Wednesday, March 25, 2015

13 Reasons Why I am No Longer a Vegetarian...

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After many years of being a vegetarian, I can no longer claim to be one. Before you judge me, please read my story.

I grew up as a typical animal-loving kid and as soon as I was a teenager and put two-and-two together, I finally gave up meat and became a vegetarian. I felt righteous! I felt virtuous! I had found my way!

For most of those 12 years, I was happy and content. I would bring my egg salad sandwiches to work for lunch and order the vegetarian option when I went out with friends. No chicken wings for this animal lover. Over time, though, I started to not feel as passionate about being a vegetarian. The more I thought about it, the less that it meant anything to me. I felt like I was just going through the motions. Eventually, I decided to do the very thing no one I was close to would ever imagine possible. I became an ex-vegetarian. It was a process with some ups-and-downs, partially because my self-identity had become so entwined with my vegetarianism, but eventually, I gave it up for good. Today, I have to say, I’ve never felt better: body, mind and spirit.

As a former vegetarian, I feel that I am uniquely qualified to speak to the elephant in the room (actually a whole herd of ‘em) about vegetarianism, having been one for so long. I hope my words here help anyone else who is conflicted about being a vegetarian. Maybe some of you have also struggled with vegetarianism? Here are some reasons why today I am a proud former vegetarian.

1. Being a vegetarian was not convenient. The harm and destruction of eggs
and dairy became an inconvenient truth that was increasingly difficult to ignore. The more I learned, the less mollifying the justifications became, which made excuses very inconvenient.

2. I felt weak when I was a vegetarian. Feeling controlled by the cruel dairy and egg industries did not exactly instill a sense of self-empowerment within me.

3. I felt excluded. All these amazing vegans were changing the world for the better and there I was still chewing on eggs and gulping down milk. I wanted to be on the right side of history, not supporting industries that I find abhorrent, so I became an ex-vegetarian.

4. I felt limited. When my interest in maintaining my habits was greater than my concern about other living beings or the future of the planet, I realized that I was very limited in my capacity to extend compassion to others.

5. I had cravings. I craved being self-reliant, aligned from within and to maintain consistency with my values and practices but eating animal products made it impossible for me to attain those things. The cravings just got worse and worse the more I learned.

6. It didn’t feel natural. Going against my values each time I ate animal products was counter-intuitive and every time I did, it felt unnatural for me because I was buttressing the very industries that compelled me to stop eating meat in the first place.

7. I didn’t want to be different anymore. I didn’t want to be different – in fact, I needed to be different, which meant finding my own compass for my morality instead of just fitting in and not making waves.

8. I wasn’t listening to my body. My brain is part of my body: my brain was telling me that I understood how harmful and violent the animal products industries are and my actions went against this until I finally listened.
 
9. I always felt hungry. I hungered for feeling a deeper connection to the planet and to others; cutting off my innate empathy every time I ate animal products only made my hunger for this more pronounced.

10. I realized that farm animals didn’t have it so bad. Whether one eats “free-range” eggs or cheese from “happy cows,” a tyranny of cruelty, domination and needless violence is intertwined with animal agribusiness no matter what the packaging looks like. Also, the flesh that people eat comes from animals who aren’t brutalized any worse than those we subjugate for their secreted fluids.

11. I didn’t want to be rude. It’s kind of the ultimate rude thing to behave as if my temporary cravings matters more than one’s very life. Actually, rude doesn’t even begin to cover it.

12. It was a spiritual thing. How was I going to function as a spiritual being when I was complicit in harming others? Nonviolence, compassion, justice, empathy: these things are consistent with creating a spiritual life. Violence, cruelty, injustice, self-involvement? Not so much.

13. Ultimately, it was just too hard. It was hard to deny my deepening convictions. It was hard to maintain the status quo when my word and my self-respect were at stake. It was hard to be complicit in a lie. It was hard to quell my feelings. It was hard to deny what I knew. Ultimately, it was just too hard to remain a vegetarian.

Please don’t let anyone pressure you into staying vegetarian. As you can see, so much of my vegetarianism was fueled by unexamined myths, habituated behaviors, a desire to please others and self-sabotage. I look back at that vegetarian I used to be and I know that I intended to do the right thing, I just didn’t know any better. I was so naïve. Don’t be like me; don’t waste 12 long years as a vegetarian when you can evolve and move on to the next logical step toward manifesting your convictions about kindness. If you listen to your innate wisdom, do some research, tune into your compassion and move toward the future, you can leave the self-deception and harmful practices in the past.

Like me, you can go vegan. Today, I am proud to say I’m former vegetarian. Are you a vegetarian like I was? Maybe it's time you go all the way, too.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Chloé Jo Davis

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She’s sexy and she knows it. She’s Chloé Jo Davis.

I’ve been vegan long enough to know that vegan and style are not two words that have always gone together so harmoniously. As a movement rooted in a passionately-held ethical foundation, this is not surprising: we’re too busy saving the world to care much about how we look while doing it. But do style and ethics need to be mutually exclusive? Can’t we have a love of aesthetics while still rocking out with our powerful message? Thankfully, we are living in a time when false dichotomies are burning to the ground as designers, artists, entrepreneurs and the fashion-forward are proving to the world that these two things – ethics and style – don’t need to be mutually exclusive. What’s more, today we can live green from head-to-toe using recycled, re-purposed and toxin-free options. Leading the charge for the past 16 years has been Chloé Jo Davis, founder of GirlieGirl Army.

Known as the “Glamazon Guide to Green Living,” GGA has amassed hundreds of thousands of devotees under Chloé Jo’s unapologetically confident direction, helping the world at large learn more about everything from cruelty-free cosmetics to gentle parenting, vegan noshes to eco-friendly crafts, all served up alongside a current list of adoptable animals. All of this (and more) is on the GGA website and by signing up for their newsletter, you can have all the links to new content, along with other carefully curated news links, delivered to your email once a week to stay au courant. As a mama (soon to be of three), speaker, writer and content creator at About.com’s green living series, Chloé Jo proves that a having a beautiful heart and living a purposeful life does not mean that your personal style needs to suffer for it. For these reasons and more, Chloé Jo Davis is a Vegan Rockstar you should know.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I always had an innate sense of compassion for the underdog - growing up in a family like mine, I had to as a survival mechanism! It was a slow path that turned to a fast roar, first by dating a boy who had a big dog I was afraid of and slowly came to deeply love, then by adopting my own two mutts, and then dating a vegan and learning about factory farming. But really the full evolution came by education. Really steeping my mental tea bag into the world of animal agriculture, health, and karmic consciousness. A full monty of the full picture is what my Libran mind needed to see, and see it did! It was a very finite, almost British-no-nonsense definitive choice to never again contribute to suffering and hell for our sentient neighbors once many books were read and many documentaries watched.

I've come to see now, as I've watched so many come and go from veganism, that it really has to start and end at a love or respect for animals. Because if it's just health, it's easy to slack off a diet - and if it's just environmental, it's easy to rationalize having a hen in your backyard for eggs or choosing "local" beef over tofu from another state. I've seen too many narcissists fall off the boat once their raw food cleanse has ended. It has to be a deep love of animals and of being just - it starts and ends with your scruples. No way you can see what goes on with animals in factory farms and think that skews okay mentally. The 16 years I was blessed to have with my two rescue mutts showed me true, authentic love for the first time in my life – ‘til my Husband and children. I know that all animals can and do feel pain, love, calm, fear, and anguish - just like us.  My Husband and I took the full leap together almost a decade ago, and I think that informed the choice too - knowing we were going to spend the rest of our lives together and have a family and knowing we wanted to do things right. And being vegan just feels right when all the logic is displayed and the facts are clear.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

Really - all I'd have needed was someone I respected to show me a documentary. For my husband it was the original Peaceable Kingdom - I showed it to him and he went vegan that day. And he was raised on a truly all-American crappy diet, so for him it was a bigger transition than me who did eat a lot of healthy organic vegetarian food growing up Kosher in NYC. I always tell women with non-vegan partners, if they can watch Earthlings or Vegucated or Peaceable Kingdom - or any of the other powerful animal docs, and not go veg - they may have a compassion gene missing and you may want to move on. And if you’re dating a science or health-minded person who can read The China Studyand not realize there's no way to beat the scientific fact of plant-based superiority, then they are wearing blinders. For some people it's a slow crawl, and I support people on any place on their path with GirlieGirlArmy.com - I've been personally answering every vegan email question for 16 years, sometimes it's as simple as having the right answers for replacement foods or having a good community.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

GirlieGirlArmy.com was the first vegan/ethical beauty and fashion website - we started over 15 years ago. People often ask if we are annoyed by how many copycats are out there since, and I always say not at all! The more people promoting kindness in a beautiful way, the better! So we were the first to use terms like "compassionista" or "veganista" and "glamazon" in reference to a plant-based lifestyle. My original intention was to be almost snobbish, "You put dead carcass in your body? How GAUCHE!" type of tongue-in-cheek attitude over the general apologetic downtrodden quiet so many vegans take on. It then become over the top humor and style, which I still think works wonderfully. I think what's not effective is stiff or boring messaging. But I prefer a firm message over a weeble-wobbling one.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

The level of intelligence in our community blows my mind. The vegans I know are the smartest people I've ever met. They are all seekers and not afraid to step out of the dominant paradigm. That's so inspirational and radical. Sure, there's always a stray a-hole, phony, or grody self-promoter in the mix - but they are generally easy to spot and weed out. The crux of the movement rallies around the concept of doing what's right. How many other communities can claim that?

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

I don't really think we have any anymore with the virility of the Internet and so many celebs going veg…but I think our biggest hindrance may be apologists. It's a pet peeve of mine in general to not be loud and proud about whoever you are.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

Baby animals cry for their Mother's when separated, and Mama cows bellow for their babies for days and will sometimes jump a fence to find their young. Some people don't even realize Mama Cows need to be kept impregnated on a rape rack and have baby after baby ripped from her to become veal in order for her to keep producing milk. People genuinely think Bessie the cow just makes milk on the mountain all the live long day. We are so separated from our food animals in this culture, that what needs to happen is more visits to factory farms. Go and visit one and see what you are choosing to contribute to. What we do to animals in modern farming is nothing short of a holocaust.

Animal agriculture via methane is also the biggest offense to global warming - even the UN says the world has to go plant-based based on their studies. And from a health perspective it's a no-brainer, diseases are literally reversed when people take on a plant based diet.  There's a reason for doctors like Dr. Robert Ostfeld - the Director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center - promotes an exclusively vegan diet. Because it's simply healthier in every way possible. So it's a triage of obvious: ahimsa/non-harming and not wanting to torture animals, caring about the earth, and wanting to live long, healthy lives. There's no reason not to with all the replacement products we have now…love cheese? You can still eat it -- just choose cashew cheese! Adore chicken? Fine - eat chicken - just eat plant-based chicken. The analogs we have now are cleaner and more delicious than ever. It's nonsensical to choose any other way, unless you literally live in a hut on the edge of the world, and even there, lentils and rice exist! Lentils have more protein than beef anyway, so there.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

The films I think I mentioned above. There are an endless stream of books on veganism now -- I think for a science/medical-minded person, nothing will beat The China Study.
I always say my friends Samantha Pachirat and Susie Coston at Farm Sanctuary are the biggest sheros of this movement.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Sometimes I take a step out from events and online controversy.  I used to argue with any contrartian carnivore who wanted to debate about plants feeling pain. Now I pick my battles. Real idiots get ignored or a swift one-liner. As a Mother of nearly three with a business to run and animals to save, I simply don't have the time for those who are clearly guilty about their own carcass-filled colons. Focus on your own life and being the biggest success you can be - that's the best way to help animals. The better we do in our own lives and the happier we are in personal lives - the more powerful our message spreads. We true animal rights activists do have some post traumatic stress from seeing the visuals and in person horrors we have seen and read about, which is why it's important to be tender and gentle with ourselves as often as possible.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

DAIRY! As a Mom who has been breastfeeding and pregnant for five years - attachment parenting and nurturing my beautiful vegan baby boys - I can only imagine the agony of a Mother cow losing baby after baby. Seeing visuals of clips they put on calves nose/mouth area directly after birth so they can't nurse or bond so humans can get their milk is an image I'll never get out of my head.
That level of cruelty - when you are watching a Mother birth a child and inflict agony upon them directly after birth - is beyond inhumane - it's monstrous. We are the only species to ingest another species breastmilk.  Dairy is just not healthy for humans - unless it's human breastmilk for a baby - so why on earth would anyone still eat cheese when we have Treeline cashew cheese or drink milk when we have So Delicious dairy-free milks that aren't associated with cancer, bloating, acne, et al.? It's beyond my ability to digest why people wouldn't go dairy-free. And lest we forget -- there's a little bit of veal in every glass of milk.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

To me, being vegan is just good sense. I was born in the North of England and have also always gravitated towards people from Massachusetts. I think people from those areas tend to be very no-nonsense and straightforward about things that just make sense or not. I appreciate honesty and blunt realness in my life, sometimes things are either good or bad. Veganism is good. Certain things in life are cut and dry, and the logic behind veganism makes good, clean sense. It's simply the right thing to do for everyone involved - your body, the earth, and the animals.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vegan Snark Attack!

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Sometimes you’re just in a mood, you know what I mean?

Usually, I try to be calm and positive and ever-so patient but there are times when the snark just must be unleashed so I get back to being calm and positive and ever-so patient. This is one of those times. This was written as what – in my mind, at least – I would say to those who keep coming at me with feeble justifications and obvious attempts to establish that vegans are all a bunch of hypocritical snobs. The fact is that anyone who’s been vegan for longer than a week has heard allllllll of these “arguments” and we are still supposed to sit there, smile and behave ourselves (lest we be accused of being hateful) when we’ve been through it a million times. Despite this, we gather our discipline and try not to actively guffaw in anyone’s face (or at least not roll our eyes) when the fact of the matter is that internally, sometimes we are doing just that.

Omnivores who like to argue, this is what I ask of you: Could you please develop some better arguments? Pretty please? I need the challenge and that one video on YouTube that you always trot out to convince me that plants feel pain has only convinced me that you’re just really desperate for more persuasive material. To the well-intentioned people who will without a doubt remind me that sarcasm is not the best route for creating allies, yes, I know. That’s why our material on Vegan Street is 83% snark-free. (Roughly.) I need an outlet, though, so I can continue to play nice. I have to also remind myself that most of the time when people bring up these ludicrous arguments, they really think they’ve got something impressive to work with, which is why it’s up to us to (patiently, calmly, effectively) prove otherwise. (By the way, please check out the exciting new resource for critical thinking, Your Vegan Fallacy Is for more, more, more of the good stuff.)

That being said, oh, snark, how I’ve missed you. Reunited and it feels so good…

Omni: “You vegans think you’re better than everyone else. I don’t like your superiority.”
Me: “I don’t like that you pay an industry to turn animals into products and destroy the environment in the process so you can consume their secretions and corpses. Should we call it even?”

Omni: “What about plants?”
Me: “What about them?”

Omni: “You kill plants when you eat them. Plants feel pain, you know.”
Me: “I make sure that they are treated well before they die and that they don’t suffer. Oh, wait. That only would make sense in this context if they had sentience. Carry on.”

Omni: “But -”
Me: “Oh, wait, I forgot to add that if you are truly concerned about plants feeling pain - also known as responding to stimuli, which is in keeping with Darwin’s observations about adapting to optimize favorable and reduce adverse conditions - you may want to stop consuming the animals that eat so many more of the plants than people do.”

Omni: “But I give thanks to the animals I eat.”
Me: “You thanked them? That's weird. I believe your manners are a bit confused. You were supposed to apologize to them.”

Omni: “Well, whatever. I always give thanks.”
Me: “I’m sure the ghost of the chicken you just ate is finally gratified because she’s been officially thanked. Her spectral form can stop roaming the earth seeking closure now that she knows she died for the noble cause of satisfying some random craving of yours. Everything is all better now. Our sewage system is certainly a dignified final resting place for all the animals you have ‘thanked’.”

Omni: “But what about the Native Americans?”
Me: “Which tribe are we talking about?”

Omni: “Um –”
Me: “Because if we are focusing on just the tribes indigenous to the United States, there are currently more than 550 tribes. The tribes are all distinct with different histories, practices and diets. You’re not implying that all indigenous people are one uniform mass, are you?”

Omni: “Okay, whatever. They ate animals.”
Me: “They also had no electricity, plumbing, refrigeration, modern medicine or surgical innovations but I can see that you’re mainly interested in cherry-picking what you want from the grab bag of vague Native American associations that serve you. (That’s not offensive at all!) I am guessing that the objective here is to align eating animals with a higher spiritual practice of some sort. Animals are bred into existence, the vast majority through forcible means, mutilated and castrated without anesthesia and kept in brutal captivity until they are no longer cost-efficient or they have reached market weight and then they are loaded onto trucks, often transported long distances in all weather conditions and violently slaughtered. So, yes, many Native Americans ate and eat animals, as have virtually all cultures throughout history, including the ones we don’t romanticize as much. What does this have to do with you and your own habits?”

Omni: “I buy my meat from a specialty butcher who uses everything. He even watches the animals get slaughtered.”
Me: “First of all, how very Jeffrey Dahmer of your butcher. Second, your butcher uses all of the animal? As opposed to the animal agribusiness model, which pretty much squeezes every last penny from an animal’s tortured carcass? I'm guessing you found a hipster butcher who pretty much follows the standard operating procedure when it comes to using animals for financial gain.”

Omni: “But I buy heritage pork from hog breeds that might not exist if not for these farmers.”
Me: “So these fancy breeds are maintained only so they could be violently slaughtered for a their flesh? That actually sounds like something a sadist or a degenerate would do.”

Omni: “I only eat humanely-raised animals.”
Me: “Only means exclusively so I guess this means that you never eat out and you’ve got a ton of money. Were they ‘humanely slaughtered’ as well?”

Omni: “Yes, they were, in fact.”
Me: “Using humane electrified water baths and humane bolts in the brain and humane knives? It’s almost as if you want us to believe in a humane myth of some sort.”

Omni: “I buy my eggs from a lady in town and I know her chickens are treated well. I see them myself.”
Me: “Where did she buy her chicks? What happened to the male chicks at that hatchery? What happens when her backyard chickens are no longer productive? What happens when they need medical care? Even if that model is a feel-good solution for you, it is a mathematical impossibility for the rest of the world. Exactly how many earths do you think we have to work with here?”

Omni: “Well, fine, but what about soy?”
Me: “Yes, what about it?”

Omni: “Growing soy destroys the rainforests.”
Me: “You’re confused again. That’s not the soy I eat. That’s the soy you eat. How could this be? First the South American rainforest is razed for cattle grazing - if you eat cow flesh, you are responsible for this - and then when it’s been thoroughly grazed, soybeans are mono-cropped to go into animal feed and the petroleum industry, and then more rainforest is destroyed to graze cattle and the cycle continues until, viola, no more rainforest. I’m happy to keep talking about soy if you’d like.”  

Omni: “Well, what I don’t understand is why you eat all those fake foods.”
 Me: “Vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, nuts and seeds – yes, there really is some next-level synthetic sorcery going on here.”

Omni: “But why do you eat things that are imitating hamburgers and chicken if you’re so opposed to eating meat?”
Me: “Most of us did not grow up on vegan communes so there are old familiar tastes some of us like to re-experience. The beauty of it is that we can recreate these textures and flavors without violence and without destroying the environment. I actually have a question now: What is up with you adding plant seasonings to the hamburgers and chickens you eat? Also, why don’t the animals on your plate still look like the animals they were if you’re so hunky-dory with everything?”

Omni: “What about my canine teeth?”
Me: “Be honest: Is tooth sharpness the new penis length? Because I don’t mean for you to get a complex over it, but, dude, have you ever given your ‘ferocious’ canine teeth a good examination in the mirror? Do I need to spell it out for you? They aren’t that much to write home about. Do you really think you would instill terror in the hearts of zebras everywhere with those little things? Why don’t you compare canine teeth with a lion in his or her natural setting? Let’s see how your teeth stack up. Oh, also, let’s check how wide your jaw can open.”

Omni: “That’s all fine and good but I didn’t claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat salad.”

Me: “You clawed your way to ‘the top’? No, dude, you inherited the role you were born into as a human. Even if I believed that oppressing others were an achievement, the position you enjoy ‘at the top’ has nothing to do with any accomplishment of yours. The only thing you’re clawing at is any limp excuse that pops into your head.”

Omni: “Whatever. Being vegan is fine for some people but you shouldn’t try to force your views on others. It’s my personal choice.”
Me: “Selectively breeding sentient beings into existence in order to maintain a steady supply of future meals because we see animals as commodities we can do what we will with – this has nothing to do with forcing your views on others, right? Also, with water pollution and scarcity, air pollution, climate change and countless other examples of ecological devastation to which animal agribusiness is a or the major contributor, isn’t eating animals imposing your ‘personal choice’ upon others?”

Omni: “Animals would take over the world if we didn’t eat them.”
Me: “Seriously? Put the bong down. Have you really put any real thought or research into this idea? If we did nothing with the animals alive today and simply left them alone, they would die after too long due to the structural defects that we have intentionally bred into them to make them grow at an astonishingly fast pace in order to satisfy our desire for an abundant, cheap supply of their flesh and secretions. On a related note, the vast majority of these animals also wouldn’t be able to reproduce on their own due to our direct involvement in engineering their very bodies to optimize affordable and consumable portions of their corpses. It’s really twisted if you think about it, which I have. When an industry runs itself as a matter of course like something straight from the pages of a terrifying dystopian novel, maybe moral people should do everything we can to distance ourselves from supporting that industry. Last, have you ever heard of supply and demand? If people don’t eat them, they won’t be bred into existence simply to be killed.”

Omni: “But all those animals would go to waste if we didn’t eat them.”
Me: “Insert the word ‘black people’ for animals and ‘enslave’ for eat and your logic is virtually interchangeable with that of a 19th century slavery apologist. Congratulations! Further, maybe women who aren’t raped ‘go to waste’ from a rapist’s perspective. You really are scraping the bottom of the barrel to justify eating corpses here.”

Omni: “I heard somewhere that vegans actually kill more animals because of all the plants you eat. I guess you don’t care about mice and voles.”
Me: “Ah! Now you’re a voice for the mice and voles. How good of you. All of us create some kind of negative environmental repercussions. What we try to do as vegans is minimize the harm we might cause. If you are truly concerned about the mice and voles – which I am guessing is about as sincere as your concern about plants ‘feeling pain’ – you will want to reduce your consumption of eating animals because, by and large, the animals in fields that would be killed by machinery and chemicals live in the monoculture environment of cereal crops that are grown to feed the animals you eat. So, again, if genuinely you want to reduce harm, well, you know what I’m going to say...”

Omni: “Okay, well, the problem with you vegans is you’re so self-righteous.”
Me: “The paradigm you’ve set up is we can either be hypocrites or self-righteous, and, if I may quote myself, I’d rather be self-righteous than self-wrongteous."

Omni: “I just want to eat meat, okay?”
Me: “Why didn’t you just say that? Not that I’m okay with it but did we have to go through this whole song-and-dance when that’s really what it’s about?”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie Edition with Jennifer Cornbleet



Jennifer Cornbleet is a rocking, energetic pixie, a longtime vegan, best-selling raw foods cookbook author and lead instructor with the trailblazing Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, CA. As someone who has masterfully demystified the often complicated, time-consuming and expensive world of raw foods – and is able to create truly memorable, delicious dishes with accessible ingredients and some easy-to-learn kitchen skills – Jennifer has been bringing the message of vibrant, healthful living to the masses for years, along with some really helpful tools to assist in that journey. I love her message because it comes with no judgments, platitudes or mandates: she just deftly removes the stumbling blocks to incorporating more healthy foods into one diet and, in doing so, helps people to gain access to optimal good health.

I am also completely excited about Jennifer’s free interview series that will be starting on May 11 called, “The Tasty Life: How to Turn Your Passion for Healthy Food Into a Career You Love!” Oh, and I will be interviewed for it along with 24 others. Woot! (We will be sharing the website once it is live.) I love that Jennifer keeps making it easier and easier for people to live compassionately and healthfully while never needing to give up great tasting food. For this reason and more, we are happy to celebrate Jennifer Cornbleet as a true vegan foodie and rockstar.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I’ve loved to cook my whole life. My father was a great cook, and first instilled my passion for cooking when I was seven years old and he taught me how to bake bread. Gradually, I began helping him prepare family dinners.


2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

I became a vegetarian at the early age of ten. My parents weren’t vegetarian, but they encouraged me to explore vegetarian cooking. At first, my diet wasn’t very healthy, and I was living on a lot of bread and pasta. But then I began to check out some vegetarian cookbooks from the library—my first was Laurel’s Kitchen. And I started making everything from lentil loaves to salads to Indian curries. Since my family liked it when I helped with the cooking, my new interest in vegetarianism inspired them to begin eating more vegetarian, too.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

There have been so many it’s hard to choose! But one on my mind right now is a meal I ate recently at a vegan restaurant called Portobello in Portland, OR.

The appetizer was a simple but delicious salad of tender mixed greens, fennel, pear, and thinly shaved brussels sprouts, with a sherry-mustard vinaigrette.

The second course was a homemade penne-shaped pasta with pistachio-parsley pesto, roasted cauliflower, and braised red cabbage.

The main dish was an incredible roasted portobello mushroom “steak” with a balsamic glaze. It was served over a bed of mashed celery root, with a side of roasted brussels sprouts and baby carrots. It went beautifully with a glass of pinot noir.

Dessert was a chocolate lava cake with coconut vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. [Ed.: Okay, whoa.]


4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I would prepare dinner for Carl Jung. I’m fascinated by Jungian psychology, so the chance to have a dinner conversation with him would be amazing. And I’d serve him finger food so we could play with it the way he played in his sandbox everyday for a year. I always wished I could have been there with him when he did that!

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

1) The flavors are not balanced. For example, a rice bowl that’s drenched in salty soy sauce or a salad that’s drowning in vinegar. To avoid this, don’t add too much of a single, strongly-flavored ingredient to a dish. Balance salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and so on.
2) The meal is too plain and needs a good sauce. I love the taste of veggies, but what transforms mixed vegetables from a collection of ingredients into a delectable dish is often a sauce, such as curry, peanut, marinara, and so on.
3) Relying too heavily on grains, pasta, or soy instead of emphasizing fresh vegetables. Those are all great ingredients, but I like veggies to be the focal point—which makes sense since they’re what our bodies need to consume most.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

Right now, I’m in Portland, OR and I’m really into the local hazelnuts and marionberries. I also like barbecued tempeh and roasted red peppers. A few months ago, I got really excited when I discovered how to use teff to make a risotto-like stew and teff flour to make gluten-free pancakes.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?
French, Italian, and Mexican.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

I think cookbooks. I have a collection of a couple of hundred of them, and I read them in bed like novels. They keep me inspired with ideas for new recipes to create, and just thinking about food, which is one of my favorite things to do!

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

It makes me sad that we now live in such a fast-paced world that cooking is mostly seen as a hassle to be avoided. As a result, so many people eat processed food that was made without any love. I wish we could get young people excited about taking the time to cook with whole foods as an expression of creativity. [Ed.: Hear, hear!]

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

The optimum way to eat both for the body and for the planet. Many people are not yet ready to be completely vegan, but having it as an ideal to aspire to is a great thing.

Thank you, Jennifer!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Knocking a Leg from the Meat Industry's Tripod




“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy


Often when I think about the industrial agribusiness complex we are standing up against, it feels like an enormous wall looming over me, so immense that it can block out virtually all the light. Just the shadow from it alone can make me feel utterly powerless. From the marketing that is so ubiquitous as to be invisible to the government collusion that keeps the price of animal flesh, dairy and eggs down, it’s very tempting for those of us who are advocating on behalf of the animals our society brutalizes to want to just hide under the covers for a day or a week or, you know, a lifetime when we think about what we are up against.

If I reimagine animal agribusiness as a tripod, though, rather than an unscalable wall, and I use this framing to inform my efforts, suddenly I have something to work with rather than struggle against. With this framing, I think we will make significant inroads to turning the tide. Animal agriculture is like a tripod that is stabilized by three powerful legs: two of them are the interests of government and industry, which work together to make the products of agribusiness widely accessible, inexpensive and normalized. What is the third leg? It’s so obvious that we often overlook it. It’s us.

With all my years of studying the industry, I can’t help but notice that there are, in fact, many deep cracks that crisscross its veneer of impenetrability, extensive enough that it is actually my belief that animal agribusiness is a lot less secure and stable than it gives the impression of being. If we were to withdraw our participation and help others to do the same, we would effectively send the whole jerry-rigged system tumbling like the giant house of cards that it is. Without knocking out the leg of our participation, the machine keeps running as it has. With the knocking out of that single leg, we would be kicking over the entire tripod that underpins and props up agribusiness.

When we think about the power that the government and industry wield, not to mention the other very formidable sectors within them, like the medical industry and the lobbying sphere, these mutually vested interests become Orwellian abstractions that are almost impossible to comprehend, much less feel equipped to take on. While I don’t want to underestimate or downplay the tremendous influence of these systems, I stand by the assertion that they are still fully subject to our participation. In other words, if we concentrate our efforts on disconnecting consumer support from animal agribusiness, it doesn't stand a chance of continuing.

This is not to say that industry and government – with their marketing, resources, influence, deception, deep pockets – aren’t forceful opponents. They are and they are so monolithic as to seem impervious. I understand the feelings of despair and hopelessness we feel when we think of their supposed inescapability and this is why we should concentrate our efforts on that third leg, because it is real and it can be influenced. By going directly to people and helping them to withdraw their support of animal agribusiness, we are circumventing these parties that may have all the power in the world but cannot force products or practices upon a public that is unwilling to buy. They have used and will continue to use their best tools to keep the machine running as it is but if we divest and continue to chip deeper fissures into the industry’s façade of impenetrability, it will eventually collapse under its own weight.

That third essential leg – the stabilizing of the entire industry – is maintained by our participation: this is influenced by habit, tradition, culture, convenience, familiarity, discomfort with change, even memories. If we continue to make it easier and easier for people through education, great food, affordability, access to information, community and excellent resources, we will be cutting off the very lifeblood of participation that agribusiness needs in order to continue. In other words, each time we make it easier, more appealing, more levelheaded and more undeniably rewarding to unplug from agribusiness and plug into veganism, we weaken the giant machine that depends on our participation and we strengthen the vegan movement’s inevitability.

In her beautiful book on the practice of writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote of her brother, ten at the time, who was completely overwhelmed by a large book report he had put off until the last minute to write. Books and resource materials, paper and pencils were splayed out around him as he sat at the kitchen table, barely holding it together. Her father put his arm around her brother and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” This is the approach we need to take as well: person by person. If we continue to apply our talents, resources, attention and acumen to knocking out that third leg, I have no doubt that the entire tripod, propped up by us through our undergirding of cooperation, will crash.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie Edition with Ricki Heller

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In order to introduce author Ricki Heller, I have to take a kind of long and circuitous path, sort of like a large intestine. This simile will make more sense in a minute, trust me.

First, I’ll start by saying that someone can be a health-focused vegan and still not thrive optimally. Any number of equal opportunity afflictions from chronic headaches to Crohn’s disease can strike even the most health conscious of us, though we may have reduced the likelihood and intensity of these maladies by choosing antioxidant-rich, nutritionally-dense plant foods. Ailments still happen, though, as we are not perfect machines. These problems can make some of us – even those of us who rarely get sick – feel like failures when all the alleged health benefits of veganism don’t exactly kick in as promised.

Take yeast overgrowth, for example. Candida albicans is a normal part of the healthy gut flora but for those who have CRC, or candida-related complex (including myself), this yeast has become very aggressive and voracious, resulting in the damaging of the intestinal wall, causing sexy yeast byproducts and undigested food to penetrate the bloodstream. The end result of this yeast overgrowth can manifest in a profusion maladies: bloating, fatigue, escalating food sensitivities, weight gain, abdominal pain, skin irritations (including breakouts, rashes, eczema and hives), pervasive aches and pains, mental fog, anxiety and depression are just some of the consequences that often worsen over time due to candida overgrowth. Fun, glamorous stuff. Despite the persistence and discomfort of most of the symptoms of CRC, they fall under the vague terms of “malaise” and are not typically recognized by mainstream medical professionals, which creates even more of a silencing effect around this poorly understood condition, as if anything connected to the words yeast overgrowth didn’t already do that enough. To make matters worse, those of us in the vegan community who look to alternative healing modalities (many after being brushed off by conventional medical doctors) often find ourselves in a bizarre wasteland of Weston A. Price Foundation/Paleo recommendations, which are decidedly not animal-friendly and reek of quackery.

Thankfully, we have Ricki Heller to the rescue. Ricki, a registered holistic nutritionist, describes in her new book, Living Candida-Free: Conquer the Hidden Epidemic that’s Making You Sick, a longtime struggle with symptoms of yeast overgrowth and a worsening rash that eventually covered her torso as she had ineffective cream after ineffective cream prescribed to her by multiple doctors. Her personal experience with identifying and healing from CRC has made her something of a candida guru over the years. Her very informative new book offers her wisdom and experience, as well as more than 100 accessible recipes that go with her three-stage program to combat yeast overgrowth. Living Candida-Free is further bolstered by the explanatory chapter written by functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama, who expertly takes this complicated and confusing subject and makes it comprehensible. Those of us with CRC finally have an excellent resource and plan of action for restoring vitality and wellness. For helping people who suffer from CRC find a real path to wellness without harming animals, Ricki Heller is a true vegan foodie and a rockstar.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

Baking was certainly something that ran in my family. My aunt was a caterer, and my mom was a consummate from-scratch baker. As a result, I grew up in a home that had lots of homemade baked goods around all the time, and my sisters and I learned to bake from a young age. Fairly early on, that love extended to food in general, and once I went away to university and lived on my own, I really began to experiment with cooking new and different dishes. I think living in Toronto, the most multi-cultural city in the world, helps too, as there is a plethora of restaurants available for anyone who wants to explore different cuisines.


2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

What’s funny is that my mother wasn’t the best cook even though she did make everything from scratch. So I grew up on a fairly bland, typically North American diet of mostly meat and vegetables. Because my dad was a butcher, we had meat pretty much every day. I think that the typical rebellious nature of kids took hold and my sisters and I actually loved processed, packaged and prepared foods much more than the real foods we were getting at home. So, as soon as I was able, I started buying junk food outside the home, going to McDonald’s with friends, and so on. That led to some pretty abysmal eating habits in my 20s and 30s!

We rarely ate dinner together as a family because my dad’s hours were so crazy (he often didn’t get home until 8:30 or 9:00 PM), so we kids learned to grab what we could by ourselves on weeknights. So we established a Sunday brunch tradition in the house, because that was the one time we could count on everyone to be there at the same time. I guess that sort of did translate to my current preferences, since breakfast and brunch remain my favorite meals of the day.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

There’s an upscale restaurant near where I live called Terra, which used to offer a 7-course tasting menu with wine accompaniments. One year, my husband and I went for our anniversary, and he had the omnivore version while I ordered the vegan version. It was spectacular! I remember a roasted chickpea appetizer, a fabulous glazed sweet potato side dish, Portobello steak, and incredible chocolate truffles for dessert, among other things. We wanted to have it the following year, too, but by then they had stopped serving it.

A close second would be my first visit to Pure Food and Wine in New York City. That was another phenomenal meal, made even better by the group of fellow bloggers with whom my husband and I shared our evening.


4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

The dessert would likely be a seven-layer chocolate affair with all kinds of buttercream and shaved chocolate. I imagine a dinner party with Dorothy Parker wouldn’t be boring (but then I’d want to invite the rest of the Algonquin Round Table, too)!

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

That’s a tough one for me because I love vegan food so much, I kind of just like it all! I don’t know how common this is, but since I’m a baker by nature, I tend to notice flaws in baked goods the most. One thing I used to find when I would buy baked goods was how they were flat or heavy on occasion. I think that’s because vegan baked goods require extra lift—leaveners like baking powder and baking soda—since they’re lacking the leavening power that’s usually supplied by eggs. But I think the quality of prepared vegan baked goods, and vegan food in general, has come a long way since I first started eating this way back in the ‘80s! 

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

My latest ingredient love is psyllium husks. Not very sexy, but this plant husk is a great alternative to xanthan gum or guar gum for gluten-free baking. It also happens to be helpful as an anti-candida food, so I try to use it as often as I can. 

7. You are restricted to one ethnic cuisine for the rest of your life. What would you like it to be?

I think I’d love Ethiopian food. It’s naturally gluten-free and plant-heavy, and there seems to be an infinite variety of Ethiopian dishes available to try. Plus, I’ve loved every Ethiopian meal I’ve ever eaten.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

Once I realized that the diet I preferred was something called “vegan,” I sought out vegan cookbooks. The first one I found that also fit my dietary restrictions at the time was SimpleTreats by Ellen Abraham and that had a profound influence on my baking. In fact, Abraham’s book was, in part, the inspiration for my own organic bakery, Bake It Healthy. I also loved Dreena Burton’s books from day one and still find that her recipes always appeal to me, and are perfectly reliable every time.

Starting my blog also opened up an entire world of vegan connections that I would never otherwise have had. I’m so grateful for all the friends I’ve made through my blog, some of whom have become friends offline as well.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Well, given where I’ve been putting my attention lately, it would have to be candida. This syndrome (caused by too much yeast in the body) is one that is thankfully gaining more attention in the media, but still has a ways to go before it’s recognized by conventional medicine as a bona fide illness. Because it’s so often an “invisible illness” with no overt signs, people can be labeled as hypochondriacs or overly anxious and doctors believe there’s nothing wrong with them. And getting treatment is double difficult for anyone on a plant-based diet, since almost all of the common anti-candida diets out there are closer to Paleo than vegan. I wanted to prove that you can beat candida on a vegan diet. It’s eminently doable!

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"


Veganism is finally gaining recognition and coming into its own in the world.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Against Non-Human Animals: How Language Shapes Our Worldview

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Imagine for a moment a scene in which a turtle is talking to another turtle about a nearby rabbit. They are in a little vegetable garden together, and the main turtle, let’s call him Sheldon, nudges his friend, let’s call her Shelley, indicating the rabbit with his wrinkly turtle head.
 
 “See that guy over there with the long ears?” asks Sheldon.

 “You mean the non-turtle animal?” asks Shelley.

“Yes, that one. He seems to really like the carrots,” says Sheldon.

With Shelley’s framing, the rabbit has been described by what he is not, which, in this case, is not a turtle. This framing positions turtles as not only the dominant species but also the main benchmark by which this other being in the garden, the rabbit, is understood. When other beings are filtered and described through a lens that ineluctably points back at those who are describing them, they are, in effect, measured against another’s contours. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine why a vegan would find this kind of structuring problematic. At best, it is sloppy and at worst, it is another example of anthropocentric arrogance.

The phrase non-human animals is an example of a thoughtful restructuring of language, created to challenge how we conceptualize ourselves and it is used by vegans as a way to remind people that, yes, humans are animals, too. The intention behind using it is a good one. Despite this, I have always done my best to avoid the phrase because it sounds and looks and sounds clunky to me but I have used it when I felt it was better than the common alternative, which is the distorted separation of “people” and “animals” in our language, as if we were not also animals. A few years ago, though, I realized that there was something else that bothered me about the phrase, and it wasn’t just an aesthetic one. Once I fully worked out the problems with the phrase, I stopped using it altogether and I think other vegans should consider doing the same. Here's why: I believe that when we say “non-human animals,” we are unintentionally reinforcing the same human-as-center-of-the-world conceit that underpins the mindset that allows for the domination of other animal species. Remember that rabbit? His own autonomy vanished when viewed through distinctly turtle-centered lenses: he was no longer a rabbit, he was some other entity that was simply not a turtle.

Given the enormity of what other animals face, I will admit that this sounds like a trivial thing to get hung up on. I would argue, though, that as we move ahead in re-conceptualizing coexistence, the language that we use is of critical importance. The theory of linguistic determinism posits that the words we use shape and even help to determine human thought. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein observed plainly, “Language disguises thought.” The thought that is disguised by that ungainly (but, again, well-intentioned) phrase is that other animals disappear and are replaced by our own example as the dominant point of reference.

The words we choose have real consequences and these consequences can inadvertently reinforce the very status quo that we are trying to dismantle. It is a minor alteration, but I think we should leave behind the expression "non-human animal." Ask yourself if you would like to be referred to as a non-male human being (if you’re not a male) or a non-white homo sapiens if you were not Caucasian. Can you see how a ripple effect of such framing could diminish your own rights to sovereignty and equality, as well as reveal an intrinsic partiality that necessarily denigrates those who aren’t part of the dominant standard?

Given all this, I propose that we rethink using the term “non-human animal” and come up with something that is more respectful and less self-absorbed. Of course contexts always vary, but when we are trying to communicate that we are not talking about humans (who are also animals) but other animals, I propose that we say something along the lines of other animals or other beings. I’ve heard others who say fellow animals. That works, too, but to me it sounds a little precious. Other animals has its flaws, too, as there is a built-in “othering” element that distances and leaves room for objectification but this is the best that I have arrived at so far.

Your thoughts are appreciated. What do you think about the expression “non-human animals”? Do you have a preferred alternative?