Friday, June 30, 2017

Pro-Choice Vegan? You Bet!

Over the years, I’ve gotten occasional questions about how I reconcile being a vegan and being someone who is pro-choice. After all, isn’t veganism about protecting innocent and vulnerable lives? To me, there is no reconciliation needed because I don’t feel my passionately pro-choice position contradicts my vegan values in the slightest.

Here is how I look at it from a vegan perspective: Let’s take the example of a pregnant cow and her fetus. To have this conversation, we need to agree on the single basic premise that animals other than humans have the drive to act in and protect their own best interests. I’m not even saying that they have right for it, though I certainly believe that they do and for much more: I am saying simply the drive. Again, for the sake of this conversation, we need to simply agree that animals have the drive to act in and protect their own best interests.

With me so far?

Given society’s hierarchies, a cow on her own cannot protect her interests because she has the legal status of property; she is chattel. [Etymologically, from Old French chatel, meaning cattle, derived from catel, meaning property.] Those who “own” her make decisions about her body, including her reproduction, based primarily on financial considerations.

Her right to act in accordance with her best interests is observably demonstrable by her capacity to not flourish if this right were withdrawn. The calf inside her, though, is a potential life. The cow is here. She is physically present and, though people may agree or disagree on the conclusions, we can observe that the pregnant cow can both thrive and suffer, to the best that we understand it, in different circumstances. The sentience of the fetus, however, is far murkier and less verifiable.

Even given that there is an area of dispute about when in development sentience in a fetus can be observed and what degree of feeling may be available via that putative sentience, it’s still highly speculative. There is much we don’t know and I will admit that this works either way. The fact is, though, that we do know that the pregnant cow can suffer and does have sentience. There is nothing speculative about that. Given that, I stand for the rights of the mother cow, whose capacity to suffer and thrive are recognizable given our measures of observation and understanding.

If I were able to make a decision on behalf of a cow who would suffer if a fetus came to term, I would fight to protect her best interests over those of the potential life inside her. It is the same for females of the human race. To me, a woman’s right to pursue her best interests eclipses that of a potential life.

Female humans have empirical needs for their best interests – for wellness, safety, self-agency – and I will fight for those rights. When denied her right to her best interests, she will suffer. Fetuses, however, do not thrive or suffer in provable ways that are equivalent to autonomous people. To our understanding, a fetus is without experiences, aspirations and a provable capacity to suffer, thus a fetus does not deserve an equivalent consideration of the female who may be carrying the fetus. This is a longwinded way to say that you don’t need to prove to me that people here on earth can thrive and suffer because we know that to be a fact; because we cannot say the same about fetuses, I conclude that they don’t get the same consideration.

Is this harsh? It doesn’t feel that way to me. I am guessing that if men got pregnant instead of women, this wouldn’t be a conversation at all.

Is it possible to be a pro-choice vegan? I am living proof that it is and I have zero inner-conflict about it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodies with Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment


How do you introduce the stylish, spirited duo that needs no introduction?
Michael Suchman and Ethan Ciment, a.k.a., The Vegan Mos, burst on the scene with their popular blog in 2013 and have been making creating compassionate change in the world one delicious recipe at a time ever since. Ethan, who moonlights as a podiatric surgeon, and Michael, a “recovering” corporate lawyer and current office manager of Ethan’s bustling foot and ankle clinic in NYC, spend a huge amount of their time volunteering, coaching via their certification with the Main Street Vegan Academy, helping to guide charitable organizations, snuggling with their adorable dogs and creating the amazing recipes we love.

Most recently, Michael and Ethan collaborated on a great new cookbook,
NYC Vegan: Iconic Recipes for a Taste of the Big Apple, published by Vegan Heritage Press. NYC Vegan, chock full of vegan interpretations of the classic, globetrotting foods you will enjoy in NYC, is a way for anyone to enjoy the diversity of ethic cuisines, as well as the delicious comfort foods, available in the Big Apple. I highly recommend it. Full of gorgeous photos by Jackie Sobon and bursting with NYC lore, Michael and Ethan prove that we don’t have to give up the things we love when we go vegan. The recipes are written clearly and simply, and anyone with access to a decent grocery store should be able to recreate the dishes in their own kitchens. I love how very accessible the recipes are and how much affection for both NYC and veganism is stitched throughout the book. I am honored to feature Ethan Ciment and Michael Suchman as this week’s Vegan Foodies.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

Michael: I first started cooking when I was 7 years old and my mom asked me what I wanted for breakfast. When I told her I wanted pancakes she took out her New York Times cookbook, opened it to the pancake recipe and said, “Okay, here you go.” She supervised and I made pancakes. From there it was onto cookies, cakes, and brownies from boxed mixes. I was always helping my mom in the kitchen and learned the basics from her. Cooking was just something I always enjoyed.

Ethan: my earliest memories are of me cooking in the kitchen growing up with my mom and with my grandmothers. Being raised in a Jewish and kosher home, food was integral to all aspects of daily life and religious celebrations. As an adult, even after I realized that religious observance was not for me, the familiar flavors and recipes were still important connections to my childhood, which I enjoy to this day.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Michael: My diet growing up was the standard American diet. My mom was known to occasionally give us Devil Dogs and Pepsi for breakfast if we were short on time and we always had sugared cereals in the house. However, at dinner it was always a balanced meal. My favorite meal growing up was roast chicken, white rice and peas. Also brisket was served for almost every Jewish holiday. I have been able to created vegan version of both the roast chicken and the brisket. It is really all about the gravies. Once you have those, the rest is easy.

Ethan: I was raised in a kosher household so that meant two sets of everything and separating all meet foods from dairy. It also meant that every Friday night and Saturday (the Sabbath) there were meals that began with blessings over wine and Challah bread. I have extremely fond memories of coming home from synagogue on Saturday afternoons to a lunch of cholent a traditional Eastern European stew made with barley and beans. We would sop up all of the rich gravy with the Challah. For years, I assumed that this was just something I would no longer have/enjoy as a vegan. Eventually, I figured out an easy way to make a delicious vegan challenge that tastes indistinguishable from the one containing meet are used to eat. Using Nava Atlas's recipe for vegan Challah, I can now enjoy my childhood traditional Shabbat meal anytime I want.

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

Michael: I love to heat up the Gardein chick’n pieces from the Crispy Chick’n and then toss them in buffalo sauce and dip them into some homemade ranch dressing. Or if I want something a little lighter, avocado toast is perfect.

Ethan: We like to do batch cooking on weekends so we have lots of available beans and greens ready to go for lunches. One of my favorite to go quick meals is to grab a bean, a grain, and a green. Whether it's brown rice, quinoa or farro, I take a cup of cooked grains, toss in a cup of whatever beans we have around and load it up with some greens. Then I heat it up and top it with lots of hot sauce!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

Michael: I have already made my mom a vegan version of her favorite Brooklyn Blackout Cake thanks to a recipe from Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate. So now I would love to make an Italian meal for Giada DeLaurentiis. Before I was vegan, I used to watch her all the time and make her recipes. I would love to show her that she can make the exact same dishes without using any animal products. 

Ethan: I would love to be able to cook a meal for my dear late grandmother, Regina. She remains one of the greatest cooks I have ever met and her cooking was always infused with love. She never lived to know that I was vegan or that I would be so passionate about helping other people become vegan and learn to cook and eat this way. I think she would marvel at my ability to take her recipes and adapt them to this compassionate, healthier and more forward-thinking way of eating.

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

Michael: I think when people are first exploring vegan cooking and trying to make vegan version of nonvegan food, they get tripped up when finding substitutes for eggs. I learned that understanding the function of eggs in a recipe enabled me to find the best substitution. If eggs are for leavening, I like to use Ener-G egg replacer. If the eggs are for binding, I like using flax seeds.  

Ethan: I think the biggest mistake that people make when cooking vegan is they often over-complicate the whole thing. If you put the label "Vegan" on it, it's suddenly something new, challenging and potentially daunting. That's complete nonsense! I love to remind people that they've been eating vegan food since they were born. When you point out that simple things like butter, milk, eggs, etc... Nowadays have very simple one for one substitutions, it suddenly becomes a whole lot less daunting. 

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

Michael: Right now for me it is all about soy curls! I love them. They are so versatile and lend themselves to use in all kinds of dishes. I like to keep soy curls, pasta, tomato sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, beans, and rice on hand. With those, I can always come up with a meal if needed.

Ethan: For me, the ingredients that most excite me are the ones that are seasonal. As we are now in the summer, I picked up some amazing stone fruit at the store yesterday. Ripe nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries scream summer to me. I also picked up some watermelon, pineapple and mango and made our watermelon gazpacho, which is summer in a bowl, to me.

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

Michael: Chinese, Italian, and French.

Ethan: I share Michael's love for Chinese and Italian food. For me, Japanese, Ethiopian and Israeli food hold a very special place in my heart.

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

Michael: Hands down, the number one person is my husband Ethan. He opened the door to veganism for me. Without him, I would likely have never made the decision to be vegan. A close second is JL Fields; she planted the seeds for our blog, as well as the idea for doing a cookbook. I also give a lot of credit to Charlotte’s Web.  Both the book and the movie planted the idea of not animals to be killed for food when I was little, however, because of social conditioning (aka carnism) that thought was hidden in the deep recesses of my mind.

Ethan: Gosh, this is such a hard question to answer. There've been so many different people along the way who have turned me in different directions on this incredible journey. It started with Jeffrey Masson and his book, The Face on Your Plate, The Truth About Food. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and her incredible “Food for Thought” podcasts were an indispensable resource that both helped me hone my thinking about the issues and become a more effective communicator on animal issues. PETA and their "Meet Your Meat" and Mercy for Animals and their undercover videos really affected me deeply. Dr. Neal Barnard and the folks at PCRM really inspired me to step up and come out as a vegan doctor. Because of their example, I now routinely discuss plant-based nutrition with my patients. 

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

Michael: The overall treatment and abuse of animals in food production. I think most people would say they are against animal cruelty and that killing animals is wrong. However, they fail to see that the animals on their plates were tortured and killed. If people really opened their minds to the reality of food production, they would have no choice but to go vegan.

Ethan: For me, the biggest issue is Factory Farming on all sides of that complex issue. First and foremost, the horrible existence of torture, exploitation and oppression we impose on the animals destined to become our food before brutally murdering them. Then, there is the often-overlooked issue of the humans in the system, charged with the brutal work of handling and killing these animals. They suffer enormously at the hands of the system where they, like the animals they kill, are horribly exploited. The environmental impact of raising and slaughtering the tens of billions of animals we do each year, cannot be understated. My attempt to bring awareness to these issues has led me to my work with Woodstock Farm Sanctuary where I serve on the Board of Directors. At Woodstock, like at so many other farm animals sanctuaries, we connect people with farm animal refugees, in order to promote veganism as the only alternative for a sustainable future.

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

Michael: amazing and the key to a happy and prosperous future for everyone.

Ethan: life.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Want to Save the World? Go Vegan and…

Vegans love to promote the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet and why not?  They are undeniably significant. Is it reasonable to think that because we’re vegan, we are doing enough to protect the environment, though? With our planet under serious threat and future generations seriously vulnerable – and the world’s most economically disadvantaged carrying the greatest burden – we can and should always do more, tightening our ecological footprints as much as possible. Being vegan doesn’t give anyone permission to rest on our laurels or give us carte blanche permission to not do our best to reduce our harm to this planet in every way we are able. Are you already vegan but wanting to step it up a notch or two? There are many small but impactful ways to shrink our ecological footprints and together they add up to something significant. As always, many thanks to the wise counsel of my amazing Facebook friends for helping me to brainstorm this list.

* Consume less.

Try to avoid buying new items; purchasing new vegan purses, belts, shoes and t-shirts is still consuming and still creates a footprint.

Check out websites like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook groups like the Buy Nothing Project, and lots of local groups where people buy, sell, trade and give away used items before buying something new.

Buying secondhand is more than just for clothes and knickknacks: if you need new furniture, cars, computers and books, look for used to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take shorter showers.

– Take fewer showers and spot clean more with a wash cloth.

Switch to high-efficiency showerheads.

Turn off and unplug your computer overnight.

Even if you’re vegan, not all plant foods have the same water footprint. Some are much more water-intensive than others.

Waste less/create less waste

Take reusable to-go containers out with you when you eat out for your leftovers.

Take a reusable mug out with you, too.

Refuse anything packed in Styrofoam.

Don’t use plastic straws.

Decline bags, napkins, straws, utensils and condiment packets with to-go food orders and use your own to eliminate waste.

Take eating utensils, containers, straws and cloth napkins out with you.

Use rags instead of paper towels for cleaning.

Replace tissues with handkerchiefs.

Don’t buy foods packaged in non-recyclable materials.

Take your own reusable containers and fill them up in the bulk section of natural food stores. (Have a cashier or someone at customer service mark down the weight to deduct it from the final weight when it’s been filled.)

In addition to bringing your own shopping bags when grocery shopping, bring your own reusable produce bags.

Use produce that has gone a little bad by cutting out the bad parts; tossing wilted greens and fruit that is past its prime into a smoothie is also a way to prevent waste.

Put the ends and unused parts of veggies into a freezer bag to use for making vegetable stock.

Revive greens and other plants if they get a little wilted.

Get a home energy audit and follow the recommendations as you can afford them.

Learn about and implement the use of greywater around your home.

Make sure your gutters drain into rain barrels to reuse the water.

Use menstrual cups.

Green practices

Drive less or give up your car if you are able.

Grow as much food as you can and if you don’t have a yard, you might still be able to do window herbs or grow on a fire escape.

Grow native plants that help pollinators.

Compost food scraps. If you don’t have a yard, you can still compost: there are still many places that would appreciate the donation.

Wash your clothes less often.

Hang your clothes out to dry.

Wash your laundry with soap nuts, which can last for a year or two, to avoid detergents and fabric softeners in plastic bottles.

Make your own personal care products and home cleaning products with bulk materials like apple cider vinegar, baking soda and castile soap.

Plan your errands and driving times to get the most done in one trip.

Reduce or eliminate flying as much as possible.

Buy local and seasonal as much as possible.

Freeze, can and pickle produce for eating out of season, taking advantage of great sales or to make the bumper crops of the season last.

Convert everything to energy-efficient light bulbs and turn off the lights when you’re not in the room.

Make sure your windows are properly insulated.

Solar panels are handy. Even if you cannot convert your entire home, there are solar chargers for cellphones, solar lights for patios, etc.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

65 Ways to Un-Trump the World

Donald Trump sucks, right? He’s odious and terrible and he Trumps up everything.

It’s easy to get depressed when the dark, noxious shadow of a nasty man-baby who has neither the teeniest bit of impulse control nor awareness of anything outside of his own interests looms over us. He is a human trigger warning surrounded by a bunch of lackeys in the form of advisors, highly paid babysitters and political allies who mostly see him as a handy distraction that allows them to loot and pillage while the getting is good. Despite this Trumping up of our world, though, I have to believe that all hope is not lost. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, we can Un-Trump it and un-Trump it for real this time. Because, let's face it, we can't let ourselves off the hook for the fact that the world was not exactly going in a positive direction before he became president. Ever. There were and are a lot of very Trumpy attitudes and conditions that we can't blame squarely on him. We can start to fix it, though, starting today.

Honestly, we could be in the dawn of a new age, and you could be a big part of it. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

1. Plant a garden. If you don’t have a yard, join a community garden or just grow some herbs in your windows. Don’t forget fire escape plants.

2. Do you have a front yard that’s not doing much but growing grass? Transform it into a free-for-everyone garden smorgasbord and be part of a movement that can help reduce hunger and increase access to nutritious foods in your community with the resources from the Food is Free Project. Or do you have a bumper crop of produce? (How much zucchini can one person eat?) (Yes, I know zucchini bread but come on!) Set up a card table with a cute little sign and let your neighbors know that it’s for the taking.
3. Minimize your purchasing of plastic. One simple strategy: bring your own reusable containers for bulk foods and bags – including bags for produce – to the grocery store.
4. Speaking of, bringing your own containers for leftovers when you eat out, along with packing stainless straws, mugs and reusable cutlery when you’re out in the world, is a great way to minimize waste and Un-Trump the world.
5. Trump hates the Black Lives Matter movement, which means, of course, that you should wear a BLM button wherever you go and join their events.
6. Brush up on your recycling skills for your household and find the best recycling center near you. Localities differ so familiarize yourself with how it works by you.
7. Want to help reverse the Trump legacy of tenant exploitation? Get trained in and volunteer for a tenants’ rights hotline. (This is a Chicago-based organization but many urban areas have their own tenants’ rights groups.) There are also Fair Housing volunteering opportunities in many communities. Seriously, Trump’s real estate developer father was such a racist lowlife that Woody Guthrie, a one-time tenant, wrote a song about him in 1950.
8. Create art: from sidewalk chalk to paint, pottery to macramé, art is the antidote to dull authoritarianism.
9. Write a letter – or send a thoughtful message – to someone who has been really meaningful in your life. Be vulnerable. Tell them what they have meant to you. Send it.
10. Make plans with friends. Don’t break them.
11. Commit to your own happiness first. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then you are able to help others.
12. If you’re ready, make a lifetime commitment to a homeless animal at a shelter.
13. Shop less; thrift more.
14. Go vegan. Eating animals is tyrannical, unnecessary, cruel and dooming to future generations.
15. Become active with a Buy Nothing group near you or start one.
16. Host a potluck.
17. You know one of the best ways to Un-Trump the world? Laugh. Trump never laughs and he has no discernable sense of humor. A sense of humor is essential for mental health always but especially in these troubling times. Watch the funniest movie you know, hang out with your uproariously hilarious bestie, revisit memories that are sure to have you in stitches and laugh, baby, laugh.
18. Organize a trash pick-up day in your neighborhood.
19. Get all your members of Congress on your phone and call those suckas.
20. You can send up to five free faxes to your members of Congress each day, too. Just write your message on the cover letter and hit send.
21. Show up at their town hall meetings, too.
22. Do free yoga.
23. Buy an indoor plant or two. Plan on keeping it alive.  
24. Walk, bike or take public transit more, drive less.
25. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day; find movement that you love.
26. Donate your produce scraps to a local composter or community garden if you can’t or don’t compost yourself.
27. Go through deputy registrar training so you can register people to vote. Communities across the country have free trainings.
28. Remember to smile at cashiers, servers, sales clerks, etc. It just takes a moment and it can brighten someone’s day.
29. Aromatherapy can help lift your mood and make you feel less Trumpy. Try one of these blends.
30. Tackle your clutter and donate to resale shops, especially those with a charitable and progressive mission like Chicago’s Brown Elephant.
31. Take a 24-hour fast of complaining. Ugh, it’s a challenge, I know.
32. Volunteer!
33. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. You know who takes himself way too seriously? Yes, you do. He’s gross.
34. Donate to NARAL or Planned Parenthood post-haste.
35. Have a friend or neighbor who is a caregiver? Offer to pick up groceries and drop them off the next time you go.
36. Take an anti-racist workshop.
37. Do you know someone who is elderly, sick, depressed or disabled and could use some help with walking, feeding, or bathing his or her companion animal? The love of a companion animal is an invaluable gift for those who have challenges but only if they are not overwhelmed by their care.
38. Or can you just help around the house, weeding the garden, sorting mail, etc.?
39. Make sure you don’t get dehydrated. I find keeping my favorite mug at my desk to be the perfect reminder. If you’re dizzy and tired, how are you going to foment the new world order? Revisit #11 if you must.
40. Make your own housecleaning products to reduce your use of chemicals, save money and buy less wasteful packaging.  
41. Call an old friend you don’t talk to often enough and spend an hour or two catching up.
42. Listen to your favorite music and have a dance party! You know how much Trump would hate that? Lots!
43. Pay for an online subscription to the news outlets you trust to help support quality traditional and independent journalism.
44. Watch a documentary or two to become better educated about important subjects.
45. Perhaps the most Un-Trumpian thing you could do? Write a heartfelt apology to someone you have wronged even in the distant past. Expect nothing in return. Living or dead, it doesn’t matter: just apologize.  
46. Have you found yourself being petty, small-minded and resentful? When I get like this, I know it’s time to reestablish my practice of keeping a gratitude journal and write in it every night. Yes, it may feel hokey at first but it works. The practice of building awareness of the things we should be grateful for causes us to not only notice the positive things that happen more in our daily lives and appreciate them but I believe that it also compels us to create more opportunities worthy of gratitude, which seriously Un-Trumps the world. This is a good primer.
46. When you find yourself feeling reactive, slow down and begin to feel your heart beat. Feel your pulse manually if that helps at first and then begin to sense it without feeling it with your fingers. This will slow you down and bring you back to the present moment.
47. Plant native species flora if you have a garden.
48. Also, grow lots of plants that also are beneficial to pollinators.
49. Spend the day in nature and leave your phone at home. You can do it. I believe in you.
50. Raise your children to be feminists: yes, boys, too, because not only is feminism about equality at the end of the day - so they should be for it - a patriarchal framework is limiting to and diminishing of everyone. Check out this post and longer book by the glorious Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for inspiration. Oh, feminists really Un-Trump the world. Don’t have children? Good on you! Mentor your nieces and nephews.
51. Are you a dude and do you do a lot of interrupting? Seriously, stop it. It’s Trumpy.
52. Get familiar with what mansplaining is and stop doing it. STAT.
53. And while we’re on the topic of gross things: manspreading is gross and also Trumpy.
54. The next time it’s been raining, put on your rain boots and splash in some puddles. Serious fun!
55. Do your daily activism. For serious.
56. Read, read, read and then read some more. Books are a powerful antiserum against Trump.
57. Leave fresh water out for the birds.
58. When was the last time you rolled down a hill (on purpose!), swung on a swing, made a dandelion crown, watched the clouds, had a lemonade stand, played hopscotch, ran through a sprinkler, skipped down the sidewalk, played duck-duck-goose or Marco Polo? Reconnect with your childhood joys to deflect toxic Trumpiness.
59. Live in a progressive district? Lucky you! Help out others who aren’t so fortunate by getting active with Swing Left and help to swing the 2018 Congressional election.
60. Give at least one person a heartfelt, sincere compliment.
61. Forgive at least one person. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Attributed to Nelson Mandela.
62. Learn a new language.
63. Shrink your water footprint.
64. Vow to do no harm but take no shit.
65. Stay alive, awake, tuned in, pissed off and full of grace.