Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Twenty Signs of Progress in Twenty Years: This Evolving Vegan World...




On February 1, 2015, my husband and I will have been vegan for 20 years. As much as I know how the world has changed dramatically since we first wondered if we were going to be able to survive without cheese and ice cream, it’s difficult to convey the magnitude of it because the improvements have been so dramatic and so extensive. You know in The Wizard of Oz when things went from black-and-white to color? After her initial shock, this new world probably became normalized to her and it’s kind of like that for us longtime vegans but part of us will always feel like the displaced Dorothy, too, in stupefied awe of how far we’ve traveled
.


For those who have only known the experience of being vegan during a time of helpful apps, abundant options and the ability to easily connect with like-minded individuals, you may not fully understand how many strides we’ve taken. There is still a lot of work to be done. With over ten billion land animals killed each year in the United States alone, with the devastating, escalating ecological consequences of our consumption habits, resting on our laurels is not an viable option for anyone. Clearly, the animals and the planet desperately need for us to be smart, committed, creative, helpful and effective. Not to sound overly dramatic, but the future of the world hinges on our actions today.



All that being said, it’s good to also reflect on the accomplishments and maturation of our vegan world. We are not where we need to be, certainly, but given the progress of the previous 20 years, and the very dedicated, talented and engaged people who are paving the way to a more compassionate and just world, I have no doubt that the next 20 years will be even more impressive. Stay at it and have no doubt that the world is changing.



1. Milk

Twenty years ago

What passed for dairy-free milk when I first went vegan was something that was menacing (well, as menacing as the color beige gets) and basically tasted like the liquid equivalent of a chagrined expression in an asceptic carton. Because drinking liquified chagrin is not all that appealing, most of us learned to eat our cereal with apple juice or apple cider if it was fall and we were feeling a little festive. 



Today

I could have probably made this entire list about 20 advances we have made just in the quality and the abundance of vegan food items alone, but that would be on the phoning-it-in side so I am only going to focus on dairy-free milk here. Today we not only have fantastic vegan milks but we have a wide variety of them and they can be found everywhere from mainstream grocery stores to natural foods stores to dollar stores. Today we have milks for baking, milks for cooking, milks for coffee, milks for celebrating holidays. You know what? I think it’s time to break out the italics: We have holiday milks, people. We have unsweetened, vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut milks. We have oat, rice, almond, hemp and quinoa milks. It’s enough to make plain old cow's milk look even less appetizing if that were possible. I don’t know if there is any food item that better encapsulates the progress of our movement than our dazzling lineup of milks but there are some serious contenders. Plant-based proteins, I’m looking at you. (Oh, I would also mention the strides in vegan cheese but I am still working through the sensory trauma of having tried a few of those early versions, which I’m pretty convinced were actually made out of plastic.)



2. Shoes and Fashion


Twenty years ago


You found something you thought might work and you filled out a form from a catalog, wrote a check, mailed it in, and then spiderwebs tied you to your chair as you waited and waited for the shoes you ordered to arrive and you hoped you liked them and they didn’t make your feet want to die. Beyond shoes, you could also spend hours and hours searching for a winter coat that didn’t have a fur collar, wasn’t stuffed with feathers or made with wool and by the time you found one, it was the one with orange and hot pink tiger stripes that looked like it had been projectile vomited on by a Van Halen cover band. This all meant that you had to walk around with a thin fall jacket all winter and your mother thought you were going to die of pneumonia. If this sounds like one of those near-mythic stories created to illustrate how very stoic you were as a young herbivore before you became the first vegan president, it’s because it was that clunky and anachronistic. 



Today

It’s better, much better, okay, a lot better (and, oh yeah, this, too) though we still have a long way to go.



3. Community

Twenty years ago

It used to be that we’d be stuck with the same people who lived near us, even if we had nothing else in common. So, yeah, that guy who came for the potluck you hosted and brought a half empty bag of stale tortilla chips and an extended family of bedbugs -- he was your community. The twitchy lady with the 83 cats she kept in her one bedroom apartment -- she was your community. All the alleged “vegans” you were set up on dates with who offhandedly noted that they still ate eggs, sea life and the occasional chicken -- they were your community. 


Today

There are vegan parenting groups, vegan bodybuilder groups, vegan entrepreneurs and more as the community expands beyond its once narrow margins. It’s my opinion that nothing can quite replace what interacting in person does for our emotional well-being so for that, there are meet-ups all over the world, but if you don’t see one where you live, consider starting your own. Virtual communities are a great complement to in-person communities.



4. Visibility


Twenty years ago
It was you, your aforementioned “community” and a few vegan cookbook authors. Not many people believed what you told them about animal agriculture and most were not likely willing to invest the time into reading a whole book to learn more. Lisa Simpson became a vegetarian in 1995 (“Well, that’s a start,” said Jesse Grass), Woody Harrelson was living in a vegan treehouse community built out of hemp on an island somewhere and you were likely in your kitchen, valiantly but futilely trying to take the quart of milk, pint of sour cream, two sticks of butter, three cups of cheese and 17 eggs out of your once-favorite Moosewood recipe.  

It was quiet out there.

Today
Not only are vegans more visible, but also the issues we are trying to raise awareness about are becoming more and more impossible to avoid. From increased visibility where we live, like the Toronto Pig Save to films that can be shared broadly like Earthlings, exposé after exposé of the routine horrors behind all facets of animal agribusiness to the network of savvy-as-hell, smart, effective and resourceful vegans across the globe, veganism is more powerfully visible than ever and as technology improves, this visibility will only continue to grow. It is becoming very hard to be in the dark about violence against animals and with our collective talents and skills offered, very easy to offer far better alternatives. 



5. Technology: Apps




Twenty years ago

An app was shorthand for an appetizer at a restaurant, most likely hummus or olives or something like that.



Today
Want to check to make sure if something is cruelty-free? There’s an app for that. Want to find vegan food on the road? There’s an app for that. Looking for support and recipes as you shift away from animal products and junk food? There’s a free app for that. Even I, someone with strong Luddite-like tendencies, can see how technology is making the learning curve much less steep and making it easier and more convenient to make cruelty-free choices all the time. (Vegan appetizers have improved dramatically as well. More on that later.)



6. Traveling




Twenty years ago
Oh, it was bad, my friend, bad enough to make you dread leaving the safe surroundings of your home environment. On the road, you basically had your bread, you had your peanut butter and jelly in a cooler and you had your fantasies of Indian buffets that would magically emerge from the background like a mirage when the best you could realistically hope for to break your long stretch of nothing but PB & J and road dirt was a rubbery portobello mushroom sandwich. The first year of being vegan, my husband and I took a road trip down Route 66 with our dog and pretty much could have registered on seismographs with our growling stomachs through large swaths of Oklahoma. We had a dog-eared copy of the Vegetarian Resource Group’s restaurant guide with us - this was our technology for the time and it was an improvement from what we had before, which was nothing but rumors, usually apocryphal, of the occasional oasis - but so much on our path ahead was a wasteland. Books are amazing resources but they can’t make vegan food appear out of thin air or be instantly updated. We’d look forward in ravenous anticipation to 300 miles ahead where there was a promise of a Chinese restaurant with a few meatless options - broccoli-tofu-rice-oh-my-God! - only to drive all that distance and find darkened windows and a “for rent” sign. Sigh. Time to break out the peanut butter again. 



Today

I am no longer scared of traveling. In addition to new innovations that help us to find restaurants that can accommodate us, there are just so many more places with vegan options. Twenty years ago, I had heard of every vegetarian restaurant in North America and I may or may not have had each one mail me a copy of their menu (don’t judge, you’d have been obsessive, too) but today, there are far too many to keep track of, including ones in my very city I haven’t visited yet. Not only that, but with the availability of social media, we can get recommendations, we can meet online friends in person, we can post tantalizing photos for the rest of the world to drool over and we can help promote vegan options the globe over.



7. Recipes



Twenty years ago


Remember what I said about valiantly but futilely trying to get the veritable mountain of dairy and eggs out of our Moosewood recipes? It was no joke. There is only so much of a role that silken tofu can play in a recipe before you sort of want to cry. 



Today

There are rows and rows and rows of vegan cookbooks at our bookstores and libraries, along with websites like VegWeb with recipes that are community-rated and improved upon in the comments. We have people teaching us how to take the eggs out of recipes, how to replace dairy, and teaching us how to cook fabulous vegan food in videos and a million great cookbooks. Just the proliferation of talented, creative and excellent vegan food bloggers has made us all step up our food game. We are no longer eating tofu (or seitan) with a side of tofu (or seitan) served on a bed of tofu (or seitan) because we have no idea what else we can eat or cook. Oh my god, life is so much better. Simply recognizing the gustatory potential of the cashew alone has unlocked so many delicious possibilities. 



8. The pronunciation of the word vegan



Twenty years ago


We heard every possible variation of the word, from veggin to vaygun and every imaginable combination of letters in between, which included sounds that technically don’t exist in English. Each time someone mispronounced it, it was like having fingernails scrape down the chalkboard of my very soul. Also, every time we had to say, “It’s actually pronounced vee-gun,” we sounded like uptight prigs and we were wasting valuable time we could otherwise be spending propagandizing at the office, protesting furriers, looking through shoe catalogs or trying to troubleshoot the eggs out of our brownies. 



Today

By and large, people get it and there are audible instructions (including this one, my favorite, which is worthy of a B-film actor) in case they don’t. (But why have you forsaken us like this, Dictionary.com? Why???) 



9. Festivals



Twenty years ago

Back in the day, there were, like, three vegetarian festivals in the U.S. and those of us lucky enough to go were confronted by the sad sight of lonely-hearted herbivores reeking of patchouli and desperation on the prowl for a mate and dairy everywhere we looked. Still, this was our best option. You’d just have to bust out your best pleather shoes and make a go of it.



Today


There are vegan proms. There are vegan beer festivals. There is a vegan health festival in the town of Marshall, TX that was written about in the New York Times. There is a festival I freaking co-founded in Chicago that is coming up October 11 and it’s fabulous and you should really be there. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! No more dairy to have to dodge, though there might still be desperate herbivores on the prowl but that’s okay because of all the food samples.



10. More consensus on health benefits




Twenty years ago



When I first went vegetarian as a 15-year-old, people thought “going vegetarian” was just a less dramatic way to say “committing a slow suicide.” When I went vegan in the mid-1990s, people had accepted that becoming a vegetarian wasn’t necessarily a death sentence but, whoa, veganism? It was a shame that such a promising girl would have to die of an iron and protein deficiency just to prove a point. 


Today


We now know that not only can veganism help us reduce the risk of certain cancers, reverse heart disease and diabetes, but also that plant foods are full of phytonutrients like carotenoids, lycopene, flavonoids and glucosinolates with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions that improve the quality of our lives. In other words, for the most part, the consensus is not only that veganism won’t kill anyone, but, quite likely, all those vitamins and minerals will help us enjoy a solid foundation of good health. Unless you’re talking to someone from the Weston Price Foundation, a Paleo or a follower of Dr. “Quackwatch.com has a page dedicated to me-me-me!” Mercola, there is solid evidence of the health advantages we derive from eating plants and avoiding eating animals. (Please also check out Dr. Michael Greger’s excellent Nutrition Facts videos for lots of information.)



11. More consensus on the environmental benefits



Twenty years ago

“What is this vay-gun thing? Is that a religion where you, like, hang peace flags or something?”



Today

Even conservative organizations will concede that our reliance on flesh and animal products is a or the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions (which leads to climate change), water pollution and scarcity, rainforest and other habitat destruction, soil erosion and the killing of our oceans to name a few, oh, minor issues. Underscored by the fact that “humane” meat will not cause any less of this and, in fact, can have more dire ecological consequences there are fewer and fewer platitudes for eco-minded animal consumers to hide behind to without exposing themselves as shallow and elitist frauds. We solidly own the environmental debate and this is no small feat given that it was barely a blip on the radar 20 years ago. Then again, it may be because we are now personally facing more consequences with extreme weather, drought and water pollution. Now it is just up to people to step up to the vegan plate. 



12. The proliferation of farmers markets and produce varieties




Twenty years ago

A farmers market was that little farm stand you went to once a year near the place where you went pumpkin picking. Kale was still a decorative leaf in planters at upscale shopping malls and near the roast beef station at buffets where you had to meet your relatives once a year and you got to eat cucumbers and spinach for $19.99. 


Today

The farmers market model has spread far beyond a few places on the West Coast and made inroads everywhere from inner-city environments (many accepting SNAP vouchers) to cold weather climates that have indoor markets in the winter. There are farmers markets all over the world now and with them, a colorful bounty of fresh, local produce and even more opportunities to become familiar with a wide array of nutritious food. I know that access to farmers markets and spontaneous conversations over strange looking root vegetables has made me a better, more confident cook than I would be otherwise. And kale? A full-on fetish has seized the nation and shows no sign of abating. Access to fresh, seasonal and local produce has been a game-changer, helping to create a much different awareness of the variety available. Compared to how many of us grew up on iceberg lettuce and hothouse tomatoes and very little else in the realm of produce, many of us are able to take advantage of a much-improved climate. 



13. We understand how to make it more affordable (related: grocery stores are better)




Twenty years ago

Back in the day, if you needed specialty ingredients (meaning anything remotely “exotic” or “strange”), you would have to travel miles to ethnic markets, if that was even within the realm of possibilities, or order out of catalogs. This got to be expensive and it wasn’t terribly efficient. 



Today

With the spread of knowledge about world cuisines, we now know that the world’s least affluent often eschew meat and animal products out of economic necessity. With that increased awareness, we are learning how to prepare delicious, simple, nutritious food without requiring as many specialty items. The best food in the world happens to often be vegan by default and inexpensive to prepare. Having better stocked grocery stores due to increased demand and more of a global market sensibility has helped all of us have better access, too. Further, putting on our investigation caps and looking into the frugal tricks of our grandparents also helps us to learn how to be resourceful and cut costs in the kitchen.

14. We are more savvy about our materials




Twenty years ago

Okay, they may have been made with “heart” but pretty much all of our outreach materials were either of or below the standard of the average Xeroxed ‘zine with drawings in the margins or dry factoid-laden pamphlets with less flair and pizzazz than your toaster oven’s instruction manual.  



Today

Communication matters and we know it. With much better photography and graphic design, professional skills and people who know how to verbally communicate our often difficult message in a compelling, persuasive, smart way, our materials are now at the level where they need to be and the bar keeps raising all the time. 



15. The opportunities to learn more are unprecedented




Twenty years ago

You had a book or a VHS copy of something someone recorded off of someone else’s recording and that was what we had. Oh, and the aforementioned well-intentioned leaflets. 



Today

The films are incredibly persuasive and with just a DVD player, a computer or a membership to a streaming media platform, people can learn more without any inconvenience. Further, with compelling stories and helpful websites and services coming out all the time, the opportunities for closing the gaps in awareness and helping to build skills is at an unprecedented high. 



16. Changing culture



Twenty years ago

We were expected to adapt to the world around us and shut our damn hippie mouths about it, too. Pass the turkey. 



Today

From the spread of vegan Thanksgiving celebrations to disrupting the status quo in order to force a new discussion, from Tofurky becoming a household name to daily comics with a conscience, we are ambassadors, spreading the word, saying that we are here and we are not going away. In just a small example, with our local group, the Chicago Vegan Family Network, our children are being raised with a consciousness of abundance, not lack, of being empowered as change-makers where they live and go to school. We are inserting ourselves into the culture, creating powerful changes to the world around us, and our influence is only getting stronger.  



17. Which leads to a changing landscape




Twenty years ago

For the most part, things were pretty lonely. Once in a while, we’d see the word in print (usually in reference to a resident of Las Vegas, and then we’d get all excited and crushingly disappointed within seconds) and we’d know the couple of places where we could find something vegan to eat. Again, though, it was pretty underground for the most part.



Today

Today you can get a vegan hot dog (http://www.veggiehappy.com/venue_mlb.htm) at a baseball stadium if you so wish. There are vegan magazines at bookstores alongside the glossy fashion and food publications. Nearly every café will have dairy alternatives and the cool ones will have vegan pastries. Many restaurants now designate animal-free items on their menus and the vegan symbol is much more common to find on products at the grocery store. The landscape is transforming in front of our eyes. 



18. Better and more variety of food options when dining out




Twenty years ago


Seriously, guys, it was bad. I think I ate my weight in hummus and portobello sandwiches several times over within the first couple of years. I remember when my fellow vegans, all three of them, were losing their collective minds over the fact that Hershey’s Special Dark bar (shudder) added dairy to the recipe because that was their only chocolate. Whenever I hear people complain that (insert whiny voice), “I twied to go vegan but there’s nothing to eat” today, I have very little sympathy. I spent my honeymoon eating pretty much nothing but portobello mushrooms and I do not like them at all. 



Today
In just my city alone, I can find vegan Thai food, Indian food, Italian food, Ethiopian food, soul food, Korean food, Japanese food and more. I can find vegan banh mi sandwiches, pizza, sushi, barbecue, pancakes, burgers, ice cream and nachos. (I won’t eat it all together, although it’s technically possible.) Yes, I live in a city with lots of options and not everyone has the same variety of options. I can see from traveling, though, that while not every community is a vegan paradise, in general, things are much easier than they were 20 years ago. And I can’t remember the last time I had to eat a portobello mushroom.



19. Technology: Podcasts



Twenty years ago

“Pod-what? It is like a sculpture of a pea pod? No, really...what is it?”



Today

Another aspect of the general widening reach of vegan culture when we merge with new media and, frankly, a great way to feel less lonely in the world, podcasts offer us a temporary oasis of sanity and understanding in a world where we can still feel isolated and marginalized, all the strides we’ve made notwithstanding. From Big Fat Vegan Radio to Main Street Vegan, Slice Your Age to Go Vegan Radio, Food for Thought to Our Hen House to name just a relative few, we have some talented and dedicated individuals who are helping the population to learn and grow, plus making life less lonely for those of us who are already here. Podcasts are an undeniable ally in helping to usher in a new world and I have a hard time imagining how I used to do long road trips without them. (You don’t need a smart phone to listen by the way, just a computer or device.)



20. Technology: Interconnectedness




Twenty years ago


Remember that community I referred to in #3? That was our connection to our fellow vegans. 



Today

I have friends - true, real friends - I have never met. I have deep emotional connections to people who live all over the world. There are people who, when I see their posts come up, just make me smile and

feel warm with gratitude to know that they are on the earth alongside me, separated by miles and oceans sometimes, but still, they are here. Beyond that, as a result of interconnection with other vegans, there are people who are sharing tools, knowledge, inspiration and talents, making it possible for all of us to step up our game as advocates for the animals. Even more exciting, as a result of interconnectedness, our friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances are being exposed to so many more opportunities to expand their awareness, learn new ways of living and plug into communities that support their vegan evolution. The sheer gift of this one advancement cannot be understated. We must take advantage of our human need for connection and the ways in which technology assists this every day. 




This is all to say that there has never been an easier time. No more excuses. Get out there. 




6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this very insightful article. I have turned vegan one year ago in South Africa, a country of meat eaters En Large. I can so very well identify with your initial problems, as this was what we experienced here. But in just one short year, the scene in South Africa is changing dramatically. You have painted the picture extremely well. It is extremely encouraging to read. And thank you for being such an ethical person for such a long time.

Vegan P90X/Insanity Junkie said...

It's been only 6+ years for me, and I can see a huge difference, not only in Chicago (go Native Foods, go!), but in Holland (SW) Michigan, where I plan to retire. It's minimal, but improving.

It's all about education. My only complaint regarding fashion is yes, Vaute Couture, where sizing is too small (their sizing guide is WAY off), and with shoes. Having a very narrow foot (9AAAA) leaves me with very few options - I mean, even if I were to buy non-vegan shoes, I'm left with few options, so I go through PETA's site to find alpaca socks where they approve of the farms (or it did, they last a long time), and then try to find boots that will work with my width but with my Raynaud's Syndrome.

If I had the money, I would start my own line of vegan shoes for various widths and with a definite lean towards cold weather boots.

Penny said...

This brought back so many memories for me, as a vegan for the last 25 years and a vegetarian for 18 more years before that! Being vegetarian in 1971 was very similar to being vegan in 1989!

india leigh said...

This is such a great article. It is so good to look back and see how far we have come. I travel a lot and am always still amazed at how (relatively..looking back on my 14 years) easy it is and how supported I feel with my lifestyle, but yes, there is still a ways to go.

I'm sharing this article. I think it is heartening, not just for us but the newbies too.
Thanks!
India

www.aveganobsession.com

Unknown said...

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nam chân ngăn nên mang giày nào. hoặc có thể tham khảo
cách chọn giày cho phái mạnh giúp bạn lựa chọn được những sản phẩm thích hợp nhất.

Hướng dẫn cách bảo vệ giày đi mưa giúp bạn bảo vệ đôi giày của bạn được tốt nhất.

Bài viết chia sẽ Cách đeo đồng hồ đẹp và quý phái giúp bạn lựa chọn cho mình những chiếc đồng hồ có thể tôn lên nét đẹp riêng cho bạn. Ngoài ra, chúng tôi còn chuyên cung cấp dây da dùng cho đồng hồ dây da nữ với giá rẻ và chất lượng tốt nhất trên thị trường hiện nay. Tìm hiểu chi tiết về thương hiệu đồng hồ nổi tiếng trên thế giới

hoàng ý nguyễn said...
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