Thursday, November 25, 2010

Alchemy, Magic, Whatevs: Vegan Cooking Is Cool

As I boiled wiggly chunks of tofu for tofu ricotta, I realized that one of the things I love most about vegan cooking is the magical aspect of it. It's like alchemy: turning tofu into part of a vegan yummy lasagna that even my omnivore relatives love. Tofu looks even more like white jello after you boil it; it jiggles and looks like alien food as I strain it. The ingredients are unremarkable in my shopping cart and on the stove and then suddenly it all comes together at the end. I never got that satisfaction when I cooked with animal products. I hated it, wore vinyl gloves and felt grossed out and depressed. It was definitely far from magical. When you cook chicken, it still just looks like chicken when you're done. Vegan cooking has alchemical bells and whistles and secret tricks. It's like a game to figure out the starting ingredients sometime. It's witchcraft! And don't even get me started on vegan cookbooks. They are my crack. The first ones I had were hoarded in a little pile in my kitchen in Austin. I especially have fond memories of 365 Dairy Free Recipes and the Uncheese Cookbook. Getting excited to try out new the early 90's and the days before the internet, getting new vegan recipes was like discovering hidden treasure.

I am so glad that there is no turkey on my family's table this year. Even in my years of omnivorous lapse, I always dreaded Thanksgiving and haven't eaten meat on that day since 1994. This year, it's fun and it's an Italian vegan potluck feast. I better get cracking on all of this cooking! Lasagne with porcini mushrooms, basil ricotta, veggies and the holy grail of ingredients: truffle salt! I finally found it and it's even local (so there!). Also making broccoli rabe with vegan sausage and carmelized onions and vegan tiramisu cupcakes. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Top 5 Things NOT To Say To Someone When They Are Single

I alternate between being very, very aggravated and slightly amused when people in couples talk to me about being single like it's a disease that I need immediate treatment for, lest they catch it. Don't worry! I won't blow on you and give you Singleitis. And no, there's not a vaccine for that. Although there could be a new medication with side effects that include happiness, comfy pajamas, vegan cookies, endless episodes of LOST, blogging, writing novels, sleeping comfortably, never getting into fights, no annoying pseudo-inlaws and not having to motherfucking answer to anyone, ever.

So in no particular order: my top 5 trite, Trying-To-Comfort-The-Pathetic-Singleton things to NOT say to a single person:

1. Don't worry, you'll meet someone soon.
Do I look worried? Is this my worried face? No, this is my blissful, "I'm a free bitch, baby!" face. Look, I could go to the nearest 7-11 and "meet someone soon", but that doesn't mean I want to.

2. You just haven't met the right person yet.
Yup. I've met Dumb, Dumb and Dumber, the Uncrowned King Of All Liars, the Uncrowned Queen Of All Evil, Jealous Control Freak Dude 2.0, The Only Book I've Read Is The Bible Guy, Sensitive Chick With A Lot Of Issues Who Ends Up Being Totally Nuts, The You're A Vegan? I'm A Hunter Man and the I'm Really A Straight Girl But I'm Just Really Into You. And that's just a few reasons why I like being single.

3. Have you tried internet dating?
No, I've been living under a rock for the past decade. Next!

4. You always meet someone when you aren't looking.
You know what happens to me when I am not looking? Accidents. Accidents happen to me when I don't look. Seriously, what kind of crazy, quasi-Zen bullshit is that? Is it a koan? 'Cuz it should be if it isn't.

5. Ooooh, I know the greatest (fill in the blank)! (He or she) would be perfect for you!
Really? Because blind dates always work out so well for me! Kind of like picking a doctor at random from the phone book.

So peeps in couples, think twice before you assume that every single person you meet is just dying to meet someone. Maybe they're happier than you are! Or maybe they aren't, whatever. The take home message is: I will be single until I'm not. I try to keep the door open to all possibilities in life, but right now I would prefer it to be mostly closed. And now the Universe will probably curse me with the Prince or Princess Charming as soon I post this blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Animal Rights Reading: The Scalpel and the Butterfly

"Let us work against the principle then; not against personalities. For it [vivisection] is a weed that requires more than seven, or seven times seven of us to extirpate."--Helene Blavatsky to Anna Bonus Kingsford

I am currently reading The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The War Between Animal Research and Animal Protection by Deborah Rudacille. It's interesting how the thread of violence and controversy ran through the animal rights movement even in the nineteenth century. Reading about Anna Kingsford, an early champion of the anti-vivisection and vegetarian movement, putting a death curse on vivisectionists Claude Bernard and Paul Bert sounds eerily familiar. Death threats to researchers are apparently not anything new under the animal rights sun. And neither are personality clashes or hugely public squabbles between big names in the movement. Or sensationalism and in-fighting...even the Victorians were doing it! The clash between Anna Kingsford and Frances Powers Cobbe pre-dated the current "abolitionist" vegan versus "welfarist" vegan schism by over a hundred years. I just don't get the in-fighting in the movement right now at all. Even just seeing a re-tweet of any of Gary Francione's smug abolitionist rants is enough to make me cringe and hit refresh on Twitter. Believe me, if you want to make people NOT want to be vegan or a supporter of animal rights, that is definitely the way to do it.

I think the twelve step ideas of "attraction rather than promotion", "principles before personalities" and "love and tolerance is our code" could go a long way in attracting people to the movement. Although I think I would replace "tolerance" with compassion, since I think that is more to the point. Present the facts in a non-hysterical way if people are interested, don't bait, get preachy or angry and let them decide for themselves. Be the healthiest, happiest vegan activist you can be. Advocate, don't discriminate. Although there is a place and a time for in-your-face protesting, I wonder sometimes if it is actually turning more people off than it is attracting people into the movement. One of the people who was my vegan role model is a dear friend of mine who is an activist and has been a vegan for over 17 years. She is the least preachy vegan I've ever met and an amazing person. She consistently inspired and encouraged me to try being vegan again no matter how many times I fell down...face first into a container of greek yogurt (she teases me about that now!). Her dedication and positive example made me want to be vegan even more.

And before I forget: my family has agreed to have our first ever vegetarian Thanksgiving!!! I am so stoked. Since 1994 I have had my tofurkey all by my lonesome while everyone else ate turkey, but this year we will all be sharing a big vegetarian Italian feast. I think they agreed because I said I would do most of the cooking! Whatever---it feels like a huge exciting victory to me! Even when I had my icky foray back into omnivorous eating, I never ate Thanksgiving turkey again after 1994. That Thanksgiving was my first vegan epiphany, so I am grateful to be able to celebrate this occasion meat-free with my family this year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vegan Guide To Sephora, part one

The whole guide is coming soon, I swear! This is a personal pet project of mine, born out of the fact that I totally fracking love Sephora. I am such a girl.

I recently 100% veganized all of my cosmetics at Sephora and it was a very interesting experience. It also inadvertently ended up being an educational experience for me as well as for the awesome sales associate who was helping me (ironically also named Maria: we are legion, and we are taking over the world, bitches!). She didn't know what carmine was and looked like she was about to hurl when I told her that it was red pigment from crushed up beetles. Oh, and did I mention the potential neurotoxin part? I had heard this when I worked for Whole Foods, but I haven't found any information yet to substantiate that claim. I'm working on it, though! Research Science Girl to the rescue... anyway, Maria was awesome and I made sure to compliment her to Sephora. I am a firm believer in the Veganic Pay It Forward: if someone goes way out of their way to really help me find vegan stuff or food, I write a glowing letter to the company ASAP and mention the person by name. I love you, fellow vegans, but some of us are (for lack of a more delicate term) assholes. I've certainly been a hysterical vegan asshole in the past when I was frantically looking for vegan eats and there was nothing to be found but iceberg lettuce and blank stares of incomprehension. It's my karmic duty now to be the most joyful, kind, positive vegan I can be every single day. And it's certainly a hell of a lot more fun than being a dour, angry, jaded, judgemental bizatch.

But I digress. For now, the best bets are Urban Decay, Tarte, a foundation by DuWop and one lip balm by The Balm. I also know for sure that Fresh, Too Faced and LaVanilla also do not test on animals, nor does Benefit (I wrote and asked). I am working on getting vegan listings from them as well as other companies. I also wrote Sephora and asked if they had a list of cruelty-free companies/vegan products. Pretty sure they don't have it, but at least I can let them know that people are interested!

Urban Decay has a handy printable shopping list here:

And Tarte does, too---they actually certified their products with PETA (oooh!):

Here is a link to The Balm's vegan lip treatment; not only is it vegan, but all proceeds are donated to pug rescue:

DuWop carries a really nice vegan anti-aging foundation (ahem!). Yeah, I need it. Being over 40 ain't pretty, even if you are vegan and sucking down green smoothies like they're the new crack:

Too Faced has lovely "teddy bear hair" cruelty-free, synthetic brushes:

That's it for now, but I will post more once I get some further information from the companies I wrote to. Please comment if you have any additional sneaky insider vegan Sephora tips or information!

Vegan Guide To Sephora... coming soon, I swear! I have a wee bit of an, um, obssession with Sephora. I always have had a difficult time

Check Myself Before I Wreck Myself

Deep listening is easier said than done. I work as a nutritional consultant over the phone, and I speak with people from all over the country who have questions about the supplements we sell or just general questions about health, diet and lifestyle. I get way excited when I get to speak with fellow vegans and vegetarians. Most days it's really interesting and some days it's kind of like one of the episodes of Parks & Recreation where Amy Poehler's character is getting irrationally questioned or yelled at during a town hall meeting: "Why doesn't your park have hamburgers? I WANT HAMBURGERS AT MY PARK!" I will admit, sometimes all of the nonsensical questions, endless complaining and negativity really gets to me. I remind myself silently to take a deep breath, to not take it personally and to listen to the person as deeply as I can. No judgement, no thoughts about anything other than what the person is telling me--just be there to 100% listen to and serve that person for how ever long I am on the phone with them. I speak with non-vegans all day, and I work in an office where I am the only vegan/vegetarian. Sometimes I feel very uncomfortable counselling people about non-vegan choices, but I am not getting paid to be Super Vegan. I am getting paid to be helpful. Believe me, I take every opportunity to educate people in making healthy, vegan choices whenever I can. Sometimes it's not so cut and dry, though. And sometimes (though rarely) a 100% vegan life is not appropriate for people.

Case in point: today I had an interesting call from a woman who has a hereditary genetic disorder called fructose intolerance. Her body lacks an enzyme that is necessary in order to break down fructose. Most vegetables and all fruits are off limits to her or she becomes violently ill. When left untreated, HFI can be fatal. She shared with me that she became a vegetarian in college and almost died (!!). She would prefer to be a vegetarian, but she can't. Actually, she would prefer to not have to live her life with a very limited list of foods that she can eat and an extremely long list of things she can't eat, including most supplements. And I thought my shopping trips and restaurant adventures were annoying sometimes? It's far easier to be a vegan, especially these days when even casinos are veganizing their restaurants.

It started as a angry complaint-type conversation where we almost got into an argument. I became defensive and irritated before I heard the whole story about why she was calling. I heard the stress and anger in her voice and I could see how this whole interaction was going to go unless I checked myself. So I took a deep breath and stopped fighting and just listened, thinking, "Hmmm, I wonder what will happen now?". Curious and friendly: you almost can't go wrong if you keep that in your heart. Any time my curiosity starts to get edged out, I know I am in trouble.

It ended up being a great conversation where I not only learned a lot from her about her condition and ended up with her being happy and thankful, but I was able to also learn something about my listening skills. Although I think of myself as an excellent listener, I loooove to be right when it comes to so-called scientific facts. Occasionally the evil debate bug bites me and I want to intellectually duel someone until I "win" the debate. Not useful. I'm not a motherfucking lawyer. I'm a nutritional consultant who happens to be a vegan and a half assed student of Buddhism. Extending compassion to all sentient beings does not include giving them an intellectual beat down. What Would The Buddha Do? Maybe drink a nice hot cup of STFU. Smile, breathe and listen. Be a witness. Be humble. Be open. And definitely be curious.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In honor of the Vegan MoFo

Here's what I am eating today...So not exciting, but vegan!

B: green smoothie (genuine health vegan protein, hemp milk, raspberries, pineapple juice, spinach, fiber powder) coffee with coconut creamer
S: cliff builder bar
L: green beans, red peppers, 2 boca faux chicken patties, peach oolong tea
S: soy delicious yogurt with 2 T of hemp seeds, cranberry green tea
D: buddha's delight with a ton of veggies and tofu and...more tea!

Going home to do some much needed yoga tonight. I got a new Jivamukti DVD. A little scared of it. Will have to report back on how scary or not scary it is!