When the subject of veganism comes up with my friends or family, or even complete strangers, something I always hear is how they could NEVER give up beef/pork/butter/whatever because it tastes so good.

I think they understand at some level that they are being selfish and choosing taste over life. And while telling them how selfish they are and criticizing them for their lack of compassion or restraint is one way to make them open their eyes to the issue, I prefer a much different method: feeding them.

When I went vegan, my coworkers made a lot of jokes. They even said I would never be able to bake again because, “you can’t bake without eggs”. I explained that isn’t true; flax seeds, tofu, and applesauce are all great alternatives to using eggs in baking. They turned up their noses and announced that they would never eat vegan baked goods.

A couple of weeks later, I brought in chocolate brownies and left them in the kitchen with a note that said the brownies were for everyone. By the end of the day, the plate of brownies was bare of even crumbs and my coworkers were very curious as to who had brought in the delicious brownies.

“That was me,” I said, “I made them last night. I found a new recipe I wanted to try that involved using tofu instead of eggs. I’m glad you guys liked them so much.”

My coworkers were very surprised and didn’t say much.

The topic of vegan baked goods wasn’t mentioned again until a month later, when one of my coworkers brought in half of a chocolate cake. A vegan chocolate cake she had made herself.

This coworker and I have since talked more about vegan baking and I’ve even sent her some recipes for vegan cookies and bread to try. Will she go vegan? Doubtful, but she has become more willing to try vegan food and no longer uses the argument that vegan food is gross. Would she be making more vegan food if I had sat her down and told her of the horrors of factory farming and how selfish she was being? I honestly can’t say.

Is culinary activism the best form of vegan activism? No. Does it always work? No. But can it be used as a starting point, a way to slowly dispel the myths surrounding veganism? Absolutely. My friends and family know that if they want more information on factory farming they can always ask me; just like they know they can always come to me for a delicious recipe for vegan sloppy joes or a vegan chocolate cake.

As a continuation of the first part, here are another three small things you can do to make going vegan easier.

1. Buy or rent a cookbook. There are many great vegan cookbooks out there. Libraries are even starting to carry them. So go to the nearest bookstore or library and browse the selection. I have written a couple of reviews (here and here) but there are many more options available. You can try “Appetite for Reduction” if you are looking for low-fat and healthy recipes, “The Kind Diet” if you are interested in a macrobiotic diet, or “Color Me Vegan” if you want a little bit of everything. Many libraries are even offering the option to electronically download a book to rent.

2. Don’t give up on your favorite food. You love sushi but think you’ll never have it again once you go vegan. I have great news: you don’t have to give it up!  Quail egg shooters are out of the question, but many sushi restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan rolls. I’ve found that many places are willing to make substitutions if you ask nicely. Sushi is also very easy to learn to make at home and very inexpensive. Learning how to modify your old recipes will make going vegan that much easier. Check out sites like VegWeb for recipe ideas.

3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are like me, you spent a good portion of your life being told that meat and other animal products are vital for your survival. Our culture holds the belief that animals are at our disposal and it can be hard to go against this idea. If you slip up or need extra time to fully make the transition, don’t fret. What matters is that you are trying and you are making a difference for those whose voice cannot be heard.

I recently bought the cookbook “Vegan on the Cheap” by Robin Robertson. The cookbook is geared to those who are on a tight budget but want to eat healthy and fresh foods. The cookbook has recipes for almost everything you want to eat: soups, stews, salads, pasta, burgers, desserts, and more. The first part of the book offers tips on budgeting and eating for less.

So far I’ve tried about half a dozen of recipes and have liked all but one. The recipes are pretty simple to make and rarely require ingredients you won’t already have on hand. As a time-crunched student, I really liked the fact that the recipes don’t require me to be constantly monitoring the food.

My favorite dish so far is the Farfalle with White Beans and Cabbage. It is simple, delicious and very inexpensive.

While this is a great cookbook, it is not perfect. I was not a fan of the Stovetop Cheezee Mac. I can’t place exactly why I didn’t like this recipe, but there was something missing for me.

Overall though, I highly recommend this cookbook. The recipes are good, easy to make, and really lives up to the title. Nothing in this cookbook costs more than $2.00/serving.

It came as a huge shock to me when I first learned that not all alcohol is vegan. Some types of alcohol, such as vodka, are far more likely to be vegan than other types, such as wines and beers. Here is a quick guide to the most common animal products found in alcoholic drinks.

Isinglass: Isinglass is made from dried fish bladders, usually cod fish. Real ales (cask-conditioned ales such as Guinness) almost always use isinglass as a fining agent to remove yeast. Domestic beers tend to not use isinglass in the production process.

Gelatin: Gelatin is made from the boiled remains of animals, frequently using bones, intestines, and organs. In the production of wine, gelatin is frequently paired with kieselsol and used as a clarifying agent and a way to reduce astringency in wines.

Of course, the above ingredients are only some of the ingredients used in filtering and clarifying the alcohol. Other animal ingredients, like honey, are used in the making of the alcohol for flavoring. Sometimes you will find these ingredients on the label, sometimes not.

While beer and wine are the types of alcohol the most likely to use animal ingredients in some part of the process, other types of alcohol may also use animal ingredients. The Messy Vegetarian Cook lists alcohol in order of least likely to most likely to be vegan.

For a reliable list of vegan alcohol, check out Barnivore. Keep in mind that this list may not be comprehensive as companies do change their formulas. If you have questions about a drink, contact the maker of the alcohol to get a definitive answer.

I hope this information proves to be useful to you. I strongly believe in making an informed choice when picking what to buy and consume.

Happy drinking! ;)

I may be a little late to be announcing my resolutions, but better late than never right? Without further ado, here are my resolutions for the new year:

Blog:

  • Participate in the Post a Week 2011 held by WordPress, though I do want to post more frequently than that.
  • Add more resources to the blog to make it more of a useful tool for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters.

School/Work:

  • Give myself enough time to finish assignments by starting early.
  • Survive the semester and pass my classes.
  • Become better friends with my co-workers.

Veganism:

  • Continue to educate myself on what veganism means and the conditions animals are kept in.
  • Continue on my journey of veganism and fighting for the animals.

Personal:

  • Volunteer 4 hours a month.
  • Do strength exercising twice a week and cardio twice a week.
  • Continue cooking food for friends and family.
  • Decrease the amount of food I waste.

Recently, the Cooking Channel (the Food Network’s sister channel) aired a one-hour special entitled “The Veg Edge“. A couple of my friends (both of whom are vegan) and I watched the special, drooling the entire time over the featured vegan food.

It also inspired an interesting discussion with my friends on admitting to cravings for and missing foods that are not vegan or vegetarian. If you haven’t seen the episode, about halfway through, vegan chefs and cookbook authors talk about which foods they have missed the most since going vegan or vegetarian.

I have to admit, I liked that segment. My friends? Not so much. They felt it put vegans in a bad light, making it seem like veganism is too hard to succeed at.

I disagree. For one, I don’t think it is “bad” to miss certain foods–even if they are not vegan. I would venture that most current vegans were not born and raised as a vegan. So, far at least a few years, most have eaten meat and cheese and eggs. And while it is great that many are able to go vegan or vegetarian overnight and without another thought of the foods they once loved, not everyone can do that.

I still miss a few of my favorite comfort dishes. Sloppy joes were a weekly feature in my family’s menu. (Which I make now with tempeh instead of ground beef.)

Instead of ignoring or denying the foods you are missing, find a way to veganize them! Many foods, like sloppy joes, require a few changes to make vegan, but taste just as delicious as the non-vegan versions.

Do I think we should focus only on the foods we miss? No. Obsession with a particular food is not healthy.

But I think that pretending you have never missed a non-vegan food (when you have) isn’t helping either. Many people are convinced that they cannot give up meat or cheese or eggs. And we need to tell them that it is OK to miss those foods and offer ways to veganize their favorite dishes. Veganism becomes more approachable this way.

If you are vegan and still have the occasional craving for a steak, say so. Tell us how you deal with the craving and give us the recipe you created for portobello steaks that are better than the “real” thing. Your advice will help a lot of people as you are a great model of how to live a cruelty-free life.

And if you are one of the lucky ones who do not miss the foods you used to eat at all, that’s great! You have a lot to offer to those who are having trouble giving up their favorite foods and you are also a great model of how easy it is to live a cruelty-free life.

If you are interested in helping the animals, but are unsure of where to start, or are not ready to go vegan just yet, here are three easy ways to make your meals a little less cruel.

1. Switch to Earth Balance and stop using dairy butter. I love Earth Balance! You can use it as you would dairy butter in baking and cooking: you can saute with it, melt it, use it as a spread, and bake with it. The Earth Balance Buttery Spread also comes in stick form so you can easily measure the required amount. Earth Balance products are vegan and they offer soy-free alternatives as well. Earth Balance is found in many stores, including Wal-Mart.

2. Use vegetable stock. For many recipes, you can substitute vegetable stock in place of  beef or chicken stock without compromising the flavor. Vegetable stocks are available in the same section of beef and chicken stocks at grocery stores. If you want a chicken-flavored stock that is vegan, you can get that too. Vegan Essentials sell Better Bouillon Powder in beef and chicken flavors that are completely vegan.

3. Eat one less meat dish a week. If you have a turkey sandwich for lunch every day, why don’t you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch one day? Or if Thursday is stir-fry night, make a vegetable stir-fry and leave the chicken or cow out of the dish. Once you get used to making one less meat-based dish a week, make two meatless dishes a week. And then three.

Even if you don’t go any farther than the three steps mentioned above, you are still making a difference. Making changes to your food choices can be hard and take some getting used to, but I bet that with each change you make you will expand your culinary repertoire and gain confidence in a cruelty-free way of eating.

A few days ago I went to a new café that opened at the University of Nevada, Reno in the Center for Molecular Medicine. Pathways Café is owned by two local residents of Reno, Nevada and places an emphasis on healthy, organic food. Many of the vegetables used by the café are grown hydroponically by the owners, including their delicious heirloom tomatoes.

I had the gourmet grilled cheese (vegan) which consisted of a yellow heirloom tomato, sun-dried tomato dressing, and two types of vegan cheese on 9-grain bread. The grilled cheese sandwich was absolutely delicious and I am now addicted to heirloom tomatoes!

The prices were also very reasonable. My meal, the sandwich and a drink, was about $9 and we were also given free samples of their vegan cupcakes. The next time I go I am definitely getting the vegan chai cupcake. The sample was just not enough.

The Center for Molecular Medicine is the north most building at the University of Nevada, Reno and the café is on the first floor.

A couple of months ago I bought the cookbook “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This cookbook has become one of my favorites and I frequently make up excuses to cook another batch of cookies.

I have tried about a third of the 100 vegan recipes in this book. And, so far, I have only been disappointed once (more on that later). The Vegan Cookies book has everything you could ask for in a cookie cookbook: classics like chocolate chip and gingerbread cookies to biscotti to thumbprint cookies. The book also offers many recipes for those who want a more healthy dessert like whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.

One of my favorite parts of the cookbook is the beginning. The first section of the book offers tips on baking and suggestions for substituting. The authors discuss every type of ingredient that is used in the book (various flours, sweeteners, egg substitutes, etc.) and the different ways that ingredient acts in baking. The authors have also included a section of the various tools you will need and which tools are non-essentials but very useful.

The only recipe I have not liked so far is the whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. The recipe turned out just fine: the instructions were easy to follow and I didn’t have any problems with baking the cookies. However, I did not like the way the cookies turned out.  The whole wheat flour left a weird taste for me and a few of my friends. I did, however, have several friends who loved the cookies and asked for the recipe. Obviously wholesome cookies are not for everyone but fortunately, the unwholesome chocolate chip cookies are absolutely delicious.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to all of my friends: novice and experienced bakers alike. I can’t wait to try the other recipes in the book.

Chocolaty Crinkle Cookies from “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar”

Living with friends or family who eat meat can be difficult at times. Opening the fridge and seeing a cut up cow can be very upsetting, so I have some tips that have helped my roommates and I deal with the issue of food.

  • Decide what can be shared. I’m ok with my roommates using my plates and eating utensils for their meat-based dishes. I am not, however, comfortable with my pans, cutting boards, and some other kitchen supplies touching animal products. My roommates and I took an hour out of our day to divide the cabinets and shelves among us. We each have a couple of shelves designated for items we don’t mind sharing with others (with permission!) and another couple of shelves for our “off-limits” items.
  • Set up a cooking schedule. The smell of an animal cooking really bothers me and I prefer to not be around when my roommates are making their dinner. Our kitchen is also on the small side and does not fit three adults comfortably at one time. To help with this, we decided to create a cooking schedule. I am generally the first one home so I cook before everyone else. I clean up after myself and then the boys will sometimes cook together. I generally eat with my roommates once they are done cooking. This schedule is obviously not set in stone as our days do fluctuate but it helps us all to have an idea of what to expect each day.
  • Set up boundaries in the fridge and pantry. I firmly think that meat should not be placed on the top shelves of the fridge to prevent the juices from dripping onto items below. This is both a preference I have as a vegan and a health concern. So my roommates and I made some rules for the organization of the food: meat as close to the bottom as possible, our leftovers and excess items in the middle, and everything else (drinks, unused food, condiments, etc.) towards the top and in the door.  This system also makes it easy for us to see what we are running low on and what food might be close to spoiling and needs to be used soon.
  • Label everything! Create a system for labeling your food items. Each of us writes our initials on the food we buy. We frequently share food but labeling it with initials helps in another way: I know that the food I buy is safe for me to eat, but when I see a food item with my roommates’ initials on it I know to be careful about using it. Initials aren’t the only way to label; you have your roommates put a rubber band on items that may contain animal products, label with a “V” for vegan or vegetarian, “O” for omnivore, etc.

And perhaps most importantly…

  • Respect each other. I cannot respect the practice of eating animals and animal products. And though it pains me that these products are so common in our lives, it is hard to get around the fact that these products are culturally acceptable (at least in my culture). And though my roommates take part in this industry, they are not bad people. I respect them though I do not respect their choice. And they respect my choice though they disagree. It is because we respect each that we are able to live together peacefully (for the most part… :P ) and found ways to ensure each of us can live with the others comfortably.

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