Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Vegan Alternatives I Love

While faux-meats and processed vegan foods should have a very limited place in a healthy vegan diet, every once in awhile, we all get nostalgic for the tastes we grew up with. Consumed in moderation, a veggie burger or vegan ‘ice cream’ can satisfy those cravings and help you maintain your vegan lifestyle.

Here are some vegan alternatives to the classic junk food that I loved growing up; maybe they’ll tickle your tastebuds too.

1. Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk - I’ve tried several versions of non-dairy chocolate milk, and Silk’s dark chocolate almond milk is the hands down winner for rich chocolatey taste and creamy texture. And at 100 calories and 5 grams of fat less than a serving of chocolate milk made from whole dairy milk, you can feel pretty good about indulging.

2. Primal Strips Vegan Seitan Jerky - When I first heard of the existence of vegan jerky in an online camping community, I was dubious. How closely could it really capture the taste and texture of meat jerky? Really closely, as it turns out! Plus it’s fairly healthy and, of course, cholesterol-free. Now, I’m totally addicted to the teriyaki flavor, and my omnivore husband swears the lime mesquite flavor is the best jerky he’s ever tasted.

3. Earth Balance Mindful Mayo with Olive Oil - The first time I tried Mindful Mayo, I emailed the company to thank them for giving me back the gift of the classic Southern staple - the tomato sandwich. I’ve tried the other brands of vegan mayo, and to me, none really capture the taste and texture like Mindful Mayo. Challenge your omnivore friends to see if they can tell the difference!

4. Koyo Lemongrass & Ginger Ramen - Half the calories of conventional ramen, made with organic ingredients, lower in sodium, and vegan too? I was sold before I even tasted it! Thankfully, it’s truly tasty too!

5. Amy’s Organic Brown Rice, Black-Eyed Peas, and Veggie Bowl - One of my earliest food memories is unwrapping the aluminum foil from my Swanson TV dinner while watching television with my older sister. Frozen food has always been comfort food for me. But for someone who is not only vegan but soy-sensitive, good frozen food options are hard to come by. This Amy’s Organic bowl is hearty, delicious, and definitely comfort food. When I make it for lunch at work, people always stop by to find out what smells so wonderful!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lasagna with Almond Ricotta

Let this be your proof that going vegan does not mean giving up the flavors you love! This hearty, rustic lasagna was a hit with omnivores and vegans alike. The recipe is a breeze. And best of all, it's considerably healthier than conventional lasagna.

To make a delicious vegan lasagna, you simply need to put the almonds for the 'ricotta' in a covered dish of water the night before to soak. Follow the recipe below to make the ricotta, then layer in a 9x13 baking dish in this order: sauce, noodles, ricotta, vegetables. End with a layer of noodles covered in sauce. Cover and bake at 375 for 40 minutes.

This particular version was made with a hearty homemade organic tomato and basil marinara (courtesy of my talented husband), but you can use any sauce you prefer. For the vegetables, I used broccoli and portabella mushrooms. I steam the broccoli lightly ahead of time and dice into fine florets, and slice the mushrooms thin.

The ricotta is so delicious on its own that my son and I snacked on a bit of it with crackers while I was cooking. Be careful to leave enough for your layers!

Easy Almond Ricotta

3 cups slivered almonds
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tbs olive oil
4 cloves fresh garlic
2 tsp salt
3 tsp dried basil
½ tsp black pepper
About 1 cup water - added in portions as needed.

Soak almonds overnight. Drain and rinse with cold water. Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth, using more or less water for desired consistency. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve/use.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Music Review: at the edge of the unknown, by Minna Bromberg

I never would've imagined myself reviewing an album in this blog, but then I popped the CD in. Here's the thing: the I Am Veggie-Mightee blog comes from a place of love, faith, and generosity of spirit - and so does this music. It's a collection I can imagine many people I know to have visited this blog enjoying, so I'm making an exception to the general rule.

The album at the edge of the unknown is the newest release from alt-folk artist Minna Bromberg. I've always thought Minna sounded a good deal like Joan Baez, with a style a bit more like Joni Mitchell. But here, in her first album since her ordination as a rabbi, Minna's style seems to become more fully her own.

Layered with the modern folk vibe are elements of world music - particularly on the track Dig Deeper - and of faith. I hear tell that the album is actually listed under "Christian and Gospel" on iTunes. Funny, on the one hand, but also not entirely inappropriate. While it's Judaism that informs Minna's songs, what comes through is faith and spirituality, not religion. As a Christian, I find the music expresses shared sentiments. And my favorite track, I Lift up this Waiting, has some commonality with old spirituals, or at least new takes on them like Allison Krauss's version of Down to the River to Pray.

While the whole album seems very personal, very real, a few songs venture into memoir territory. This is generally not my favorite type of song and I don't really love it on These Are the Words, but there's a Cat Stevens-type feel about Gone Tarshisha that makes it infectious.

Tracks like Land of Love and Will One Ocean Be Enough bring the emotion, the full heart, that threads through this album to the surface. But the biggest take-away, the memory you're left with when you're done listening to the album, is Minna's clear, true voice. Perhaps the best example is Turning Song - a lovely guitar piece with an uncomplicated, understandable lyric - where her voice simply shines.

If you're a fan of folk, you're probably familiar with the very particular progression you tend to see in artists in the genre: they tend to begin borne of passion, and eventually arrive at a point of peace. This is Minna's arrival; this is folk come to fruition.

You can sample the tracks and buy the album at cdbaby.

Full disclosure: Minna Bromberg is my second cousin. While I don't think we've actually seen each other since Minna's bat mitzvah (and we're both now closer to forty than thirty), I do love her as family. But my admiration for her as a person and a musician is based in her character and talent, and thus I feel I'm able to be objective. If you doubt me, preview the tracks!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bad Reporting: Mother Jones thinks we should eat meat

Oh, how it pains me to be calling out Mother Jones - the last bastion of the free press - for bad reporting. Alas, it's true. While the article was published nearly two years ago, it was linked in their Facebook feed today and deserves to have the glaring fault in the article pointed out.

In the article Steak or Veggie Burger: Which is Greener, Kiera Butler describes her decision to give up life-long vegetarianism in favor of meat. Her reasoning is that... well, honestly I can't make sense of her reasoning. She compares grass-fed beef to faux meats in terms of environmental impact, concluding:
So plant protein is usually the greener choice, as long as it's not overprocessed.

 And yet she decides to eat meat. I guess the basic reason is the premise she begins with:
But a girl can only eat so much roasted kale before she starts craving protein: tofu, veggie burgers, and the (okay, creepy) occasional piece of fakin' bacon.
And therein lies the flaw in Butler's self-justification. (And I don't mean her failure to recognize that roasted kale contains protein.) While she makes a convincing argument that processed faux meats are nearly as bad for the environment as real meat, she implies these are the only two options.

Want a veggie burger? Make one at home from whole foods. Want the protein from soy with less impact than tofu? Eat edamame. To imply that processed foods are the only option that vegetarians have when they want something protein-packed or "meaty" is just a sign of utter laziness. They're called "convenience foods" for a reason.

And honestly, who are the vegetarians or vegans that are eating faux meats at the same rate that carnists are eating real meat? Most carnists I know have meat at least twice a day. If Butler was eating faux meats twice a day, I'm completely certain she was in the vast minority.

This was shockingly shoddy reporting from Mother Jones, usually such a trusted source.

Monday, May 7, 2012

TDIV Q&A: Am I any less vegan if I sneak a piece of cheese?

Q. Am I any less vegan if I slip a piece of Swiss cheese into my diet?

A. Here’s a puzzler for you: If a person is 15/16ths Native American, but had one great-great-grandparent who was European, do they have the right to call themselves Native American? What if the numbers were reversed? If a person is 1/16th Native American, do they have the right to the name?

The answer to the question is that it depends on the purpose for which they are identifying themselves that way. If they are attempting to register as Native American for scholarships or other financial benefits, a person must generally be at least 3/4 Native American to qualify. However, if they are simply trying to describe the culture they identify with, the label they use is a personal decision.

Labeling is a complex issue, but it’s generally accepted in Western society that people have the right to self-identify. For example, while modern convention tells us that African-American is the correct term to identify an American person of color who is of African descent, if a person preferred to refer to themselves as “black,” would we correct them? Of course not. Whether a person is “African-American” or “black”, “learning-impaired” or “dyslexic”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” after marriage, “disabled” or “differently-abled” or even “crippled” is their choice. In our culture, we allow people to select the label that’s comfortable for them when the purpose is self-identification.

Interestingly, however, this attitude hasn’t carried over to the vegan community. It seems many people want to tell you whether you’re vegan enough. Two notable cases involve authors of vegan cookbooks, Alicia Silverstone and Lindsay S. Nixon, and both had different outcomes.

Silverstone - actress, author, and vegan activist - admitted to US Magazine that she occasionally cheats on her vegan diet with a piece of cheese at a party. The vegan blogosphere exploded with criticism, anger, and even sadness. Many declared that a person who occasionally eats cheese was simply not vegan, and that the actress should refer to herself as a “strict vegetarian” instead. Silverstone went about her business, continued to promote veganism, and eventually vegan bloggers went back to referring to her as “vegan.”

Lindsay Nixon, the author of several vegan cookbooks and the popular blog Happy Herbivore, faced an even more extreme example. After being called out, not for “cheating” but for failing to question the source of the sugar in cotton candy she ate at a baseball game, Nixon gave up the term vegan altogether, preferring to be referred to as “an herbivore.”  [See correction at the end of this article.]

Why are we as vegans so protective of the term? Why are we policing its use so carefully? Because it’s human nature to be protective of something you care about that is frequently maligned and misunderstood.

Let’s be plain: veganism is not a diet. It’s not a fad, a trend, a religion, a cult, or even a lifestyle. Veganism is an ideology. It’s an shared belief system with defined tenets and principles. The basic tenets (or beliefs) of veganism are:

1. Animals are sentient and can experience pain.
2. As sentient beings, animals deserve our care and compassion.
3. We must seek to avoid animal exploitation or suffering in all its forms.

Whatever other reasons a vegan has for not eating animal products - be they health, environment, religious, or based on anti-speciest ideals - are secondary to these essential beliefs. A person may choose a plant-based diet for other reasons without having moral or ethical objection to eating animal products; that person is a strict vegetarian, not a vegan.

It’s for this reason that “cheating” throws so many vegans into a tizzy. If even those people calling themselves vegan don’t understand the difference between a vegan and a strict vegetarian, how can we expect anyone else to get the distinction?

However, the simple fact that veganism is a belief system is the reason why we can’t decide whether someone is vegan by their actions alone. Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, taken an action that is not in line with some belief we hold? Maybe we believe lying is wrong, but find ourselves saying, “Gee, Mom, dinner was great!” in appreciation for Mom’s first attempt at a vegan meal. Maybe we find ourselves saying, “No, Officer, I didn’t see the speed limit sign,” as we rush home to get some antacids after Mom’s “great” dinner.

If veganism is a belief system, then what is required to be called a vegan is simply to believe. Technically, you could eat cheese every day and still be vegan. (A very bad vegan, but a vegan all the same.) It is for no one but you to decide what it is you really believe.

However, if you were a vegan who found yourself eating cheese every day - or more realistically, every once in awhile - there would come a time when you would have to question what beliefs you really hold. Do you really believe that we must avoid animal exploitation in all its forms if your conscience allows you to consume the products of that exploitation with any regularity? Or is it that, deep down, you feel it’s okay if it’s not an everyday thing? If that’s the case, then stop and think about whether it’s fair to call yourself a vegan, or whether you’re contributing to the misconceptions about veganism that so many vegans are fighting against.

Even some people who hold to the vegan ideology and practice those beliefs to the letter choose not to label themselves as vegan. For a number of reasons, they may prefer to be called vegetarian, strict vegetarian, an herbivore, a plant-based eater, a raw foodist, and so on and so on.

Self-labeling is a highly personal issue. How you identify is up to you. But consider how the choice you make affects the efforts of others to erase misconceptions and share their vegan beliefs. It’s your choice, but please make it responsibly.

Correction: While Nixon did receive criticism for not sourcing the sugar, that was one of several incidents leading up to her decision, which culminated with criticism for her stance on the controversial issue of honey.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Photos: Loxahatchee NWR, North Levy

I went out to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge on a Sunday afternoon. It had been raining all weekend - the first two days of National Park Week - and the sun had only just peeked out. I decided to walk out on the North Levy toward the pine woods, in hopes of making it there and back by sunset. I didn't quite make it, mostly because I spent too much time admiring the turtles. But I got far enough out where I neither saw, nor heard, nor sensed any sign of civilization. It was glorious.

Box turtle

This had me singing "Wide Open Spaces." The park was pretty empty to begin with, but this trail was desolate. Not another soul around for miles.


I believe this was a fish crow.

Juvenile white ibis

Gopher tortoise! I love the spiky tail.
Turkey vulture.

Photos: Green Cay Nature Center, Delray, FL

Wild honeysuckle

Arrowroot flowers, otherwise known as duck potato or katniss
A great blue heron watching over her nest

I can't for the life of me figure out how these guys got up there. 
Green heron
Female red-winged blackbird

Pig frog