Friday, April 27, 2012

Copy of the "Letter to the New York Times: The Ethics of the Ethicist"

Writer and historian James McWilliams posted this letter on his Eating Plants blog yesterday, written--and signed--in response to a horribly wrongheaded and tacky contest recently initiated by the New York Times' "Ethicist" columnist Ariel Kaminer.

It was announced yesterday that Kaminer will be leaving her post as Ethicist columnist and returning to the New York Times' metro desk. Her final column will run this weekend and a replacement will soon be found. According to editor Hugo Lindgren:

While her official goodbye column closed this week and will run in the April 29th issue, she will unveil the results of her overwhelmingly popular 'ethics of meat eating' writing competition (which set a new impossibly high standard in reader-engagement projects) in the May 6 issue and then will close the cover story for the May 13 issue. That story could well be one of the biggest of the year for us.
Is the timing of her departure a coincidence given all of the recent negative publicity? Perhaps. Perhaps not. If this contest is what the New York Times' editor sees as setting "a new impossibly high standard in reader-engagement projects", I'm almost afraid to see how low they'll go next.

Below is a copy of the letter shared by McWilliams and which is being widely circulated this week. Please do share it.


What follows is a letter signed by 59 scholars, artists, writers, and physicians (including me) who disagree with the motivation and spirit of the New York Times Magazine’s “Defending Your Dinner” contest. Please spread this letter far and wide. We very much hope it will be published.

Editor, The New York Times Magazine

Dear Editor,

We are a diverse group of scholars, researchers, and artists from such disciplines as philosophy, women’s studies, sociology, law, political theory, psychology, and literary studies, writing to take sharp issue with the Magazine’s decision to run a “Defending Your Dinner” contest.

Do ethical vegetarians, a growing but still quite small percentage of the population, pose such a “threat” to the meat and dairy industries that the Times Magazine must now invite its millions of readers to shout them down? Is the point of this contest really to open up honest debate about the meat industry, or is the point, rather, to close it down?

We find it disturbing that the Magazine would organize such a one-sided contest, and moreover that Ariel Kaminer should introduce it with such frivolity. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” Kaminer writes, caricaturing vegans as members of a “hard-core inner circle” who have “dominated the discussion.” With her very breeziness (“Bon appetit!”), Kaminer seems intent on trivializing the warrant for ethical veganism. A more serious-minded critic would have given at least cursory attention to the empirical basis of the position, namely, the known facts about animal cognition and the unspeakable suffering that farmed animals endure so that they can end up as meat on our plates.

First, there has been an explosion of scientific research in recent decades showing beyond any doubt that many other species besides our own are emotionally and cognitively complex. Farmed animals are capable of a wide range of feelings and experiences, including empathy and the ability to intuit the interior states of others. The evidence suggests that they experience violence and trauma to their bodies as agonizingly as we do.

Second, most people are now aware of the horrific cruelty and violence that goes on behind the locked doors of the meat industry. Billions of cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, and aquaculture fish suffer each year in abominable conditions, then are brutally slaughtered, many of them while they are still fully or partially conscious. Such so-called factory farming accounts for 99% of the meat consumed in our society. The mass slaughter of oceanic fish, meanwhile, is so catastrophic to marine life that even the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia (the academic arm of the Canadian fishing industry) has frankly compared today’s commercial fishing campaigns to “wars of extermination.”

These and other facts have led a majority of contemporary moral philosophers who have studied the question to conclude that killing animals in order to eat them is not a morally defensible human interest, certainly not in a society such as ours, where vegan alternatives are widely available.

Even on purely prudential grounds, i.e. human self-interest, meat finds no rational justification. Numerous studies have shown meat-based diets to be associated with myriad negative health outcomes, including higher risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer (to name but two). Meanwhile, animal agriculture has proven to be an ecological and public health catastrophe, poisoning human water supplies, destroying vast tracts of the rainforests of Latin America, causing soil erosion, and creating dangerous new pathogens like Avian Flu and Mad Cow Disease. Animal agriculture is also one of the leading sources of global warming gas emissions.

Given these and many other facts demonstrating the nightmarish consequences of the meat industry for humans and nonhumans alike, why has the Magazine invited its readers to defend that industry, their essays to be judged chiefly by proponents of “humane” meat eating?

Kaminer implies that she has assembled the most judicious and meat-averse line-up of judges, a “murderer’s row” that will be hard to persuade of the case for eating meat. But is that true? Michael Pollan promotes Joel Salatin and other organic meat producers. Mark Bittman publishes meat recipes. Peter Singer has consistently defended, in principle, the killing of nonhuman beings for human purposes (provided that it be done “painlessly”). Jonathan Safran Foer, in his otherwise admirable book “Eating Animals,” defends small animal farms and backs away from open advocacy of vegetarianism. Only Andrew Light seems to hold a position that finds no ethical justification for meat eating as such.

So the contest’s overt bias (“Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat”) is compounded by its pretense with respect to the judging. Kaminer might instead have tapped any of dozens if not hundreds of prominent scholars, writers, critics, and well-informed activists who unequivocally oppose meat production for ethical reasons. The fact that she did not tells us everything we need to know about how seriously Kaminer takes the “ethical” issues at stake in this debate.

Kaminer’s lack of balance reveals itself further in her having stocked her bench solely with men, when there are so many prominent feminist theorists and writers available to provide a critique of our society’s masculine penchant for organized violence against vulnerable populations, whether against women and girls, foreign peoples, or other species.

There is an important debate to be had about the ethics of killing and eating animals. But this is not the way to have it. Honest ethical inquiry begins with the question, “How should we live?” or “What should I or we do about ‘X’?” It does not begin with a predetermined conclusion, then work backwards for justification. To throw down a rhetorical gauntlet–”Defend X as a practice”– is not to open up an ethical conversation; it is to build closure into the inquiry, and to stack the deck from the outset.


Karla Armbruster, Ph.D., Professor of English, Webster University

Anurima Banerji, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA

George Bates, DVM, Associate Professor of Veterinary Medical Technology at Wilson College

Kimberly Benston, Ph.D., Francis B. Gummere Professor of English, Haverford College

Susan Benston, M.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing, Haverford College

Chris Bobel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Carl Boggs, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, National University

G.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., Director of the Kerulos Center & President of the Trans-Species Institute

Thomas Brody, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Matthew Calarco, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, California State University, Fullerton

Jodey Castricano, Ph.D., Associate Professor Critical Studies, University of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus)

Elizabeth Cherry, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology, Manhattanville College

Sue Coe, Artist (represented by Galerie St. Etienne, New York City)

Susana Cook, Playwright (New York City)

Ellen F. Crain, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

William Crain, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York

Karen Davis, Ph.D., President of United Poultry Concerns

Maneesha Deckha, LL.M., Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria (Canada)

Margo De Mello, Ph.D., Lecturer, Central New Mexico Community College

Josephine Donovan, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of English, University of Maine

George Eastman, Ed.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Berklee College of Music

Stephen F. Eisenman, Ph.D., Professor of Art History, Northwestern University

Barbara Epstein, Ph.D., Professor, History of Consciousness Department, University of California at Santa Cruz

Amy Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, University of Windsor (UK)

Gary L. Francione, J.D., Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University Law School-Newark

Carol Gigliotti, Ph.D., Faculty, Emily Carr University, Vancouver, BC (Canada)

Elizabeth A. Gordon, M.F.A., Instructor of English, Fitchburg State University

Roger Gottlieb, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Michelle Graham, M.A., Lecturer, Department of Writing, Literature & Publishing, Emerson College

Kathy Hessler, J.D., LL.M., Clinical Professor & Director, Animal Law Clinic, Center for Animal Law Studies, Lewis & Clark Law School

Laura Janara, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia (Canada)

Victoria Johnson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri

Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Joseph J. Lynch, Ph.D., Professor, Philosophy Department, California Polytechnic State University

John T. Maher, Adjunct Professor of Animal Law, Touro Law Center

Bill Martin, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University

Atsuko Matsuoka, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University (Canada)

Timothy M. McDonald, M.F.A., Assistant Professor of Art, Framingham State University

Jennifer McWeeny, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, John Carroll University

James McWilliams, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History, Texas State University

Helena Pedersen, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Faculty of Education and Society, Malmö University (Sweden)

Steven Rayshick, Ph.D., Professor of English and Humanities, Quinsigamond Community College

Carrie Rohman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English, Lafayette College

John Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Kira Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, College of Staten Island

Michael Selig, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Emerson College

Jonathan Singer, Doctoral Student, DePaul University

John Sorenson, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Brock University (Canada)

H. Peter Steeves, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University

Gary Steiner, Ph.D., John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy, Bucknell University

Marcus Stern, M.F.A., Lecturer in Dramatic Arts, Harvard University

Deborah Tanzer, Ph.D., Psychologist and Author

Susan Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Political Science, Hollins University

Gray Tuttle, Ph.D., Leila Hadley Luce Assistant Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University

Richard Twine, Ph.D., Department of Sociology, Lancaster University (UK)

Zipporah Weisberg, Doctoral Candidate, Programme in Social and Political Thought, York University (Canada)

Tony Weis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Geography, The University of Western Ontario (Canada)

Richard York, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies, Director of Graduate Studies for Sociology, University of Oregon

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What This Vegan's Been Eating

To put a new spin on what's otherwise just a bunch of photos of vegan grub I've ended up making and eating and that I post monthly, I think that moving forward I'll attempt to provide an estimated cost for the dishes in the photos I'll share. Tara Parker-Pope's recent column in the New York Times may have perpetuated the myth that making vegan fare is complicated and expensive, but those of us for whom it's old hat know otherwise and should try to ensure that nobody considering going vegan buys into that sort of misinformation.

For now, though:

Phony pho: Shiitake mushrooms, shanghai choy, organic soybean sprouts, organic tofu (marinated in organic tamari & panfried), enoki mushrooms, pho paste, red onion, cilantro, lime, sriracha, hoisin sauce.

Romaine, orange bell peppers, red onions, pumpkin seed & ground flax, roasted garlic/sundried tomato dressing. Oven-roasted baby Brussels sprouts & heirloom rainbow carrots. Gardein "chicken" strips.

Dried mushrooms and kombu simmered gently with doenjang and gochujang. Tofu, nori, baby spinach, nappa cabbage, enoki mushrooms and udon noodles.

Kale with tahini, nooch, garlic and toasted black sesame seeds. Heirloom rainbow carrots, portobello mushrooms, Gardein "tips", spicy Thai basil seasoning.

Gardein, oven-roasted asparagus, oven-roasted radishes, blanched spinach tossed w/soya sauce, sesame oil, sesame seed, crushed garlic & sugar.

Garlic-ginger organic tofu, brown rice with baby bok choy, mushrooms, carrots, onions, zucchini, sesame and a drizzle of leftover soy-gochujang sauce.

Soup seasoned with Korean soybean & red pepper pastes & kombu. Yuba, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, nappa cabbage, mung bean sprouts.

Organic garlicky tofu, marinated in tamari, rolled in whole grain flour and pan-fried in olive oil. Almonds, cherry tomatoes, chunks of hot banana peppers. Caesar salad with the dressing from New American Vegan.

Organic tofu & soybean sprouts stir-fried with sesame oil, tamari and crushed garlic, tossed with udon noodles and sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds and Sriracha.

Whole wheat pita with salsa, Daiya (mozza and cheddar), orange bell peppers, red onion, crushed garlic and soy "bacon" bits.

Pinto/black bean chipotle chili with red lentils and cracked wheat. Orzo with organic baby spinach, dried orange peel, garlic and smoked paprika.

Chickpea and Avocado Ceviche on baby spinach, oven-roasted radishes and asparagus and a couple of strawberries.

Spinach, orange peppers, red onion, sesame seed, ground flax, sweet Russian dressing. Gardein strips sauteed with red onion, smoky soy bits, spinach and organic Vegenaise in a whole wheat wrap.

Soba noodle and kimchi soup (more noodly than soupy).

Brown rice with adzuki beans. Clockwise from top: Soy/sesame/gochujang dipping sauce (w/garlic, scallions & sugar), pan-fried kombu, blanched rappini pan-fried w/garlic & Korean chili powder, spicy kelp/bamboo shoots, blanched baby spinach tossed w/sesame/sugar/garlic/soy, daikon & mini cucumber marinated in rice wine vinegar/sesame/sugar, kimchi and pan-fried tofu.

Green lentil and spinach soup with spicy Indian seasonings, mandarin oranges and minced cilantro.

Hummus w/toasted black sesame seed, hot banana peppers and asparagus on whole wheat pita, grilled and drizzled w/sriracha. Token lonely oven-roasted radish.

Kale with tahini, nutritional yeast, garlic & a pinch of salt. Slaw tossed with apples, rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, sugar, crushed garlic and toasted black sesame seeds.

P.S. The next time someone tells you that they'd go vegan, but don't want to restrict their food options, or that they've gone vegan but are always hungry, tell 'em to drop me a line.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The Challenge of Going Vegan" (as Explained by a Non-Vegan)

It's been a while since I've thought of Tara Parker-Pope, a health/food writer for the New York Times. She last caught my attention back in the summer of 2009 when her "Wellness" column featured a guest piece by by Mark Bittman, who shared how he had suddenly become protein deficient from only eating animal products after 6 pm. According to advice received from a purportedly well-credentialed nutritionist (who had obviously neglected to read any research concerning protein after 1980), Bittman wasn't just not eating enough protein, but wasn't eating enough so-called "complete" proteins. (Note: The theory of protein combining--aka the "protein myth"--has long since been nixed.) Although I haven't been keeping track of Parker-Pope's work, I have been discussing food ethics these past few weeks with an interesting non-vegan friend who does, and it was he who sent me a link to her most recent column ("The Challenge of Going Vegan").

As far as I know, Tara Parker-Pope isn't vegan. Also, as far as I know, she has no immediate plans to go vegan. So why would she write a column about the supposed challenge of going vegan? Why not, really? It's a trendy topic for foodies to kick around these days and in Parker-Pope's case, she really does end up giving it what ultimately feels like a not-so-friendly kick. Her focus is unsurprisingly on food and one is left speculating whether Parker-Pope is 1) limiting her discussion of veganism to its dietary aspect, or 2) conflating strict vegetarianism with veganism (since "going vegan" isn't restricted to what you do or don't eat). Either way, what does Parker-Pope have to say about shuffling animal products out of one's diet?

Eatin' Vegan is So Hard!!

Parker-Pope assures her readers from the very beginning that going vegan is hard. It leaves you with a mess of "physical, social and economic challenges" unless you are wealthy enough to have someone with special culinary qualifications to cook for you. Indeed, she tells us that it is a "struggle" to go vegan. Your friends and family will be "harsh" with you, and giving up your beloved dairy foods for their apparently necessary substitutes will "shock your taste buds". It's a meat eater's world according to her first token authority, an academic whose research focuses specifically on people's acceptance of meat substitutes. (Sheesh! Two paragraphs into this column, I'm even starting to think that veganism may very well be too daunting for me to handle.)

Parker-Pope does admit that the number of people in the US who self-identify as not eating meat and of those who self-identify as vegan is impressive, citing a 2008 Vegetarian Times poll. However, she's also quick to point out that regardless of obvious public interest, we really have no way to tell how many people's attempts to go vegetarian or vegan ultimately end up as failed experiments. A token vegan-wannabe student is brought up to illustrate this, claiming that she can only "manage" [to eat "plant-based" food] around "75 percent of the time" since there are not enough options on her campus, apparently no grocery stores within a 20-mile radius from where she lives, and since the processed vegan meat substitutes are more expensive than their animal-based counterparts. Parker-Pope tells us that this student needs "vegan specialty foods for cooking". Is that what they're calling grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and produce these days--vegan specialty foods? Or am I missing something? Also, if you think that those around you--your loved ones--are going to be anything ranging from supportive to apathetic, Parker-Pope's token vegan shares a story about her family's condescending reaction to her gift of vegan donuts to them. Going vegan, in case you weren't sure of her point, is hard.

When Duplicating Fails

Minus a bizarre bit about her token vegan-wannabe's misadventures trying to use miso to stuff pasta shells (which maybe sheds some light on that person's family's reaction to her homemade vegan donuts), much of the rest of Parker-Pope's column is fixated on this assumption that vegans need to replace meat and dairy with fake meat and dairy. Rather than discuss the more recent substitutes which have made their way into the market to win people over (e.g. Daiya and Gardein), Parker-Pope backs up her assumption by bringing in two more authoritative voices--two food-related researchers--to drive home that since humans eat meat and drink the milk of others as early as infancy, the taste and texture of these products become sort of imprinted on our palates and cannot be reproduced effectively. One expert insists that "[a]ny substitute would have to mimic the total sensory experience elicited by meats". The other dismisses non-dairy milks, stating that

[c]onsumers do feel the difference between milk-based and soy-based products. And once their first reference is milk-based products, they tend to reject plant-based products made with oat and soy or other vegetable-based food.
Other attempts to replicate a cheesy flavour using "weird" ingredients like miso, nutritional yeast or blended cashes, Parker-Pope tells us, end up being "overwhelming" for new vegans experimenting with them for the first time. Her continuing message? Say it with me, kids: Although some may persevere, going vegan is really hard.

So Here's the Thing About Habits...

Old habits can indeed be a pain in the arse to change. The thing is that this applies to any significant changes we attempt to make in our lives. When we weigh the idea of going vegan, we're not simply contemplating changing one bad habit like biting our nails or guzzling soda with meals: Going vegan means having to reexamine all of our choices as consumers and to change the way in which we make many of those choices. This can seem a little overwhelming at first, I admit, but doing some initial research (e.g. on hidden animal ingredients) and keeping resources and reference materials--or even a vegan mentor--handy can make the initially overwhelming a lot less daunting. The internet is a great place to start, with websites and apps providing information on animal ingredients abounding (see here and here, for starters). Social networking sites and services like Facebook and Twitter are also good places to seek out basic information, in many cases from just regular old vegans.

... and About Coping with Others

Parker-Pope's token vegan wasn't too far off the mark in describing what many vegans do experience interacting with others. I've written a few times before (e.g. here and here) about how the hardest part of being vegan isn't the process of learning to go vegan. Learning to familiarize yourself with the sources of animal exploitation so that you can more easily avoid them is something that can take a bit of time and patience, but it gets easier. What's often most complicated about being vegan, though, is interacting with others and learning to stay afloat in a mostly non-vegan world. Individuals in our lives may not always react well when we make major changes which reflect a shift in how we view of the world and how we want to live in it moving forward. There are no simple or easy answers to how to go about navigating our relationships with non-vegan loved ones, regardless of any defensiveness or animosity they may display in the face of our ethical choices. The most we can do is communicate our wants and needs clearly while staying true to our choices and sharing with those loved ones why the manner in which we make those choices has changed. Having a support network of other vegans will also certainly help and the truth is that although some of our loved ones may end up becoming antagonistic upon hearing of our having gone vegan, in most cases that antagonism will wane. Issues will invariably arise, but such is the business of this thing we call life, whether we wander through it as vegans or otherwise, no?

On Phonies that Taste Fake

As for this question of substitutes, Parker-Pope ends up making an assumption that I guess you could say she comes by honestly, since so many non-vegan foodies make the same assumption that vegans somehow need plant-based clones of animal-based foods. She also makes an assumption that because meat and dairy analogues don't taste precisely the same as meat and dairy that most people will reject them, bringing in her experts to emphasize this. The funny thing is that every single year, all I see are more and more (i.e. in terms of both number and variety) non-dairy milks and cheese and meat analogues on my store shelves. When I look in people's shopping carts, I see soy and almond milk, tofu dogs and Daiya, sometimes even alongside animal products. Something's obviously working since there's obviously a demand for these products.

It's also worth pointing out that not all vegans (or those who decide to go vegan) crave replicating and continuing to experience the taste of animal products. For some, the association is decidedly not a positive one, so although they may seek out substitutes for convenience or to feed those with whom they co-habitate, it's not really an issue for them if those substitutes aren't exactly like the flesh and secretions of nonhuman animals: In some cases, they
prefer that it not be so.

Who Needs a Phony, Anyway?

Although some non-vegan foodies like Mark Bittman have also perpetuated the myth that being vegan involves eating mock meats and other animal product substitutes, the reality is that not all vegans consume them. The reasons whether they do so or not differ. Some prefer to cook with whole foods and have learned to think beyond the meat-starch-vegetable dinner plate of yore. Others (as mentioned above) aren't interested in seeking to replicate either the taste or texture of products they associate with suffering, injustice and death. Then again, there are indeed others who may fall into the camp described by Parker-Pope and who are uninterested in consuming analogues because they don't find their taste and texture convincing--so they just don't use them. It may be surprising to Parker-Pope, but the thing is that vegans don't need substitutes, whether psychologically from having the taste of meat and dairy imprinted on them as infants or for nutritional reasons. We just don't. Presenting that those substitutes aren't up to par or that they're too expensive and that this poses a challenge to those seeking to go vegan smells a little straw-manish, but it would be disingenuous of me to pretend to have expected a non-vegan--even a New York Times columnist like Tara Parker-Pope--to present a reasonable account of what authentically and realistically constitutes a challenge to going vegan. But of course, how would I know?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

'Vegan' as a Qualifier

For the past few years, I've been sifting through articles and opinion pieces on the websites of various newspapers and magazines, trying to make sense of how it is that writers have come to so clumsily and conveniently bend--or altogether ignore--the actual definitions of words that have become buzz words. It's as if once a word associated with some sort of popular trend is known to draw a reader in, license is granted to co-opt that word, however its meaning ends up being misrepresented or mangled in the process. Whatever sells, even if that "whatever" gets watered down or redefined, right? Years ago when I'd first started exploring vegetarianism, it was made pretty clear to me that veganism was what the "serious animal rights people did". Veganism meant not just abstaining from eating other animals and their secretions, but also refraining from using them to make clothing or personal care products, for human entertainment and so on. These days, if I use the word "vegan" to describe myself, there's a small (albeit realistic) chance that I'll be asked if I'm doing a cleanse. Worse is when some well-meaning person will pipe up and say: "Oh, my son's girlfriend is a vegan... but she treats herself to turkey at Christmas and will eat fish if her body tells her she needs it." Indeed, it's hard to blame anyone for their confusion, given that with what's being written in mainstream media, folks are being bombarded with increasingly confusing messages daily.

Thanks to
people like Mark Bittman, the word "vegan" has even been downgraded to being used as a qualifier to mean something akin to "that moment you ate something plant-based". In opinion pieces like Mary Schwantes' in Suburban Journals yesterday ("Try 'semi-veganism' to eat healthier"), the term seems presented as meaning that someone, for health reasons, is eating a few more fruits or vegetables than usual. Now, I'm all for people eating more fruits and vegetables (or whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and other plant-based fare). The thing is, though, that when you start calling the slipping in of a few extra bites a day of plant-based food "semi-veganism", you really miss the point altogether of what veganism is about. You might as well call someone who goes an extra few hours between romps in bed "semi-celibate", for all the meaningfulness contained in distorting the term so.

Credentials as Credibility?

According to
Suburban Journals, Schwantes is a "retired professor of dietetics and nutrition", so it's no surprised that the piece misrepresents veganism as merely a diet and focuses on health as an incentive. What's bizarre, however, is how its author presents eating a single dish without animal products as if it were a vegan act in and of itself:

My point here is to make "semi-veganism" work for you. Once a week, let oatmeal burgers stand in for hamburgers, leave the meat out of your pasta sauce and add mushrooms, make a risotto the likes of which you've probably never had with pecans, mushrooms and fresh spinach or butternut squash — and you may just find yourself eating "better".
So if you indulge in Meatless Monday, you're kind of a vegan. Heck, according to Schwantes, if you have a weekly bowl of cereal (with soy milk, one assumes), you could even consider yourself a semi-vegan. It's that easy! I mean, using this logic, every single human on the planet could be considered a vegan while he or she sleeps.

Speaking of Authoritative Voices...

It's so easy, in fact, that an increasing number of people are self-identifying as "vegan" (which given articles like the aforementioned really doesn't bode well for nonhuman animals). Furthermore, many of these people self-identifying as vegan--whether or not they actually are vegan themselves--are offering themselves as authentic and experienced vegan voices and then sputtering into the pre-existing pile of confusion to just gum it all up further. Take for instance an article on "veganism" by Sharon Riley which appeared in Toronto's The Globe and Mail last week ("Why I'm a vegan [and why it's okay that you're not]"): The focus is again on diet alone, with Riley referring to "thoughtful veganism" as "the best approach to food". Where the plight of nonhuman animals is concerned, it's evident that her sole preoccupation is not that they're used, but of how they're used. She also makes it clear that the issue of animal use outside of what she chooses to put in her mouth is is definitely not an issue for her:
Just the other day, my 12-year-old cousin was confused as to why I was wearing socks made from wool from my mom’s sheep. “I thought you didn’t like things that come from animals?” she asked, flummoxed. I had made a tradeoff in my own mind: They are treated like pets, and relieved to be rid of their warm coats every summer. I eventually replied, “Everyone has to make their own decisions about what they think is right.”
In one fell swoop, Riley makes it clear that she's not opposed to the exploitation of nonhuman animals as long as she can convince herself that the animals we call "food" (or in this case "sock providers") are treated in a similar manner to those animals we call "pets". Self-identifying as someone who happily uses animal products, she also makes it clear that she's not vegan. It's also troubling that as she presents herself in this Globe and Mail piece as a vegan and thus attempts to speak with some sort of authoritative voice on behalf of others who are indeed vegan, that she doesn't view veganism as any sort of moral imperative and seems rather unconcerned about whether or not others choose to use animals and the degree to which they might.

And so it goes...

The thing is that if she did actually take the rights and interests of other animals seriously, it wouldn't be much of a leap for her to see it as the minimum standard of decency in terms of what humans owe other animals. It's evident that she does neither, however. In and of itself, this is sad. What's sadder, perhaps is that her views should be shared by a publication such as The Globe and Mail as representative of vegan views. It's sad, but given how widespread the misrepresentation and mangling of the word "vegan" has become, it's certainly no surprise.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A "New American Vegan" Winner!

A random draw yesterday afternoon left Marri Lynn the winner of a brand new copy of Vincent Guihan's New American Vegan. As part of the entry requirement for the contest, announced just last week, Marri Lynn included a photo for a favourite vegan recipe of her own, one for wholewheat bread (which was significantly adapted from another). She's given me permission to reprint it here and you can find the ingredients and the instructions on how to make it on her blog, The Supplementary:

Thanks to everyone who entered! I loved your photos and recipes and thank you for the interest you expressed in this awesome cookbook. Marri Lynn's copy will be in the mail by the end of this week.

As promised last week, I'm sharing (with Vincent's kind permission) the recipe from the photos I'd taken which ended up most-requested in comments left, as well as by email. In this case, it was the delicious and gorgeous "Chickpea, Avocado Ceviche".

As it turns out, you can find the recipe here (as well as get an idea of the spiffiness of the book's layout, and of how helpful the additional instructions are for the recipes -- in this case, for the Chickpea, Avocado Ceviche).

You can follow Vincent's writing on his blog We Other Animals and drool over his more food-related posts at veganimprov. You can order New American Vegan through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and I you can buy it directly from PM Press.

Go out there and get yourselves a new cookbook!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

New American Vegan Contest Ends Soon

As posted on Monday, I have a copy of New American Vegan to give away. There've been dozens of entries and there's still time for you to throw your name in to win. Here's what you'll need to do:

To enter the contest you'll need to email a photo of your favourite vegan dish to m.of.the.maritimes @ along with a list of its ingredients. Because I am not a wealthy vegan, the contest is only open to folks residing in Canada or the US (i.e. unless you're willing to cover international shipping costs, I can only mail the book to either country).
The winner of the cookbook will be drawn randomly from all entries on Monday, April 9. When I announce the winner, I'll post two recipes for dishes pictured above based on requests by email and comments below indicating which recipe you'd love to have most.

Entries must be received no later than Sunday at midnight, AST. A winner will be drawn the next day. What are you waiting for?

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Canadian's Take on "New American Vegan"

Context, Yes!

It's not a secret to anyone who's ever been inside my home that I am a little cookbook-obsessed -- just a little. I will often read them cover to cover and it's not uncommon for me to keep a few of them on my nightstand for bedtime reading. Reading through recipes from a new or trusted cookbook author is a great way to introduce yourself to different taste and texture combinations. A good cookbook will also offer up a bit of int
roductory information for those who may be new to cooking. What tools will you need? What are some basics with which you should stock your cupboard? It will teach you a little about potentially new ingredients used in the book's recipes and then, if it's a really awesome cookbook, its author will have done what I always appreciate, which is to suggest pairings of different dishes. If it's a vegan cookbook, its author will also (hopefully) spend some time explaining not just why we don't need to use animals to eat delicious food, but why we shouldn't treat animals as things and why we should consider going vegan.

Abolitionist animal rights activist Vincent Guihan's
New American Vegan does all of this and more. The little extras in his book leave it rising (far) above most of the vegan cookbooks on the market these days. There are a lot of them and many of these books, sadly, are missed opportunities for their authors to actually educate others a little about veganism and about what it's like to go and to be vegan. Vincent not only shares his own experience going vegan, but provides some pretty useful advice on things like how to entertain as a polite but unapologetic vegan. He also goes over and above most other vegan cookbook authors in conveying to his readers how flexible and forgiving recipes can be -- particularly his recipes. He suggests alternative seasonings for the recipes, as well as substitutes for those harder-to-find ingredients.

This empowers the reader, whether a new or experienced cook, to feel comfortable being creative with the recipes without having to worry about wandering too far off course and possibly ruining t
he recipe altogether. Cooking should not be a daunting experience; neither should going vegan and learning new ways of approaching meal preparation. I was one of the original testers for the recipes a few years ago and I got hooked even then. I'd been anticipating the book's publication for a while and was thrilled when I first heard that it was finally coming out.

On Feeling Free to Drool

Here are some of the gorgeous and tasty treats I've tried and loved which you'll find in New American Vegan:

Clementine, Kalamata Olive & Collard Salad. A little sriracha, as suggested in the book, really rounded out this already intricately tasty dish quite nicely.

Quick, Rich Borscht. A lover of beets, I'd never tried borscht before; now I have a recipe that's a keeper.

Basic Crackers. Those pictured above are the yummy Pepper Jack variation, great by themselves or with soup, chowder or dip.

Avocado Creton. The smokiness combined with the rich fatty avocado is awesome. It was perfect with the aforementioned Basic Crackers.

Chickpea, Avocado Ceviche. Again with the avocado, because who doesn't love avocado? The cilantro and spices in the recipe are subtle and the lime picks it up just perfectly.

Fiery Illinois Corn Chowder. Creamy with an adjustable spiciness, this chowder is even more amazing topped with a handful of cilantro.

The Interview-ish Part

I contacted Vincent with some questions to weave some of his answers into this exploration of his book and he graciously replied:

MFIoF: When and how did you first learn to cook?

VG: Not surprising for Chicago, the first thing I learned to cook was pizza. That meant learning how to prepare bread dough, the sauce, etc. Pizza is a big deal in Chicago. There are a lot of different ways to make it -- some very inventive, and the toppings and combination of ingredients make it a good place to learn flavour combinations and flavour layering.

MFIoF: How did going vegan impact your time spent in the kitchen and the development of your mad culinary skills?

I spent more time in the kitchen after going vegan. I was a vegetarian for a long time, which although well-intended, was misguided. After going vegan, I spent a lot of time working with more basic ingredients in combination to create the food I wanted to eat. In most respects, it was a liberation of my palate in a move away from prepackaged foods, and more important, away from prepackaged cultural notions of what food should be, how it should look, how it should be prepared. Notions of the 'centre of the plate', eating in courses, and of course, the primacy of animal products in meals are all deeply culturally contrived.

What other sort of activism have you engaged in? Where and how does writing a vegan cookbook fit into your activism as an abolitionist?

Activists approach moral problems differently. In most social justice movements, organizers play an important role with helping people to understand the issues and get started in terms of practical work. There's not a lot of that today in the movement -- just a lot of businesses co-opting donations and volunteers (the free labour of the movement) to do fundraising. I think it's important for advocates to bypass the animal agriculture-welfare complex and promote abolition. My cookbook is a direct appeal to the public to go vegan and work for the abolition of the property status of nonhuman animals. But I think people fear change when they cannot envision who they will be after the change. The cookbook is really meant to speak to the notion of how life goes well as a vegan.

Why did you decide to write a cookbook? How would you describe your cookbook?

It's awesome. Seriously. I know some people in the community may be offended that some vegans aren't prepared to bow and scrape to promote veganism, but I think people who are not vegan are cheating themselves out of a much better life. Veganism is good news for them. I wanted to write a book that would be full of good news for people who were ready to hear it. My book is provides the basis for personal change for anyone who's ready to go.

What advice would you give to new vegans who are first learning to cook, or at least learning to prepare vegan food for the first time?

Keep going. Most people hone their palates licking the boots of the oppressor, so to speak. Eating inferior tasting "foods", thinking that what is least interesting about a dish is the most important. Few things taste as good or look as beautiful as a slice of fresh mango or pineapple. Meat, diary, and other animal products do have flavour and texture. However, it's often the 'garnishes' and the preparation that gives the finished dishes their appeal. Once you understand that animal products tend to be 'canvas' ingredients that absorb the flavour of the rest of the ingredients, the more you understand that it's the other ingredients that have beautiful flavour, colour, texture, etc., that are important. Free your plate. And keep going.

Where's the best place for the interested to snap up your cookbook?

VG: It's at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and I believe you can buy it directly from PM Press.

The Freebies!!

To share the New American Vegan love, I have a copy of the book to give away! To enter the contest you'll need to do the following: Email a photo of your favourite vegan dish to m.of.the.maritimes @ along with a list of its ingredients. Because I am not a wealthy vegan, the contest is only open to folks residing in Canada or the US (i.e. unless you're willing to cover international shipping costs, I can only mail the book to either country). The winner of the cookbook will be drawn randomly from all entries on Monday, April 9. When I announce the winner, I'll post two recipes for dishes pictured above based on requests by email and comments below indicating which recipe you'd love to have most.

Now go out and buy this cookbook!