me to say to you that I don't "judge" others for doing so and that I actually don't care whether or not people around me--loved ones or otherwise--also punch toddlers in the mouth?

Those of us who have non-vegan romantic interests or spouses find ourselves having to define or set our boundaries in sometimes even more awkward ways, and then some end up needing to periodically reexamine or reinforce those boundaries. In some cases, some of us end up compromising and compartmentalizing, trying--and sometimes failing--to rationalize living with and/or loving someone who continues to view animals as ours to use, and who may continue to use or consume them around us. In other cases, compromise happens all 'round and our partners opt to live "as vegans" (i.e. not agreeing with the ethics behind veganism, but perhaps out of deference to us or for pragmatic reasons intended to simplify maintaining a household together) or to at least not openly consume animals around us, albeit doing so "off radar".

I don't think that there are easy answers when it comes to how we navigate our relationships with non-vegan loved ones, but I do think that offering an ear to other vegans--new vegans or otherwise, really--concerning these issues could ultimately prove to be as useful in the long run as offering up animal-free ingredient guides. I think that many vegans could benefit from discussing with each other how it is we each go about living our lives in a predominantly omni world--how we set and guard our boundaries with our loved ones and where or if we compromise or compartmentalize when dealing with their non-vegan behaviours, how or if we talk to them about their considering going vegan, themselves, and how or if we maintain the hope that they will.

I suspect that for some vegans who are primarily motivated by ethics that these sorts of situations weigh more heavily than trying to find egg-free soy patties at the supermarket; I also suspect that these things may also have more of an impact on whether or not some actually stay vegan than is ordinarily or readily discussed. I may be wrong. One thing is certain, and it's that our relationships with non-vegan loved ones--friends, family or otherwise--are on our minds and weigh on our hearts, however we navigate them. And those are just our interactions with people we like or love, or those people we choose to have in our lives! I could (and will, over the next while) write a few other posts about our interactions with non-vegan acquaintances, coworkers, extended family members, and so on. In the end, though, the truth really is that the hardest part of being vegan isn't so much learning which ingredient is or isn't vegan, but it's the day-to-day exchanges you'll have with others and how you learn to stay afloat.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Technical Stuff

Blogger has recently started seemingly randomly marking some comments as "spam", holding them in a spam folder. A few comments by regular posters have inadvertently ended up being unpublishable as a result of a glitch. If you've left a comment over the past few weeks and it hasn't shown up, I do apologize. Please feel free to re-post them.


Veganism in the News

I've been MIA for the past few weeks with a house-guest from out of the country. Expect some blog updates in the upcoming week on a variety of topics, including an update on what some other abolitionists have been up to recently. In the interim:

School Cafeterias More Vegan-Friendly

In a brief article in SUNY at Geneseo's paper The Lamron, self-described vegan student Eve Anderson described how her fears of a french fries diet while away at college were quashed by the variety of offerings at various locations on her campus for vegans. From raw fruits and vegetables to meat substitutes in ordinarily animal-based wraps and "peanut butter and apple" panini" to hot vegan soup, Anderson found herself pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to eat a well-balanced diet as a vegan on her campus this year. Anderson focuses on diet in her article, but given that her article deals specifically with the availability of animal product free food on her campus, it's not clear that Anderson has jumped on the "veganism by mouth" trend.

I think that articles like these are encouraging and I hope that vegans who read this blog and who are at college or university this year take some time to write to their own school papers about the ethics of consuming animals and of why veganism is the right choice and that you speak to your cafeteria managers or your student council representatives about increasing vegan options on campus so that everyone can get a chance to see that you don't need to use animals to eat delicious healthy food while at school. I also hope that vegans who read this blog and who are students take those opportunities, either in their student papers or while talking to their representatives to discuss how other animal products in items other than food can easily -- and should -- be avoided. Please take some time to talk to others about veganism.


Just Another Food Choice?

Seattle Weekly's chief mocker of vegans and animal rights activists, Jason Sheehan, wrote a piece yesterday to purportedly highlight a so-called "intelligent debate" concerning the ethics of using animals for food he wishes to encourage (and apparently facilitate) in his "From the Gut" series. Sheehan recently wrote about a CNN interview with chef Tim Love, in which Love promotes meat-eating by giving five facetious reasons to not stop eating animal flesh. Among other things, Love called vegetarians and vegans "preachy" (adding, of course, that he was just "kidding" and insisting that "[s]ome of [his] best friends are vegetarian" -- and then going on to call vegetarians and vegans "holier-than-thou"). Love defends meat-eating, insisting that it "provides much-needed protein, iron and amino acids" (all available from plant-based sources, of course) and then making comments like:

If I want to eat meat, let me eat it in peace. Nobody is forcing you to be a vegetarian, so why are you trying to force us?
He also tells readers that meat tastes better than vegetables and that they'd "get a lot of funny looks if [they] tried roasting a pumpkin at a tailgate instead of a pig. Essentially, Love puts animal flesh on par with with any plant-based food, emphasizing the current status quo by which it's considered quite normal to eat the body parts of slaughtered sentient non-humans.

Seattle Weekly's Sheehan took off running with this (i.e. spotted the potential to further mock those who weigh the ethics of animal use more seriously) to provide an additional ten reasons people should not stop eating animals. He then provides two reader responses arguing for and against "vegetarianism" and presents them as reasonable and equally worthwhile to consider in their logic and validity. Sadly, the supposedly "pro-" animal opinion focuses on vegetarianism, stopping short of veganism. The reader, "Herbivore", first argues against eating animal flesh for environmental and human health reasons and then delves into animal suffering and factory farming, mentioning animal intelligence and then focusing on animal use that involves slaughter. Herbivore's arguing against the ethics of animal slaughter is followed-up with a list of "the vast array of vegetarian" options available for humans to eat, including "[b]ean burritos, mushroom pizza, pasta with pesto sauce" -- all dishes customarily made using dairy and with no mention made by Herbivore of animal-free versions of them.

So, the "pro-" animal argument in Sheehan's piece is, unfortunately, not really arguing against animal use, but just arguing for human benefits and against some forms of animal treatment. It's a shame that the "either/or" presented by Sheehan is firmly lodged in perpetuating speciesism either way you look at it. Given that so many large groups in the animal advocacy movement fail to promote actually not using non-human animals at all, it should be no surprised that "some" use of animals would be presented in mainstream media as an extreme stance.
Sheehan asks for further "intelligent" reader comments to this supposed debate, but the truth is that the debate is not about animal use, but about how far we should moderate animal use while continuing to engage in it. Arguing either side of it, of course, fails to take the interests and rights of non-human animals seriously and misses the point altogether that veganism should be the moral baseline. For more information on this, please visit Prof. Gary L. Francione's Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Veganism in the News

Bigmouth Strikes Again

It looks as if former Smiths front man Morrissey is in the public eye again. This time, it's for having singled out China for its dog and cat trade and for having called the Chinese a "subspecies" of human for their "treatment of animals and animal welfare [standards]". Obviously, the media is ripping into him for what are being deemed racist comments, much as they did a few years ago when Morrissey made anti-immigration comments in an interview with NME. If there end up being more stories about this in the media this week, I do hope that they point out that singling out the Chinese for what they do to dogs and cats is really rather arbitrary considering the torture of all kinds of other animals (e.g. cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, et al.) that happens every single day in North America, Europe and the rest of the word for want of their flesh or secretions. One way or another, Morrissey's ensured that the "vegans hate humans" stereotype is well-perpetuated this month.


Something Made Him Stupid

Robert St. John, writer for The Clarion-Ledger, has decided to "go vegan" for a whopping 30 days. Why? I'm not exactly sure unless it's just to hop on the foodie/lifestyle trend in mainstream media to scrawl about the torturous self-deprivation inherent in varying degrees of shuffling out this or that animal product from one's diet (see "Without pita, bagels, I'd be toast as a vegan"). He starts the thing off bemoaning the lack of bread in his diet, insisting that it's hard to find bread that doesn't contain dairy or eggs. Maybe this is just a regional thing, because I honestly don't get that gripe at all. I can see how it could be a pain to avoid things like non-vegan sugar, honey or animal-derived enzymes in bread, but milk and dairy? Oh, and soy milk tastes like "chalk", he's found.

It becomes obvious that St. John might consider trading his truck's leather seats in for a cilice when he gives in to the urge to proclaim his love of animal flesh: "Does anything smell better than bacon cooking in the morning? It's intoxicating. Bacon is sexy. Who knew?" And then it becomes even more obvious that his piece is supposed to be some sort of swollen tongue in cheek thing as he insists that a "chicken loses nothing by laying an egg, other than relieving the discomfort of having a hard-shelled orb out of its belly" and that "a cow is probably thankful when milk is emptied from its udders". He asserts that he owns beehives and that it's only polite to "eat the fruits of their labors".

When he sums up his experience stating that his so-called veganism has made him "stupid" and that it's affected his memory, it becomes clear that he's gone from sticking his tongue in his cheek to blowing a raspberry and that rather than being intended as some bad attempt at humour, his piece is just more of the same old anti-vegan hate-mongering that shows up as filler in online newspapers. Shame on
The Clarion-Ledger for lowering the bar.

What Vegans Eat

I've spent the last two weeks with my eyes glued to vegan cookbooks and recipe cards with old favourites scrawled across them. I have a house guest for the next few weeks and intend to indulge myself in a hell of a lot of cooking. It should be interesting, since my guest is someone who is open to exploring a wide variety of cuisines, yet who has several food dislikes and intolerances. So spices are in, while too much garlic is out. Carbs are a must, while brassica plants (e.g. . broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, et al.) are out. Oh, and absolutely no eggplant or (sob!!) hummus. Since my guest neither ordinarily consumes a lot of soy products or raw fruits and vegetables, those will also have to be handled carefully. Rather than overwhelm him with too many raw things, I'll shuffle them in gradually. Where soy is concerned, I'm happy to minimize its use. I'm not much of a soy consumer, myself, so aside from a few substitutes here and there, I hope to have meals revolve around whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds (along with a wide variety of vegetables and fruit).

Here are a few of the dishes I've come across while exploring various vegan food blogs lately that I think may very well find themselves shuffled into meal plans for this stay:

This 4 Ingredient White Bean Nacho Dip from the I Eat Trees blog is definitely going on my list of things to try. I am a fan of snacking and having a tasty, nutritious and high fibre dip to go along with some organic tortilla chips or multigrain crackers sounds like a smart thing to do. I am also a fan of the tapas, mezze or smorgasbord methods of feeding guests, offering up many different items for sampling, so if it's a hit, this dip may find itself on the table more than once, since we're bound to enjoy at least a couple of Mexican-themed meals. Some of the salsa recipes on the site would surely end up on the table, such as this Garden Fresh Salsa and this Mango Salsa. So would this Roasted Vegetable Salsa from Chez Cayenne. I'll also take any opportunity to sneak in my favourite Spicy Sweet Potato and Bean Burritos!

The last time my house-guest visited, we accidentally discovered a small Indian grocer just beside a pet food store I'd needed to visit. The variety of both basic ingredients -- grains, legumes, spices and other seasonings -- and prepared foods was incredible, considering my city's major supermarkets' relatively meagre offerings. I hope to return there to pick up some odds and ends. I also hope to make some Indian-inspired food, keeping things as simple as I can. This recipe for Indian-Style Potatoes and Spinach from the Vegan Dad blog is one I intend to try out. I'm also considering trying out his Seitan Vindaloo if I can manage to make a good batch of seitan and have it turn out well and I am very much looking forward to making these Indian Lentil and Rice Pancakes. There's a recipe for Chana Masala in Robin Robertson's Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker which I also intend to make alongside some of these others. I am open to suggestions for other dishes, of course -- particularly more authentic Indian recipes.

Pizza will also be on the menu once I get my busted oven fixed.
Daiya isn't sold in these parts, and decent cheese subs are limited to the ridiculously overpriced Sheese at one of the local health food stores (at $9 or so a small block, it's barely doable without a fair amount of indignation for anything other than a treat -- definitely not to cover a pizza) and to the one flavour of Earth Island's Vegan Gourmet Cheese Alternative (mozzarella) carried in local stores. The beauty of it is that cheese substitutes really aren't necessary for vegan pizza. For instance, I'd consider trying out Robin Robertson's new and improved Tuscan White Bean Pizza. Or maybe I'll take the time to try out Bryanna Clark Grogan's instructions for how to make the world's most incredible vegan pizza dough and make a few pies following her tips. Of maybe a variation of Vegan Dad's Stromboli is in order, given my guest's -- and that dish's -- Philly origins.

Whatever happens, the one thing for sure is that regardless of the stereotype perpetuated that veganism leaves us with limited food choices, the truth is that I have an unlimited number of recipes from which to choose, all covering an unbelievably wide range of ethnic cuisines, whether authentic or just explored for inspiration. If anything, meal-planning for the next few weeks will be more problematic due to my second-guessing. Here's to churning out one delicious meal after another and keeping a camera handy to capture some of it over the coming weeks!