Archive for the ‘Just Talking’ Category

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Spreading Some VeganMoFo Liebster Love

November 3, 2011

It’s been three days since this year’s VeganMoFo ended, and I’m still wiped out. 31 straight days of blogging turned out to be no easy task, but overall I’m still glad I did it—though I’m not jumping at the idea of doing it again (but we’ll see what I say next year…). I’m also very pleased to share that on my last day of the October blogfest, I received a nice little gift from my friend Lisa over at Vegan Culinary Crusade—a Liebster blog award! It looks like this:

First off, let me say that Lisa is awesome and if you don’t already read her blog that means you’re doing life wrong. Second, I’m going to spend today spreading the blogger love around, since, like all chain-letter-style blog awards, this one came with some conditions of receipt…

“The rules of winning this award are as follows:
  1. Show your thanks to those who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  2. Reveal 5 of your top picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Post the award on your blog.
  4. Enjoy the love and support of some wonderful people on the www!”

So here are some of my “Liebster” blogs, specifically geared to blogs that shared this year’s VeganMoFo with me and made it all the merrier…

1. Vegtastic!

This blog is probably my favorite VeganMoFo discovery—which is to say, I didn’t know about it before this month, but now I’m sure glad I do! Even though I’ve only been following it for a few weeks, it’s already provided me some excellent recipe inspiration, from these Coconut Chai Rice Krispies (which inspired my recent No-Bake Coconut Chai Oat Bars) to this Purple Potato Bread, which I made literally less than an hour after seeing it. (I sorta love bread.) (But you should know this already.)

2. Cupcakes and Kale

This blog gets some of my Liebster love for having in my opinion one of the best VeganMoFo themes: keeping with her blog’s title, Jess devoted the entire month solely to recipes featuring cupcakes or kale! The result was an outpouring of deliciousness. I really enjoyed these Sour Cream & Onion Kale Chips (which attentive readers will remember from my Thanksgiving appetizers), and I’m just dying to try these Chocolate Kale Chips!

3. This is Vegan

Mary is one of my blogging neighbors in nearby Kitchener, Ontario, and she’s a real VeganMoFo champ, another member of the 31/31 club. I really like her blog because it’s a good mix of recipes, restaurant reviews, and just talking (which, I guess, is much like my own). And just look at that beautiful Pumpkin Hummus! Can’t wait to try this out for myself.

4. Prairie Vegan

Prairie Vegan is a fellow Toronto-based blog, and she’s certainly a good neighbo(u)r to have—and I’m not just saying that because she sometimes writes entire posts dedicated to “Caturday” (though I certainly wouldn’t complain if there were more…) It’s also a good place to find ton(ne)s of awesome recipes. In fact, Prairie Vegan’s early VeganMoFo post about apple recipes provided two of my favorite recipes of the month: Apple Pie Hummus and Apple Fritters!

5. Vegan für Anfänger und Fortgeschrittene

One of the coolest things about VeganMoFo is that it’s global, and has plenty of participants from all over the world. For me, this meant the discovery of some German vegan blogs, which excites me to no end, and Vegan für Anfänger und Fortgeschrittene (that is, “Vegan for Beginners and Experts”) is one of my favorites of the ones I’ve seen. Just check out that delicious Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup!

Hope you guys appreciate these links! And don’t worry—I’ll be getting back in the kitchen this weekend and am sure to have plenty of exciting recipes to share with y’all next week! Check back soon.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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I’m a Vegan Omnivore; What Kind of Omnivore Are You?

October 11, 2011

Hi all!

Today I’m here to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and hopefully introduce a new vegan slogan in the process. As you’ll see, my discussion will end up touching on many aspects of vegan ideology and identity, but it starts from this simple though perpetually vexed question, which you have perhaps asked yourself before as well:

What Do You Call a Non-Vegan?

Most of the names commonly tossed around are inadequate in various ways: “Carnivore”, for instance, is strictly speaking inaccurate, since non-vegans eat (at least some) plants as well. “Meat-eater”, on the other hand, (in the sense of ‘someone who (also) eats meat’) is more accurate, but usually comes off sounding hostile, as does “carnist”, Melanie Joy’s suggested neologism. Because of this, the most common moniker you hear for non-vegans is “omnivore”—but as I want to argue today, we shouldn’t accept this description, either.

First, a sociological point: When we frame the debate as vegans on one side and omnivores on the other, this can make it look like omnivores are easygoing folk who will eat anything whereas vegans are unaccommodating picky eaters. But of course, vegans are not “picky eaters”. Picky eaters are people who won’t eat certain foods but for completely arbitrary or idiosyncratic reasons—because something smells funny, because it’s not the right color, because the name reminds them of something else. Vegans, on the other hand, abstain from certain foods for principled reasons—be they ethical, environmental, economic, or whatever else. Veganism is not simply an explanation of what one does eat, but more centrally an expression of what one should eat and why. Because of these values, vegans do sometimes need to make special requests or exceptions at meals; yet this is just us being discriminate, not unaccommodating. We need to do what we can to change this misperception.

This leads me to my second, semantic point, and my main reason for opposing the ‘omnivore’ label for non-vegans: In its principal biological use, “omnivore” is a species term—a description we apply to animal species, not to animal individuals. The panda is not a herbivore because it just happens to love.bamboo; it is a herbivore because it can only eat plants. Analogously, humans don’t stop being omnivores when they cut out meat from their diets—an omnivore is a creature who merely can eat both plants and animals, not necessarily one who does. In this way, vegans are just as much omnivores as any other human: we can eat whatever we want; we just choose not to. And in fact (as will be familiar to any reader of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma), this decision of “what should I eat?” is one we all as omnivores are faced with. As creatures who can eat nearly everything nature has to offer, all humans are called on and compelled to make choices about what we will and will not eat.

This is why I believe vegans should embrace the omnivore label, and not let non-vegans keep it for themselves. “Omnivorism” is not in itself a dietary description; it describes merely the dietary freedom that makes meaningful dietary choices possible. Omnivores can be vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, choicetarians, flexitarians, locavores, or countless other sorts of eaters. These are all perfectly legitimate ways to respond to the freedom of choice omnivorism offers us. What is not legitimate is to treat such dietary freedom as a license to be indiscriminate in what we eat. As omnivores, it is our lot to be presented with an overabundance of possible food options; as humans, it is our duty to choose among these options in a meaningful way.

So to return to the question with which I started: What, then, do you call a non-vegan? Given all I’ve said, I believe that that’s exactly what one should call them—“non-vegans”—because until you know more specifically about what anyone does and does not eat and why, there is no label to describe their diet. To have a dietary description, one must deserve a dietary description—that is, to be making conscious and principled dietary decisions.

An unreflective diet is no longer acceptable; there is simply too much at stake not to reflect on what we eat. Vegans recognize this demand for critical reflection and have responded in one particilar way, but I believe there are plenty of other conscionable dietary positions. As much as I’d love to live in a much more vegan world, what I most desire right now is for everyone else simply to care about food in the way I do: to recognize that food choices matter, that what we eat affects so much more than our stomachs, and that our diets are indeed sites of meaningful ethical expression.

In short, I believe that everyone should be giving more thought to what they eat. A key element in promoting this sort of critical reflection is by emphasizing that there is no “default” dietary position, that we are all obliged to decide what we will and will not eat. And we vegans can do our part in encouraging this paradigm shift simply by stating with pride: “I’m a vegan omnivore—What kind of omnivore are you?” Spread the word.

VeganMoFo #11/31

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Why I Do This: Blogging, Veganism, & Activism

October 1, 2011

Hi all!

So today is October 1st, which this year is day one of the Vegan Month of Food, or as it’s more curtly known around the interwebs, VeganMoFo. For those not familiar with this yearly event, VeganMoFo brings together hundreds of vegan bloggers under the shared aim of publishing a continuous stream of content for one entire month—and when I say continuous, I mean a post every day. Why any sane blogger would ever agree to this is beyond me, and why I ever agreed to this is definitely beyond me. Yet here I am, one lunatic among many, signed up and ready to write.

While some bloggers choose to do a specialized theme for VeganMoFo, I’ll be keeping things more or less the same here at UWEA: which is to say, a healthy mix of recipes, restaurant reviews, and general reflections. And today for my first post, I wanted to kick things off with a more reflective post and talk about something that’s been on my mind for a while, and which seems like an appropriate way to inaugurate this month of madness: namely, why I blog.

(And okay, yes, I also wanted an excuse to post these photos of me posing with my friend (and personal photographer)‘s kitten.)


There are many reasons why I started blogging, many of which I’m sure other bloggers share: I wanted to share my food life with others, to keep in touch with friends near and far, to become part of the food blogging community, to meet new people and forge new friendships, to keep a personal record of all the food I make, to help myself remember all the recipes I like, to provide some extra motivation to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and of course, to let my mother know I’m still eating.

These are all excellent reasons for anyone to blog, and even if this were all there was to blogging for me, I’d probably keep doing it. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that blogging is the ideal medium for the vegan movement. That is, I believe that blogging is the best form of activism that vegans have got going for them right now, and that we have more to gain by blogging than does your average food blogger. Here’s why:

Veganism has made some amazing strides since its inception in the mid-20th century. Today, more people than ever recognize the ethical reasons for being vegan, and many are starting to see the environmental and health benefits, as well. And this is great: veganism is not just a diet but also a lifestyle and ideology, and it’s important for people to see and understand this. However, it’s clear that these arguments only do so much, as there are plenty of people who acknowledge them yet keep on eating animals. And this shouldn’t surprise us, since persuading people by reason alone has never, ever worked.

So what’s missing? As I see it, though people may know why to be vegan, they still don’t know how, or if they can. That is, though people may agree that they should be vegan, and may even want to be vegan, taking that extra step to actually doing it and being vegan can be very difficult. It’s not simply a matter of weakness of will, either; rather, what non-vegans need most is information on how to do it: what vegans eat, how we stay healthy, and where we still struggle—in other words, the normal everyday stuff of how we live our lives. In this way, the biggest challenge facing the vegan movement right now is convincing people that not only is veganism right, but that it’s also joyful and doable, even for perfectly ordinary folks. And this is where blogging steps in.

First and foremost, blogging is egalitarian. Anyone can blog about whatever they want; no agent or publicists or book contracts are required. Because of this, most of the vegan food bloggers you’ll find are ordinary folk—people who are amateurs, if not complete beginners, at writing, cooking, and often, veganism. These are not people trying to make a living off you reading their blog; they’re just folk with a story to tell. Thus if the vegan movement wants to show outsiders that vegans are people with lives like everyone else, the vegan food blogging community provides the perfect place to start.

Second of all, blogging is down-to-earth. On food blogs, nothing need be elevated or haute cuisine; and since bloggers are most often not professional chefs, they actually are the perfect example for other non-professional chefs to follow. What newcomers to veganism need most is food that is tasty and also simple, affordable, and unintimidating—and to me, food blogs are the best place to find such recipes, since bloggers themselves are often still relative novices in the kitchen and always on the lookout for new culinary shortcuts and secrets. The ingenuity and small tricks you’ll see and learn on blogs are the sort of thing you’ll rarely read in books or hear from chefs, but they can really take your cooking to new levels. (The abundance of blog photos guiding you along every step of the way also helps on this score.) Which is all to say: if you want to learn how to become vegan, food blogs are an excellent way in.

Finally and most importantly, blogging is diverse. Possibly the greatest asset blogging has over any other medium is its sheer diversity. Since anyone can do it, lots of people do, and the variety of vegan food bloggers you’ll find out there is astounding. And this means that every fledgling vegan has all the more chance of finding a blogger that speaks directly to them and their unique situation. Whether you’re an aspiring vegan mother, father, student, or ultra-marathon runner, there’s a blog for every lifestyle. And this is what non-vegans most need to see: that vegans are just like them, with busy lives and multiple responsibilities—and nonetheless able to eat the foods they know they should.

And that’s why I keep blogging: because I honestly feel like it’s part of something bigger, to whatever small extent; because I want others to hear my story and see how a grad student copes with the pressures of being vegan; and because I think it’s precisely the sort of activism that’s most needed right now if veganism is to gain any real presence in the population.

And I guess that’s part of the reason I signed up for VeganMoFo, too, making this a fitting way to start off the month. So get ready: you’re about to see a lot more blogging here than ever before. Just don’t expect to see another post this long until this month is over.

VeganMoFo #1/31

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Impressions from the 1st Annual Toronto Garlic Festival

September 26, 2011

Yo!

This weekend was chock full of fun events and happenings here in Toronto, which was nice, because it also happened to be gorgeous weather outside. I enjoyed these last warm days of the year in various ways: going for a long morning run, listening to some comics artists talk about their work, roaming the Word on the Street festival, enjoying some vegan s’mores at a bonfire in Dufferin Grove, and on Sunday morning, trekking out to the 1st Annual Toronto Garlic Festival at Evergreen Brickworks!

Now I realize that a festival all and only about garlic may be a turnoff to some, but for me it’s a dream. Seeing the big Brickworks shed filled with garlic stand after garlic stand filled me with joy and excitement, and I was quickly shelling out money to purchase garlic varieties and concoctions that I had never seen or even heard of before. There were jars of pickled garlic and pickled garlic scapes (these are from From These Roots)…

…and jars of garlic jelly (these are from Acadian Shamrock Farm—I got some of their garlic rosemary jelly, which sounds weird, but tastes great!)…

…and of course, piles and piles of garlic!

These bulbs are from Golden Acres Farm, which grows an astounding variety of garlic, using species from all around the world! I picked up some Floha from Germany, Rosewood from Poland, and Korean Red from (you guessed it) Korea. Very excited to try these out!

The festival wasn’t perfect, though. First off, it was fairly small, but perhaps that’s too be expected of a festival in its first year focusing solely on garlic. However, the biggest downside was that there was a five dollar admission charge to get in, which seemed exorbitant given the festival’s size, and the fact that you still had to pay for anything you wanted once you were inside (except for the various cooking demos and talks going on throughout the day). I can only hope that the admission charge helped make the vendor registration fee lower. But if the Garlic Festival comes back next year, I’d surely like to see the admission fee go, or at least become cheaper.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the 1st Annual Toronto Garlic Festival. It opened my eyes to new parts of the world of garlic, and gave me some exciting new garlicky additions to my kitchen that I can’t wait to try! Don’t be surprised if you see more garlic than normal on this blog in the upcoming weeks.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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How to Host a Vegan & Gluten-Free Dinner Party

September 16, 2011

Hi friends!

In the past month, I’ve thrown so many dinner parties that my arms are starting to hurt. But that’s not to say I don’t still love it: cooking for others is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable things in my life, and always much better than cooking just for myself. I also like it because it gives me extra motivation to challenge myself, and as you probably already know, I’m always in the mood for a new kitchen challenge.

Take this past weekend for example: I had offered to host and prepare a dinner for six, which needed to be vegan for me and gluten-free for my other friend. Sounds like that’d be severely restricting, right? Sure, I had dabbled in a bit of gluten-free vegan cooking in the past, but I had never attempted a full, three-course dinner. Thankfully, it all turned out very well and delicious, and largely due to three simple maxims I followed while coming up with the night’s menu, which I’m now here to share with you. I think these guidelines work well for any dinner party, really, but they are particularly useful when dealing with any dietary restrictions. So here you go! I hope y’all find these helpful.

1. Let nature be your guide

For any dinner party, I find the easiest way to narrow down your menu possibilities is by looking at what nature’s bounty has to offer and letting that shape the dishes you make. At this dinner, I made use of as much local farmers’ market produce as I could, which at this time of year had everything I needed for my signature colossal confetti salad, as well as some delicious fresh basil for quinoa pesto. Not only is this a practical guideline (since there are of course sooo many recipes to choose from), but the seasonal produce really elevates everything it goes into, making your dinner party that much more delicious.

2. Choose dishes than are vegan and gluten-free by default

Instead of attempting to veganize and gluten-liberate some non-vegan or glutenous dish you know, try to think of dishes that are vegan and gluten-free by design. As excellent as I know vegan and gluten-free cuisine can be, attempting an ersatz dish is always a risk, especially when some of your guests will be accustomed to the real thing. Imitation often tastes like imitation, unless it is done really well. The easier way to go, then, is just to forget about imitating. There are plenty of amazing dishes that do not use any animal products or glutenous ingredients at all, and these are the dishes you want to gravitate towards.

3. Wow them with banana soft serve.

I think this should be a rule for every vegan dinner party from now on, especially if you’re having non-vegans as guests: make them banana soft serve. Think of it as a form of baketivism. If there’s any single dish that can convince everyone out there that a vegan lifestyle is absolutely delicious (while still being super healthy), it’s this one. And you don’t even need to get fancy, either. Whipped up frozen bananas have enough sweetness and flavor all on their own to knock the socks off any diner—and to convince them that they can easily become vegan, too!

So those are my three simple pieces of advice. Perhaps they’re obvious, but they’re always good to remember. This was a really excellent dinner party for me, and as far as I could tell, my guests had fun, too. Thanks to them all for being such wonderful company. And look out next week for a post about the dinner party I’m throwing this weekend, which should be epic!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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So Awesome: The Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival

September 13, 2011

Hey guys!

What a long weekend! If you follow me on Twitter (which you totally should), you’ll already know that this weekend was full of awesomeness and excitement at the 27th annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival. I really didn’t expect that I’d want to keep coming back day after day, but as things turned out I spent all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday enjoying all the festival had to offer. And man oh man, let me tell you about all it had to offer…

First off, the food—oh, the food. It was all delicious, all vegan, and all quickly in my tummy. From this APieCalypse Now s’more pie…

…to this APieCalypse Now dark chocolate espresso pie…

…to this creamie from Bunner’s Bakeshop

…to this lovely Indian lunch platter from Udupi Palace

…everything was incredible—and vegan, of course! And trust me, I ate much more than I managed to photograph, such as an awesome raw dinner from Nzyme, more cupcakes and sweets from Bunner’s, and an amazing mile-high brownie from Kindfood. Also super awesome were Sick On Sin, a vegan T-shirt and design company, whose buttons were absolutely adorable (I got three!):

There were many excellent presenters present, as well. I particularly enjoyed Melanie Joy‘s talk on carnism and vegan advocacy, and Nadia Masoudi and Terry Hope Romero were also a lot of fun. And there were cooking demos, too, including one showing you how to make this lovely trio of banana soft serve blizzards (from left to right): raw mint oreo cookie, raw cookie dough, and strawberry cheesecake!

The only thing better than getting to sample these knockout blizzards was getting to watch the lovely Lisa and Nicole show us how they’re all done. I just had such a blast watching them perform their culinary magic.

Seriously, I think I could watch a cooking show with Lisa and Nicole all day. And if there were always free samples, I’d probably become a permanent audience member. (Oh and did I mention that they demoed all three of those blizzards with all their fixings in just 45 minutes?? Insanity.)

Beyond the food, talks, and demos, though, the best thing about the festival was without a doubt all the people I got to meet and hang out with: not only other Toronto vegans and vegetarians, who were all wonderful, but also tons of other vegan bloggers! Shout outs to The Tofu Princess, Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs, Chris from This Little Vegan, Jess from Cupcakes and Kale, and then of course Lisa and Nicole, from Vegan Culinary Crusade and A Dash of Compassion, respectively.

Want to read even more about the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival? Well you’re in luck, because I was so behind the curve in getting this post written that now everyone else at the festival has already gotten their own posts out on the interwebs. Here are just the ones I’ve seen so far…

Thanks again to all the wonderful volunteers and organizers that made this festival so special for me and everyone else! And to all my non-Torontonian readers, who are surely sick at this point of hearing me go on and on about the Food Festival, I have a message for you: Regular posts will resume later this week. Also, come to the Vegetarian Food Festival next year!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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You Should Be: at the Vegetarian Food Festival

September 10, 2011

Hi there!

If you’re in Toronto and reading this on Saturday or Sunday, September 10 and 11, then you should really stop reading this and get on over to the Harbourfront Centre for Toronto’s 27th Annual Vegetarian Food Festival. It’s apparently the largest festival of its kind in North America, but more importantly it’s just tons of fun, but even more importantly I WILL BE THERE HANGING OUT. And probably eating more of these:

That’s a butter tart from Bunner’s Bakeshop, whose tent is conveniently (read: dangerously) located right next to the Sweets From the Earth one:

Aside from all the wonderful vendors and restaurants, there are also talks and cooking demos happening all throughout the day. When I stopped by last (Friday) night, for instance, I saw Terry Hope Romero give a fun talk all about vegan blogging.

But the biggest upside to the festival is getting to be around so many cool and like-minded people. Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Chris from the This Little Vegan blog, and I should be meeting up with many others over the next two days (and don’t worry, a full recap will be posted here early next week).

So come on down! There’s lots of food, talks, and yes, free samples. And if you want to say hi, just let me know! Twitter is probably the best way to get in touch with me, but email will do the trick too. I’ll be around basically all day Saturday and possibly Sunday afternoon as well, especially if the weather stays as nice as it was last night.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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How to Plan for a Vegan Weekend Getaway

August 23, 2011

Hi all!

So this past weekend, I got to leave the city for a few days and enjoy a nice and relaxing weekend with some friends. Aside from the pleasures of fresh air and quieter surroundings, this short little sojourn also gave me the opportunity to challenge myself a bit, dietarily speaking. You see, although I feel totally comfortable and capable being vegan when I’m at home—that is, in my kitchen and in my city with all the grocery stores and restaurants I know and love—being vegan while on the road or in new places can still feel difficult and stressful. Not too long ago, I had the occasion to reflect on some of the complexities of being vegan while abroad, and after that, this weekend’s brief two-day outing felt like a walk in the park, and I had no trouble staying vegan the whole time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t come prepared, though! Quite the opposite, in fact. As I’ve discovered over the years, the secret to successful vegan travel is, simply, forethought. So here is some quick advice to guide you through your next vegan weekend getaway…

Plan ahead!

As the old adage goes, better safe than sorry. My basic plan for the weekend was to bring way more food than I could possibly ever need, which I did, as the above picture demonstrates. That’s because you never know what’s going to be available for you to eat when you’re in a new place, and it’s better to have something in store rather than be forced to break vegan (or, I suppose, fast). And as it turned out, I ate through almost all of this food before the weekend was through (and don’t worry, the things left over did not go to waste!). So don’t shy away from reality: if you’re serious about eating vegan wherever you are, you have to accept that you’ll occasionally be left to fend for yourself. Just view these times as occasions to empower yourself, by enabling yourself to eat the food you want.

Whole foods are travel foods, too

Often when we think about packing food for a trip, our first thoughts are of packaged and processed snack foods like granola bars, potato chips, and cookies. Yet although these foods are indeed travel-friendly, and now readily available in vegan varieties, they are not, in my opinion, what veganism should be all about. The way I see it, one of the core tenets and benefits of veganism is the reappropriation of whole fruits and vegetables as a major part of one’s diet. These are the foods that make me feel best, that I most want to eat, and that make me stay vegan—not the Clif Bars and Guiltless Gourmets of the world. Granted, whole foods are certainly more perishable than anything that comes in a wrapper, but they’ll still do fine over the course of a weekend. Heck, the peaches I brought with me this weekend didn’t even last a day before they were all gobbled up.

Go nutrient dense

On a related note, you also want to make sure that the food you’ll be bringing will give you everything you need to stay healthy and energetic for your trip. Staying away from processed foods will go a long way in getting you there, but peaches and corn alone will not round out your nutrients. So, for my trip, I chose to prepare things like a nutrient dense salad, ginger cashew spread, beet hummus, and some baked tofu and seared tempeh. These are all things I regularly eat at home, too, and that’s because they’re all super tasty and healthy. Of course, I’m not saying you should do just what I did; rather, think about the healthy and nutrient rich dishes you love, and then figure out which ones of those will work on the road.

Share, share, share

Finally, remember that traveling is also an opportunity to share your veganism with others—and more often than not, others means non-vegans. Because of this, see your vacation as a chance to show off the wonders of vegan cooking and prove that it’s not all rabbit food. For my trip, I brought along some sunflower shortbread button cookies and coconut creme pie Vimbits, which were both fantastic, but the possibilities here really are endless.

Anyway, I hope y’all found this advice helpful! Vegan traveling can really be a lot of fun, especially if you’re like me and always up for a new culinary challenge. So here’s wishing you well on your next vacation, wherever that may be. Stay vegan!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Being Vegan While Abroad: Some Reflections & Advice

July 31, 2011

Hi folks!

So I’m just getting back from a two-and-a-half-week vacation in Berlin, where I had an absolutely fantastic time. Berlin is a really wonderful city with so much to explore and enjoy, and I would’ve gladly stayed longer if I could. But this is a food blog, not a travel blog, and so I’m not going to spend time here reminiscing about the many exciting experiences I had during my trip. However, seeing as food is such a big part of my life, food was a big part of my time in Berlin as well. And in particular, this vacation was unique, food-wise, in that it was the first time I was travelling overseas since I started identifying myself as more vegan than vegetarian, and, as a result, in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was faced with the following difficult question:

Will I stay vegan while abroad?

Perhaps some of you have had to grapple with this question yourselves (or its vegetarian equivalent). It really is a tough one, because it actually has so many different facets. To name a few that ran through my mind…

  • Can I be vegan?—Even if I’m committed to staying vegan, will that be possible? Will I be able to find vegan food to eat? Will I even be able to get people to understand what ‘vegan’ means, especially in a country which speaks a foreign language?
  • Should I be vegan?—Isn’t part of the point of travelling to experience the culture of where you’re visiting, and wouldn’t staying vegan involve missing out on a lot of the local food culture?
  • Must I be vegan?—Why am I being vegan in the first place? What will I really be accomplishing in staying vegan while abroad?

To make my own situation clear, my current dietary maxim is that I’m 100% vegan whenever I’m in control of what I’m eating: that is, when I’m the one making it or buying it. However, I do still allow myself occasional vegetarian allowances, such as when other people have prepared non-vegan food for me and so on. And so, the question for me was really whether my vacation should count as one of these “allowances” or not. But in addressing this question, I kept mulling over all of the above questions as well.

Now, Berlin is unique in many ways in relation to these questions. First, though it is a Germany-speaking city in a German-speaking country, the population is largely English-literate, and since my German is also not that bad, the foreign language barrier was not really an issue for me. (The situation would’ve been much different if I were travelling to, say, Laos.) Second, Berlin is a world-class, progressive city and home to many vegans, so there is actually no lack of vegan restaurants scattered throughout the city. (Again, the situation would’ve been much different if I were travelling even just to other cities in Germany.)

So perhaps I was a bit lucky in landing up in Berlin this summer. Still, I think the basic guidelines I ended up giving myself and following could apply to any travel destination. All I did was follow these two simple pieces of advice:

1. Don’t panic! (which just so happens to be generally good travel advice)

By this I mean: Don’t get overly stressed out about staying vegan—and more importantly, don’t feel overly guilty about breaking vegan. While travelling, it’s nearly impossible to be perfect. You may unwittingly order something you’d never knowingly consume, or you may be stuck in a restaurant with no other options. It’s important to recognize that these things aren’t the end of the world. The last thing you want to feel while on vacation is anxiety and guilt.

Furthermore, during my travels I was blessed to enjoy the hospitality of numerous strangers, who were kind enough to both let me into their homes and then on top of that to cook for me. No part of me would’ve felt right in turning these people down and abstaining from the lasagna or mozzarella platters they had so graciously prepared for me. And no part of me felt wrong in partaking in a little bit of cheese for the night. Travelling can really show you how big people’s hearts are, and I do not believe one should not let one’s diet get in the way of the generosity of others.

(Side note: It may seem strange or even wrong of me to say this. Most strict vegans I know are driven, at least in part, by ethical reasons, and to “break vegan” once in a while may seem like an unacceptable moral transgression. However, though I too am persuaded by the ethical arguments for veganism, I do not believe we are under some universal moral imperative never to eat any animal products, which applies to every single thing we put in our mouths. What I think is most morally reprehensible in non-vegan diets is the perpetuation of an industry which views animals as mere meat-making machines, and not as the living, breathing creatures they are. Therefore, what I am most concerned to avoid is engaging in a diet that repeatedly and continually demands more animal products from the market. This is why I don’t think vegans have to be “perfect”.

And in fact, I think this sentiment is largely in line with how veganism was originally defined by the Vegan Society:

‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…” (I first saw this here)

Travelling often throws us into situations where veganism becomes simply impractical, and in these instances you should rest assured that there is no deity or judge looking over your shoulder disapprovingly. Do what you can, and don’t sweat it when you can’t.)

2. Don’t slack off, either—eating vegan will actually make you feel great

Nevertheless, although vacation time can provide an excuse from veganism, it should not be seen as an excuse—that is, as a vacation from veganism. For me at least, veganism is not about denying yourself certain foods, and so having an excuse is no reason to take advantage of that excuse. I’m vegan because I want to be vegan: vegan foods are simply the foods I want to eat. Now yes, it does require some extra effort to find those foods when you’re in a new and unfamiliar place, but what I realized during my time in Berlin is that such effort is completely worth it. It felt great searching out the various vegan hotspots around Berlin, and the meals were more than satisfying. Just being able to use my limited German to request a latte with soy milk rather than regular made me feel really good. And that’s because I was doing what I could to get what I wanted. Being in Berlin actually reminded me of why I’m vegan in first place: because the end result of eating good, cruelty-free food more than makes up for whatever extra effort it may require.

This relates to something I often hear from others about vegetarianism or veganism: that it sounds great, but it’s “so much work”. I can’t disagree with them—maintaining a vegan diet does require more work than most people put into food. Even for people who are practiced chefs of omnivorous cuisine, vegan cooking requires you to learn some new techniques and expand your repertoire in certain ways. But you know what else is “so much work”? Writing a novel, or raising a child, or bringing about meaningful social change. Yet we do all these things because we recognize that the effort we put in is outweighed by the value we get out. And I think it’s the same for veganism. That is, when I think about the ‘work’ involved with veganism, I don’t see it as struggle, effort, or toil—in other words, unpleasant labor—but rather, as an accomplishment or achievement, a goal that one willfully strives toward, as in the phrase your life’s work. Veganism is indeed work, but it’s work well worth doing.

In summary, then, I’d say that overall my experience of trying to be vegan in Berlin was very positive, quite contrary to the stress I felt about it going in. I was by no means perfect, but I wasn’t lazy either, and the extra effort I put into being vegan while abroad made me feel empowered—empowered to eat what I want and what I should. And although I might not have experienced much of traditional German cuisine (I did manage to find some vegan currywurst though!), I never regretted it, since I was finding so much other food that I loved.

Last but not least, I should add that, without a doubt, my most rewarding and enjoyable experiences in Berlin were when I had the opportunity to cook with others. My time abroad reminded me of the unifying force food can be—how it can bring people together, teach them about each other, and help them communicate in new ways. And even more rewarding was getting to share vegan cooking with other people and to see their faces when they tried something totally new—whether it be cashew cheese or beet hummus, tofu étoufée or dhal, or even chocolate beer pancakes. It reminded me of how vegan cooking really is its own cuisine, and can open people’s eye to new wonders in the world of food.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for today. But before I sign off, I should note that all the credit for the above photos goes to Greg Wong, who got me to do all those silly poses without either of us knowing they would get used here. Also, expect another post in the not too distant future giving a run-down of the many Berlin restos I visited.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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St. Patrick’s Day! Vegan Irish Soda Bread PLUS An Angry Irish Rant!

March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I’m half Irish, and also generally hungry, so to celebrate these things I decided to bake up a quick loaf of vegan Irish Soda Bread this St. Patrick’s Day afternoon, using this simple and excellent recipe from Happy Herbivore. This was my first time making Irish Soda Bread, and I was pleased to discover how easy it was! I mean, c’mon—a bread you barely have to knead and that doesn’t have to rise at all? Compared to the other breads I’ve made in the past, this one was a cinch. And very tasty in the end, too! Here are some photos of my bread-baking adventure. First, the loaf right after it came out of the oven…

Then here’s what it looked liked sliced in half…

And finally, what it looked like sliced into, well, slices…

I was very happy with how this came out, and would definitely make it again, even for non-St.-Patrick’s-Day occasions!

Lastly, in further celebration of this Irish holiday, I thought I’d close today’s post with a little Irish rant. Did anyone else see this ludicrous article in the New York Times earlier this week? It’s so ludicrous that I almost feel that even criticizing it is giving it too much credit, but it feels wrong to let such idiocy go unchallenged (and I haven’t heard any other mention of it on the food blogosphere yet).

For those who haven’t read the article, the author’s basic argument is that, since plants have just as much life as animals do, there can be no justification for choosing to eat plants rather than animals (as the author puts it, “If eating a tofu dog [is] as much a crime against life as eating bratwurst, then pass the bratwurst, please”). These conclusions are disturbing and depressing, for many reasons. I was mostly shocked by how much the author overlooks in her assessment of veg*nism; some examples:

  • First, eating animals involves a significantly greater amount of cruelty than eating plants. (I don’t necessarily mean in principle—I’m only concerned with our current practices of meat production, which are unquestionably more barbaric in their treatment of animals than any of our ways of farming vegetables). I think I’m in agreement with most veg*ns when I say that what I want in my diet is to avoid cruelty, not (merely) to preserve life.
  • Second, eating animals includes with it the killing of all the plants needed to feed and fatten those animals. So even if you were simply concerned with merely preserving life, you’d preserve a lot more life overall if you just ate plants than if you ate plant-eating animals.
  • Third, our current practices of meat production are in my opinion inherently unsustainable, whereas sustainable fruit, grain, and vegetable farming is much more realistic. These more global considerations should figure into our reflections on preserving life just as much as concerns on the individual level.
  • Fourth, there are plenty of other reasons to be veg*n, and it betrays an astounding amount of moral deafness that the author feels justified in her decision to eat meat by the failure of this argument alone.

I could go on, but I don’t want to get carried away. And I did feel some small consolation in reading this article: namely, that if arguments in favor of eating animals are getting this obviously stupid, then maybe that’s a sign that we’ll soon all realize that there are in fact no good reasons to eat animals. And that’s something I can drink to. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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