Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: Vegan Year in Review

 

Looking back at 2015, these are the stories that stood out to us as signs of hope that while there is much progress to be made, we are beginning to see a real shifting away from the status quo of animal exploitation and consumption. Some of these stories touch on our expanding community, growing stronger and more connected, creative and confident in our voice each year; other stories illustrate how vegan interests are beginning to ripple out to create a positive effect on culture and on consumer habits; still more reveal (and chip away at) the hidden support beams that prop up the industries that exploit and inflict violence against animals.

Please note that these stories are predominantly U.S.-centric because we track that most, living in the U.S. ourselves. We are seeing these encouraging news stories the world over, though, from the expansion of vegan commerce in Germany to courageous activism on the rise in China. Last, in no way are we trying to make the claim that “we’re winning!” or some other emphatically optimistic distortion. The needless suffering of billions of animals tyrannized for human use is as real and as dire as ever. It’s clear that there is a long, difficult and uphill road ahead but there are signs of progress and indications of change and reasons for hope that we should take a moment to appreciate; here are some of the ones that made the biggest impression on us in 2015. We hope and expect that 2016 will bring even more exciting shifts that will result in meaningful change for creating a more compassionate and just world. Maybe you will be involved in an encouraging story or two in 2016? 




The Just Mayo Story

Riveting in its sordidness, the behind-closed-doors attempts to handicap plant-based egg-replacer company Hampton Creek was a story that pulled the curtain back on gross federal malfeasance and its collusion with agribusiness interests, something that was entirely believable to those who are familiar with the U.S. government’s willingness to bend to business concerns but eye-opening for those who were not. The abbreviated version: Threatened by the meteoric rise of Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo egg-less mayo, the American Egg Board, a federally-funded commodity check-off organization, plotted with high-ranking business and government officials to plan an attack against the San Francisco start-up. Not long after the American Egg Board’s former CEO encouraged agribusiness giant Unilever (maker of Hellman’s mayo) to file a lawsuit against Hampton Creek, more than 600 pages of emails proving damning collusion was exposed by the U.K.’s Guardian. It was a David vs. Goliath story the best PR firm couldn’t have whipped up and it fell right into Hampton Creek’s lap. Public sentiment supported Hampton Creek and the attempt completely backfired, leaving – no pun intended – egg on the face of our corrupt federal agency and the big business it colludes with, giving the public just a small glimpse into covert double-dealing machinations that happen behind closed doors. Joanne Ivy, the CEO of the American Egg Board, resigned from her position two months earlier than expected and Hampton Creek walked away with the triumphant edit and loads of great press without slinging any dirt at all. 




 Aquafaba Everywhere

Aqua-wha’? It may sound like a new toothpaste marketed to tweens but in reality, aquafaba is an otherworldly bean water that contains the properties to turn into freaking EGG WHITES, bringing a heretofore elusive holy grail ingredient to vegan baking and cooking. With this discovery, we now have vegan meringue, not to mention pavlova, macarons and butter. (We don't have angel food cake yet but it's just a matter of time.) Aquafaba was developed in a truly modern way, described in detail here, but essentially it comes down to a couple of innovators and an international, social media-savvy community of pastry chefs, food scientists, home cooks and animal advocates, each contributing to help quickly elevate this new discovery up to unimaginable heights in record time. It wasn’t long before it was reported on in mainstream media outlets and now, there is an ever-expanding, incredibly supportive community of people speaking of “aquafaba” without giggling. (Seriously, I was in on the ground floor and I can tell you that if you think the word aquafaba is silly, just be glad because for a time, it was referred to as “bean juice,” which made me dry heave every time I read it.) The story of how aquafaba developed and spread is as encouraging to me as the innovation itself, illustrating how an ardent and creative global community can come together to raise the profile of and diversify vegan food, further driving consumer use of chicken-derived eggs into obsolescence. Who would have thought that less than a year ago, we were pouring this liquid gold down the drain? 


The VeganEgg

Maybe 2015 could be characterized as the year of the rise of the vegan egg? Although this is a still-elusive product that many of us have not tried yet (it’s not in most grocery stores as I am writing this), Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg was released in late 2015 and early reports are enthusiastic: This is a product that can be used both in baking and as a scramble with an uncanny similitude in flavor, aroma, texture and appearance to eggs. Not interested in products that remind you of chicken ovum? Great: the VeganEgg is not for you. This is for the many, many people who can reduce or completely eliminate their support of the horrifically exploitative, violent and cruel egg industry because they now have an excellent replacement. Most important, this innovation is for the layer hens and chicks who will potentially not be born into a brief life of pain, suffering and subjugation.


The Save Movement and Anita Krajnc

A longtime activist who co-founded Toronto Pig Save in 2010 and inspired a movement of similar efforts in communities around the world, Anita Krajnc was charged with “criminal mischief” after a transport truck driver became angry with her and her fellow activists for giving water to thirsty and stressed pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse in June, a charge that Anita will go on trial for in August with a potential sentence of six months in jail - reduced from 10 years - and $5,000 in damages (please consider donating to help her with her legal costs). This story has generated international attention because, as Orwellian as it sounds, Anita was accused by the farmer whose pigs were being driven to slaughter of endangering the safety of the pigs. Um, what? As Anita wrote in the Toronto Star, “On a sweltering June day, I offered water to hot and thirsty pigs. Now I’m in court, facing a criminal mischief charge that carries a $5,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.” Once again, the attempt by animal agribusiness interests to silence other voices did a spectacular job of backfiring and drawing the public’s attention to practices that the industry would very much prefer no one to think about. Further, the worldwide attention on this case has put the Toronto Pig Save and other similar Save Movement efforts into the public discourse. These emissaries of compassion are bearing witness to the horrific and needless brutality of animal agribusiness day-in and day-out and are positioning vegan activism where it belongs: firmly in the historical context of social justice movements. 


By CHLOE

Who's ready for a little palate cleanser? This will do the job. A vegan fast-casual concept that seemingly emerged fully formed from an enchanted Instagram board, By CHLOE is the brainchild of the impossibly photogenic Cupcake Wars victor Chloe Coscarelli and Samantha Wasser, her partner at eSquared Hospitality, and it has taken NYC by storm with lines out the door from the first day it opened. With a simple but enticing menu, beautifully plated meals and a gorgeous space that has people instinctively reaching for their smart phones, By CHLOE is all about blending smart branding with great food and it is poised for even more success as the team prepares to expand to two new locations in NYC in 2016. Could total global domination be next? As someone who remembers when vegetarian restaurants were dusty little shacks where an ever-present cloud of patchouli hung low and vegan restaurants weren’t on the radar at all, I find myself very encouraged by the early success of By CHLOE.


The Barnard Medical Center

Opening in Washington, D.C. in early January of 2016, the Barnard Medical Center will be a state-of-the-art non-profit health care center established by Dr. Neal Barnard of PCRM and offering everything from check-ups to treating and reversing diabetes, coronary artery disease and other chronic conditions. With board-certified physicians, RNs and RDs, the Barnard Medical Center will keep its focus on integrating nutrition and medicine and will be incorporating the unique approach of teaching patients important skills that they can practice in their daily lives, like how to cook plant-based foods and how to interpret food labels for optimal wellness. We think that the Barnard Medical Center is the wave of the future of healthcare: prevention before intervention. 

The Return of VegNews Magazine

Full disclosure: I write for VegNews on a freelance basis as a columnist and a features writer and I cannot be unbiased. I think I would be including this even if I did not, though. I am happy to say that there is a plethora of other gorgeous vegan
magazines flourishing today but 2015 was the year that our first, most illustrious glossy mainsteam publication made its return after a couple of years of internal conflict kept it off the shelves. VegNews helped to build the vegan movement up in the late 1990s when we were still a little understood niche community and it is here again today when millions are being invested in vegan companies and our movement is finally on the cultural radar. Well, VegNews played a big role in putting it there. With recipes and news, celebrity interviews and penetrating investigations, VegNews truly has something for everyone and its absence was keenly felt. I join many in being grateful that we have our beautiful magazine back and not a moment too soon.

It was a good 2015. With your help, it will be a better 2016. See you on the other side, friends!

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