Wednesday, March 21, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Matthew Prescott

t-based cookbooks keep getting more and more impressive and one that recently arrived on our doorstep is no exception. Food is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World by Matthew Prescott is an ambitious undertaking, Full of informative chapters on how animal agribusiness harms animals, people and our planet – and plant-based diets help all of the above – Food is the Solution concentrates on persuasive arguments in the first half and great recipes in the second half. All is lushly photographed, well-organized and written for people to absorb in bursts, though it’s hard to resist the temptation to thumb through from start to finish. With accessible recipes for beginners to slightly more experienced home cooks, the dishes span the globe from Sourdough Panzanella (Italy) to Coconut-Lemongrass Curry with Rice Noodles (Thailand), Pistachio and Sunflower Seed Dukkah (Egypt) to Spicy Chocolate Milk Shake with Whipped Coconut Cream (Mexico), relying on flavorful, fresh ingredients but occasionally assisted with some convenience foods like packaged vegan cheese shreds and proteins. In all, it’s a cookbook with a mission: wake people up to the reality of what is happening to our planet and her inhabitants but it’s a lot less doom-and-gloom than that. Mainly, Food is the Solution reminds us that the keys to our future are solidly in our possession and it will not take sacrifice and scarcity to make things right. With the abundance of rich and flavorful plant foods, there has never been an easier time for conscientious people to transition away from supporting animal agribusiness and with Matthew Prescott’s Food is the Solution, it is just that much more within reach. I am honored to feature Matthew as this week’s Vegan Foodie. 

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?

When I was about 10, my father and I built a small garden in our backyard, planting peas and carrots and peppers and squash. That was my first introduction to real food, and I fell in love. From there, I started preparing my own dishes—simple kid foods like microwaved pancakes made in a mug. I took great joy and pride in organizing our spice cabinet. I even once took my mother’s favorite recipe clippings and pasted them into a homemade book made from construction paper and illustrated with crayons—my first cookbook, if you will. On top of that, my family always ate meals together around the table, which really fostered for me a love and appreciation for eating and mealtime.

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 ate what I think was a fairly typical diet as a child. We’d host BBQs and order pizza and have taco night—the usual. We did always have a lot of fresh produce—and barely any junk food—in the house, which in hindsight was pretty atypical for the 1980s, when everyone else seemed obsessed with convenience foods and sugary cereals and such. We’d also have a big salad most nights with whatever else we ate—something I still enjoy today. Growing up in coastal New England, we also ate a lot of seafood, which admittedly hasn’t been easy as a vegan. But that’s changing, with companies like Good Catch Foods and Gardein making met-free fish, and with so many delicious recipes for vegan chowders and other dishes that might normally contain seafood. I like those products quite a bit, and I still really enjoy preparing vegan versions of the things I ate as a kid: grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers and tacos and all the rest. I think the way we eat when we’re young really influences how we eat as adults, even subconsciously, and I was fortunate to have a mostly-healthy (though far-from-vegan) and quite varied eating experience as a kid.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. Whatever that may be. If I’m getting home late, it probably means I have a drink (or three) in me, and I go straight to the fridge for leftovers.

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’d love to make a vegan Reuben sandwich for my (Jewish) grandfather, Ben – my mother’s father. He died when I was very young so I never got a chance to know him. I’d love to sit down and chat over a nice, sloppy Reuben. 

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

I think the mistakes in vegan cooking tend to be the same types of mistakes made in other forms of cooking – using too many ingredients, going too heavy on the spices, making things more complicated than they need to be. I prefer simple, fresh meals that focus on a few choice ingredients to really make the flavors pop.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

As someone who became vegan in the 90s, I’m especially psyched about all the dairy-free milks and cheeses and ice creams out there – made from a variety of ingredients like nuts and oats and so much more. Twenty years ago, we had one brand of ice cream and nearly every milk and cheese was made from soy or rice. Today we can cook with almond milk ricotta and make milkshakes with cashew-based ice creams. We can make heavy cream from nuts and even Parmesan cheese from sunflower seeds. I tend to keep on hand a range of nuts and seeds to turn into these types of ingredients.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

If I’m traveling, Thai – because most cities have Thai restaurants and they all carry tofu, which I love. I could eat Thai food every day for the rest of my life and be happy. I also really love Ethiopian food a lot, and am fortunate enough to live close to two Ethiopian restaurants. (If you’re ever in Austin, go to Habesha and order the “Veggie Dulet” – a vegan version of a classic Ethiopian dish that’s essentially a pile of spiced ground beef and jalapeno peppers.) And if I’m going for comfort, there’s nothing quite like Italian food.

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

From a culinary perspective, I was turned onto meat-free eating by my sister, who came home from middle school one day and proclaimed herself a vegetarian (after learning something about meat production in science class that apparently didn’t sit well). That had a lot of influence on me, because I was then opened-up to many different types of foods I’d have otherwise probably not even thought to try. So I was able to see from an early age that there’s a whole wide world of ingredients and produce and proteins out there, and that by sticking with a meat-and-potatoes diet, I was really limiting myself. From an ethical perspective, probably the first vegan-centric film I saw was the 1977 British documentary, “The Animals’ Film.” I watched that when I was about 16, and it made a huge difference in my evolution as an activist.

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

Food, of course! Food itself is a major social issue, since how we eat impacts so much of the world around us, and ourselves. Food is an extension of what it is to be human, so when we change our diets to better reflect our morals—whether we care about the planet or animals or health or basic principles of kindness—we can really begin to transform the world around us.

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

…delicious and everywhere! J

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Vegan Fat-Shaming: Not Kind. Not Helpful. Not Okay.

Is fatphobia one of the final frontiers where people feel comfortable publicly voicing and exercising their prejudices? Depending on the company one keeps, I wouldn’t go that far. We are a pretty bigoted species. The justifications used for upholding discriminatory attitudes toward people in larger bodies are unique and noteworthy, though. Not many people boast about their racist views, but I have observed many proudly describe the hate and discrimination they direct towards people in larger bodies as nothing less than a public health service. Could veganism actually offer the perfect cover for such bigoted individuals to hide in plain sight? I believe so. First, though, I want to address a word and suggest an imperfect replacement for it.

The word is one I’ve already used. It is fatphobia.

I started out using the word fatphobia because, while it isn’t as common a term as homophobia, it is an established word and it is intuitive: you hear it and are more-or-less able to discern its meaning with its tidy marriage of prefix and suffix. That said, I think it is a sloppy word in the same way that “homophobia” is: excep
t for rare cases, it is not a true phobia but a form of oppression and discrimination. A phobia is an extreme, irrational fear that is outside of one’s control and phobias can be very personally challenging to those who have them, often resulting in severe anxiety and avoidant behaviors that can impede a person’s ability to move about in the world. Discrimination and hate directed at those who are in larger-sized bodies, however, is not really a phobia any more than discrimination and hate towards homosexuals is evidence of an actual phobia: it is a form of bigotry. (There are no doubt real cases of phobia here but they are the exception rather than the norm.) Thus from this point on, I am going to use the word “size-bigot” and its various forms as well as some other terms because to me, they are more accurate and we need to stop making excuses for what is in fact discriminatory behavior, not phobic behavior. Language is powerful.

Size-bigotry is a natural byproduct of diet culture, something we are so steeped in, we usually don’t even notice it. It is the air we breathe and the water we swim in; steeping in it like tea bags, diet culture is what we absorb. Press us and diet culture is what we will express. It is so pervasive, though, we can scarcely see it.

Diet culture is a complicated shape-shifter of a concept and it is aided and abetted by our collective denial about it, but I will try to describe it with the help of the work of Registered Dietitian and intuitive eating counselor
Christy Harrison, whose incredible Food Psych podcast has been an invaluable resource for so many people, myself included. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that aligns slimness with health, value and moral virtue, as well as connects larger bodies with poor health, diminished personal value and moral virtue; diet culture also promotes weight loss and slimness as a necessary means for social elevation and increasing one’s moral status.

Diet culture tells people that we have less value and that we’re lazy, indulgent and gluttonous unless we hew to a certain narrow size range and then - if we are even able to attain it - our worth hinges on this very shallow and fickle factor, often requiring vigilance to maintain, if it is even possible. Diet culture makes us hate and judge ourselves and others; it both magnifies and invisiblizes people in larger bodies. It harshly judges and it swiftly convicts. Diet culture makes us obsessive. It diminishes us. It limits us and distorts our worldview. As Christy Harrison has aptly characterized it, diet culture is a life thief, robbing us of our time, our money, our resources, our relationships, our peace and our happiness.

According to the
National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder - from anorexia to binge-eating, bulimia to compulsive exercise - in their lifetimes, and the best-known environmental contributor to the development of an eating disorder is the sociocultural pressure toward thinness.

Why then would vegans, who seemingly believe in compassionate living, reinforce attitudes and biases that contribute to real-life harm? If they believe that shaming will result in the greater good by creating slimmer, seemingly healthier, bodies, perhaps
research proving that weight-stigma actually results in more eating and less physical activity, presumably the opposite of what size-bigots profess to encourage, should matter but it usually does not. It is proven, though, that weight stigma has negative physiological and psychological health outcomes for people in larger bodies, generates health disparities and, in fact, these attitudes of bias and discrimination encourage detrimental outcomes. The negative health consequences of the stress of living as a part of a stigmatized population is noteworthy in and of itself, but chronic stress and anxiety are actually linked to abdominal weight gain, driven by physiological mechanisms that increase appetite and diminish satiety so, in fact, weight-based discrimination can actually exacerbate the factors that lead to stigma. In other words, you cannot shame someone into weight loss because it simply doesn’t work and, there is a lot of research proving, in fact, that this kind of prejudice actually encourages the opposite to happen.

What I am interested in understanding is why ethical vegans would compound the stress and suffering of another. Why compassionate people would marginalize and discriminate. Why those who reject the status quo in so many ways would be content to reinforce it here. Why people driven to take action against injustice would knowingly behave in ways that contribute to it.

Well, I’ve been paying attention long enough to know the rationales. Here are some…

I care about kindness to animals and if you are fat, you are doing harm to yourself. After all, you are an animal, too. This is why I speak up.

This one. Oh, this one.

How about this? How about not being so condescending, ignorant and presumptuous about the “right” size for someone else, the factors that contribute to that person’s weight and the notion that you have any right to assume one’s health (and presumed worth) by your visual scan or that your judgements are welcomed. You are not a compassionate person. You are a condescending, intrusive bigot. Go away.

But it’s because I care and I want to help!

If you knew that reinforcing stigma actually resulted in worse health outcomes, would that change your behavior? Because it does, in more than one way. Take the fear of seeing a weight-stigmatizing physician alone as just one example. It’s not an unjustified paranoia that causes people with larger bodies to feel mistreated by their physicians: Research has shown that doctors
reported that seeing patients was “a greater waste of their time the heavier that they were, that physicians would like their jobs less as their patients increased in size, that heavier patients were viewed to be more annoying, and that physicians felt less patience the heavier the patient was.” Many people in larger bodies avoid seeing their doctors as a result of the stress of this stigma being directed at them; can you imagine the consequences of not getting adequate checkups and office visits? Do you see how fear of weight-stigma could actually lead to someone’s avoidable death in a way that has everything to do with the bigotry that diet culture promotes? (If you are looking for a healthcare provider who is committed to not discriminating, please check out this resource.)

There are starving people in the world! Fat people eat more than their share.

Okay. This is wholly irrational.

Food insecurity is caused by a complex, interconnected web of factors but the underlying issues are usually poverty and political inequality as well as other factors, like climate change and poor food distribution. This is not to minimize the role that consuming flesh and animal products has on world hunger - as noted, climate change and poor distribution, like redirecting grains to feed the animals people in turn eat rather than grains themselves, resulting in a great inefficiency, are drivers of food insecurity - but it’s not because “fat” people are being so damn greedy and gluttonous. It’s not as if all the food in the world is represented by a large pizza and the fat people eat six of the eight slices, leaving the poor just two pieces. That is not how how food disparity and hunger works, at all. Do not use the hungry of the world as a justification for your meanness. Educate yourself and develop some compassion.

I lost 100 pounds. Weight loss is a matter of discipline and not sitting on your ass, stuffing your face with junk food and being whiner. I can say this with authority because I used to sit on my ass, stuffing my face with junk food and being a whiner.

Okay. Okay. Okay.

I will ignore the growing amount of research now showing that different bodies do indeed respond to calories in different ways. (Well, I will ignore it but for posting a
link you can follow on to do some more research on your own.)

To the person who says this, well, good for you if weight loss was a goal you sought and accomplished.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what to
say except to ask what part of “someone else’s body is not your business” do you not understand? It is not your business. Unless you are this person’s physician and you have talked together about weight loss strategies, someone else’s body is SO MUCH not your business it’s not even funny. I know you think people in larger bodies are lying around, withhold the world’s seemingly finite pizza supply from the hungry and then whining about being fat, but that is really not the case. How hard is it to stay in your own lane? Again, shaming and stigma do not help anyone so don’t even try to pull that nonsense.

You are a bad example to the public if you are a vegan in a larger body.

You know who’s a really bad example? Vegans who are self-righteous, self-absorbed, shallow, bigoted, nosy assholes. You are a really bad example to the public. You need to stop. This is your intervention.

We are in the midst of a reckoning that’s exposed the long-accepted culture of sexual harassment and gender bias in the animal advocacy movement, a reckoning that points out not only how pervasive the culture has been but also how many talented women have left organizations due to the injustices they faced as women. I would venture a guess that many more talented, dedicated people have silenced their voices and limited their outreach for the animals fearing that they would be called “fat” or “bad examples” by those who are entrenched in shaming diet culture. It cannot be overstated how profound this loss of talent and dedication is for the animals, who desperately need all hands on deck.

There is so much to say on this topic but this is already so long. You catch my drift. Stop being a size-bigot. It isn’t just. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t intersectional. And it most certainly is not compassionate.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Frances Gonzalez

I will admit, I am not much of a wine connoisseur (I’m more of a chocolate fiend, I guess), but I do know many enthusiasts and I know that wine production can be, as with many industries, full of hidden and unsavory ingredients and practices, another example of how widespread cruelty to animals is, even when it’s not obvious to the eye. Egg albumin, isinglass (AKA fish bladders), gelatin and casein are just some of the animal sourced-components of wine production that don’t need to be disclosed on labels. What is a compassionate
oenophile to do?

The good news is today’s wine lover doesn’t need to choose between a lovely vintage and a kinder world, thanks to the work of
Frances Gonzalez, founder of Vegan Wines and the newly-launched Vegan Wine of the Month Club, the first of its kind in the United States. A longtime vegan and animal rescuer, Frances has made it her mission to source boutique wines that are not only free of cruel ingredients in the filtration process but using grapes grown without with the use of animal blood, feathers and bones in soil cultivation. Members of the club get three bottles shipped to them every two months, family-owned and uncommon wines chosen by Frances after she has visited the wineries and confirmed their growing methods, production, and, of course, fallen in love with the final product. The wine also arrives with a story about each winemaker, creating a real vine-to-glass experience, along with original vegan recipes to complement each bottle. Members of the club also get early access – or even exclusive access - to wine and food events hosted by Vegan Wines and their partner organizations. This almost makes me want to start drinking. (In a good way!) Please follow Vegan Wines on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter and contact Frances with more questions. I am honored that vineyard trailblazer Frances Gonzalez is this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

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?
As a small child going to visit my grandmother in Puerto Rico for the summers, I already had this connection that chickens were our animals and not our food. The chickens I would want to befriend were the same chickens that were placed on our plates as dinner. I remember not wanting to eat those chicken dishes. My family would say I was a “picky eater,” but deep down I now know that this was the start to my future of becoming a vegan.
Then in my twenties I dated a guy who was vegan – a Morning Star brand eater. He got me to watch this gruesome video about what happens to animals for the purpose of our so-called food chain. That was when I really saw all animals in a different way. I decided that day I was going to change my way of eating.
Whenever I contemplated not eating meat again, it wasn’t like I had this sudden clarity. There was no flash of “Oh, now I know what I’ll do!” in my brain. It was more like, “Okay Frances, how can we do this? First, let’s stop eating red meat, then we’ll work on the chicken.” (I wasn’t a fan of seafood, so no biggie there.)
But even when I had a little piece of chicken on my plate, I just couldn’t do it. I never ate meat again.
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?
Well, I would never want to change the way I was shown that gruesome video. I saw that day how animals are abused and tortured for games, amusement, and to become our food.
I feel truth is strongest influence, and passive ways would have given me excuses to delay being vegan, so I am happy about the way I was taken into light, shown the truth. I just wish it had happened sooner.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
I became a vegan for animal rights. When I moved to Puerto Rico I became an animal rescuer. To help these animals, I used so many “before and after” images of ugly street dogs blooming into beauty with love and care. I feel my love and passion for these dogs and cats helped people who love and care for me understand the way I saw all living beings, including the humans in my life. It helped them understand the reasons I became vegan, that it wasn’t just some diet.
In time my loved ones respected my decisions. That in turn made me aware that passion is the best way for me to be the voice to send a message on veganism.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Media has brought so much truth into light. It has given us the opportunity to be the voice for the voiceless.
Even people who become plant-based for health reasons is still a strength in our movement, because it's a start, and still means that they still play some part rather than nothing. There are so many reasons why people start, and our mission is to help them through their journey so we all meet as one for the voiceless at the end of the path.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Big corporate companies keep trying to hinder progress by putting out false information that we need keep consuming animals for our health, like proteins, B12, calcium. We need to remember they spend so much money to convince people about these lies!
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Please come with me to visit an animal sanctuary to meet all the wonderful and loving animals that will make you see things differently. Then let's go eat at one of the awesome vegan restaurants, and taste the art in vegan cooking. After, we will go see the movie “What the Health.” At the end I will be ready to answer all your questions yet I think you will completely understand the why and most likely agree!
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?
My favorite book is Where The Blind Horse Sings by Kathy Stevens. I am Buddy’s sponsor and love him so much!
“The Last Pig” is my favorite film and “What The Health” has been the most effective with new vegans I have met. My continuing evolution includes animal sanctuaries, because you keep meeting the animals who are safe because of love.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Wine, of course! Wine is my main way to unwind. I have not eaten meat in over 20 years so to be honest there is no physical burn-out for me. I love wine, but when I learned that egg whites are used in the fining or filtration process, I would have stopped drinking it. That trip went from being just a vacation in wine country to research. I wasn’t the only one who had no idea that wines weren’t naturally vegan, most people think it’s just made using grapes and nothing else.
I will also say travel, especially since I travel with a purpose. I personally visit each vineyard and speak to the winemakers to see and learn about their production, their ecosystem, their soil, their climate. To do this in a way that serves animals, and promotes veganism…I feel very lucky.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Dogs and cats! I have rescued over 50 dogs and 10 cats by myself when no one would help me. My parents live in a small town in Puerto Rico called Coamo where there was nobody to help these street animals. But now, there is one woman, Rose Robles, who came to live in Coamo after I moved back to the states. Imagine my joy when I finally met someone that loved these animals as much as I did. However, we still have dogs dying every day in this small town, because as many as she saves, there is only so much she and I can do.
These dogs are so loving and I would love to share all the hard work that Rose from Misfits Pet Orphanage does, not just to save them from death and find them homes, but to raise awareness. She is also the only one I know of who seeks adopters on the island, so if anything goes wrong and the adopter wants to give the dog back, they can bring the dog back to her.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
My way of life forever!