Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Bob's Red Mill and Misplaced Indignation

Last week, The Informed Vegan ran a piece about how Bob's Red Mill is planning to donate $25 million towards nutrition education to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). According to The Informed Vegan, OHSU is notorious for animal testing and because of its decision to make this donation, Bob's Red Mill's "standing as a conscious and compassionate company is about to take a serious hit". In last week's piece, it's mentioned that both OHSU and Bob's Red Mill were vague in addressing whether or not any of the donation will be targeted specifically for animal testing, and thus The Informed Vegan goes on to suggest that its "loyal customer base of animal lovers and vegans may boycott" the company in response.

Confusing a "Who" with a "What"

In an update today, The Informed Vegan commented on company co-founders Bob and Charlee Moore's official written response yesterday to the buzz about their donation. And yes, as it was pointed out at This Dish Is Veg (a website which promotes welfarism and vegetarianism alongside veganism) in an editor's note to yet another online expression of outrage over the news, it is indeed the co-founders' donation and not the company's. In February 2010, Bob gave the company to his then 200+ employees. Of course, this sorta relevant information seems either forgotten or blurred in the flurry of blog posts, green website articles, Facebook status updates and angry tweets that have been popping up online over the last few days and with most of them calling for a boycott of all Bob's Red Mill products. Proof of this can be seen in a recent open letter to the Moores from Your Daily Vegan's KD Traegner ("Should You Boycott Bob's Red Mill?"), who informs the Moores that because of the donation, she will no longer be a Bob's Red Mill customer.

Here's the scoop, though: Bob's Red Mill isn't donating money to OHSU. The company's co-founders
who are no longer its owners and have not been so in well over a year and a half are donating money to OHSU. As pointed out earlier, the company is now owned by the people who work there -- Bob's former employees. One could argue that the money the Moore's are donating comes from the profits they'd reaped as owners, but boycotting a company from which they no longer profit to retaliate against their using past profits as they see fit just honestly makes no sense. The only ones who'll suffer in the end are Bob's Red Mill's new owners -- those who now run the company. The Moores have already stated that they have already committed themselves to making the donation. The Moores are no longer the owners of Bob's Red Mill. The truth is that this whole proposed boycott begs the question: What is hoped to be accomplished with a boycott in the first place? Of course, this is assuming that a boycott by a small section of a company's customers (vegans, in this case), other circumstances being different, would even be effective. (That's an entirely separate potential blog post altogether, though.)

Cherry Picking and Low-Hanging Fruit

Traegner's open letter reflects the sentiment expressed in The Informed Vegan's follow-up post on the matter that regardless of whether the money goes to directly fund animal research, it's funding an entity which engages in animal research. There are a couple of things I'd like to point out before going any further. First, I'd like to point out (the obvious?) that I certainly have no issue whatsoever with vegans refusing to purchase products either tested on animals or from companies who otherwise fund animal testing or other forms of animal exploitation. As a vegan, I'm against all forms of animal exploitation, whether it takes place on a farm, in a lab, in someone's backyard -- you get the picture. Also, I like Traegner. I've interacted with her over a few topics on Your Daily Vegan's Facebook page and over a period of time have appreciated her responses to others' queries and have enjoyed our own exchanges quite a bit. I was a little surprised to see her get behind the Bob's Red Mill boycott buzz, but it seems that many have taken off running with it, so I hope that she doesn't view me as somehow having nefarious reasons for singling out her website. I've just used it as an example of what's being written by various activists across the interwebs this week.

Now, just to play devil's advocate, let's put aside this whole nasty reality that contrary to over-publicized belief, Bob's Red Mill is not, in effect, donating a cent to OHSU. Let's pretend that Bob and Charlee Moore are, in fact, still the owners of the company (which, as I've pointed out repeatedly, they are not):

Bob Moore isn't vegan. He's not even vegetarian. From 1978 and then until he turned the company over to his employees in February of 2010, Mr. Moore's profits from the company were going to purchase the various food items, sundries, clothing and so on containing animal products which are habitually consumed by non-vegans (and no doubt including the purchase of products involving animal testing). Although some of the company's new owners may indeed be vegan, chances are that all 200+ of them are not, so even now, the company's profits are being taken and reinvested into various forms of common animal exploitation -- no doubt including the purchase of products with ingredients which were tested on animals. Of course, this is the case with the overwhelming majority of food manufacturing companies (e.g. Tofutti) and it's honestly almost impossible to avoid when purchasing any manufactured products.

It's a little odd, nonetheless, how Bob's Red Mill has been held up as some sort of exemplar for "conscious" manufacturing when its previous owner was not vegan and since
Bob's Red Mill isn't even a vegan company. Some of its products contain dairy. When I first read the story about Bob's Red Mill's purportedly donating money to OHSU and of how vegans the world over should particularly be outraged, the first thing I did was hop over to its site to see what on earth was already there over which nobody had bothered to previously express outrage. On top of some of its actual products containing dairy, the Bob's Red Mill website actually promotes and facilitates the consumption of animal products. If you check its recipes section, you'll find a sub-category for "vegan", but the use of various animal products is the norm for the majority of the recipes and the default even in those where a reference may have been made to an animal-free substitute as an optional replacement (e.g. dairy-free milk). From eggs, butter and milk listed off in a user-submitted recipe for Kamut Cherry Crumb Breakfast Cake to the cheese and meat in a Bob's original recipe for a Spicy Sausage Kasha Bake, animal-based noms are plentiful on the company's website. Where's the outrage over this? Why initially single out this company for a purported donation to a research facility that conducts animal experimentation but turn a blind eye to the fact that the company both facilitates the use of (i.e. through its recipes section) and sells animal products to begin with?

I've no doubt that this question will be overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant by some. Hell, for the moment it seems as if the more obvious and pertinent fact -- that Bob's Red Mill itself is not making a donation to OHSU -- is being completely overlooked. Do I think it's unfortunate that the Moores have decided to take $25 million and to hand it over to a facility which exploits animals? Absolutely. I also think that it's unfortunate that as non-vegans who once owned a non-vegan company, they're being held to task over this as if they or Bob's Red Mill had ever been exemplars for vegans in the first place. They're not and they never were.

Let's get our facts straight.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

I've been in the Halifax, Nova Scotia this past week, enjoying some downtime while on vacation. Part of that, of course, involved indulging in some cooking and some sampling of vegan fare in local restaurants. Here are a few photos of some of the things either my host and I prepared together during my stay or that I whipped up on my lonesome. Expect a blog post over the weekend concerning the wee little bit of food sampling which went on over and above it.

Many heartfelt thanks to Mike (who's currently transitioning to veganism) for graciously tolerating my taking over his kitchen during my stay, as well as for offering up the use of his digital camera while I was there. Mine died the week before my trip, which means that food photos will be scarce on the blog over the next few months until I do some research and then scrimp for a spell to buy a replacement camera.

Sesame udon noodles with red and green bell peppers, carrots, tamari-marinated tempeh, mung bean sprouts, scallions, tons of garlic, freshly-grated ginger, sesame oil and kelp gomasio.

I'd pan-fried the tempeh separately to make it golden and sort of crisp, tossing it back into the stir-fry near the end.

Organic corn chips and homemade garlicky hummus with paprika -- my hummus-addict host Mike's first delicious attempt to make the stuff.

One the most awesome multigrain bread ever, homemade seitan, pickles, alfalfa sprouts, ketchup and mustard with a side of spinach, carrot and scallions (which mostly ended up tucked into the sandwich before it was devoured).

Leaf lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, carrots and broccoli, drizzled with tamari mixed with sriracha and a little bit of water.

While in Halifax, I picked up a copy of Nancie McDermott's Real Vegetarian Thai at my favourite used book store, JWD. The book is not a vegan cookbook, but the overwhelming majority of the recipes are completely animal-free and most of the handful that aren't include notes on veganizing them. I'm going to work through this book over the next months to try out the various recipes. My first attempt at making a Thai curry turned out really well:

The "before" photo. Red curry paste picked up at a fantastic little Asian grocery store on the Bedford Highway outside of Halifax (I'd meant to go back before leaving to stock up on even more goodies), coconut milk, tofu, bell peppers, carrots, scallions and snow peas.

The finished product!

Snacks for a movie night: Organic corn chips, the aforementioned hummus, homemade guacamole and loads of raw vegetables. (No, we didn't eat all of the chips and hummus, but we did almost clear out the guac and had a fair bit of the wine -- so yummy!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


“Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thought that is forever flowing through one's head.”

-- Mark Twain

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bits and Blurbs

A short article on veganism in the Purdue University Calumet Chronicle yesterday ("'Ve-gain' your health") had the misfortune of being piled on a clumsy swipe at those who take the rights and interests of other animals seriously. Its writer begins by attempting to correct what's presented as a misunderstanding of vegans as having "an unnatural passion about animal rights". So basically, this statement takes as a given that concern with animal rights is tantamount to having abnormal and out-of-control emotional reactions (i.e. effectively dismissing it while failing to consider that there are indeed sound rational arguments to not involve oneself in the exploitation and slaughter of sentient nonhuman animals). The writer insists, furthermore, that promoting the health benefits of a vegan diet can "outweigh the negative stigma that has been branded on the lifestyle".

The irony here, of course, is that the writer herself has managed -- whether maliciously or not (and most probably not) -- to stigmatize ethical veganism and to perpetuate stereotypes. Somehow, she'd have her readers believe, there's something inherently wrongheaded with making lifestyle choices which reflect respect for others rather than merely reflecting concern with oneself.


Ireland's Independent featured an article today on the rise in incidence of anorexia in young children. I won't weigh in on its merits as a piece on eating disorders, per se. What did stick out quite sadly, however, was that its author chose to include a vague third-party anecdote in the middle of it to lump veganism in with eating disorders. After stating that children need "full-fat milk for their bones", Emma Woolf writes:

My sister tells me about the boys too. One of her daughter's friends is a vegan.

"Yes, vegan, at nine years old! We go round there and he's on this weird diet, he basically eats soy paste and Ryvita, a few vegetables and nuts, everything organic, gluten-free, no sugar, meat or dairy.

"His mum calls it the 'perfect diet' but it's horrendous. He can't eat at friends' houses, he's anxious and nervy around food, emotionally unstable and really weak and pale. He takes about six supplements with every meal."

Imposing such diets on young children has been dubbed "muesli starvation".

The truth is that even the most mainstream health/nutrition organizations agree that children can thrive as vegans. That it's a second-hand anecdote in and of itself leaves the information's validity or credibility questionable. Even if this weren't the case, though, I'd strongly suspect that there was more going on with the child being discussed (e.g. food allergies or pre-existing health issues) since the boy purportedly doesn't consume gluten or sugar.

Plus, I'd be a pretty "anxious" kid too if friends' parents were so closed-minded and judgmental that they would conflate veganism with an eating disorder and view my parents as no better than child abusers. The bottom line is that there was just no legitimate justification to place that anecdote in that particular article, and that including it seems no more and no less than a shameful and uninformed swipe at veganism, as well as a cheap swipe at vegan parenting. I'd like to say that it's just another drop in the bucket where mentions of veganism in mainstream media are concerned. Having spoken with responsible vegan parents about the additional societal pressures of raising their children as vegans, though, I would hate to think that someone might stumble across this article and mistake Woolf for some sort of "expert" and proceed to lean harder on vegan parents who are making responsible choices for their families.