Saturday, September 29, 2012

Heartwood Revisited

Heartwood on Quinpool Rd
It was just this time last year that I ended up visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia's little vegan-friendly gem, Heartwood. After a decade of providing Haligonians with buffet-style eats, the place finally coughed up an ordinary menu from which its diners could pick and choose from a variety of delicious options. With the exception of a small handful of dishes using cheese -- which could so easily be substituted with either in-house made or commercial substitutes -- the menu is vegan-friendly. The ingredients used are mostly organic and many of the dishes are gluten-free or have gluten-free options.

When my host and I dropped by last Saturday, I had been anticipating diving into the wonderful vegan pizza I'd had there last year. A rich 9" inch affair piled with ingredients and too much for one person to handle, I knew that I wouldn't be having it when I returned by myself during the week while exploring Halifax, since carrying leftovers around wouldn't be an option. I was disappointed to discover that we were limited to the brunch menu on early Saturday afternoon, but only because I had been so very much anticipating pizza and knew that  this would be my only chance to have it without letting some of it go to waste. Heartwood's brunch menu, to be honest, still left me needing time to decide once the server swung by with our delicious organic coffee (with complimentary soy milk -- screw you, Starbucks). 
So many beverages from which to choose!
Would I have the TLT? The Portobello Mushroom Burger? The Tofu Scramble? How about the organic Spelt-Kamut Waffles with Blueberry Sauce and Fruit Salad? Curious, I asked what the deal was with the Wild Card Salad on the menu. I was told that it could be one of two things: I could either have a salad plate of whatever the cook had handy to toss together in the kitchen, or could have a combination of this salad and a sampler of some of the brunch items. I quickly opted for the latter while my friend Mike had the soup of the day (spicy bean, I think) with a side of gluten-free bread (which he said was almost as good as their regular absolutely perfect sourdough).

Heartwood's Wild Card "Salad"
The plate brought out to me had a salad of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes topped with a subtle dressing and sesame seeds. It was served with herbed roasted potatoes that had just the right bit of zing added to them. I was also given a portion of their tofu scramble which had a bit of a curry taste and included shredded zucchini and carrot (and maybe turnip?) and bits of broccoli and was bordered by a line of 4-5 whole thumb-sized oven-roasted beets. A few wedges of Heartwood's delicious sourdough toast were thrown in, as well. It was one of the best meals I'd had in a long time and thanks to our having indulged in delicious blueberry macaroons from Fruition and then decadent whoopie pies and an assortment of cookies from The Kind Cookie (all vegan and gluten-free) at the wonderful Seaport Farmer's Market earlier, we skipped dessert.
The place had been hopping and things were a bit more low-key when I visited again early on Monday afternoon. I was craving greens, but didn't want just greens or to order them on the side with something and to end up with too much food (or to end up spending too much money).  The Organic Bean and Veggie Burger came with steamed greens, as did the Organic Cajun Tofu. Both those dishes, however, were described as being topped with tomato sauce and I just didn't feel like having anything smothered in tomato sauce, so I opted for the Coconut Curry Heartwood Bowl. According to the menu, it came with steamed greens, roasted vegetables, tofu, sprouts and toasted seeds on brown rice. The greens were kale and red chard and the roasted (or otherwise) vegetables included red cabbage, carrot matchsticks, broccoli and bits of sweet potato. The tofu was crisp and would have been a little tasteless if not for the coconut curry sauce. The sprouts and seeds helped pretty up what was already an esthetically appealing dish (albeit served in a not so esthetically appealing chipped bowl). The rice was perfectly cooked and had onion mixed throughout it. It was a nice amount and a good variety of food, but for $14 or $15 it was a bit underwhelming since I sat there regretting not having ordered the ridiculously yummy pizza anyway (which would have cost the same), even if I'd had to leave some of it behind. The bowl was good, but was unfortunately eaten while I had that pizza on the brain.

The Coconut Curry Heartwood Bowl
Maybe it was just that I've always been wowed at Heartwood. Maybe it was just that I had really, really wanted that pizza and nothing else would have satisfied that craving. Hell, I'm even willing to admit that my experience was probably tainted by having gotten off at the wrong bus-stop on the way into the city and having had to walk for two hours after wandering in an industrial park. The dish was gorgeous and healthy and tasty and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes the idea of having a one-dish meal. I'm not sure that I'd get it again myself if I was just dropping into the city to visit and found myself with no more than one or two occasions to eat there. I think that if or when I do return to Halifax that Heartwood's vegan pizza will be a must and that I'll explore their soup and sandwich combo. Maybe, just maybe I'll get the greens on the side next time. I'll definitely have their coffee again. The bottom line is that the food is great, the service has almost always been absolutely stellar and the music and atmosphere are quite wonderful. If you're ever in the city, do stop by; if you have their vegan pizza, please send me a snapshot to tuck into my wallet and carry with me wherever I go until I get to have it again.

Heartwood Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bits and Blurbs in the Media

I've fallen out of the habit of commenting on articles of less significance --albeit still of interest to some vegans -- that pop up in mainstream media from time to time. I'll try to be a bit more vigilant and throw out the occasional find. Today's, for instance:

An article in Maine's The Portland Press Herald today contained a lot of information about vegan and vegan-friendly eateries in Portland and elsewhere in Maine. I was surprised to see them leave out Belfast's vegetarian/organic and vegan-friendly Chase's Daily, as well as the deli at the Belfast Food Co-op. Although I never got around to blogging about them, I visited both (the Co-op repeatedly so) while vacationing in the Belfast and Searsport area along the Maine coast a few years ago and really enjoyed both places.

Although it seems to be put forth more and more often as a given in mainstream media, it's still unfortunate that the article equates "becoming vegan" with eating "a totally plant-based diet" and adopting a new "dietary style". Veganism is, of course, much more than a diet.


The Evansville Courier Press featured an article in which a local chef was asked how he would handle catering a large party with vegan appetizers. It's a mostly positive article but for a guy who stresses the need to "think outside the box", it seems that many of the appetizers are just traditionally animal product based ones for which he uses commercial processed substitutes -- vegan mayo or sour cream, for instance. It's true, though, that there are tons of readily-available, easy to use and tasty substitutes that can be had for most animal products these days and that most of them can be shuffled in to whip up snacks quickly. However, he makes it evident that he's not yet experimented the most recent and popular cheese substitutes like Daiya or Follow Your Heart when he mistakenly asserts that "vegan cheese does not melt". Still, it's always nice to see a positive article stressing that preparing delicious food without animal-based ingredients isn't difficult.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hacking at Branches: On Petitioning Whole Foods

James McWilliams recently posted a petition on to persuade the Whole Foods supermarket chain to stop selling meat. More specifically, the petition is (was?) to convince the chain to shut down its meat counters. In his petition, McWilliams does offer up some sort of quasi-broader contextualization for its focus:

Forget (for the moment) dairy and eggs and all the animal-based products dependent on systematic suffering that you believe are integral to a robust stock price. We can deal with these items later.
This contextualization does little to change the fact that for a non-vegan supermarket chain that prides itself on its offering its customers so-called "happy" animal consumption options, singling out animal flesh as significant would just send a confusing message. Whole Foods' "articulated values" (as appealed to by McWilliams) are all about providing its customers with these purportedly "kinder" options. It's not -- and never really has been -- about offering consumers an alternative to using other sentient beings. Instead, Whole Foods profits off of its lulling consumers into thinking that there is such a thing as ethical animal exploitation: This is part of its raison d'ĂȘtre.

Nonetheless, McWilliams suggest the elimination of its meat sales to Whole Foods as a first step it should take. He cushions it by temporarily excusing the sales of other animal products until "later" and then throws this weird bit of flattery in:
As a loyal patron, vegan advocate, and historian of agriculture, I’m asking you to do what you have done so well since the 1980s: lead.
That left me earnestly baffled. I'll 'fess up and admit that I've been reading many of McWilliams' blog posts off and on over the past several months whenever I've had time to sit back and catch up on advocacy-related reading. At one point months ago, I would actually get excited reading some of his posts since they seemed to reflect the thoughts of someone who "got it" and who was bent on forwarding an unequivocal message that other animals deserve nothing short of our going vegan. How on earth would he come to see a company such as Whole Foods as "leading"?

The thing is, though, that even if McWilliams' petition had called on Whole Foods to stop selling all of the animal products it stocks on its shelves, whether meat, dairy, eggs, honey and the other ingredients that manifest themselves in the processed foods and non-edibles it carries, the petition would have been -- however possibly well-intentioned -- really wrongheaded and pointless. As Whole Foods' co-founder and co-CEO James Mackey pointed out in his official response to McWilliams:
Whole Foods Market has no plans to stop selling meat and poultry…or seafood, eggs and dairy items for that matter.


Our first stakeholder is our customer and the most of them purchase and eat meat.


At the most, about 10 percent of our customers are strict vegetarians and probably around three percent are strict vegans. To not offer a full array of food options is basically suggesting that we voluntarily commit business suicide.
None of this should come as any surprise, yet many animal advocates have reacted to Mackey's response with outrage. You would think that he had suddenly revealed something quite shocking that should leave him worthy of being deemed evil incarnate. The bottom line, however, is that Mackey is a businessman and that perpetuating the myth that some animal use can be more ethical than other types of animal use has been and is essential to Whole Foods' operations. Asking them to cut out selling a particular animal product when Whole Foods has been insisting to its customers that all of the products it sells come from animals who've been raised "happy" goes completely against how Whole Foods justifies including itself in the cycle of animal exploitation.

Focusing on the middle-man really makes no sense where animal advocacy is concerned. If Whole Foods stopped selling meat, its customers would just go elsewhere to purchase it. Why wouldn't they? Mackey knows this and it baffles me that McWilliams wouldn't see this, as well. Mackey was right in saying that McWilliams was ultimately asking Whole Foods to engage in "business suicide".

More so than this Whole Foods affair (which is just perplexing), McWilliams' recent promotion of Melanie Joy has left me a little saddened. Joy's work emphasizes the ethics and psychology of meat eating, highlighting so-called "carnism" as she calls it instead of acknowledging the actual issue of speciesism as a whole. She chooses to publicly pooh-pooh the delivering of a vegan message as being too extreme, insisting that talking about veganism is somehow counter-productive when trying to get people to take other animals seriously. McWilliams' endorsement of her work was a sad surprise. I had come to really enjoy his writing style and his writings themselves had seemed to indicate that he did indeed understand that teaching people to not use others animals was the first step in making a difference for those other animals.

In his more recent article for
Slate ("Vegan Feud"), McWilliams actually takes issue quite explicitly with the those who present veganism as a moral baseline for animal rights advocacy. McWilliams touts it as extremist. Instead, he champions HSUS, whose bread and butter (yep) is also wrapped around lulling consumers into thinking that there is indeed such a thing as a kinder, gentler and more ethical way to treat other animals as things. In his piece for Slate, McWilliams champions HSUS and then specifically singles out abolitionists and the work of Prof. Gary Francione as too, too demanding with their focus on teaching the public to take the rights and interests of other animals seriously by choosing not to participate in the use and exploitation of these other animals.

I won't weigh in on the Slate article at this time, since Francione has already done so and even extended an invitation to McWilliams to discuss all of this in a podcast via his Abolitionist Approach website. McWilliams has agreed to participate in the podcast and it should be falling into place sometime in October. I really do hope that the discussion they have brings McWilliams around to realizing that singling out those who provide consumers with what they want or asking them to stop providing in no way convinces those same consumers that they should stop viewing other sentient beings as things. The only way to fight speciesism is to get those who provide the demand that perpetuates the cycle of animal exploitation to understand that animals aren't ours to use. Limiting their options in terms of where they can obtain animal products certainly won't accomplish that.

Francione gets that. I get that. A lot of you get that and even Whole Foods' Mackey gets that. Hopefully, come October, James McWilliams will get it, too.