Monday, 14 October 2013

Giving Thanks: a vegan cashew cheesefest

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I can't get enough of Autumn or Thanksgiving.  I wait for them all year round.  I love the sense of change in the air, I love the changing of the colours (the amazing golds, purples, and reds are something I miss des-per-ate-ly about Canada), and I love the idea of the Earth giving up its bounty for us.  And I love that we have an entire holiday devoted to feeling gratitude for this bounty.  Sound a little hippyish and cashew cheesy?  Get used to it.

I know sometimes vegans have a hard time feeling gratitude.  Gratitude for what, you might be asking.  For the billions of animals who live and die in terror everyday?  For the millions of people, lacking real nutritional education and healthcare killing themselves with animal products?  For the disappearing rain-forest being used to farm cows for human consumption?  Yeah, for those things.  Kidding!  And yet, I feel that I have plenty for feel thankful for, especially as a vegan.  And if you'll be so patient, I'd like to enumerate some of the reasons.

So many people see vegans as judgmental and self-righteous, thinking that we see ourselves as superior and holier-than-thou.  Truthfully?  I mostly just feel grateful.  Grateful that some niggling little thought in the back of my mind drove me to return to the idea of veganism before I ever even realized I was interested.  Grateful that I had the time to read the information.  Grateful that for whatever reason, at that time, I was open and receptive and willing to act.  Grateful that this little word, vegan, came into my thoughts and heart and actions and changed my life forever.

I'm so grateful for every little thing that lead to this change.  Access to the internet.  An affection for research. Living in a country with easy access to abundant, healthy vegan food. Farmer's markets.  Tofu and tahini and cashews and kale and spinach and chocolate and almond milk and potatoes.  The knowledge of how to feed myself cheaply and healthfully.

And I'm grateful for specific people.  A lot of them.  Here's just a small sampling.  Thank you to Alicia Silverstone, Rory Freedman, Kim Barnouin, and Colleen Patrick Goudreau for giving them information that blew my mind wide open and left me with no other option than to become vegan.  Thank you again to CPD and Alicia, as well as, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and the Moosewood Collective (not vegan, but they always have plenty of plant based recipes) for keeping me in delicious, interesting vegan recipes.

Thank you to Jack Norris, Ginny Messina, Joel Furhman, John McDougall, Caldwell Esselstyn, and Colin Campbell for giving me endless amounts of nutritional advice, information, and resources, and turning me into a leafy green fanatic.

Thank you to my big brothers, whom I'm sure will never ever read this, for paving the vegetarian way for me in our family, and for teaching me to question the world around me.  Thank you to my mother for teaching me to view the world with compassion.  Thank you to my father for teaching me it's okay not to accept the status quo.  And for teaching me how to hold a kitchen knife properly.

Thank you to my sweet Daniel for, despite his carnivorous ways, supporting me, going to vegan events and restaurants with me, and interrogating our waiters and waitresses on every ingredient in my dinner. Thank you to my dear friend Lindsay for opening her mind and heart to the information I gave her, and attempting to change her cheese loving ways.  Thank you to my other dear friend Jean for deciding to take a stand for the fishies.  Thank you to my wonderful and witty partner-in-crime Emma, for constantly seeking out new information and flirting with vegetarianism.  Thank you to my lovely, kind co-worker Natalie, for opening her great big heart to new information and jumping into veganism with full-force.

Thank you to those who do work I could not do to give animals a voice.  Investigative journalists and slaughterhouse workers who document what goes on behind closed doors are rare, valuable heroes, and I'm so thankful that they do the work that most people would not be brave or strong enough to do.

Thank you to Sparky, Stanley, Buster, Sophie, Molly, Jasmine, and Livia for letting me love you for your too-short time on this earth.  Thank you to all the animals who learn to forgive and love humans, despite everything we do to them.

And thank you, dear readers, for just being awesome.

Monday, 23 September 2013

5 Online Resources Every Vegan Should Know

So, you've recently turned vegan, and you're walking around, happily slurping green smoothies and snuggling every stray cat you see.  And then suddenly you realize your favourite wine has fish bits in it, you have no idea how to make chickpea salad, and everyone you know is acting like a t*** about your new food choices.  Your cries are being heard, and rest assured you are not alone.  Here are a few online resources that have helped me on my vegany way, and I hope they help you too.

5.  Barnivore

Fish bladders, pig fat, and chicken's eggs.  Some of the delights which may lurk in your merry glass of wine. As weird and gross as it sounds, your alcohol may not be vegan.  The subject of vegan alcohol is perhaps not that commonly discussed, but those who are concerned about avoiding animal additives and processing methods can head on over to Barnivore, where countless beers, wines, and liquors and listed as vegan friendly or not.  And I do mean countless.  The site is very reader-supported, meaning that most of the information comes from devoted vegans who have taken it upon themselves to email various alcohol companies to clarify their ingredients and practices.  The owners of the site are also working on an app!

4.  Happy Cow

Is Happy Cow sick of people lavishing praise on them? Anyway, they deserve it.  Happy Cow is a magical place where you can enter pretty much any city in the world into their search engine, and they will tell you where you can eat as a vegan/vegetarian.  I've found results for Buenos Aires, Lagos, Sofia, Suva, and Little Rock.  London alone has 308 results.  Happy Cow organizes their establishments into four different categories: vegan, vegetarian, veg-friendly, and health food stores.  They have all the location and contact information you need, and they even include reviews from other visitors.  The site also has a ton of other veggie information, including tips and recipes, but I've mostly used the travel information.  I don't really know how I used to travel before I met this site.  I must have just wandered around aimlessly trying to beg food from strangers in the streets.

3.  Post Punk Kitchen

The ultimate vegan food blog.  If you want culinary inspiration, you need look no further than chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz's playground of creative vegan recipes.  Chocolate pumpkin loaf? Ranch salad with buffalo tempeh? Dilly stew with rosemary dumplings? All such delights can be found here. Post Punk Kitchen also has a very active forum, with vegans from all over the world coming together to gripe about their grandmothers trying to feed them chicken stock and brag about how much kale and oreos they ate today.

2.  Vegan Health

Registered dietitian Jack Norris has put a lot of effort into obtaining and dispersing reliable, hocus pocus free medical advice for vegans.  If you have a question about single nutrients, supplementation, or common myths and confusions regarding vegan health, his site should be the first place you look.  Very specific recommendations and plenty of resources abound.  He's also posted things like possible meal plans if you can't imagine what a vegan day would even look like.  If you want to find out about B12, Veganism and cancer, raising healthy vegan children, and protein, this resource is the place for you!

1.  Vegetarian Food for Thought Podcast

So, we've covered your health, your stomach, your next trip, and your next pint.  Now it's time for your soul's education.  Does that sound a little crazy and over-the-top?  You obviously haven't been listening to Colleen Patrick Goudreau's earthshaking podcast.  But now you will, and now your life will change. Everything you need is here: education about animal issues, education about animals themselves (every thought about whether you want to cuddle a loving turkey, or nuzzle a calming donkey?  You will now.), health issues, how to respond to your co-worker, family member, or anyone else who might challenge you. My explanation isn't doing it justice.  Just go over there right now and listen to: How to Talk to Hunters, Animal Advocacy and Emotional Stress, Conversations with Strangers, or Life Without Cheese.  You're welcome.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Documentary Review: Blackfish

The poster for Blackfish is undeniably creepy.  I'm a big wimp when it comes to anything gory or spooky, so
I was quite frankly a little nervous.  Especially because I was going to watch it right before bedtime.  Eek.

But I sucked it up and watched it, and shall be forever thankful that I did.  Or thankful for awhile, anyway. Blackfish is indeed chilling and haunting, but it's also fascinating, heartbreaking, and beautifully constructed.

The documentary tells the story of Tillikum, an orca whale who made headlines a few years ago when he killed one of his trainers, Dawn Brancheau.  The documentary covers the lives of orcas in captivity comprehensively, illustrating the disturbing and illegal practises of the marine park industry in capturing whales from the wild, sometimes resulting in the death of whales before they reach the sea parks.  Soft-hearted?  You won't enjoy hearing about the training methods these parks use and the conditions the whales are kept in.  The inferior health and quality of life of whales in captivity are shown in sad, frustrating detail.

And Tillikum.  The story of a whale taken from his family when he was two, kept in essentially a large swimming pool in Victoria, BC, and bullied by his fellow whales.  We see injuries that he suffered at the hands of the other whales, who have turned aggressive due to frustration and unnatural socialization.  We see his dorsal fin collapse, a condition symptomatic of poor health that occurs in almost all male orcas in captivity, and less than 1% of male orcas in the wild.  Eager to please and loving towards his trainers, Tillikum seems to have lived in frustration, resulting in what some believe to be a psychosis, and ultimately causing him to turn fatally aggressive towards humans.  This aggression is mirrored in many other whales in captivity, and Dawn Brancheau is not the other trainer to lose her life, or suffer from injury at the hand of a captive orca.

On the other hand, the film portrays the incredible intelligence of these beautiful whales.  From one of the interviewees, we learn that orcas have a part of their brains that humans don't have.  Most fascinating to me was the research that found that orcas not only communicate with a complex system of sounds, these sounds differ between difference families of whales.  Meaning that orcas speak different languages. The pain of the subjects of the film is interspersed with absolutely beautiful, peaceful images of orcas in the wild, swimming with their families, free to live as they please.  My god, what beautiful animals they are.

At the end of the film I was left with one thought.  Mom and Dad, in retrospect, I'm really, really glad you never took me to Marineland.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Vegan Heroes: Dr. Melanie Joy

At the end of my last post about lentils I promised that recipes were soon to follow.  That was in May and it's the end of August now, so clearly I lied.  And it was kind of a big lie, because this post is not comprised of lentil recipes.  Oh no, my friends.  This post is so much bigger than lentil recipes/nothingisbiggerthan lentilrecipes.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about meeting the amazing Dr. Melanie Joy at Brighton VegFest, and I'd like to use this post to tell you more about Melanie's interesting and important work.  She a professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts, a Harvard graduate, a talented speaker, the author of Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, and the founder of CAAN, the Carnism Awareness and Action Network.  Um, I feel inadequate.

What the heck is carnism?  Melanie coined the term to describe the philosophy of eating animals and their products.  Essentially, it's the opposing belief system of veganism.  Whereas vegans believe that humans have no right to consume the flesh and secretions of animals, carnists believe they are entitled to the bodies of animals.

Why do we need a word for this philosophy?  Melanie argues that without naming the ideology that allows us to use animals for our own pleasure, it remains hidden in our culture, naturalising and normalising the practice. Meaning that because the mindset that allows us to eat animals doesn't have a name, we can't see it, talk about it, or even really think about, allowing us to continue without questioning, or seriously questioning, why we all accept that animals are there for our consumption.

I'm not going to say much more.  Melanie explains the idea better than I could ever hope to.  Instead I'll strongly encourage you to all watch her incredibly moving, inspiring speech on carnism.

Watch it, watch it, watch it now!!  You will feel so inspired and motivated afterwards.  Note: there are about five minutes of upsetting footage starting at about 28:30 in the video.  It's difficult to watch, although not the worst footage available.  Melanie resumes her talk at 33:12, if you feel that you need to skip this part.

Aside from watching the speech, I highly recommend Melanie's book: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. 

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism

The book explores the same themes as the speech, looking at the ways in which animal exploitation is both normalised by animal industries, and kept out of our sight.  If you've never read an animal rights book before, I think this is a great book to start with, as it's engagingly written and not too heavy on theory.  And I've got a signed copy.  Jealous?

This post has not been sponsored by Dr. Joy and her people in any way.  I just think she's that freaking cool.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Hows and How Nots of Lentils

Lentils. Why? How? Where? Huh?  I know these questions have been milling around your head for years.  And I have the answers.

What are lentils?

Teeny tiny lentils, despite their humble appearance and flavour, can be surprisingly mysterious.  In most English speaking countries, they're underused and misunderstood.  Like beans, but not.  How do I cook them?  Why would I want to do that?  Will the vegans show me their secret handshake if I eat them once a day?  The answer to that last question is yes, by the way.  Not only that, but lentils are amazingly nutritious and so cheap it's kinda stupid.  They have more protein than any other type of legume, and have good bits of dietary fiber, folate, and iron.

There are a lot of different kinds of lentils and a myriad of ways to use them, and I'm not going to talk about each and every one of both here because I have stuff to do, people! But a few of the most common of each are detailed below:

What different types of lentils are there?

Red Split Lentils:  These are the first kind of lentils I ever learnt to cook with, so I feel a certain amount of loyalty to them.  And they are super easy to cook, only taking about 15 minutes.  They're supposed to turn to mush, so they're pretty forgivable.  By that I mean that once red split lentils are done, they won't really hold a lentil shape, they will be soft and formless.  Don't freak out.  This is natural and as it should be.  Red lentils are widely available, and have an array of uses, including soups, stews, dals, and curries.  They're also orange. I have no idea why they're called red.  Weird, eh?

Brown/Green lentils (aka continental lentils):  Brown and green lentils are, confusingly enough, the same kind of lentil (this type of green lentil is different to Puy lentils, below). Like red lentils, you can get them anywhere, and are probably the most commonly called for type of lentils in cookbooks.  They take about 30 mintues to cook properly, and hold their form somewhat, but they can turn mushy if cooked a little longer.  If that's what you're into.  So they're good in all kinds of applications: soups, stews, meat subs, salads, and loaves, etc.  Just chuck them into anything you want.

Puy Lentils:  Also known as French lentils and lentilles vertes.  These pretty little suckers come from the volcanic region of Le Puy-en-Velay, France.  And they are So Pretty!  The lovely green little pulses are not only a beautiful, jade-green colour, but they hold their shape very well once fully cooked, which takes about 20 minutes.  Puy lentils are especially good in lentil salads, both warm and cold, but they also work well in soups.

Black Beluga Lentils:  Again, so pretty.  So much prettiness!  These glossy black gems are very similar to Puy Lentils.  They hold their shape well and can be used in the same recipes as their green counterparts.  Weirdly enough, they are named for their resemblance to Beluga caviar, seen them used to replicate caviar in appetizers (for appearances only).  They also take about 20 minutes to cookand work well in salads and soups.

Yellow/Green Split Peas:  These aren't really lentils, but I've included them here as they can often be used in the same way.  These monkeys are nutritious and cheap as can be, and so should be staples in any student's kitchen.  There is no difference between the two types except for the colour.  Split pea soup is a classic use of them, and the smoky flavour that pig's meat sometimes adds can be replaced with a curious little ingredient by the name of liquid smoke.  Split peas can also be used to make stews (especially in a slow cooker), curries, and dals.  They take longer to cook than lentils: about 40-45 minutes, and they should be pretty mushy by the end of things.

How do you cook them?

In a pot.  Ha!  Rinse your lentils, and keep an eye out for little stones (although little stones in your lentils are pretty rare nowadays).  One cup of dry lentils will generally equal 2.5 cups of cooked lentils.  There are two ways of cooking them: 1) cover with a good amount of water and salt (optional), cook for the time mentioned above, and drain and rinse; 2) use 1 part lentils to two parts water and check the lentils periodically and add a bit of water as needed.  This way you don't have to drain the lentils, meaning you don't have to wash your strainer, which everyone knows is the worst part of washing up.

Of course, you can also sprout the lentils, but I don't really know anything about it, so I can't offer any advice.

What types of dishes can you make with them?

Soups and Stews: Happy, warm, soupful tummy.  Lentil soups are pretty common even outside of vegan land, and even in the pulse-phobic UK these bowls of homey bliss have stood the test of time. 
Best type of lentils: red, yellow/green split peas.  Both of these types of lentils will cook down until they're soft, making a thick, blended-esque soup.  Green split pea soup is a classic, and the smoky flavour of ham can be replaced using liquid smoke.
Good types of lentils: brown/green lentils, puy lentils, black lentils.  There's no bad lentil for soup.  Brown and green lentils can still be cooked into a sort of mushy texture, and make a thick soup.  Puy and black lentils will make a brothier soup.
Flavours: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garam masala, tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, lemon, ginger, and basil are all common.

Dals and Curries: If you're unaware, dal is a type of smooshy, lentil based Indian curry, although it can be made with other types of pulses.  Dals are usually thick in texture, although sometimes they have a thinner, more soup-like texture.  Outside of dals, lots of curries will accept a handful of lentils thrown in for extra bulk.
If you visit a middle eastern or Indian grocery store, you'll see a lot of pulses with names like chana dal (split chickpeas), toor dal (yellow pigeon peas), and urud dal (black gram). Try currying them up and see how you like them.
Of the lentils in this post:
Best: red lentils, green/yellow split lentils (not commonly used in India, but suit this type of dish very well.
Good: green/brown lentils
Flavours: cumin, coriander, tomato paste, mustard seeds, garam masala, fenugreek seeds...general Indian-ish flavours.

Cows' Meat Substitute: Lentils can often be used instead of minced cows' meat (blurg).  If you're trying to avoid the more processed soy protein or commercial veggie minces, lentils can take their place.  Don't use this method expecting the lentils to taste exactly like cows.  They won't.  This is a garden of new delights you'll be entering.  In particular, try lentils substituting for cows' meat in spaghetti bolongnese, in lasagne, tacos, sloppy joes, and casseroles.
Best: brown/green lentils.
Good: red split lentils.
Flavours:  whatever the recipe calls for.  Mediterranean herbs, Mexican spices, bay leaves, garlic, etc.

Lentil Loafs:  Welcome to the 70's.  The 70's of deliciousness!  Oh, time tested loaf of hippie goodness.  You are so much better than the hideous meatloaves of my childhood nightmares.  And you usually come with delicious tomato-y sauces too.  Mix together cookied lentils, grated carrots, nuts/seeds, oats, maybe some breadcrumbs, and some herbs, and bake.  Serve with ketcup or tomato sauce or whatever the heck you want.
Best: brown/green lentils
Good: red lentils
Flavours: you can be creative here, but traditionally these are made with woodsy flavours, such as rosemary, sage, basil, parsley, and thyme.

Salads: Variations of lentil salads are endless, and putting them together is easy as pie.  There's not really much to say about them...salads made of lentils.  Sometimes combined with rice.
Best: Puy lentils, black lentils
Good: green/brown lentils.
 Flavours: whatever you want! Dressings: lemony, orange uice with jam, vinegar, mustard and thyme, tahini and miso.  Salad ingredients: nuts, seeds, raw veggies, berries, tropical fruit, peaches, apples, pears, raisins and other dried fruit, spinach.  Dang it, now I want one.

Mujaddara:  Yes, this dish needs its own entry.  One of the oldest recipes that's still with us today, it is reputed to be a descendant of of the dish with which Jacob buys Esau's birthright (bible stuff).  And the dish is so simple.  Lentils and rice are cooked together with a few spices and topped with carmelized or fried onions.  Vegetarian comfort food.
Best: Brown/green lentils.
Ok: Black lentils, Puy lentils, red split lentils
Flavours: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice.

I hope this answers your lentil-based questions and I hope you make mujaddara tonight. Recipes soon to follow.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Sitting in Judgement: how to tell people that you're vegetarian

I know all you meat-eaters think that giving up cheese is a gigantic, oppressive cross that vegans have chosen to wear.  It's not.  Life after cheese is not that hard.  I rarely ever even think about cheese.  But what is often truly difficult about plant-based living is dealing with the social aspects of being vegan or vegetarian.  New vegetarians are often surprised at the reaction they receive from other people when announce that they follow a different diet from the norm.  These reactions can range from mild disrespect to mockery, or from vitrolic insults to uncomfortable silence.  Of course, it's not all bad, sometimes people are just curious, interested, politely baffled, or completely non-plussed.

I don't think I know any vegetarian hasn't had someone challenge their eating practices in a disrespectful way.  And this situation is strangely contrasted by the perception that vegetarians are judgemental extremists who simply can't stop themselves from shoving carrots up the noses of all the meat-eaters they encounter.

Why on Earth would anyone care, let alone react badly when someone tells them they're a vegetarian? I've come to believe that I understand the reasons for these reactions.  The key word up there is judgemental.  Obviously, no one likes being judged.  The realization that we don't always control other people's perceptions of us makes most of us feel panicky and defensive.  Most people have a general desire to be seen as compassionate, kind, and intelligent, and it's rude awakening whenever we realise that other people have come to different conclusions about us.

But is the label of Judgy McJudgerson a fair one to slap onto vegans?  Are some vegens judgemental?  Sure.  For a long time, 10 years or so, I would have said no. I genuinely hadn't encountered it.  But since becoming vegan, and entering online VeganWorld, I've noticed a species of vegan that are absolutely up on their high, pleather-saddled horses.  And this behaviour is completely misguided.  None of us are perfect vegans, and very few of us became vegans or vegetarians the second it occured to us there might be something unethical about eating animals.  And it's not exactly appealing behaviour that's going to convince others that veganism is a club they really want to be part of.  But these vegans don't speak for the majority of us. 

Truthfully?  I'm absolutely a judgemental person.  I judge people all the time.  It's something I'm working on doing less, but I have to admit: I love judging people.  And I usually find people who don't share this past-time kind of boring.  It's fun.  But I am really not a judgemental vegan.  I don't care what you are or aren't putting in your mouth.  Believe it or not, I don't spend that much time thinking about your eating habits.  Do I want everyone to stop eating meat, dairy, and eggs?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Do I waste my time judging individual people for eating meat, dairy, and eggs?  No!  I have bigger potatoes to fry, and I spent years ignoring the truth of the dairy and egg industries myself.

What does "judgemental" mean anyway?  We all make negative moral judgements about other people all the time, and plenty of these judgements are useful. If I said that I thought we needed to take some more time to understand the reasons behind Stalin's behaviour and not be so quick to label his actions as "evil", I wouldn't arrouse much support.  Because it would be idiotic.  Saying that child abuse, genocide, murder, sexual assault, and not give your seat to old ladies on the bus is wrong is a judgement.  But a useful one.  One that lets us know what kind of behaviour we don't want to be involved in.  What we really mean when we call someone judgemental is that they make a negative judgement about someone that is unfair.  We take a slice of their behaviour or beliefs and using it to make a wider negative judgement about their worth as a human being, or their intelligence as a whole. 

Put into perspective, if I say that I believe eating animals is morally wrong, does that make me a judgemental person?  I don't believe that it does.  If I say that I believe that someone is an immoral person based soley on their consumption of animals and their secretions, does that make me a judgemental person?  Yes, I believe it does.  And I don't honestly hear the latter judgement come around too often in vegan and vegetarian circles.   I'm perfectly aware that someone who eats meat might donate plenty of his/her time to other charitable or social justice calls.  Maybe they spend hours letting friends cry on their shoulders after their friends have been dumped.  Maybe they call their grandmother every weekend.  I don't think I'm a better person than a meat eater is.  But I still think eating animals is wrong.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's perfectly possible to disagree with a moral position or lack of position that another person has, without thinking that they are an immoral person.  I don't have to agree with everything someone says or does in order to think they are a kind and intelligent person. 

Sooooooooo, what does all of this have to do with vegetarians telling people about their veggie munching lifestyle? I think understanding why people react against vegetarians is hugely important for us.  and I think it's important for us to have the confidence to talk about these issues without feeling that we are being judgemental.  And I think it's even more important that vegetarians keep telling people that they are vegetarian.  Who benefits from you keeping quiet?  The animals?  Even the people who are supposed to be fighting for their rights are too afraid to speak up for them.  You?  Does it really sound reasonable that you should have to hide something important to you so that someone else doesn't feel momentarily uncomfortable?  The other person in the conversation?  I guess if you stay quiet they don't have to feel momentarily uncomfortable.  But one of the most common things I hear vegans saying is that they wish that had known all this information before.  They wish the vegan they lived or worked with 10 years ago had spoken up.  They feel pain at the idea that they contributed to cruelty so often for so many years.

So my advice for speaking up and telling people that you're vegetarian?  Tell them you're vegetarian.  My advice for answering tactfully when people ask you why you're vegetarian?  Tell. Them. Why. You're. Vegetarian.  I'm so tired of hearing other vegans start threads on vegan forums asking how to "handle the conversation" with their co-workers, or their family members, or their spouse's relatives about the reasons for their veganism.  As though they are supposed to squeak out their reasons quiet as a mouse and then rock the other person softly and comfortingly back to their happy place.  Just tell them!  But tell them YOUR reasons for becoming vegetarian.  You don't need to tell them all the reasons under the sun for veganism, or tell them why they should be vegan.  Tell them what made sense to you and moved you the most.  If you are talking about what matters to you and what moves you, how is that judgemental?

If they react against your calm explanations of your own beliefs, recognise that you can't control their reactions.  Recognise that they may feel judged and that may not be your fault (assuming you really didn't shove those carrots up their nose).  You don't have to engage with anyone you don't want to.  You can walk away from the conversation if they react disrespectfully.  You can even point out to them that they are reacting disrespectfully.  You end here.  They begin there.  You don't control their reaction.

We live in a world in which people don't feel comfortable telling other people that they have opinions different to the norm.  We live in a world where people don't feel comfortable telling other people that they actually act in accordance with their beliefs.  We live in a world where it's considered normal and reasonable to believe one thing, and behave in the opposite way.  Fix that.  Speak up.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Pizza Hummous!

Two weeks ago I blogged about food cravings and our misconceptions about what they tell us about our bodies.  So today, I give you a recipe combining the one thing all vegans crave beyond reason and one thing almost everyone craves: hummous and pizza.

A huge variety of different flavoured chickpea dips are making their way around the internet, so when I saw the idea for pizza hummous on another blog, I had to try to create my own version.  I think I'm a little addicted to coming up with bastardized, creative versions of hummous now, so be warned, this probably won't be the last time I post a non-traditional garbanzo recipe.

Pizza Hummous:

1 can chickpeas
1 large spoonful tahini (1-2 tbsp)
Either 1/2 cup prepared pizza sauce OR 1/2 cup of simple sauce recipe below
4 olives, any variety
1-2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 bell pepper (in the photo above I used a PURPLE bell pepper! What???)

Tomato sauce (use only half of this recipe):
1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp italian seasoning (or 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp oregano, and a pinch each of rosemary, sage, and marjoram)
1 500g tin tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt

Blend chickpeas and tahini together in blender.

If making your own sauce, heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Saute garlic gloves for 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add dried herbs and saute for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes.  Simmer over medium heat until reduce slightly (5 minutes or so), and then add the salt.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Add either the 1/2 cup of pizza sauce, or 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce, olives, nutritional yeast, and salt to the chickpeas and blend until smooth.  Taste, and add more salt if necessary. Fold in bell pepper and serve with pita bread, or strips of plan pizza crust!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Brighton VegFest

An hour into attending the annual Brighton VegFest, my omnivore boyfriend turned to me and said, "you know what I've learnt today?  Vegans are just like normal people.  I thought they'd be all weird, but most of them look just like people."  Um, thanks, honey. 

The Brighton VegFest, which I attended for the first time this year, is a happy annual event where animal products are checked at the door, and vegan food sellers, animal organisations, beauty product producers, and clothing stalls mingle happily with vegan-related workshops, speakers, and performers.  The air is heady with free samples of strawberry coconut milk, vegan pastry and cake, nut cheese samples, and animal-free bath bombs.

Two years into my vegan wagon-ride, I'm starting to realise that actually associating with other vegans is an essential part of vegan well-beaning.  Not being much of a joiner, this thought has mostly occurred to me and then drifted away aimlessly.  But with this thought in mind, I decided to spend the afternoon among my own people.

Carrot Bubble Bar from Lush!
So, from 11-3pm I frolicked around three floors of stalls, and aquired a vegan Snickers-type bar, signed multiple petitions, tried coconut milk samples, raw chocolate samples, bought The Joy of Vegan Baking for £5 (yay!), thought about investing in a weekly delivery box of organic veggies (jury is still out on this idea, what do you think?),  and gelatin-free vegan jelly candies (I'm not usually a fan of jellies, vegan or not, but these were good!), and used my feminine wiles to convince the boyfriend to buy me a carrot shaped bubble bath thingy from Lush.  Okay, I just asked him to buy it for me and he did.  And then I had a sugar-rush so had to have some real food, and dug into a super-yummy chickpea curry, and once full promptly spilled the remains of it over myself. 

Melanie Joy and I!
By far and away, the most amazing, inspiring, and moving aspect of the event was the beautiful speech by Dr. Melanie Joy, a professor of social psychology, and author of the book that I had coincidentally just finished reading, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.  Melanie talks about the means through which most people are able to cultivate a gap in their consciousness, allowing them to ignore the true origins of what's on their plates.  I wouldn't be able to express it as articulately as she does, so I'm not going to try, but I urge you all to read her book.  I left the speech feeling motivated and re-devoted to the cause.

Ferraro Rocher Cupcakes!
After we let the speech we made one more stop to Ms. Cupcake's stand, which is the happiest place in Brixton: a vegan bakery.  The boyfriend bought himself a ferrero rocher cupcake (a chocolate and hazelnut cupcake so chocolatey it might be illegal), and I got a gigantic cookie sandwich, which was a meal in itself and AMAZING.  Like a big oreo cookie, but actually good. 

Who knew that a rainy day in Brighton could turn into a trip to Vegan Disneyland?

For anyone interested, there is another Vegfest in Bristol in May (admission £2), and one in London in October (admission £10).

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Food Cravings and Why You aren't as Smart as You Think You Are

Although vegans are frequently accused of being hippies, there's plenty of hippy fodder than annoys the kale out of me.  Granola, Simon and Garfunkel, and not shaving your legs, all good stuff.  Slippery Elm food, people named Rain, and optimism, all bad stuff.  Carob I could do with or without.  But the particular New Age-y, bullshiitake concept that I'd like to talk about today is one that's seeped out of the hippie realm and into everyday usage.  And it goes like this: you need to listen to your body.

I'm not talking about listening to your bodies signals for basic functions, like sleeping and washroom trips. This concept pushes forward the idea that once you strip away the conditioning of society that makes you want to chug Coke and scarf cheeseburgers, you will be beautifully intuned to your body's signals, which will always be sensible and perfectly aligned with your true nutritional needs.  So if you're lacking in beta-carotene, your body will crave carrots.  If you're lacking in vitamin C, you'll crave broccoli.  Whatever your body needs, it will naturally crave, and if you only learn to interpret your body's signals, you'll be bouncing off the walls with vibrant, sparkling energy.

And at face value, the idea doesn't sound that crazy, does it?  It sounds pretty comforting.  Once you reset your body's dials, you'll never have to fight its desires again.  You will want exactly what you need and you can trust yourself totally.  And if you aren't craving things that are healthful, than you simply haven't learned to listen to your body yet.  How nice and neat and bundled into a little package of gobledegook.

Maybe my body speaks Portuguese.  Maybe I need a hearing aid.  But my body doesn't do much talking to me.  At least, not any talking worth listening to.  And its not for lack of me trying to become attuned. For years, I toed the line between thinking one day my body would be able to communicate beautifully and flawlessly to me about its needs, and thinking that the whole idea was poppycock.

And then one day, I sat listening to someone telling me that she ate meat only in small amounts, but every once in a while she craved meat strongly, and then she figured that she really needed it.  Now, immediately this line of logic struck me as fallacious.  If I'm strongly craving a can of Dr. Pepper (which is frequently enough the case), does that mean my body really needs a whack of sugar and food colouring devoid of any nutritional value?  I don't think so.  And aren't most people's cravings for...junk?  True, I often crave healthy food, like kale, or berries, or sweetcorn, or more hummous than you might think any one human could consume.  But I'm pretty sure your average diabetic, angina-suffering, meat-and-potatoes guy doesn't crave any of those things.  And I think it's fair to assume he'd benefit from eating them.  So it seemed more likely to me, in this moment of revelation, that I crave these healthy things simply because I often eat them, and was privy to their many charms.

And thusly, after this conversation and my reaction to it, I did what I am wont to do, and researched my butternut squash off.  And what I found is that once upon a time, medical researchers hypothesised that food cravings were routed in specific nutrient deficiencies.  But they haven't been very successful at demonstrating this relationship in the lab. Instead, modern research points to the relationship between what we crave and what we perceive as indulgent or forbidden.  We crave chocolate partly because we're told that we crave chocolate.  And partly because we believe that we're not supposed to eat it. 

According to research, another possible cause of our cravings could be biological instinct.  Our bodies haven't exactly evolved to deal with the western world.  We crave fat and sugar because things high in fat and sugar have a high level of calorie density, which used to keep us alive back when food was scarce and required actual effort to come by.  Now, these cravings hindering us instead of helping, and the excess fat and sugar we are consuming is making us ill.

There's also evidence to suggest that we crave what we eat a lot of, which is why I dream about a big, lemony forkful of spinach, and the meat and potatoes heart disease patient doesn't. Western women craving chocolate is so predictable it's a little embarrassing, but in countries where chocolate is seldom consumed the inhabitants crave more savoury foods. 

Those of you reading this who are involved in the online vegan community will probably have guessed why I wrote this post now.  Last week, a well-known vegan health counsellor (whom I have no intention of naming) shocked everyone by revealing that after 12 years of veganism, she was going back to eating animals and their secretions.  Her reasoning?  She had been experiencing uncontrollable cravings for animals.  Now, she has not said she was experiencing health problems, but the implied sentiment of her announcement seemed to me to be that if she was craving animals, she must need them. So, without judging, I felt it was timely to present an accurate view of cravings and their true sources, insofar as we currently understand them to be.  I hope that it will help not only those who feel crippled by their cravings on their way to better health, but more importantly those who still experience cravings for animal flesh and fluids.  You do not have to bow down to your cravings.

I mean, let's face it, we're just not that smart, are we?  Our bodies are not insightful, magical instruments that, if we only learn to listen to them, will lead us to good health.  And neither are our minds.  We consciously and unconsciously continue to make stupid decisions about our health, our work, our extra-curricular activities, our relationships, and just about every aspect of our lives under the sun.  We gravitate towards foods we know are bad for us, and avoid foods we know are good.  We value the wrong things.  We fail to appreciate people who care for us.  We procrastinate on things to the level that it seriously mucks up our lives.  So why do we think that our cravings for stuff indicates anything other than simple, sometimes inadvisable, desire?

So if you are reading this and experiencing omnivorous cravings, give in to them.  In a way.  Don't try to decode your bodies signals.  Sit down and eat a big, indulgent, vegan meal.  Try the chickpea patties from Veganomicon.  Or the chocolate peanut butter cups from The Kind Diet.  Or the scalloped potatoes from The Vegan Table.  And by that I mean, eat all those things in one delicious meal.  Indulge.  Without being self-indulgent.


Clemens, Roger M.D. and Peter Pressman, M.D., "Are food cravings the body's way of telling us that we are lacking certain nutrients?" Scientific American, May 23 2005.

Hormes, Julia.  "Towards a Socio-Cultural Model of Food Cravings: Evidence from the Case of Perimenstrual Chocolate Craving" University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons, 2010.

Pelchat, Marcia, et al, "Images of desire: food-craving activation during fMRI," NeuroImage, 2004.