Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ten, nine, eight...!

I think it's time to give up the ghost and admit that I'm not going to get any vegan feminist agitating done this week - at least on this little corner of the internet - as my son is home on winter break and his calendar doesn't seem to have "blocks of time for mom to write" penciled in there. I'm afraid that our packed schedule of building spaceships, imagining life on other planets, tromping through museums and squeezing our bodies onto packed L trains leaves time for little else.

I will be back with a vengeance after January 1. Until then, have a happy, safe and warm New Year, and I look forward to hatching many big plans in 2010. I look forward to conspiring together!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An alphabet for disgruntled but ever-hopeful vegan activists…

This is a cynical alphabet (with little bits of hope tossed in) because sometimes it just sucks to be a vegan in an omnivorous world. You are frequently misunderstood and are often the token herbivore in mixed company. People make a sport of trying to find your inconsistencies, and if they can’t find any, you are accused of being “too perfect” and self-righteous. You go to the company holiday party and once again, you’ve got to poke around a boiled vegetable plate and look cheerfully oblivious while the others look at you in condescending sympathy. This alphabet is for those days, when nothing seems to go right, you just got word that your all-time favorite vegan restaurant is closing, the dull-eyed guy behind the counter can’t tell you what’s in the three grain salad and Ringling Brothers is coming to town. You know, that sort of day.

Most of the time, you are cheerful and pleasant and welcome any challenges with the enthusiasm of a bounding Labrador, but there are days when you’re just not up for it and you want to barricade yourself in your home with all your awesome vegan friends who understand you, a well-stocked kitchen and a bunch of great cookbooks. It will pass. Until it passes, though, this alphabet is for you.

A is for All the times you’ve been asked if you get enough protein or if your shoes are leather or if you can “just eat around it.”

B is for Being patient despite wanting to scream sometimes.

C is for Carrots and Celery and Cabbage, the components of a nourishing soup that will provide the warmth you need after a long day of handing out Why Vegans.

D is for “Duh, no, my shoes aren’t leather.”

E is for Excellent, as in your blood pressure, at least, is excellent.

F is for Faster-than-the-speed-of-light, which is the velocity at which the best vegan comestibles disappear at the monthly potluck.

G is for Garbanzo beans because you have eaten your weight in hummus several times over.

H is for Holidays and the wool gloves your mother buys you every year that you have to exchange.

I is for Insomnia, the secret weapon of the super-productive.

J is for Jackass, something you mutter under your breath when you have just had it.

K is for Koalas, because they’re darn cute and sometimes you just need to see a picture of one chewing on a eucalyptus leaf to feel better. K is also for Kucinich for pretty much the same reasons.

L is for “La la la la! I can’t hear you!” which is what people may as well just come out and say sometimes.

M is for Meat Is Murder, the song that first lit a spark.

N is for “Nah-Nope-No,” which is what you say when asked if you ever miss cheese, eggs or meat.

O is for "Oh my god, I can’t believe I used to eat that."

P is for Pasta, the vegan’s saving grace when traveling or dining out with omnivores.

Q is for Quit, which you'll never do, despite the occasional bad day.

R is for Rejoicing, which you do at the littlest victories: When you find a new café with vegan pancakes, when you see a car with an anti-fur bumper sticker, when you find stylish, leather-free shoes and they’re not too expensive, either.

S is for Strident, at which your natural resting pulse is set and it is also for Skimming menus, which you could win an Olympic medal at, you are so nimble.

T is for Tofu, because it is common knowledge that you have it delivered by the semi-truckload weekly.

U is for Unfortunate example, which you probably were that first year or two, let’s be honest. We all were.

V is for Vegan, what more can we say?

W is for Wanker, the British version of a Jackass.

X is for Xerox, which you blinded your corneas with when creating your first ‘zine.

Y is for Yelp, the disgruntled vegan’s playground.

Z is for ZZZZ, the sound you make while you are off dreaming of the ultimate snappy comeback to that kid or co-worker or cousin who makes stupid little comments about what you eat every damn time you see him like it’s original or something.

Anyone have more words to add?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bacon-loving hipsters can kiss my vegan ass!

First, a quiz.

1. Do you have a strip of bacon, another pork product, or organ meat rendered on your body in tattoo ink?

2. Do you find yourself debating which adorably anthropomorphized bacon crochet figure to buy at the local DIY craft fair? Or should you buy the bacon toddler shirt for your niece? Or, oh my god, did you see those bacon wristbands!?

3. Do you spend at least twenty percent of your time bonding and debating with your fellow bacon lovers on “foodie” message boards regarding the most obscure cuts of animal parts (extra points if they’re considered an ethnic delicacy in a faraway culture and hard-core in our own) and finding off-the-beaten-path and hard-to-pronounce restaurants in which to indulge in your consumption of the cured and salted meats?

4. Is the Small Pig Farmer a mystical being to you, in possession of an enigmatic grace, preternatural patience and a transcendental inner-peace? Does he seem to walk and talk slowly but purposefully, surrounded by an ever-present halo?

5. Finally, have you ever had a foggy but still erotic dream featuring Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan even if you don’t favor men in this way? Similarly, do you feel something similar to an erotic charge when you hear of a new heritage breed of pig, chicken, turkey or cow you can consume even if you don’t favor food animals in this way?

Now, give yourself one point for each time you answered in the affirmative.

One point: You are on your way but clearly must bump the effort up a notch. Have you been to a charcuterie lately? Maybe you should get a pig cut chart poster for your kitchen.

Two points: Get that shoulder tattooed with a slab of bacon already, my friend! You are rapidly ascending the ladder to becoming a meat fetishist.

Three points: No average, run-of-the-mill hipster affectations for you, dear one. When you embrace an alternative fad, you squeeze the ever-loving life out of it and pee on it to make it your own. Go, Bacon-Loving Hipster, go!

Four points: Anthony Bourdain on Tivo? Check. Fresh organ meat moldering in your fridge? Check. Recently dashed off a blistering or fawning review of the local “underground” (meaning, actually, trendy, exclusive and overpriced) meat emporium on Yelp? Check. You, daring hipster, are nearly there. You are essentially one sardonically purchased bacon-themed craft away.

Five points: Your body is a shrine to bacon, inside and out. All other Bacon-Loving Hipsters tremble in your presence. You are cured, salted and fried. My friend, you have become the living embodiment of bacon (without the suffering),

In truth, though, if you answered in the affirmative to more than one of these questions, then you may very well already be a Bacon-Loving Hipster. And if so, you can kiss my vegan ass.

Bacon-Loving Hipsters will whiningly insist that they tried to be vegetarian - oh, how they tried! - and even may have had a vegan significant other in the past but a life without strips of salted pig flesh simply wasn’t worth living. They may have even gone on what might be thought of as a considerable sabbatical from bacon (six months? A year?) but when they finally gave in and welcomed it back into their lives it was a revelation! The floodgates opened and previously scorned meat products – Veal! Sweetbreads! Beef tongue! – flooded in like so much backwash. The Bacon-Loving Hipster understands the arguments against eating animals but rejects them because, well, because bacon tastes good. No matter how many times they repeat this, it never stops being funny. To them.

Bacon-Loving Hipsters are in the greatest representation demographically as urban, heterosexual and Caucasian males and females from 25 – 37 years of age or so. Bacon-Loving Hipsters with artistic natures frequently try to finesse their pro-bacon stance as being ironic in spirit but, when pressed, they cannot articulate how this is an ironic statement. A smirking “Because bacon tastes good!” becomes their default response to everything in life, whether it’s related to bacon or not.

Bacon-Loving Hipsters never met a progressive petition they wouldn’t sign unless it could result in them having access to less bacon. By and large, they are anti-war, opposed to homophobic views, profess to be of the feminist persuasion, against racism, global warming and so on. When it comes to supporting needless cruelties against animals, however, the line is drawn in the sand, and that line is made out of bacon. Bacon-Loving Hipsters will support most progressive causes, except for those that actually require them to challenge some of their most cherished and self-absorbed habits.

What Bacon-Loving Hipsters are not: They are not actually from rural areas, and though they romanticize the country life, they cannot actually thrive without the comforts of city living (good coffee, grungy-ironic redneck bars where they can drink PBR and won’t get their asses kicked by actual rednecks, used bookstores with a snotty, perpetual grad school staff) in close proximity. Bacon-Loving Hipsters may actually go to the farm where their shrouded-in-the-gauze-of-idealization farmer keeps his pigs, may actually see or participate in the slaughtering process, may wax rhapsodic on how deeply fulfilling this was and how incredibly satisfying it was to eat this clearly superior soft tissue with a religious fervor once associated with, well, religion. They will not, however, give up their urban lives so they remain here to torment us with their meat-fetishizing ways and hipster habits.

What Bacon-Loving Hipsters are: They are often the same kids who were popular in high school, suddenly punk in college and embracing appropriate “below the radar” hipster culture ever-after. They think stripping is liberating (as long as it’s women – preferably those with plentiful body-mods - shedding clothes, otherwise it’s Chippendales-y, which is tacky and gross), opposed to gentrification even though they will only live in neighborhoods where it is afoot and think that chocolate-covered bacon is God in edible form. Well, they would think this if they weren’t atheists.

Rise against! Bacon-Loving Hipsters are in opposition to everything that is good and truly rejecting the status quo. What should we do? It’s actually easier than it might seem. Here’s the strategy I recommend: Bacon-Loving Hipsters love to feel that they are part of a marginalized, truly transgressive subculture. What is the worst insult to a Bacon-Loving Hipster? To imply that his tastes are acceptable to a mainstream, white-bread populace. Puncture the hipster where it hurts thusly: when you see a Bacon-Loving Hipster – and they will all furiously deny being hipsters so don’t ever take their word for it – tell them in your best suburban-y, cheerleader voice how awesome you think bacon is, and how you can’t wait to get a pig’s anatomical chart just like they have tattooed on your ass, just after you get back from seeing that new Sandra Bullock movie but before you go to Ikea. This will undoubtedly cause the Bacon-Loving Hipster a serious bout of agonizing self-consciousness and perhaps even cause said hipster to abandon his or her bacon preoccupation and adopt something else as a new talisman of rebellion, ideally something not made of a sentient being.

This is how we do it, people. The Bacon-Loving Hipster must be stopped before yet another bacon-themed t-shirt is purchased. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, my darlings. Let’s get busy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cultivating the inner-Jew...

I have always thought that being of Jewish heritage was the first way in which I felt different from the inside out. I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, a place not exactly without members of the tribe, but WASPs definitely created the dominant social order of the North Shore in the 1970s and 80s, and until Dr. Levin’s family moved in across the street when I was ten or so, we were the lone Jews on our block. We were just different and probably most of our differences had little to do with religion or even culture but I think that some did. Maybe this sense of alienation was rooted in an internalized anti-Semitism, but it has always just felt like Christians, no matter their race or nationality, simply had a different genetic code than us and that this filtered down into everything: how we looked, how we viewed the world, how we communicated, how we were. Even as a very young child, I felt like an outsider looking in, truly, like I was standing outside with my nose pressed up against the window as I observed a Protestant family in their comfortable home where nothing unhappy or worrisome ever happened. Clearly, I idealized the non-Jewish experience, reducing its vastness and variance to a singular charmed life of security and contentment. This was a child’s perspective, where almost everything is seen from a self-centered vantage point and with not much nuance. Jews did, though, just seem to have a totally different orientation and I still feel the same way.

Thinking back, I’m not sure when those terrifying words “The Holocaust” entered my awareness, but they have always chilled me to the bone. My family was not religious in the slightest but we did have a silver menorah in the living room – the kind intended for real candles that we kept until my mother got tired of the messy wax and went electric – and that menorah was the cause of a lot of anxiety in my life.

It seemed to me even as a young child that with not much difficulty, the Nazis could rise to power in the United States. Why not? Was Germany that uniquely suited for Nazis to grab a foothold? Was this country that uniquely unsuited? With just a few conditions and circumstances over time, the stage could be set for such a horrifying fog to roll in. So I became fixated on our menorah and I really wished it weren’t there in plain view. In my mind’s eye, I saw Nazis in their terrifying uniforms and ramrod spines at our front door, demanding in cold, flat voices that our house be inspected. I thought that if I didn’t have much time, I would shove the menorah under the couch; if I had the benefit of a minute or two, I would hide it in a pillowcase and put it in the dryer under a mound of clothes. Once I figured out what I would do with the menorah if the Nazis came to our door, I relaxed a little. Then I could focus on how long my family of four could hide in our crawl space without detection. (Answer: I hid two boxes of Pop-Tarts, sodas and extra clothes in there.)

This awareness of our ultimate vulnerability – and everyone is vulnerable to tyranny, I know this, but to my young mind, it was just the Jews and African Americans – was probably instrumental in my identification with non-human animals. I disagree with those who say that the Holocaust is synonymous with what food animals endure not because I find it offensive but because these are unique horrors, specific to that particular and individual experience. This doesn’t stop me from seeing unavoidable parallels, though: Jews were seen as disposable; food animals are utterly disposable, deposited in our stomachs and finally excreted. Self-serving, irrational and unexamined beliefs were used to justify unconscionable cruelty against the Jews; clearly, a similar mentality is at work when humans feel that other animals are here for our use alone. For any of this to work, Jews would have to be seen as what eco-feminist author and scholar Carol J. Adams termed as an Other; animals in food production are the ultimate Other. The process through which another being is objectified, exploited, abused and killed would have to be reinforced at an institutional and cultural level, be viewed as necessary for society to function, and also be chillingly normalized. This was true of the Jews in the 1930s and 40s: it is also how the food animal industry functions and creates disconnection among those who consume the product of it. It was not a stretch at all for me to extrapolate how I felt being born of Jewish descent – and being fortunate enough due to circumstances outside of my control to be safe - and see parallels with those who happened to be born of oppressed species, who do not share my very fortunate circumstances.

So now Hanukkah is upon us and with it, the miracle of the one-day supply of oil that burned for eight days. The word Hanukkah means “to dedicate” in Hebrew. In this case, the word is referring to the rededication of the Holy Temple after religious oppression, the unfathomable victory of the outnumbered Maccabees over the Syrian army after a three-year battle and the defilement of the holiest synagogue. Historically, Jews pride themselves on standing up to oppressors, speaking up for the underdogs and not caving to social pressures to get in line and reinforce the status quo. Veganism is perfectly consistent with this. And though the verb “to dedicate” refers to a different meaning here, I can’t help but see how appropriate this is again: vegans are dedicated to living compassionate, mindful lives despite outside pressures and our society’s emphasis on living convenient, conventional lives. This is not to say that vegans are perfect at all (I for one am deeply flawed) but that we tend to be guided by a different compass. When I became vegan, I didn’t mind feeling different from other people – this never factored in even slightly – because I had already always felt different. And this is where being Jewish and valuing a different sort of dedication helped me along the way. I think that cultivating this inner-Jew in all of us – the outsider by circumstance and choice, the person who knows her own vulnerability and deeply cherishes her freedom – has the potential to make us all more compassionate, ethically consistent and loving people.

So this year I’ll be making latkes, vegan as always, grated on my grandmother’s old-fashioned grater, and I’ll chop onions, cry little tears (involuntarily and joyously, purposefully) and I’ll heat the oil in the ancient cast iron skillet I bought for $10 at the resale shop back in college. When the oil is hot, spoonfuls of latke batter will be dropped in with a satisfying hiss and I’ll stand close by with my spatula, ready to turn, thinking to myself how much I love being different and how much I adore all my wonderfully different loved ones, those of us driven by our unique dedication. We are so incredibly fortunate to be living in a time and a place where we can safely give expression to that dedication.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone. May everyone – Jews and non-Jews, humans and non-humans – enjoy wonderful and meaningful live of our own design.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Activists of the Year acceptance speech...

On Friday, John and I were deeply honored to receive Mercy For Animal's activists of the year award. To receive such an honor from an organization I so very much respect was both humbling and incredibly uplifting. To be able to share this night (and honor) with so many compassionate, beautiful people...well, words fail. It was one of those nights that I'll never forget and I was just floating on the love and good vibes all night. Here was the speech I gave (John was generous enough to let me commandeer the microphone) and, as usual, there's so much more to say than time ever allows. I am so grateful to my community of humane, principled and passionate people. There is so much work to be done and I am honored to be doing it shoulder-to-shoulder with such shining examples of humanity.

When I was a young child, as is probably the case I’m sure with so many people in the room, I couldn’t stop asking my parents for a dog. I think that was my first sentence and it soon became one big run-on sentence from about the age of three on: “Can I have a dog, can I have a dog, can I have a dog…?” I was always very clear that I didn’t want a baby brother or sister: I wanted a dog. As I grew up, first there was Duffy, the beagle, then Buffy, the cocker spaniel: I was really in my “-uffy” stage. I loved my dogs and as I grew up, and, unaware even as it was happening, I was morphing into an herbivore. My sophomore year of high school, I was signing up for a school ski trip and out of nowhere, I checked a box on the form requesting vegetarian meals. I had never thought of it before: I just saw that word with the box next to it and I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s what I want to be. Of course!” I checked the box and I never looked back.

Not surprisingly, this was around the same time I opted out of dissection in my high school biology class. I had no great epiphany: it was just that at fifteen, I started to realize that animals weren’t ours to use as we saw fit.

Maybe it was because I was raised with an awareness of the Holocaust, knowing that so many of my extended family was wiped out in Europe simply because of crazy beliefs, and just as the genocide against the Jewish people made no sense to me, the same was true of misogyny and discrimination against people of color. That same seed of disconnection also germinates our belief that because we can do something, that gives us the right to do it. It only makes sense in an integrated worldview that non-human animals are part of the circle of compassion, and that this is a social justice movement as worthy as any other and perhaps more so because of the numbers and the profound degree of suffering. Using our voices to stand up for animals is deeply worthy of our time and dedication.

John and I are always trying to create something where we see a need. And with creating Chicago VeganMania, we were responding to our city’s need to have its own, unique vegan culture celebration. Our vision was always that we would be defined from within, by the abundant creativity, compassion and progressive, independent spirit woven throughout the Chicago vegan community. Too often, the vegan world is defined and thus viewed by what we don’t do. It’s important that people understand these things, of course, but framing it as such defines veganism by a “lack,” by our opposition to the status quo. We need to own our message and that’s what Chicago Vegan Mania was about. Our dream was always to celebrate and showcase this wonderful community as we are to the rest of Chicago and it was deeply gratifying for all of us to see that vision manifest: not only were there long lines out the door that whole chilly day in October, but people were smiling, they were talking and listening, they were engaged. Our local vegan community put on a great show, truly reflecting the diversity and vitality within. What a trickle-down effect an event like this can have on people’s perceptions.

We want to thank the whole Chicago VeganMania team who made this fanciful dream a reality: Chris Capozziello, Karen Maylone, Jessica Harding, Josh Alper, Meagen and Lauren Hugel, Marci Rubin, Mikael Nielsen, Leanne Hilgart, Paz St. John and Blythe Lopez. It was a pleasure to work with such ego-less, talented and dedicated people. And thank you to all the incredible volunteers who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the day a success. And thank you to everyone who promoted this event, who trusted us when we told them that we had this crazy idea for something we wanted to call Chicago VeganMania and who believed us when we said that it was going to have a huge draw. Thank you to my dear friends in the Chicago Vegan Family Network for raising the next generation of compassionate children. Thanks to my son Justice, for letting us schlep him to meeting after meeting. Last, thank you to everyone in this room tonight, to the tremendous Mercy for Animals, for helping to create the sort of world we want to live in, one filled with courage and kindness and critical thinking and integrity and passion.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fifth Taste (or Confessions of a Savory Lady)...

I think that I’m not unique in the fact that I have had some mighty food obsessions in my lifetime. I don’t mean the sort of psychologically damaging ones – though I think I’ve had my share of those, too – but rather the kind where you can’t stop thinking about how much you love a certain food, about tweaking it with ingredients or preparation or simply obsessing over when you’ll eat it next. Even though it could only loosely be characterized as food, it is clear that I had an intense Frosted Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tart obsession when that was my breakfast nearly every day of fifth grade. (Warning: many of my food obsessions of my youth were non-vegan and questionable in quality.) Every morning, I dropped my Pop-Tart in the toaster, grabbed a plate and, after the bell dinged - the sound of angels trumpeting! - I would dreamily bite into it, reassured each time by its predictability and the way, after a bite or two, the toasted top split like the earth’s crust over the weirdly perfect filling. Occasionally I would have a dalliance within the Kellogg’s family of products with Brown Sugar Cinnamon or even Frosted Raspberry, but they were just brief flings. That year of fifth grade, my heart belonged to the Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tart. Another year, probably sixth or seventh grade, my breakfast every morning was untoasted bread spread thick with peanut butter. An open-faced affair, the peanut butter and bread had the illusion of being healthier than it really was, considering that it was made with Jiff and squishy white bread.

I had probably set the wheels in motion for my food obsessions as a small child with my daily Cream of Wheat (a pat of butter melted into it and swirled around in a big circle like a moat) and then there was my five-year-old lunchtime obsession: what my brother and I called “o-soup” for the can of round noodles bobbing in the salty, yellow broth like mini-life preserves. Various obsessions also included my mother’s blueberry pancakes made from Jiffy muffin mix with the wholly man-made “blueberries” and, mmm, lard-y goodness; bowls of vanilla ice cream mixed vigorously but patiently with a spoon until it was that perfect milky-creamy texture; my grandmother’s latkes with the crispy exterior protecting the meltingly soft interior. There was the granola bar every day freshman year of high school for lunch and the daily egg salad sandwiches (I gag to think about it now) my senior year. Oh, let’s not even talk about the summer of the Fudgsicle. Years after my Pop-Tart obsession, when I had my first apartment as a junior in college and viewed that area near the living room (the room with the oven and refrigerator in it) with suspicion, I discovered that stuffing from a box was not only fool-proof to make but something I could happily eat nearly every night. I would buy multiple boxes week, causing me to be labeled The Stuffing Girl by the cheerful cashier at Kroger’s, and causing my roommate, who already considered some of my habits to be rather odd, to raise an eyebrow of judgment at me every evening. No matter: I had my fix.

This all leads me to my most recent obsession, Brussels sprouts. And umami. Umami has been identified as the fifth taste (along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter) and was discovered by the Japanese scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 when he extracted glutamate, an amino acid, from the sea vegetable kombu in order to understand its compelling flavor better. It turned out that many foods with that specific savory flavor (also considered yeasty, salty and broth-y) share that same amino acid and umami quality. Umami adds a subtle savory complexity to a dish and works more at rounding out flavors than standing out on its own but it is an important factor in creating a satisfying dish and meal.

The problem with umami is that it’s most often found in meat, seafood and cheese. It is also found in plant foods, most specifically mushrooms, seaweed and tomatoes, but it is most strongly associated with the savory and salty flavors found in animal products. With my current food obsession, which I’ll get to any minute now, I promise, I realized that it is the umami that has caused me to make this specific dish three times in the last week, and has me anxiously awaiting the next time. Though my early food obsessions revolved around sweet foods, these days I am decidedly a savory lady. Believe me, I will not be turning down a vegan brownie any time soon, but, really, when it all comes down to it, I have been in hot pursuit of umami most of my adult life, chasing after that elusive fifth taste in most of my kitchen experiments and grown up food obsessions.

Thinking about this dish and the sense of genuine umami pleasure it evokes deep inside me has made me wonder if perhaps some of the people who say they “couldn’t” be vegan because they were unsatisfied or missed meat/cheese/fill-in-the-blank too much were really craving more umami in their lives. For most of us who make the commitment to living as vegans, knowing what we know is enough. There are those, though, for whom the transition to be very difficult. It was easy for me, but maybe part of that was that I enjoy cooking and have been unconsciously creating more umami in my life since I first started improvising in the kitchen. Perhaps when people tell us that they made a genuine effort to be vegan but “lacked the willpower “ (something I hear a lot) or “missed cheese too much,” (something I hear even more) we need to help them figure out ways to bring more umami savoriness into their lives. I really don’t think mock-meats are the answer, and I especially don’t think faux cheeses are either, though they can be great transitional items for people, and any time people are consuming fewer animal products, it’s beneficial. I will recommend umami-rich plant sources next time this topic comes up.

Some plant foods that contain the savory umami flavor and enhance it are the following: miso, nutritional yeast, tamari or soy sauce, mushrooms (especially shiitake), tomatoes, sea vegetables (such as kombu), seaweeds, olives, soybeans, vegan Worcestershire sauce, Vegemite and Korean black bean sauce and liquid smoke. These are almost all complements to a dish rather than the main components so many are good to add to foods to heighten the umami effect. For example, using black bean sauce and tamari in a vegetarian stir-fry would help to create a meal that satisfies umami cravings, as does adding just a touch of liquid smoke in homemade hummus – the effect is so utterly delicious to us savory seekers, it’s hard to believe it’s such a simple little addition.

This all leads me to Brussels Sprouts Sliders. I originally saw the idea for it in a Mark (The Minimalist) Bittman New York Times column with quick food ideas for Thanksgiving. He listed 101 such ideas and this was the only one that grabbed me, but it really grabbed me and made me hop on my bicycle and pedal to the grocery store as soon as I could to get what I needed. I’ve adapted it slightly and excluded the meat.

Brussels Sprouts Sliders

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

About twenty large Brussels sprouts, rinsed, trimmed and halved 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 – 2 Tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper to taste

In a baking pan lined with parchment paper, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast for about 12 minutes, then stir and roast about seven minutes more. The Brussels sprouts should be soft but not mushy.

Meanwhile, caramelize yourself some onions…

2 sweet or yellow onions, cut into thin half-moons
3 Tablespoons olive oil


Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, heat for a minute, then add the onions and a sprinkling of salt. Stir frequently, making sure to stir from the bottom of the pan up, to dislodge any sticking onions. They will begin to yellow and shrink in volume, as they darken from yellow to more of a caramel color, lower the heat. Keep cooking until they are at the desired state. This usually takes about twenty minutes and they should be very brown – though not burnt – and sweet when you’re finished cooking them.

Whole grain mustard

Let the onions and the Brussels sprouts cool. When easy to handle, take one half of a Brussels sprout “bun,” smear it with a little mustard, and add a small heap of caramelized onions. Put another Brussels sprout half on top and secure it all with a toothpick. Keep going until all Brussels sprouts are gone. Keep warm in an oven at 250 degrees until serving.

Note: the original recipe suggested bacon or ham in addition to the onions and mustard, which is easy to replicate as a vegan. Smoky tempeh or vegan deli slices would work well, though I like the Brussels sprouts as I described and don’t feel that they are missing anything.

Enjoy yourself on your quest for umami! Please remember that I am a home cook, not a food scientist or a trained chef so this is largely just intuitive. Experiment in the kitchen to find what works for you in satisfying your food obsessions.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip # 30

Adopting a vegan diet is the single best way you can reduce your ecological footprint and make a stand against cruelty to animals. Focusing on locally grown, seasonal and whole plant foods further boosts your health and environmental stewardship. Find a community (virtual or otherwise), get some cookbooks and set some goals for yourself. A vegan diet is imminently do-able!

Vegan World Month Tip #29

I was a vegetarian for many years before I made the commitment to living as a vegan. My transition was prompted by seeing a documentary about the reality of animal agriculture. I could no longer hide from the truth any more. Such documentaries aren't for the faint-of-heart, but if you want to kickstart a more informed, compassionate lifestyle, I recommend them for that reason alone. (I posted this yesterday on my Facebook but forgot to re-post here. Sorry!)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

World Vegan Month Tip #28

Many cleaning supplies are not only toxic but tested on laboratory animals. Save money, your health and the animals by making your own homemade cleaning supplies. Made with simple and inexpensive materials like lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda, homemade cleaning products are a smart and compassionate choice.Link

Friday, November 27, 2009

World Wide Vegan Month Tip #27

Today is Fur Free Friday. My guess is that most readers of this post do not wear fur or support that evil industry. In the spirit of the day, though, take some time to learn more about the fur trade to educate others. Forty-five million animals are brutally killed with steel-jaw traps, gassed, electrocuted and even skinned alive. Please let the people in your life know the truth about these horrible "luxury" items.LinkLink

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip #26

Albert Schweitzer said, "Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace." Mahatma Gandhi said, "My life is my message." Make your life your message: go vegan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Worldwide Vegan Month Tip #25

Great vegan food is the ultimate outreach tool. Why not give the gift of exquisite treats this holiday season? It's both thrifty and meaningful. In addition to the new vegan cookie cookbook recently published, there are lots of other great vegan baking books you can find online. Get some pretty tins and you're good to go!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Gratitude

The Body

Today I am grateful that I don’t have a sprained ankle, a migraine or a weird, darting pain in my back. I am grateful for limbs that work as my brain signals for them to do, for joints that move painlessly and even for that scar on my wrist because it reminds me of roller-skating down a hill in the summer and because it’s a good story. I am not grateful for the pimple between my eyes, but I am grateful that there are no others and that it is on its downward descent. I’m grateful that my eyes can blink on their own, I can swallow without help from a medical device, that my days are uninterrupted by pain or a million little aches or beeping machines hooked up to my arms. I am grateful for this strong, able body, and that I can brace myself and slice through the Chicago winds without being tossed around like a dirty plastic bag, getting myself caught in bare tree branches. I am grateful that I can slip on ice and not fear of breaking my hip; I can do a head-to-toe analysis as I look up at the puffy clouds overhead from the sidewalk and know with a relative certainty that nothing is broken. I am grateful for these two strong hands that stir batter until it all comes together and looks just right and for fingers that hit letter after letter on the keyboard, but that can also be gentle, for wiping my son’s tears, for touching a cheek, for entwining my fingers in another’s. I’m grateful for all this and more.

The Things

Today I am grateful that I can turn a handle and water pours forth, that it is predictably there and without strange little minnows swimming in circles in it as was the case in my childhood anxieties. I am grateful for this computer that gets cursed at a lot but has been the vehicle for keeping me in touch with people near oceans and in deserts, for reconnecting me with childhood friends I thought I’d lost forever, for meeting people I may never see face-to-face but who inspire me daily, for being instrumental to hatching plans and firming thoughts and giving birth to ideas. I am grateful for my orange-yellow, glittery bike, and my two strong legs that propel me forward, for being the vehicle as I push through space with my own body as the motor, passing the cars as they idle at the stoplight. I am grateful for glass windows that keep out the cold and for oscillating fans when the winter seems as distant as a shadowy dream and for tea, year-round. I am grateful for doors I can lock and that there’s no one in my life whom I’d like to lock out again. I am grateful for our pink and orange rooms, for the dining room wall full of pictures, for all those books with dog-eared pages and the old-fashioned radiators we fill with water when it finally gets so dry that we remember. I am grateful for our bathroom, though it’s nothing fancy, and for the smooth wooden floor under our feet. I’m grateful for all this and more. (Let’s not forget dark chocolate and Satsuma mandarin oranges and hot peppers.)

The Feelings

Today I am grateful for the many glass jars of spices that make me feel like a magician when I cook, a pinch of this, a teaspoon of that, my feet dancing back and forth with self-assurance, and for feeling when I do this that I’m reconnecting with a piece of my grandmother’s sweet spirit. I am grateful for making people laugh, for those who see me at my worst but don’t turn away, for the way my heart does a little dance when my son tells me he loves me, so pure and unguarded. I am grateful for more good days than bad, for moods that seem more level, for being more certain that I’m here for a reason, and for each day when I can feel this buzzing inside like a million bumblebees. I’m grateful for purposefulness and for silliness, and for any time I can calibrate the perfect balance of both. I am grateful for the love I feel, for the flame of hope that can’t be extinguished despite all common sense sometimes, for the way I feel when I do more or better or more generously than I expected. I am grateful for making strangers smile – or even laugh, an uncommon treat – for the way I feel when the birds start singing in the spring (full of hope and anticipation and deep inhalations, that’s all I can say) and for the way I felt when my grandfather looked at me, his eyes full of love. I am grateful that he taught me how one can convey more in a simple glance than a thousand words, even though that hasn’t stopped me from trying. I am grateful for that little girl who never believed for a second that she was inferior to a boy and who grew up to be me. I am grateful that I live in a time and a place when I can live according to my values and desires rather than something imposed on me. I’m grateful for all this and more.

The Others

Today I am grateful for the many people who make me laugh and smile and actively savor living in the moment. I am grateful for the four-legged companions I’ve been blessed to share a home with, for what they’ve taught me about enjoying life with all they’ve got. I am grateful for Lenny, my dearly departed dog and hound-shaped soul mate, who looked at me with those soft eyes of pure, uncomplicated love (exactly the way my grandfather looked at me) on the last day of his life, wagging his tail just to see me even when we both knew death was so close. I am grateful for our cat and her little black button nose, perfect little thing, and for the way I feel when I see her looking out the front window as I’m coming home. I am grateful for all the wise and hilarious and deeply human friends of mine who try so hard not to accept the ordinary and challenge me to be my best, too. I am grateful for my son, who lets me know when I’m being mean or impatient, who teaches me so much about loving who one is as is, who thinks I should have my own bakery I’m that good. I am grateful that he teaches me to love without condition because I can be such a jerk sometimes. I am grateful for my mother and her big, kind heart, who gets teary when she sees a total stranger cry, who is so profoundly unmaterialistic she cannot receive a compliment without offering the object to the admirer. I am grateful for my aunt, who loves her sister fiercely and for loving me when I was a child as if I were her own. I am grateful for my brother, who has never let our different natures put a wedge between us. I am grateful for all the animals I have met at shelters and sanctuaries, who have taught me to keep shining my light no matter what, who are deeply resilient and full of innate dignity. I am grateful for John, for too much to say here, for too many things but here’s a start: for the big smile, for trying to make me laugh when I’m in a snit, for his compassion and grace, for always wanting the best for me (how many can honestly say this?), for his mind that never stops, for his boundless curiosity, for his inability to conceal it when he thinks something is really fantastic, for thinking that I'm fantastic, for teaching me that I am worthy of love by such a good-hearted person. I’m grateful for all this and more.

Thanks to all who have made mine such a lovely life. I am truly grateful for it.

Vegan World Month Tip #24

Simple soups warm the soul and quell your hunger. Decide what sort of soup you want - bean-based, a broth-y or creamy one - and go from there. Soups are very easy to improvise and help you develop confidence in the kitchen. Starting with a little sauté, such as onions, garlic and ginger, add your water or broth, spices, additional vegetables and beans. Coconut milk, tomato purée, peanut butter, and lime juice are all great additions (just not at the same time!).Link

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ten Better Ways to Express Gratitude For Abundance In Your Life Than Eating An Abused Turkey’s Carcass

Others don’t need to suffer and die because our cultural traditions tell us that we need this in order to express gratitude. I am thankful each day that I don’t contribute to suffering. It was through my lens of being a vegan that I realized that gratitude is not a passive thing, but something that we cultivate with our actions and mindfulness. If you are lacking gratitude in your life – and we all go through this from time to time – it has a trickle-down, self-perpetuating effect: you feel resentful of others’ blessings, you become miserly, you close yourself off to the positive flow and abundance that wants to happen, the people around you are negatively influenced and treat you in ways that reinforce your self-destructive attitude. Fortunately, it’s easy to jump-start an active expression of gratitude in your life and nothing requires ingesting a tortured bird. Please let us know what you do to bring more thankful expression into your life.

1. Take a child to a park and really be present for her. Push her on the swings, jump in a leaf pile together, giggle. Have fun, don’t be afraid of looking silly and know that you’re creating memories for a lifetime. You’re helping to create a happy, grateful child.

2. Volunteer at the local animal shelter and take the dogs for a walk, play with the cats. If you have the means, consider adopting the one who steals your heart.

3. Think of someone who made you happy this year without asking for anything in return and try to be that someone for another person. Give the gift of your kindness every day.

4. Have a gratitude party: invite your closest friends over for vegan treats and just enjoy one another’s company. Or have a holiday cookie exchange party and supply baking sheets, rolling pins, cookie cutters, decorations and ingredients for a festive afternoon of baking together. Don’t forget the music...

5. Go through your clothing, including gloves, socks and hats, and find items that are still in good shape that you can donate to a local homeless shelter. Blankets are also useful. You can also find items in good condition at a nearby thrift store and purchase those for donation to charity.

6. Find something you’re passionate about and give the gift of your time to it. Whether it’s volunteering at the local homeless or battered women’s shelter, the local animal shelter or at your park district, as donation dollars and grants are dwindling, non-profits rely even more than ever on volunteer efforts.

7. Make amends to someone you have hurt, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Give your sincere apologies for that which you were responsible for and ask for forgiveness. Whether or not you are forgiven, rest assured knowing that you did you did your part.

8. Watch a movie or listen to music that inspires you and lifts your spirits. Share this with others who are having a hard time.

9. If you are struggling with feeling hopeless and depressed, making a daily commitment to maintaining a gratitude list is a great way to get out of that. Every night before you go to bed, write down three things you were grateful for that day, and then the ways you caused those grateful moments to happen. They don’t have to be major, earth-shattering occasions you are taking note of: simple things like that you swept the kitchen or returned some phone calls are important to acknowledge when you are feeling down and the acknowledgement can help you lift yourself back up. As a great little side effect, you will find yourself bringing more blessings in your life in order to maintain your list.

10. Give thanks for the blessings in your life whenever they occur. Your gratitude will become a more intuitive response with practice, like a muscle that is given proper exercise. Remember to appreciate the small and the big gifts – a stranger smiling, a friend appreciating you, a new skill you’ve learned – and really feel thankfulness deep inside you. Others will feel this in you and create more blessings in their lives, keeping the happiness flowing in and out. If others have turned off their ability to feel gratitude presently, it shouldn’t affect you. Move on, knowing that you are creating a beautiful and lovely compassionate life.

“My life is my message.” Mohatma Gandhi

Vegan World Month Tip #23

Your local library is a great, though often overlooked, resource for assisting you on transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. From cookbooks to informational books and documentaries, most well-stocked libraries offer excellent resources for making positive changes in your life. Checking out an online bookseller is a great way to get a reading list together.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

World Vegan Month Tip #22

Please consider sponsoring a rescued turkey this Thanksgiving at one of the wonderful farmed animal sanctuaries throughout the country. Sponsoring a turkey in someone's name is a meaningful and affordable holiday gift. Your donation dollars help to offset the considerable costs of caring for these gentle beings.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

World Vegan Month Tip #21

Plan ahead. One of the obstacles to maintaining a vegan diet is group meals out. Calling ahead to a restaurant to ensure that a plant-based meal can be prepared is essential sometimes to a relaxed and enjoyable time out. Restaurants want your business and in this economy can't afford to lose it because they're unwilling to accommodate vegans. Diplomacy + straightforwardness = success!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip #20

Feeling uninspired and lacking motivation? Go out in nature for an hour or two. Whether you're watching birds at a local lake or just breathing in fresh air, we all need to recharge once in a while and reconnect with a bottomless source of inspiration for those who love the earth: nature.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip #19

Rather than worrying about future meals (like what you will do at holidays and birthdays and so on), approach each time you eat as an opportunity to live according to your values. Getting hung up on an imagined "future failing" to justify not changing is flawed thinking. Try to nurture a more nuanced, successful approach by remembering this simple truth: one meal at a time. Click here for lovely Lagusta's 101 easy vegan quick meal ideas. Link

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World Vegan Month Tip #18

Having a community that supports you is vital to integrating changes in your life and maintaining them. At the very least, having a supportive community can bring a lot of happiness into your life. Try to find a community that supports your compassionate lifestyle. Whether it's a Yahoo group, a message board or a local vegetarian organization, try to find one that fits your needs.Link

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Randomness for a day when my son is home sick…

What do you do when you don’t really have the mental energy for a long post-y post due to a boy-whose-headache-mysteriously-disappeared-once-school-was-off-the-table but you still want to write something? Drum roll, please: it’s time for Random Snippets of Randomness!

* What is going on with people wearing pajamas out in public during the daytime? (Not that folks wandering the streets at night in their comfy PJs makes a whole lot more sense, but at least it one could delude herself into thinking that the random pajama-clad individual got locked out of the house or something.) People from all walks of life, young and old, though mostly young, can now be spotted waiting for the bus in powder blue pajama bottoms with smiling cows jumping over various moons, and grocery shopping in pale pink numbers with lipstick kiss prints all over them. There are many signs pointing to the fact that in this shifting geo-political world, the US is not the ambition-crazed Superpower it once was – this is not a bad thing - but perhaps the decline could most clearly be seen in the fact that people are wearing pajamas out in public without apparent embarrassment. I have to say, seeing someone in pajamas outside of one’s home in daylight brings the latent army sergeant I never knew I had inside me out. I just want to growl, “Get dressed, you loser!” When people start breaking out the Snugglies – another symbol of the obvious collapse of personal drive - for their daily errands, I’m going to go into hiding.
* I wish I had nonstop tapes of my son that I could watch one day, or ate least a really complete “best of” library. He is alternately poignant, hilarious, fascinating to me: I have never really gotten over that baby lust I had for him when he was first born, where I could have stared at that perfect profile all day long just to try to etch it into my mind forever. This is not to say that I appreciate every moment or that I am never annoyed: I am, frequently. I deeply feel the inner-schism between wanting to be a good mother and needing to get “my stuff” done. I’m pretty sure that deciding to have just one has made his different stages more acutely felt by me.
* I have never eaten fish in my life and seafood only twice, both times the result of having been lied to about the nature of what I was eating (shrimp and cream of oyster soup). Both were thoroughly revolting. When I was little, I was eating dinner at a family party when a shot of fish swimming by came up on the television (yes, we had the TV on during parties in the basement, which was where the children’s table was) and I simply vomited on the spot. Yep, just looking at a fish activated my gag reflex. I’ve gotten it under control since (except for that time a few years ago at the upscale Chinese restaurant where the server started boning the fish for a table nearby and I came very close to losing it) but I still find the idea of eating fish impossible to imagine. Truly, if I were on a desert island with no fruit around, yep, I’d starve to death.
* I think people look very goofy when they’re trying to be all ponderously serious with snorting their wine and analyzing its “notes.” And who am I to judge but becoming a wine connoisseur just seems like a huge waste of money and time.
* In general, foodie culture strikes the same chord within me: self-indulgent, pretentious, silly, overblown. In the city of Chicago, there are few as worshipped as an acclaimed chef and fewer still who look as ridiculous as the followers of these coddled chefs.
* And what is the deal with all the bacon fetishizing lately? Have you noticed that every hipster and his foodie cousin are all singing the praises of bacon now as if it just suddenly appeared? Bacon cupcakes, bacon truffles, bacon-flavored water! I think people actually believe that they’re rebelling by turning to the symbol for unhealthy indulgence. To this I say that yes, consuming meat is really challenging the status quo. Put up your favorite Anthony Bourdain poster (the very essence of pseudo-rebellion while actually reinforcing the system), put on your comfiest pajamas, and go on with your day like all the other shlubs. Just watch this charming little video first.
* The other day I went to my mom’s condo and I smelled something that brought me back to when I worked at the animal hospital back in high school: it was canned cat food, probably a certain brand. Then I noticed that the maintenance guy of my mom’s building was eating lunch nearby which caused me to consider that he may have been eating cat food. No, right? There are no apartments on that floor, just the storage room he hangs out in.
* I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately, more than usual, which is saying a lot. I miss her every day, she was such a ray of sunshine in my life. I think she had the most positive influence on me of anyone else I’ve ever known. Because of my grandmother, when I see the grandmothers in babushkas pushing their carts down the sidewalk, I melt into a puddle right there. She was the warmest, most loving person I’ve ever known, totally proud but still humble: how she managed it, I just don’t know. She was the perfect role model, even if I feel that I fall short of her example all the time.
* I really wish I could just learn to be a master gardener without turning my life over to the pursuit of this knowledge. I wish I could just, like, download it and have it all intuitively in my brain. I am a lousy gardener: I can never tell what’s a weed and what’s something I intentionally planted so I’m too scared to pull anything and then the weeds end up choking out everything else. On the other hand, I’d love to have a yard full of vegetables and herbs. What is the matter with me?
* I’m still afraid that someone is hiding under my bed at all times.

Clearly, I don’t have a lot to say today. The well has run dry. I seem to either be overflowing with my creative voice or totally depleted. Today, I am obviously running on empty. Maybe next time?

World Vegan Month Tip #17

In the colder months, don't forget that the birds outdoors still need food and water, now more than ever. Mixed birdseed tends to have a lot of filler most avoid, but black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds are favorites of many varieties of birds. Keep a supply of fresh water available - eating snow for water requires too much precious energy - either by pouring hot water over an icy birdbath or, for a bird lover's splurge, a heated bird bath.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip #16

Please consider a vegan Thanksgiving this year to really show your gratitude for the abundance of the earth and compassion for all her creatures. A vegan Thanksgiving e-cookbook with lots of great recipes can be purchased here, and there are free recipes provided by the great cookbook author Robin Robertson found at Link

Sunday, November 15, 2009

World Vegan Month Tip #15

Want to get the word out without even having to speak? Buttons, t-shirts and bumper stickers are excellent advocacy tools. has a great selection of quality items, as do all the online shops featured on Tip #13.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

World Vegan Month Tip #14

You are totally naturally beautiful, but if you ever want to bump it up a notch, look for cruelty-free (non-animal tested), vegan (no animal ingredients) cosmetics. A list of vegan cosmetics companies can be found here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip #13

There are so many great vegan online (and brick-and-mortar) retail shops, where one can buy anything from shoes and jewelry to cosmetics and personal care products. Visit,,,,, and for a variety of unique, cruelty-free products. Not only do these companies scrutinize ingredients for you, they also often feature ethically produced, sustainable and organic items. Let's support these independent businesses! LinkLink

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vegan World Month Tip #12

Want to make a quick, high protein and tasty lunch with a minimum of hassle? One word: hummus! It is incredibly easy to make at home plus it's very adaptable. Try different beans, different nut or seed butters, different flavorings. I love to spike my hummus with a dash or two of liquid smoke while it's in the food processor. This is great in a sandwich or as a dip with assorted crudité.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ye Olde Thanksgiving Post...

Well, after last week’s wrist-slashingly fun jaunt through the interior landscape of my inner torment, I figured it was time for a more light-hearted post. That seems to be how I roll around these parts: from deep despair, examining and exposing old scars, to silly posts about, say, decomposing bananas. (No, that was never a metaphor.) As November is World Vegan Month – and, perhaps intentionally – also the month in which countless herbivores can expect to be thoroughly traumatized around the Thanksgiving table as a stuffed turkey corpse is carved and consumed before our very eyes, yes, it is time for one of my funny posts. Where others would zig, I zag. I will wear you down with my charm, damn it.

Thanksgiving. Back when I was a nascent vegetarian clad in black from head-to-toe (as opposed to my Technicolor wardrobe of today), I was welcomed at the annual Thanksgiving meal with as much enthusiasm as a, I don’t know, fundamentalist at an orgy. (Perhaps that is not an apt metaphor because it seems that the more puritanically repressed one is in his beliefs, the more sexually perverse he is, so, really, a fundamentalist at an orgy is probably quite a natural thing.) (You get what I mean, though, right?) Or maybe a librarian at a book burning is better? There I was, at fifteen or sixteen or seventeen, practically spraining my pupils by rolling my eyes so vigorously at my uncle’s bad and inappropriately ribald jokes – same as the previous year - hearing the chorus of Meat Is Murder by The Smiths play over and over in my head as that electric carving knife buzzed away in the kitchen, trying to not imagine the deepening carnage in there. I would steadfastly avoid the kitchen and fill my plate with Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce, I’d avoid all eye contact and pay attention to my plate alone but, inevitably, someone, usually Mrs. Brown, our family friend from across the street, would bring it up.

“So, dolly, you’re still a vegetarian?”

I’d nod, keep my eyes downward, maybe smile a little to be nice, imagine that if I stared at my Brussels sprout intently enough that she would move on to something else. She wouldn’t.

“You can’t make an exception just for one day?”

I’d shake my head, my inner-voice chanting, “Please move on...please move on…”

One year, this was the detour:

“You can’t even eat the stuffing?”

“I’m okay.” Furtive, even conspiratorial, glances were exchanged around the table and my brother snickered as everyone relived the previous Thanksgiving, the year of The Great Stuffing Deception Debacle. Although my mother cooked stuffing as a side dish in its own pan (in addition to that which was stuffed into the turkey’s anal cavity, mmm) I had been thoroughly traumatized to discover chunks of turkey in this allegedly meatless dish, prepared Just For Me, concealed like landmines under the soft bread cubes and chopped celery.

“Oh, come on! It’s ninety percent vegetarian,” my mother said at the time, which was scant consolation. She looked around the room for validation. As the horror registered upon my face, turkey chunk on my fork and held as far from away from my body as my arm could stretch, she said defensively, “I can’t keep up with what is and isn’t vegetarian,” as if objecting to chunks of meat in a “vegetarian” dish is such an arbitrary, personal opinion. Finally, in exasperation, she said those eternal words that grind away at vegetarians like a set of monstrous molars: Just eat around it.

So, no, no stuffing ever again unless it was prepared by my own hands. The following year, I was deeply engaged in cutting a Brussels sprout, but Mrs. Brown was nothing if not persistent.

“You’ve got such a nice figure, dolly. You don’t need to be a vegetarian.”

There was now a bright pink cloud of self-conscious embarrassment where my face once was but I tried to carry on. Still, I couldn’t leave it at this.

“That’s not why I’m a vegetarian,” I mumbled into my plate.

“What’s that, sweetie?”

“That’s not why I’m a vegetarian,” I said more forcefully and at this point it was certain that everyone was watching us. “To lose weight.”

“Oh? Than why are you? Tell me,” she said, patting my hand.

I sighed. “Because I don’t like to eat animals.” Looking up, I saw the other diners all around us, some in mid-chew, some cutting the turkey on their plate, some self-conscious and at least one (my brother) clearly entertained, practically rubbing his hands together in glee.

“Dolly,” Mrs. Brown tried to explain patiently, like I was some particularly naive visitor from a different dimension, “turkeys are so stupid, they’re not even animals. They're not like dogs and cats. They’re practically vegetables themselves. This is why vegetarians can eat birds: they’re that dumb!” she’d giggle and pretty soon the attention would be off me again, thankfully - it was at that moment when I would briefly feel the spirit of gratitude associated with Thanksgiving - until the next year, when the whole basic scene would repeat itself.

Thanksgiving is often truly dreadful for those who ethically abstain from eating meat, and if it weren’t horrible just by itself, we’re all Post-Traumatic Stress Disordered from the previous years. No wonder all the vegans have an escape plan mapped out in our minds complete with dash marks and arrows out the door (or windows for those really desperate occasions). So, as a little goodwill gesture to all involved, I thought I’d write a little something so omnivores might make it easier on the vegans at their Thanksgiving table this year. Perhaps most helpfully, this can all pretty much be applied for any of our joint dining experiences. No one will yell at you if you print this out and use it as a cheat sheet. Go ahead.

Points to Remember With Regard To Vegans At A Thanksgiving Table

1. We are not content to “Eat Around It.” Would you eat around nuclear waste? Fecal matter? Most of us see meat as what it is, remains of a dead carcass. I’m not trying to be gross here, but you guys are the ones who eat it, not us, okay?

2. A dead “free-range” (or heritage or Kosher or Halal or anything with a fancier title than your regular ol’ Butterball) turkey is still a dead turkey. This is not a value judgment, it’s a statement of fact. Most of us are not comforted by this but we will nod our heads so we can move on. Can we move on?

3. Do not, I repeat for the love of all that is good and just in the world, do not ask us if we’re concerned about getting enough protein (or iron or anything else related to the quality of our nutrition). We are not concerned because we know more about nutrition than the average person. But we do not want to hear about your neighbor’s second cousin who was vegetarian for a month and her skin turned green and she had to get a blood transfusion and then was on a dialysis machine for a year and now she’s infertile because the story has lost its factual basis at some unknown juncture. We don’t want to argue. We just want to eat in peace.

4. Don’t ask us if we ever get bored being vegan. No, we're bored with being asked this, not by what we eat. Look at your average Thanksgiving plate: there is probably meat, a starch, maybe some peas, a roll. Think of the variety of colors and textures and flavors we can eat. Almost all of those diverse colors and textures and flavors came from plants.

5. Do not say that you could “never” be vegan. Trust me, you could be unless you’re planning to move to Antarctica or something. Do you mean that you would simply perish without animal products? That you would die of despair? I’m guessing that this is an exaggeration. More than likely, you would simply prefer not to be.

6. Now is not the time to tell us that you’re eating less red meat. Red, white, pink, whatever. We are just trying to avert our eyes.

7. Plants feel pain! Not being in possession of a central nervous system, I am skeptical of the claim that plants feel pain and it also seems to be a cruel design if plants possess this degree of sentience but lack any real ability to escape threat. Still, I accept that some people think this but I have to balance that with knowing that we need to eat plants for our very survival. We do not need to eat animal foods for our survival: they are a “want” not a “need.”

8. Family traditions and/or heritage. Yep, your family ate meat at most meals. How strange! So did mine. And his and hers and that other guy’s family and pretty much everyone I know including all the vegans I know. Unless you grew up on an ashram or a hippie household or in India, chances are pretty darn likely that you grew up eating meat, as did your ancestors except for those who were too poor or ravaged by this or that natural disaster to do so. Family traditions and heritage are not destiny and thank goodness for this as slave ownership, abuse and addictions could be considered a natural part of one’s heritage. But let’s say that you feel you would miss something that brings you warm memories from your childhood if you stopped eating animal products. Get creative, do some research and work on a vegan version. But wait: we’re not supposed to be talking about this. I’m trying to eat!

9. Do not make fun of our food, you thoughtless schmuck. Okay, we get it: you don’t like what we eat. (The feeling is mutual.) We understand that you think vegans eat nothing but giant bowls of wilted alfalfa sprouts with sad-faced lentils each day and that we are miserable, deprived, pitiable souls. Then please, stop taking so many servings of what we brought. Really. We’re trying to eat, too. Stop it.

10. Please don’t think the latest diet fad you’re following is similar to us being vegan. Really, if you are on some low-carb-blood-type-Paleo-inspired thingamabob, that’s cool. Well, it’s not, but we don’t really want to talk about it right now. We just want you know that we are eschewing animal products for reasons of compassion and ethics, not because some quack duped us into it as he laughed his way to the bank. Really, my plate of food is truly fascinating and I must fully concentrate on it.

So what is there left to talk about? Are we that defensive and bereft of a sense of humor that we should all be relegated to the children’s table? Of course not.

A Complete List of Perfectly Acceptable Topics For Conversing With Vegans At A Thanksgiving Table

1. That awesome new coconut milk ice cream you just tried.

2. The dog you recently adopted from the local shelter.

3. The weather
4. Something you heard on Air America.

5. The degree to which Ann Coulter/Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck suck.
6. Michael Moore is kind of a posturing windbag. We can agree on this.

7. Brown and pink look very nice together, don’t you think?

8. That guy she ran into who used to be in your class. He got very heavy!
9. We’ll even talk about what we’re really grateful for this year when it’s our turn at the table and we’ll try not to sound all smug about it.

10. Seriously, you can talk to us forever about cookbooks and restaurants and recipes we recommend. We live for this! We will write out by hand memorized recipes and book recommendations and we’ll send you links galore when we get home if that’s what you want.

Most of us are also willing to talk about the reason why were vegan and the horrible reality of animal agriculture, but just not superficially while people are trying to eat so that we can look like the pushy evangelists yet again. Can we talk about it later?

You hold up your end of the deal, and this is what we promise:

1. There will be no red paint throwing on fur coats. Nobody ever really did this anyway.

2. We will not force everyone to watch Meet Your Meat before the football game (we already sent it to everyone’s email via our electronic devices).

3. We will not roll our eyes recklessly. We are allowed one or two good eye rolls, though.

Has this cleared the air? Are we ready to sit together again? Let’s give it a try, Pilgrim.

World Vegan Month Tip #11

Ready to replace some of your worn out leather shoes with animal-free options? Some brands that produce only cruelty-free shoes (in addition to being eco-friendly and ethically produced) can be found at,, and, for higher end styles, and LinkLinkLinkLink

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

World Vegan Tip #10

Often the most daunting challenge to those considering the transition to a vegan diet is simply knowing what to cook. There are so many excellent cookbooks these days, as well as recipes online and Yahoo groups dedicated to sharing cooking ideas, so there's no shortage of recipes available to aspiring vegans. What I recommend is to make a weekly menu and grocery list. This makes everything much more manageable. Planned menus are also helpful for saving money (not as many impulse buys) and keeping track of how healthy your overall diet is (even vegans need to make sure we need to get enough leafy greens.) Check out this link for a free downloadable weekly menu planner.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Big news!

Most of our friends already know this but I just realized that I never really announced this other than on my main portal to the outside world, a.k.a., my Facebook page. I am shocked, thrilled and humbled to announce that John and I were named Activists of the Year by Mercy For Animals. It's an incredible honor by our very favorite advocacy organization. Please consider attending one of their galas and support their tremendous work. Link

World Vegan Month Tip #9

Mercy For Animals is an amazing animal advocacy non-profit that does undercover investigations, humane education and outreach. Please consider supporting their very far-reaching work by attending one of their Celebrating Compassion Galas in Chicago, New York City and Columbus: all money earned goes back to helping the animals.Link