Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Celebrating Veganism

VEGANISM may be defined as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

In dietary terms it refers to the practice of dispensing with *all* animal produce - including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, animal milks, honey, and their derivatives. - Definition from the International Vegetarian Union, at http://www.ivu.org/faq/definitions.html

Tomorrow - Nov. 1 - will be World Vegan Day (www.worldveganday.org). It celebrates the 62nd anniversary of the Vegan Society, which was founded in November 1944 in Great Britain.

Though I don’t know of any local events in honor of World Vegan Day, I thought it might be a good time to address a question I frequently get: What is wrong with milk and eggs?

People generally understand that eating meat involves killing animals, so they "get" the motive behind my vegetarianism. They may also accept that vegetarianism can be good for people’s health, and for the health of the environment.

But many don't understand why I’m striving to go vegan. It's simple: The same reasons apply, only more so…. In fact, it is said that the word vegan was formed "by taking the first three and last two letters of vegetarian, - 'because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.'"

The modern, industrial-style production of dairy products and eggs involves suffering that is at least as extreme as that experienced by animals raised primarily for their flesh. And once their production declines, "dairy" cows and "egg-laying" hens are also sent to the slaughterhouse.

The health and environmental considerations also apply for many vegans, so much so that this year, the World Vegan Day celebration focuses on the environmental benefits of a vegan diet.

There are many sources online to learn more about how and why to go vegan. If you’d like to learn more, in honor of World Vegan Day, here are a couple to get you started:

Farm Sanctuary has a wonderful Veg for Life campaign site at www.vegforlife.org. Three major sections, "For Health," "For Animals" and "For Earth" explore the reasons to go vegan. The "For Animals" section gives the facts on animal agriculture by telling the stories of three animals who live at Farm Sanctuary's shelter in New York, Kari the pig, Daisy the hen and Phoebe the cow.

Veg for Life also includes helpful, positive information on how to go vegan, including a step-by-step transition plan, and this gentle advice: "At the thought of becoming vegetarian or vegan, many people worry about the one or two foods they 'can't live without.' If you find yourself saying, 'I want to stop animal suffering, but I don't know if I can give up ice cream,' then don't. Give up other animal products, but permit yourself to eat ice cream while you are in transition."

And Vegan Outreach, has a wealth of information on reasons to become vegan, including a downloadable pamphlet, at http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/. Vegan Outreach also offers excellent information on vegan nutrition at www.veganhealth.org. Jack Norris, the president of Vegan Outreach, is also a registered dietitian. So the information on the site is especially strong at dispelling some of the myths around vegan nutrition.

Finally, it is interesting to see where it all began. The first issue of "The Vegan News," from November 1944, is reproduced at http://www.ukveggie.com/vegan_news/ and is lively reading. The movement’s founder, Donald Watson, had a dry sense of humor that comes through as clearly as his passion for the cause.

Watson died last year at the age of 95. The story behind the formation of the word vegan and more about his life can be read in his obituary on the Vegan Society's site.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Vegetarian -- or is it?

A co-worker of mine recently commented that a friend of his doesn't drink beer because it's not vegetarian. This came as a complete shock to me -- what animal product could there possibly be in beer? So I immediately went to Google to look into the matter, and sure enough, I discovered that quite a few beers are made with a clarifying agent called isinglass, which is a gelatin derived from fish.

I hardly ever drink beer, and I do eat fish, so this doesn't really affect my drinking choices. But it got me thinking about other instances of "hidden" nonvegetarian ingredients in seemingly vegetarian foods. I've gotten used to automatically looking at the ingredients list of a product before I put it in my shopping cart. I've had a few too many unpleasant surprises when I got something "vegetarian" home and realized that, hey, there's chicken stock in this!

People often assume that marshmallows are vegetarian, but they're not. They contain gelatin, as do many other things -- most yogurts, some cereals and candies (like my once-beloved Altoids), even such seemingly odd food products as flavored rices.

Most cheeses are made using a rennet taken from the stomach of calves.

Stearic acid is a tricky ingredient -- it can be derived from either animal or vegetable sources. I've noticed that some products explicitly state "vegetable stearic acid," which is certainly handy.

Most Worcestershire sauces contain anchovies, and many Asian sauces contain fish sauce or oyster paste.

And, of course, there's the vague "natural flavorings," which can cover a multitude of nonvegetarian sins.

One way to be sure that something is vegetarian is to look for the Vegetarian Society's seedling symbol, which indicates that they've fully checked it out.

For the record, you can find a list of vegan beers here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Veggie Halloween

Let's all sing together now (to the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down"):
"Seven more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween,
Seven more days till Halloween, Silver Shamrock!"

I feel like singing because Halloween is a great holiday for vegetarians. Unlike other holidays that are traditionally associated with meat (Thanksgiving turkey, Easter ham, and so forth), Halloween is associated with things like pumpkins, apples, guts and eyeballs, and candy. (Of course, Halloween guts and eyeballs are made of cold spaghetti and grapes.) And although gelatin and other scary animal ingredients can find their way into candy, many kinds are naturally vegan. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a list to get you started, and you can find other options in local stores. Just check the ingredients before you buy to avoid a nasty Halloween trick!

But the best thing about Halloween are the ghosties and ghoulies - all the scary characters that make the holiday what it is. And happily, it turns out that many of them have hearts of gold. Vegetarians may especially appreciate the various Halloween characters - both real and fictional - who are advocates of vegetarianism and animal rights. They include:

Linda Blair, well-known for her role as a possessed child in The Exorcist. Now that she's all grown up, she's still a Halloween queen, but she has written a guide to Going Vegan and has started an animal-rescue foundation. I had the chance to meet her at an appearance at a Halloween amusement park several years ago, and she was genuinely enthusiastic and encouraging about veganism.

Linnea Quigley, perhaps best-know as the character Trash from the zombie thriller Return of the Living Dead, naturally doesn't crave brains in real life. She has been a vegan for many years, and advocates for animal rights. You can read more about her in an article from the Vegetarian Journal here.

In the fictional realm, Shaggy, the unlikely ghost- and monster-hunter of the "Scooby Doo" cartoons, is a vegetarian. This is because the man who usually voices Shaggy, radio personality Casey Kasem, is in reality a dedicated vegetarian. But Shaggy's path to vegetarianism hasn't been without detours. According to the Straight Dope in 2000, Kasem quit voicing Shaggy because of a script that called for Shaggy to eat shrimp gumbo. But a later report traces the break to Kasem being asked to portray Shaggy in a Burger King commercial. It also says that he began voicing Shaggy again in 2002. For fun, you can find a recipe for vegetarian Scooby Snacks (and a veganized version) here.

Finally, consider that although it gets little notice, one of the all-time Halloween greats, Frankenstein's "monster," is a vegetarian. Carol Adams points this out in her influential book on feminism and animal rights, The Sexual Politics of Meat. Adams quotes the creatures own words that make his vegetarian diet clear: "My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid, to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment." Adams' discussion of the meaning of the creature's vegetarianism is fascinating, serious reading.

By the way, that little song about Halloween at the top of the blog is from the movie Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I don't know of any vegetarian connection in the movie, but it's a cool song.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Odds and ends

A few miscellaneous items:

*A story in the October issue of Cooking Light magazine reveals a handy way to tell whether produce is organic, conventional or genetically modified: look for a sticker with a PLU (Price Look-Up) code printed on it. If the PLU code is four digits, that means the produce was conventionally grown. If the code is five letters beginning with a "9," that means the produce is organic. And if the code is five letters beginning with an "8," the produce has been genetically modified.

*One of the ways I try to save money on organic products is by using coupons. Mambo Sprouts puts out a great coupon booklet several times a year, which I've picked up at Whole Foods, EarthFare in Greensboro and the Lowes Foods in Clemmons. Whole Foods even helpfully tapes these coupons to many of the items. And if Harris-Teeter happens to carry the product, I take advantage of their double-coupon promotion to save even more. Now if they'd just start issuing coupons for produce....

*Speaking of Harris-Teeter, they have Seeds of Change and Moosewood organic vegetarian frozen dinners on sale buy-one, get-one-free through the 24th. When I don't have time to make something to take for lunch at work, I will often take one of these frozen dinners to microwave. I'd have stocked up a lot more if I had more freezer space! They also have Tofutti's "ice cream" buy-one, get-one-free. I love the vanilla Tofutti's Cuties "ice-cream" sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Comfort Food

There's a nasty cold going around, and it finally caught me. At times like these, I crave some good ol' comfort food. Here are two – one old, one new.

When I was a child, one of my favorite meals was boxed macaroni-and-cheese – the kind flavored with an envelope of glowing orange powder. Now that I'm an aspiring vegan, I'm delighted to have discovered a worthy replacement: Mac & Chreese.

This product from Road's End Organics (www.chreese.com) is a delicious vegan version of that childhood favorite. It doesn't have that vivid, unnatural color - but you won't miss it. Mac & Chreese does have the same creamy, comforting texture, and a savory, familiar flavor.

My grown-up version of comfort food is green curry with tofu. Downtown Thai restaurant (www.downtownthai.com) in Winston-Salem makes a wonderful green curry. It’s spicy to start with; and with extra hot pepper added, it really does seem to work wonders as a tonic. But nearly any curry from any Thai restaurant will do the trick. Something about the combination of spices is magic.

Well, I'm going to go fix some Mac & Chreese now. Do you have a favorite vegetarian comfort food that you turn to when you’re under the weather? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Meanwhile, take care and stay well!

Friday, October 13, 2006

The "green" giant?

When Wal-Mart announced this spring that it was going to start carrying more organic products, my initial reaction was that it would be nice to have another store in which to buy them. Maybe the products would be cheaper and more people would become interested in and able to buy organic.

In reading articles since the announcement, I've come to realize that (as usual) there's a lot more to the story than I first thought. Organic farmers and small companies are nervous about the negative effects that Wal-Mart may have on the industry. As the country's largest grocer, Wal-Mart wields tremendous buying power, and as such can make tough demands of suppliers that smaller companies can't, driving down the prices it has to pay -- and thus charge consumers.

I know that Wal-Mart isn't embracing organics out of any altruistic purpose -- its purpose is to make money, and organics is a burgeoning business. The company isn't interested in the ethics of organics, just the profit potential. So what effect is that business model going to have on the organics industry? As big a behemoth as Wal-Mart is, it seems unavoidable that it's going to have one of some sort.

There's a particularly interesting take on this issue from the New York Times magazine here.

A watchdog group called The Cornucopia Institute recently released a report saying that Wal-Mart is diluting the value of organics by buying products of questionable quality from Third World countries and giant factory-farms -- in effect creating a "new" definition of organic. You can read the white paper here.

With this in mind, I wandered around a local Wal-Mart a few weeks ago, looking for organic products. Had Wal-Mart become a great green machine since their spring announcement? On the whole, I didn't find there to be much to write home about yet. There were some organic products, sure, but I hardly felt like there was a great choice. But once that changes and organics become more than a token on the shelves, what then?

What effect do you think that Wal-Mart will have on the organics industry?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Veggin' on the Road

I spent part of the past week out of town, so now that I'm back I wanted to just quickly mention one of my favorite vegetarian road-trip destinations. Sometimes just a short drive can bring you to a whole new world. For example, take Starr's New Southern Cuisine in Mocksville. Although it's not obvious from the name or the first look at the menu, Starr's is extremely vegetarian-friendly. The kitchen stocks veggie burgers, veggie "bacon" and veggie "chicken" patties that can be substituted for meat in many of the menu items. So, yes, you can have that fried green tomato BLT - great with a side of sweet-potato fries - or the sweet-potato ravioli with flash-fried collard greens. And they've added fried dill-pickle chips to the menu since the last time I was there. Clearly, it's time for a return visit....


Friday, October 06, 2006


A food that I've recently discovered and enjoy cooking with is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It's been around for 6,000 years -- the Incas called it the "mother grain" -- but it seems to have only recently begun to catch on in modern American cooking. I first tasted it several years ago at Spirits on the River, a Native American restaurant in Asheville, but it took me a while before I started cooking with it.

Quinoa is technically not a grain, but it's treated as one in cooking. It's high in protein -- 12 percent to 18 percent -- which makes it a particularly great addition to a vegetarian's diet. And it's a complete protein because it contains all eight of the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also a pretty good source for iron, calcium and Vitamin E. It's gluten-free and is considered easy to digest.

Its flavor borders on bland, so it makes a great base for salads and casseroles, providing nutrition while other ingredients can supply the balance of the flavor. It has a slightly nutty taste (particularly if you toast the seeds before cooking). I've successfully substituted it for rice and couscous in recipes -- my most recent use was substituting it for bulgar wheat in tabbouleh. You could also use it in place of oatmeal for a protein-rich breakfast.

Uncooked quinoa looks like tiny seeds, but once it cooks, it takes on a much different appearance -- the germ twists outward and forms a tiny, white, curved "tail." It cooks much like rice -- boil 1 part quinoa in 2 parts water for 15 to 18 minutes until it's soft and fluffy, but with a bit of a crunch left.

The seeds have a bitter coating called saponin, which needs to be rinsed off before using. Most of the quinoa you'll find in the supermarkets is already prewashed, but some of the saponin could remain, so it's best to rinse it yourself, too. Make sure you use a colander with VERY small holes, or you'll lose some of your precious quinoa down the drain!

Here's a recipe for a tart, fruity salad that I adapted from a recipe in the October 2006 issue of Natural Health magazine. The original called for rice, but I used quinoa instead.

Minty Orange and Cranberry Quinoa Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1/2 c. champagne (or white wine) vinegar
1/3 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (about one orange)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
1 11-ounce can of mandarin oranges, drained, sections cut in half
2/3 c. dried cranberries
2 T. chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds

Boil quinoa in water for 15 minutes, until soft. Let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together next six ingredients (vinegar through pepper). Pour over cooked quinoa and toss gently to coat. Add orange sections, cranberries, mint and almonds. Toss gently until well mixed. If you let it sit for a while in the refrigerator, the dressing with rehydrate the cranberries and soften them.

You can also find quite a few quinoa recipes here: http://cgi.fatfree.com/cgi-bin/fatfree/recipes.cgi?quinoa


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What's cookin'

When the weather starts to cool down in the fall, I get the urge to get cooking in the kitchen. This season, I've been trying out the newest addition to my cookbook collection, ExtraVeganZa: Original Recipes From Phoenix Organic Farm, by Laura Matthias (New Society Publishers, 2006). And so far, this book is a winner.

The recipes often make novel use of ingredients. For example, the Vegetable Mochi Casserole has a topping of grated mochi. Mochi
, a dense, chewy Japanese food made of brown rice, is usually cut into small squares and baked. It puffs up and gets crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. I would never have thought to use it as a casserole topping - but it is an inspired idea! The seasoned mochi bakes up gooey and crisp -- almost cheese-like but even better -- the perfect casserole topping. The other elements: a garden's worth of steamed vegetables; tofu chunks; and a creamy, cashew-butter sauce - complement it well. A friend said it may be the best thing I've ever cooked.

Now, don't let the mochi mentioned above scare you off. If you don't want to venture into using unfamiliar ingredients, there is still plenty here for you. Fern's Carrot Cabbage Kale Salad makes a colorful, tasty and tremendously healthy side-dish out of readily available ingredients.

It's a good thing that the first part of ExtraVeganZa makes it a pleasure to eat your vegetables, because the second part, called "Dessert Island," is filled with wild indulgences. I started at the beginning, making the Mandarin Orange Spice Cake. It turned out so deliciously that I fully intend to forge ahead, through the Chocolate Lavendar Cake, the Chocolate Red Velvet Cake, the Hazelnut Pear Cake.... As you can see, the flavor combinations range from the traditional to the unusual. Several of the desserts use flower flavors, such as lavendar and rose.

And that leads to the brief but fascinating third section, on "Eating With Your Eyes." Matthias discusses ways to make food visually appealing, including using natural food dyes and edible flowers.

As is fitting for a book concerned with the visual appeal of food, it is beautiful. There are color photos of several dishes, the layout is clean and easy to navigate, and the indexes are accurate and helpful.

More information about Phoenix Organic Farm and the cookbook is available at http://www.phoenixfarm.ca/index.htm

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Cassandra's take on the fair feast

As Julie said in her post, we ventured to the Dixie Classic Fair on Saturday, looking for fun and vegetarian food. We spent 10 hours at the fair and didn't come close to feeling devoid of eating options.

THE vegetarian find of the fair for me was the Louisiana Kitchen's marinated and grilled vegetables: mushrooms and thick slices of zucchini, squash and onions. They were wonderfully seasoned and grilled to just the right consistency. I would've been happy with this dish if I got it in a sit-down restaurant -- it was that good, and completely unexpected. (This booth can be found in the long row of food booths nearest Yesterday's Village.)

Another substantial vegetarian meal could be had at one of three Greek-food booths scattered around the fairgrounds (two in the food area and one on the midway). In addition to a large Greek salad, they offered cooked vegetables (onions, squash, peppers and broccoli) on a pita, with lettuce, tomato and tsatsiki sauce. The pita was tasty, but a word of warning: it's quite messy! No wonder they give you a big pile of napkins.

You might not expect to find any vegetarian options at a food booth called Mr. K's Chuckwagon, but there are actually some there as side dishes for their main reason for being, steak bits (a big draw for my carnivorous friends). You can get a garden salad, sauteed mushrooms or new potatoes with chives (very yummy, but not exactly in the health-food category, since they're swimming in butter).

There are quite a few booths offering roasted ears of corn, but my preferred one was Shucker's near Yesterday's Village. They offer a topping area where you can sprinkle your corn with such things as parmesan cheese, lime juice, lemon pepper, chili powder or hot sauce. You can even get it dipped in chocolate or mayonnaise (yep, you read those right). I didn't try either of those interesting options, but friends who did said that both taste better than you'd expect.

Contrary to popular opinion, you CAN eat something totally healthy at the fair. In Yesterday's Village, you can get a fresh apple (Granny Smith, red delicious or golden delicious) peeled and cut in a few seconds into a spiral on a really nifty metal contraption. And it's only 75 cents!

Another out-of-the-fair-ordinary option could be found at the Fountain of Life Luthern Church booth. They make a fruit wrap: a crepe spread with Nutella and filled with bananas and strawberries. I totally intended to go back and try this unusual fair food, but it got late and we didn't make it back by there. Oh well, I certainly had my fill of other foods, as my scale could attest when I got home!

And I didn't try this, but the Vienna Civic Club offers an egg sandwich on its menu.

Feasting at the Fair

"A fair is a veritable smorgasbord" sings Templeton in the movie "Charlotte's Web." And truer words were never sung by an animated rat. With its roots as a celebration of agriculture and the harvest, it's natural that the fair has an incredible array of things to eat. Yesterday, Veggin Out co-conspirator Cassandra, Carl, Tim and I spent 10 hours at the Dixie Classic Fair - and we still didn't get to sample all the goodies.

My first food stop was at Louisiana Kitchen, a concession near the entrance to Yesterday Village. The woman working there assured me that the red beans and rice are purely vegetarian; and they are purely tasty, too. It's a simple dish, but well-seasoned, satisfying, and healthy - especially as fair food goes. It was one of the best food choices I made all day.

Next, it was on to Smitty's, a concession in one of the Yesterday Village cabins. Smitty's offers all things apple: Apple cider, hot or cold; apple fritters; apple pies; caramel apple chips.... But I was after an apple dumpling: an apple baked in pastry, drizzled with syrup. It's just wouldn't be the fair if I didn't get one of those, or two of those. It's a tradition.

Another tradition at the Dixie Classic is the way community groups and churches set up in the permanent, brick concession area to raise money for their good causes by selling food. Much of it is in the down-home, seasoned-with-fatback style - but not all of it.

At one stand, Tim asked whether the pinto beans had meat in them, explaining that I was looking for vegetarian beans. The woman behind the counter laughed and said, "Good luck. This is the South, you know!" She wasn't being unfriendly, and there is some truth to her words - but happily, it isn't the whole truth. We moved on, and at the Fountain of Life Lutheran Church's stand, the kitchen assured us that the pintos were vegetarian. A bowl of them with cornbread is another delicious, healthy meal.

But the most vegetarian-friendly stand we saw in this area was the one run by the U.S. Equine Rescue League. Their menu includes veggie burgers; macaroni and cheese; such vegetables as yams, slaw and sauerkraut; grilled cheese sandwiches; and, yes, pinto beans cooked without meat or lard.

Back out on the fairgrounds, another community group adds to the flavor of the fair each year. The Exchange Club, which works to prevent child abuse, sells peanuts roasted in the shell. Their volunteers offer samples to passers-by. They're yummy and fun to eat, and I generally end up with a bag or three to take home....

We saw but could not sample myriad other delights, such as pizza with cheese and vegetable toppings; fruit smoothies; vegetable fried rice and vegetable lo mein; deep-fried vegetables and deep-fried Twinkies.... OK, I'm going to stop now. I would say I have to go eat breakfast, but for some strange reason, I'm not really hungry yet today.