Tuesday, November 30, 2010

World Vegan 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 (online or otherwise), get some cookbooks and set some goals for yourself. A vegan diet is imminently do-able!

Monday, November 29, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #29

Want some kitchen-tested vegan holiday cookie recipes in an e-book format for a mere $3.00? VegNews Magazine is venturing into the digital cookbook realm with their Holiday Cookie Collection, which includes recipes Spicy Gingerbread and Candy Cane Whoopie Pies. Impress your family and friends this holiday season with some delicious vegan treats.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #28

Chilly weather brings to mind cocoa. The best kind is dairy (and cholesterol) free with fair-trade cocoa and cute little air-puffed, gelatin-free marshmallows. For four mugs, heat 4 cups of unsweetened non-dairy milk, 4 tablespoons of agave nectar and 2 tablespoons of vanilla over medium heat until very hot (not boiling). Whisk in 8 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and enjoy!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #27

Being an urban-dweller can mean that we don't get to see much in terms of wildlife. Many people support zoos and aquariums just so their children will get a chance to see a variety of animals. Please reconsider supporting industries that keep wild animals in captivity and out of their natural habitats. Animal sanctuaries offer a wonderful opportunity to connect more deeply with non-human animals in a non-exploitative, compassionate environment. Sanctuaries need our volunteer time and donations. If there are none near you, two words: Road Trip!

Friday, November 26, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #26

Today is Fur Free Friday. My guess is that most readers of this post do not wear fur or support the evil fur industry. In the spirit of the day, though, please 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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vegan World Month Tip #25

Vegan Thanksgiving meals can be amazing celebrations of the earth's bounty. Imagine all the colors, textures and fantastic flavors available to us: pomegranates, roasted Brussels sprouts, pumpkin-flavored desserts. A vegan celebration is not lacking in anything and reinforces the message of gratitude of this holiday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #24

Please consider sponsoring a turkey from a farmed animal rescue in the true spirit of Thanksgiving this year. Your sponsorship fee helps to pay for food, medical care and anything else the rescue needs to maintain good care of the animal throughout the year. The small donation very far with these amazing organizations!

Omnivore: Fail

This essay was born of the recent trend of people publicly disavowing their once passionately held vegan or vegetarian beliefs. For many years, when people would identify themselves to me as former vegetarians, I would counter, tongue-in-cheek, that I was a former omnivore. This is my attempt to flesh out my inability to thrive - emotionally, spiritually and physically - as an omnivore. 

I wanted to be an omnivore. I really did.

The path from which I began straying from omnivorism was painful, difficult, heart-wrenching even. People might try to tell me that I did something wrong, that I just didn't try hard enough, but they are mistaken: I tried with all my being to live as an omnivore. When it shattered around me, I wondered how could something that I believed with such a passionate, deeply held conviction - that animals were ours to do what we pleased with - be wrong? Who was I if I were no longer an omnivore? My core values, my deepest beliefs about my place on the earth, were inextricably tied to my omnivorism. When things started going downhill with my animal consumption, when it no longer felt like a natural or decent thing to do, I grieved for that part of myself that I was losing and desperately tried to cling to it more tightly. It was no use, though: eating animals was making me sick, literally and figuratively. Toward the end, it was clear that I was just going through the motions.

If I can trace my falling out with omnivorism, the path would lead back to our family dog. His being helped to usher in the first inkling that something was wrong. I could observe that he had emotions, that he had preferences and the same reasons anyone else would have for not wanting to be exploited, abused, killed. Then, somehow, this view expanded outward, try as I might to contain it, and it grew like a thing out of control to encompass the birds, pigs, cows. Before I knew it, it no longer felt justifiable or rational to eat some but not others.

In other words, it no longer felt natural.

That first bite of cheeseless pizza was something I dreaded but in reality, it was remarkably easy and welcoming. Despite this new consciousness that nagged at me, I tried to continue to live like I had grown accustomed to living, to put cheese on that pizza. I even tried to put chicken on it, but I couldn't bring myself to live the lie any longer. When I threw away the cheese, tossed the chicken in the garbage, it just felt so profoundly right: even more, when I piled the pizza high with gorgeous roasted vegetables, a cornucopia from our local farms, it just felt so correct, deep inside, and I felt the ancient echo of uncomplicated contentment I had been missing from my life for so long as an omnivore. I don't know if I had ever been so hungry or had that innate hunger so completely satisified. Yes, my starving soul nearly screamed with each voluptuous bite of silky roasted vegetables and chewy crust, yes.

I knew then that my days as an omnivore were numbered. I was entering a territory I'd long scorned and derided. The more I tried to force my body to listen to my head, the more it became an inevitability: my body was insisting on becoming herbivorous despite my most fervent wishes.

Nearly from the beginning, when I would see produce in the farmers markets, I realized that there was no escaping the fact that I was part of their demise. The snow peas, proud carrots, pears, ripe little raspberries: they once burst with life. In the market, they are still colorful and plump, but they are no longer alive. They were killed for me. Not long after intitially dabbling in veganism, I realized that I couldn't ask another to do bring these plants to market without being able to face the process myself, so as I moved away from omnivorism, I decided to start my own garden. At first, I started small, just a few packets of salad greens in a sunny little patch, but as I've fully moved toward a life rich in plant material, it has since grown much larger.

As uncertain as I was at first, I still took deep pride in the tender shoots that confidently sprang up and thrived because of my care, because of my nurturing. They could be natural, fully realized vegetables in their ideal setting with the sun warming their leaves, the wind in blowing through their stems, rain gulped thirstily by their roots. That first year of gardening, I understood on a deeper level something that I'd always known: to live was also to die, and that the natural order after birth and life would be death. When it came time to pluck those first spring lettuces, soft, sweet and delicate like a baby's satiny cheek, I was distraught. I cried and thought of asking a friend to do it instead, one who had done this many times before in his own garden. "No," I told myself. "No, I need to do this."

And so I took a deep breath and I did it, tentatively at first. My stomach hurt, my hands seemed shaky. The peppery arugula, the red leaf, the baby mizuna, they yielded at once to my touch, like a sigh. They were so alive at one moment, so clearly no longer attached to the earth the next.  As much as it pained me to admit it, pulling them just felt natural and right. The depth to which I felt that I was at the right place at the right time doing the right thing was profoundly stirring. Once the initial sadness subsided, I immediately realized that I was doing more than pulling up plants. I was reconnecting with my vegetable-loving ancestors. My fingers were digging in the rich soil, pulling up the plants and brushing off the dirt to return to the cycle of life and death in my garden. It felt like a dance. The thing I thought I would never do - could never do - felt as intuitive and native to me as anything I'd ever experienced. And I thanked the greens as I collected them in my colander: thank you for giving your life to me.

Almost immediately after I quietly shifted from being an omnivore, I found that I had more energy. I felt lighter, liberated, and the heaviness I'd once felt after a big meal filled with meat and cheese was no longer evident. My heart was light, too, unburdened of the weight of all those hard, undigestible feelings that I'd suppressed for so long. I felt like singing to the world, “This feels right! Finally, I am back to being who I was meant to be!”

I dared not tell my friends, though, the omnivores who expected me to maintain the status quo, who expected me to eat chicken wings with them, to laugh at the selfish, smug meat-abstainers we knew. How could I keep my secret safe at Super Bowl parties, after-work get-togethers, holiday meals? The thought of my parents and how they would accept this betrayal of them and the core omnivorous values they raised me with brought me the most pain and worry. It was too much to bear at times and I suffered in my silence. I continued to eat my delicious stir-fries and curries, but I did it alone, surreptitiously, the light from the refrigerator the only thing illuminating me in my quiet, now-herbivorous kitchen.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep up the charade any longer and the deception I’d created came crashing around me. How many times could I tell co-workers that, no, I was saving money so I would not be going to order with them from the chicken place before they'd realize that something was up? How many creative ways could I conceal the lack of meat in my lunch before people begin to notice? How many times could I fail to take antacids or suffer from heartburn before those around me would start to wonder? When it all crashed down around me, precipitated by a busybody and a vegan cookbook I'd carelessly left out on my desk, it was horrifying but it was also a relief. The double-life I'd be leading was shattered, a permanent fissure finally ripped through. I could no longer keep the lie alive.

So today in the spirit of full disclosure, I lay myself bare. I am a failed omnivore. I did my best, I really did, for years and years but it just didn't work. The hamburgers, chicken wings, tuna casserole...ew. It's not you, it's me. Instead, when I bite into roasted red peppers, grilled corn on the cob, mangoes, black bean burgers, guacamole, I know this is me as I am. It just feels right. I love the voluptuousness, the harmlessness, the juicy, life-sustaining properties and I am no longer going to be shamed into hiding.

I am a failed omnivore. Judge me if you must, but please know that I tried my very best.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #23

On those days when life just seems overwhelming, a walk outside to reconnect with the natural world is all it can take to find your way out. Whether it's a twenty minute walk in your neighborhood, a hike in a nearby forest, a day trip or a weekend away to a quieter, beautiful place, this time outside can be incredibly restorative to our spirits. Don't run on empty: fill yourself up with nature.

Monday, November 22, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #22

Vegan Potluck! One of the best ways to try new foods and socialize is by organizing a vegan potluck. Get a list of friends together, pick a date and get moving! As the holidays are coming up, many people are looking for ways to bring friends and food together: why not organize a vegan potluck sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas? They are a lot of fun and not a lot of work.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

World Vegan Night Tip #21

New recipes make the world go 'round! When you feel like you're in a food slump, sometimes it's because you've been relying too much on old standbys. It can be easy to get into the habit of the same old boring meals, and it's just as easy to break that habit. Buy a new vegan cookbook (or check one out from the library), go to a website with great recipe ideas.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

World Vegan Night Tip #20

Movie night! Enjoy a night in with an eye-opening or heartwarming film: The Cove, Fast Food Nation, Peaceable Kingdom, The Witness, Super Size Me, to movies like Charlotte's Web and Babe. Movies have a way of influencing us in ways that are unique to the media. Either with friends over or alone, let a movie transport you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #19

Restaurants usually respond to a very simple supply and demand equation. If you have a restaurant in your neighborhood or near where you work with no or very limited options for vegans, going in and politely saying that you'd love to support them if they had more to choose from can work wonders. Get your friends to come in or call with requests, too. You will likely find that many are grateful for your help.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #18

Help dogs who are kept in in backyards year-round by keeping an eye on them. Do they have wind-proof and water-proof shelter? Do they have fresh water and dog food? Do they appear to be thin, injured or in decent shape? If you are uncertain, call a humane investigator anonymously at your local animal control. If there are no violations, offering to walk the dog and leave blankets may be helpful. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #17

Blog it! It costs nothing to start your own blog, it can be great fun and you'll meet other people around the world as your share your thoughts, recipes or whatever else you have to give the world. It's a fun creative outlet and you can help spread the word about compassionate living. What is your unique voice, what are your gifts? Don't worry if you don't have it all nailed down: your blog will evolve as you go.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #16

Community is everything. If you are new at "the vegan thing" or even if you have been doing it for a while, it is tremendously helpful to have a community of like-minded people around you who understand your point-of-view. You can find online communities, but don't underestimate how important one-on-one shared experiences are as well. Find a vegan community to improve your quality of life!

Monday, November 15, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #15

Think of all the places you go during the course of a day and all the opportunities for leaving educational materials behind. A Vegan Starter Kit is a great tool for learning about the cruelty-free lifestyle. Leave one or more behind at places where people love distractions:  on the train or bus, the hair salon, your gym, the local cafés.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #14

One really easy way to help animal shelters is to 1) volunteer and 2) donate. My son saved money through his allowance and bought a bunch of gently used towels and blankets at resale shops for the shelter we volunteer at once a week. Towels and blankets come in handy for creating a more comfortable environment for the animals and they are relatively inexpensive.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #13

Power smoothies! A great way to start out your day with a blast of cancer-fighting antioxidants is with a delicious, fruit-based smoothie. My favorite is with sliced frozen bananas, soaked and seeded dates, orange juice, frozen raspberries, nutmeg, cacao powder and hemp or flax seeds. Switch out the OJ for non-dairy milk for a creamier smoothie. There are limitless combinations you can try.

Friday, November 12, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip # 12

It is easy to become discouraged by the sheer enormity of cruelty to animals in our society. I have noticed that many of us are also inclined to an "all or nothing" mentality. Many people give up being vegan because they feel they cannot be perfect enough. Set workable goals. For example, try to make more vegan meals this week, or the next time you buy a new pair of shoes, make them non-leather. This is not a purity contest: it's about making it work.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving without blinders...

Turkeys, like other animals unfortunate enough to please the human palate, are born to be forcibly impregnated, grow impossibly huge in the briefest amount of time possible, get wedged into a crowded, horrid place and are then killed, plucked, decapitated, plastic-wrapped, sometimes frozen, shipped and consumed in quick order. They are born for the sole purpose of being slaughtered in a hurry, to be literally served on a platter. They are stuffed with wild rice or dried bread or even oysters, they are basted in their own oils and they are roasted until golden, until the little plastic thermometer pops out, until the timer goes off. Limbs are removed and their flesh is carved until just the skeleton of a once-living bird remains. On Thanksgiving alone in this country, 46 million birds’ corpses are said to symbolize the spirit of the day and as such are expected to evoke warm feelings of gratitude, blessings and togetherness.

I apologize if this sounds strident or condescending, but this is what happens on Thanksgiving, right?

Is it really so strange that vegans look at the world, at the accepted norms and values around us, with an outsider’s perspective of incredulity and dismay? We have this built-in refractive lens, cultivated over years or in one big epiphany that changes us forever, a lens that makes it impossible to see what others may take as a birthright and accept it as the truth. We have a different sort of vision and sometimes it renders us pretty incapable of feigning otherwise. This isn’t always so. Speaking personally, it is often the fact that I can put blinders on that makes life manageable. Those blinders are not always reliable, though.

Sometimes when someone is eating an ice cream cone, I see dairy cows in confinement, their babies wrenched away and milk stolen. I cannot help it; it’s not that I want to see that. There are times when I’m on the train and I see fur trim on the coat of a fellow passenger, and all I can think is miserytorturedeath until I can find something to distract myself with instead or one of us gets off the train, whatever happens first. I go to my son’s school sometimes and the smell from the cafeteria immediately brings to mind crowded broiler hens with their beaks seared off. I don’t want my mind to go there, I’ve tried to train myself over the years to do anything but think of it, but sometimes I cannot control these gut reactions. They’re honest responses to a violent world I can’t pretend doesn’t exist and doesn’t affect me.

People who ask vegans to not know and feel what we know and feel are asking us to be complicit in a lie, in a crazy-making mass deception that says that what is plainly obvious does not really exist, and if it really does exist, it’s not so awful. Speaking of it is far worse.

Around the Thanksgiving table this year, many of us will be told in subtle and overt ways to muffle what we know and just play along with the annual charade society has created around the holiday. We are the minority in our families and in our communities: we are the ones who need to make the accommodations. That is not a dead bird on the table: it is a symbol of our family bond, of our blessings. The happiness of the event depends on us maintaining the lie, averting our eyes and just getting over it already. Even if you don’t eat parts carved off the dead bird, you should smile and be nice. In such situations, it’s impossible for me to not think of an abusive alcoholic who insisted that his family pretend that everything was acceptable and okay.

It is not acceptable and okay. It’s also no surprise that every year around this time, things start boiling up more than usual between herbivores and omnivores. It is just damn hard to pretend to not see what one does.

This doesn’t mean that the vegans at these countless Thanksgiving meals need to be rude or standoffish. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to force everyone in attendance to watch Meet Your Meat. It means that we’ve already determined that we’re not going to play along with this lie that everything is all right. Most of us will white-knuckle it and power through, concentrating on our beautiful side dishes, trying to not look up too much. Others of us are able to truly disengage and close ourselves off, feeling not much.

This year, as I’ve been doing for many years, I am fortunate enough to be going to a vegan Thanksgiving celebration. No one will ask me to be complicit in a lie. I will not ruin the day for refusing to “take just one bite and make everyone happy.” It will not be implied that I am a ridiculous extremist for maintaining my convictions, even on Thanksgiving. It will not be implied that I’m selfish for being the way I am, the way that feels right to me. I will not be resented for being the elephant in the room, and I will not resent others. I will laugh and enjoy myself and eat without judgment.

It will be a day of true gratitude and love, consistent with the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

World Vegan Month Tip #11

Circuses, rodeos and other forms of "entertainment" that use animals in confinement to amuse audiences use incredibly cruel methods to break the spirits of the animals and get performances, from using atrocious bullhooks to electric shocks as well as other forms of abuse. Please educate yourself: never support an industry that profits from the unjustifiable exploitation of animals and let your friends know why you will not be supporting them. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #10

You know you're perfect just as you are, but if you ever want to add another level of sparkle to your natural glow, please consider buying cruelty-free cosmetics. By definition, vegan cosmetics are made without animal testing or animal-based ingredients. Also, choose more natural, paraben-free vegan cosmetics by letting companies know that there's a demand for it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #9

To me, there's little better than a big salad at lunch to give me energy for the rest of the afternoon. My favorite is often the same: baby lettuces, lots of carrot strips (I use a vegetable peeler to make them into "noodles"), pitted kalamata olives, red onions, toasted walnuts (or chickpeas) and sometimes a diced apple in a homemade vinaigrette. My cat even begs for a bite. Who says you don't make friends with salad?

Monday, November 8, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #8

According to HSUS, animal shelters in the United States care for an estimated six to eight million dogs and cats each year, and between three to four million are euthanized. This is an unnecessary tragedy. Be a responsible guardian: keep your companion animals safe and healthy and commit to them for a lifetime. Please have any animals you have spayed or neutered. Last, please do not ever support pet stores or breeders as they are largely responsible for overpopulation. Adopt instead!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #7

Seek a mentor. If you are new at this vegan thing, it can be helpful to have a mentor with a few more years under his or her belt help you with everything from finding stylish shoes to the best deals on organic produce in your community. Conversely, if you're old hat at the vegan thing, why not make it easier for a newbie by offering some (solicited) guidance? Find others through your community's vegetarian society, vegan meet-up or school organizations.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #6

Vegan Chili! During these cooler months, sometimes a hearty chili is exactly what you need to warm that belly. There are seemingly endless variations, but sautéing vegetables, then adding them with beans, tomato sauce, chile powder, water, maybe tofu (or seitan or crumbled tempeh or even crumbled veggie burgers), then cooking it together until I can't wait any longer is my general method. Serve over rice or quinoa, with diced red onion, chili peppers, vegan sour cream and hot sauce on the side...mmm!

Friday, November 5, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #5

Libraries are a phenomenal resource in most communities, and many have well-stocked cookbook sections. This is a great way to "test drive" a cookbook before committing to it. Also, educate yourself about the benefits of a plant-based diet and the cruelties of animal-based agriculture with the books and films available. If you don't see what you're looking for, don't be shy about requesting that they order it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #4

Slow cookers (a.k.a., crock pots) are amazing tools for working people or anyone who likes a flavorful, healthful meal with a minimum of effort. There is nothing like coming home to the aroma of an already cooked meal to make you feel energized. Usually requiring nothing more than a quick sauté and then loading the ingredients in the slow cooker for a set amount of time, you can easily prepare everything from vegan stews to lasagne in your trusty device. This book is an amazing resource for any dedicated slow cooker. (I recommend getting a model with a timer and an inside pot that can be removed from the base for easy transportation.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #3

Take care of yourself. If you're tired, sick and/or stressed, you're not a compelling role model. It's obvious that animal and earth advocates have our work cut out for us. This is why it's important that we keep ourselves physically and emotionally well. Take your B-12 and Omega 3 supplements, eat whole foods (emphasizing fresh produce), rest when you need to, take time to laugh, nurture interests and friendships. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be effective for anyone else.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #2

To avoid that "It's 6:00: what's for dinner?" panic that many of us face, it pays to be organized. Often the meals we choose at the last minute aren't the healthiest, just the quickest. When you're trying to eat more healthfully and save money by eating more at home, keeping a binder full of your favorite recipes is a smart idea. Go through your cookbooks and copy your favorite recipes; print out the ones you like online. Having your favorite vegan recipes in one spot saves time and money

Monday, November 1, 2010

World Vegan Month Tip #1

There are frightening and unhealthy chemicals in many cleaning products, and so many are also tested on animals in laboratories. Carcinogens, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and phosphates are some of the dangerous by-products found in conventional cleaning products. Why not save yourself some money, create a healthier home environment and protect the environment by creating your own cruelty-free cleaning products? They are harmless, effective and cost a fraction of store bought brands.

World Vegan Month!

It's November 1 so that means it's World Vegan Month. For the second year, in honor of WVM, I will give a tip a day to help people adopt more compassionate and healthy steps toward adopting a vegan lifestyle, or help make it just a little easy for those who are already there. I'm excited!