Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saving water, a bite at the time ...

The drought across North Carolina and much of the Southeast seems to have water conservation on everyone's mind. As a Journal story Sunday pointed out, the recent rains, although helpful, do not mean we should stop thinking about conservation. It really needs to become a way of life.

So it's great to realize that in addition to all its other benefits, going veg is also an effective way to conserve water.

How can this be? It comes down to the staggering amount of water needed to produce animal products – much more than is required to produce vegetarian food. As Peter H. Gleick wrote in a Scientific American article, "Making Every Drop Count,"

"Even our diets have an effect on our overall water needs. Growing a pound of corn can take between 100 and 250 gallons of water, depending on soil and climate conditions and irrigation methods. But growing the grain to produce a pound of beef can require between 2,000 and 8,500 gallons. We can conserve water not only by altering how we choose to grow our food but also by changing what we choose to eat."

And the U.N.'s recent report on Livestock’s Long Shadow includes a chapter on "Livestock's role in Water Depletion and Pollution."

This exhaustive account of all the ways animal agriculture contributes to the depletion and degradation of water supplies points out that, for example, it takes an average of 990 liters of water to produce a liter of milk.

A nifty place to see the effect of a vegetarian vs. a meaty diet is at If you use the "quick calculator," you can see the difference in the amount of water that it takes each year to sustain the average American vegetarian lifestyle, or the average meat-eater or heavy meat-eater.

For example, my vegetarian “Water Footprint” is 1,754 cubic meters of water a year. If I decided to chuck it all and become an average meat-eater, that footprint would grow to 2,230 cubic meters of water per year. So, according to these figures, I'm saving 476 cubic meters of water each year simply by eating a vegetarian diet. Or to put it another way, if meat eaters went veg, they could cut their water consumption by more than 20 percent, just like that.

These figures are for vegetarians – they would be even more impressive for vegans. So, friends, let's proudly wear our veggie burgers as a badge of honor! (But not literally. We'd waste water washing the ketchup out of our shirts....)

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Halloween chili

Halloween, my favorite of all holidays, is next week. In its honor, I wanted to share a recipe I recently came across that's perfect for the season, since the main ingredients are orange and black. It's from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson. When I made it last weekend, I altered it for my spice-wuss tastes by leaving out the jalapeno and cayenne pepper, and reducing the chili powder to 1 T. I also added a tablespoon of cocoa. That's the beauty of chilis and stews -- they're so adaptable to personal taste.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili

2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno chile, minced
One 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
One 14.5 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 c. water
1 c. apple juice
4 T. chili powder
1 t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
3 c. cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained

Cut the pumpkin into 1/2-inch chunks and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved pumpkin, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, water, apple juice, chili powder, salt and cayenne, and stir well. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the beans, and more water if the chili is too think for your taste. Cover and continue to simmer about 15 minutes to blend flavors. Serve hot.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Time for a rant

Usually I try to stay positive, since vegetarianism is a joyful part of my life. But once in a while I go on a tear about the way things ought to be.

This started yesterday, when a friend asked about a new "fine-dining" restaurant that had been described to her as vegetarian-friendly. I've not been to this particular restaurant, because its menu offers scant indication of veg-friendliness. Of 14 entrees, only one is the least bit vegetarian.

And that one entree - once stripped of all its many fine-dining adjectives – is manicotti. Thanks, but I think I'll head to my local Italian restaurant, where I can get manicotti if I want that. Or if not, I can choose from a dozen other vegetarian-friendly dishes ... vegetarian lasagna, pasta al pesto, pasta with broccoli and garlic, calzones, strombolis, raviolis, and so on.

This seems to be a common pattern among "fine-dining" restaurants in this area. They may make a curt nod to the vegetarians, but it's often merely a variation on the same thing you can get elsewhere. Often your down-to-earth, homey restaurants have more to offer the vegetarians.

But that got me thinking about what I would love to see at a fine dining restaurant. Here are the top three:

Number one: More choices for vegetarians – including vegan options - might as well dream big! Nothing makes me feel so warm and fuzzy as having a hard time deciding what to have.

Number Two: Clear indications on the menu of what is vegetarian. Nothing makes me less warm-and-fuzzy than to see a delicious-sounding risotto only to learn upon iquiry that it is made with chicken stock and oh, yes, there’s a bit of sausage in it too. Labeling vegetarian and vegan items on the menu has so many advantages - it shows that the kitchen understands and cares about the meaning of "vegetarian"; and it eliminates much of the uncomfortable quiz-the-waiter portion of the evening, enabling everyone to better enjoy the dining experience.

No. three: Menu flexibility – perhaps offer the option of combining (those clearly labeled vegetarian) side items into a meal. Sort of like getting a vegetable plate at a meat-n-three, only fancier.

Readers, do you know any "fine" restaurants in the area that are especially veggie friendly? Or are there other items that would be on your fine-dining wish list?

Friday, October 19, 2007


I recently spent a few days in Boston. Although the weather wasn't great, the food certainly was. I don't think I ate anything on my trip that wasn't yummy, and it was a pleasure to have so many vegetarian options -- even if we didn't get around to visiting their new vegan restaurant.

My favorite area was the North End -- basically every other doorway led to an Italian restaurant. My first meal in Boston was at Galleria Umberto, a cheap pizza joint. Nothing fancy here, but the food was delicious -- and very, very cheap. A slice of cheese pizza -- the only kind -- was a mere $1.25. There were also spinach-and-cheese calzones and a dish I'd never seen before, panzarotti. These are deep-fried cigars of mashed potatoes filled with mozzarella cheese, a bit larger than a Twinkie, for only $1.25. With a bottle of water, my meal was less than $4. Who says big cities have to be expensive?

Another meal was at a Mongolian-grill restaurant called Fire + Ice. I'd been to Mongolian grills before -- you pick your items off a giant salad-bar, then take them to the giant grill for them to be cooked -- but this one far surpassed those. There was tofu and all kinds of vegetables -- from the typical mushrooms and carrots to the surprising chunks of butternut squash and sweet potato -- plus a vast array of sauces. The cooks would gladly take your vegetarian dishes to a separate grill to cook, which was advisable since items could easily migrate from one person's area of the main grill to another's. I was pleased to see that the cooks were scrupulous about changing tongs between vegetarian and meat dishes.

Breakfast one day was at a fabulous little place called Sorella's that offered just about any variety of pancake or waffle that you could think of. I was torn between the gingerbread and pumpkin-cranberry-walnut pancakes, but ultimately chose the latter as it seemed more "fall in New England." They also offered tofu or tempeh instead of bacon or ham with your breakfast plate, which was great to see.

I'm getting hungry again just thinking about the food. And I'm not even touching on the pasta or cannolis or chocolate waffles or spinach croissants.... I'm just disappointed I was there a week too early for the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Talking Tofurkey

It's a nice feeling to realize that your lifestyle has had a positive effect on people. Sometimes it's really big - such as a friend or relative who went veg at least in part because of your influence. And sometimes it's something small, like introducing someone to a favorite food and having them enjoy it as much as you do.

I keep trying to tell people how umeboshi plum paste will change their lives, but so far no one believes it. But Tofurkey, now, that has really taken off.

My friend Ira, once he was introduced to the wonders of these faux-turkey deli slices, started buying a dozen packages at the time. He keeps it in the freezer, and came up with the best way of all to prepare it - basically, pan-fried with a bit of oil.

Even many cats, those notoriously finicky carnivores, enjoy Tofurkey. Another convert, Amy, mentioned this weekend that prepares Tofurkey by sauteeing it in a bit of water and then melting cheese on top. Once it's done, her cats enjoy the tofurkey-flavored water that is left behind.

And when my cat MacArthur seemed curious about my breakfast one morning, I offered him a piece of fried Tofurkey a la Ira, expecting him to take a delicate sniff, perhaps a tentative taste, but not much else. Instead MacArthur sniffed, then used his claws to swipe the entire piece out of my hand and into his mouth. It's just lucky that I still have all my fingers.

Readers, do you have a favorite food that everyone seems to enjoy once they try it?

Thursday, October 11, 2007


(Note: Though Journal reporter Tim Clodfelter is an unrepentent carnivore, he hangs out with a lot of vegetarians and has been known to cook up some tofu. When he was going to interview Cassandra Peterson, AKA Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, he offered to ask some questions for the Veggin' Out blog her about her status as a formerly outspoken celebrity vegetarian who hasn't talked much about vegetarianism in recent years. More of his interview with Peterson can be found in Thursday's relish and online at

For someone who looks like a vampire queen, Cassandra Peterson doesn't care too much for blood.

She has long been involved in animal rights and helps raise funds for PETA and other organizations.

"I've always loved animals since I was born. I got a kitten for a 'being born' present that I had til I was, like , 10 years old," she said. "When I got old enough to figure out how many animals were suffering out there ... I couldn't sit around and do nothing."

For a long time, she was a vegetarian, and she hopes to be one again.

"I was a vegetarian for 13 years, really hardcore," she said. "I have kind of slipped off the vegetarian wagon, I'm sorry to say. I would still say I'm about 90 percent vegetarian, and my daughter is 100 percent vegetarian, so there's definitely no meat in this house, I tell you that. Once in awhile I have chicken or fish, but I'm working on weeding that out of my diet now."

Her slip away from vegetarianism came when she was expecting her daughter Sadie, who is now 12.

"It was pregnancy. Oh my God, I started having cravings for chicken and dumplings, it was so insane."

She has since tried to revert to vegetarianism, but keeps slipping in and out of the lifestyle, especially because of her fondness for seafood.

"It makes me feel awful, because I don't feel as good as I did when I was a vegetarian. I don't feel like I have as much energy, and it's not as easy to stay thin, either."

And with the ultra-tight Elvira dress, she said, she needs to watch her figure.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Scary Veggies

It's well into October, so all good boys and ghouls have started to think about what they want to be for Halloween. If you're looking for vegetable-friendly ideas, the Web is a veritable salad bar of inspiration. Consider these:

Tofu the Vegan Zombie: "'Tofu' is a friendly zombie, created from a botched experiment in Professor Vost's laboratory. Monkey #5, one of Vost's lab animals, stuffed a block of tofu into the zombie boy's open skull after accidentally losing the brain. As a result, 'Tofu' eats only vegetables and grains and has no taste for human meat. However, if 'Tofu' ever loses his 'tofu-brain', he turns into a dangerous zombie creature, craving human flesh...."

Vegetarian anime vampires: "Have you ever heard of the Vampirians? One noble family of such vegetarian vampires have been banished from Monsterland for their inability to scare humans. To lift the exile set on the family, Papa, the head of the household, must scare 1000 humans. To this end, he attempts to use his magnificent skills in making new inventions, but always and inevitably fails...."

And, words may fail as you feast your eyes on this Salad, "A Tribute to H.R. Giger and Giuseppe Arcimboldo."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Vegetarian pets

I was recently surfing around vegetarian Web sites and came across some information on people who feed their pets a vegetarian diet. It's a concept that I've honestly never really considered and isn't something I would probably ever do. It would seem wrong of me to not give my cats any "say" in the matter and force them to become vegetarian when they clearly enjoy the flavor of meat. (Of course, that's rather a hypocritical feeling, since I didn't consult them first before I had them fixed!) And from what I've read, cats actually really need to eat meat because their bodies require certain nutrients that they can only get through meat. Though I also came across testimonials from people saying they feed their cats a vegetarian diet and they're totally healthy.

It seems that dogs, however, are omnivores and can more reasonably be given a vegetarian diet, although special care should be taken to make sure they're getting the proper nutrients.

I'm curious -- do any of you feed your pets a vegetarian diet? Would you ever do so? What do you think about the concept?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rice Salad

I'm a big fan of breakfast (as well as lunch, supper and frequent snacks), so I thought that today I'd share the recipe for one of my favorite breakfast dishes. Actually, recipe is a high-falutin' word for it; this rice salad is so flexible and customizable that it's more an idea than a recipe. And, it's good for lunch or supper. A bit elaborate for snacks, though.

You need: cooked brown rice (warm, room-temp or cold, it's all good.); an avocado; dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries ... you could use anything you like and have on hand); nuts and/or seeds (pumpkin seeds and walnuts are a nice combo); soy sauce and lemon or lime juice.

For one serving, mix about a cup of rice with some chopped avocado, fruit and nuts - as much or little as you like. Mix about a teaspoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of juice for a dressing, and toss with your other ingredients. You can also add other things you fancy. Vegetarian "bacon" bits are a nice complement. Or, if you start with warm rice, mix in some fresh spinach, chopped fine. It will wilt just a bit and be quite nice.

If you find some favorite add-ins, let me know - I'd like to try them.