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Your Health: A Social Justice Issue? by Chrissy Benson, VLCE

Many of us think of our own health as a luxury – something to value and appreciate, certainly, but not something we have an ethical responsibility to maintain.  We may want to think again.  Taking control of our own health could be the most effective way – indeed, the only way – to take back our power from two of the most powerful corporate interests that now control our world: the health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry.  In other words, your health is not just a personal issue, but a social justice issue.

Star of life

Perhaps the most prominent corporate monopoly is the health insurance industry. Since 1998, over 400 mergers left two conglomerates in control of the huge health care insurance industry. Mergers allowed insurers to raise prices, buy influence in Congress, and redistribute cost savings to shareholders. Health insurance monopolies do business under pseudonyms to hide their identities and project a false impression of competition in the industry.

And then, of course, there are the pharmaceutical companies. Of all Western nations, only the United States and New Zealand allow drug companies to advertise their products directly to consumers. In the U.S., drug manufacturers spend billions annually on direct marketing and advertising to consumers – far beyond what they spend on research.  We’re fed the constant message:  “Ask you doctor if [our drug] is right for you.” [Read more...]

Texas Food and Fashion by Kat Mendenhall, VLCE

In Texas there are two things that rule, food and fashion. Or is that fashion and then food?

Either way, if you’re from the Lone Star state, an import here, or at the very least been a visitor, you know that everything is bigger in Texas. Food and fashion are no exception and this country girl loves them both.

Texas food is full of bold flavors with big, bold meanings. Our dishes stand for something, something inherently Texan. It’s the glory of our hardscrabble, multicultural past – the way that Texas history is the history of immigrants from all over the country and the world, coming together in a promised land and blending their heritages to create something new. And we something new again: vegan food and plenty of it. Can I get a yee-haw?

It took a while for Texas to embrace the fact that not every Texan loves a juicy steak or pork-slopping BBQ. It all began in Austin where the hippie/liberal folks started their own raw and vegan movements. With a plethora of vegan restaurants, food trucks, grocery stores, fitness instructors and even their own natural cooking school, those Austinites knew how to support a community of plant eaters.  A trip to Austin proves that Texas knows how to show up and share the vegan love and have a blast doing it.

Austin isn’t the only shining star in this big ole state. There is a fired-up little town called Marshall that you’ve probably heard of by now. Un-seemingly set in the far northeast part of the state, Marshall has a mayor who’s on a mission to spread his veganism throughout the community and beyond — and he is being very successful. Even The New York Times has noticed! This year I attended the second annual “New Year, New You” event there. It includes three full days of fitness, food and a topnotch speakers, all promoting the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. The activities take place in Marshall’s quaint downtown area where local restaurants have added vegan options to their menus and are doing it very well, I must add…I had one of the best vegan meals ever in this unassuming Texas town. Put this fun, full weekend event on your calendar for next January. It is one not to be missed, y’all hear?

Being the BIG city girl that I am (uh-hum), I have to highlight the vegan movement that is taking over both Dallas and our little partner to the southwest, Houston. For years we relied on the ethnic community for eating out but along came the famous Spiral Diner, first to bring 100% vegan eats to Ft. Worth and Dallas. Then a 100% raw restaurant opened up (OMG!) and now there is a long list of restaurants in Dallas, Houston too, that cater to our savvy, healthy way of eating. The True Food and Lyfe chains are making home here, as well, so that must tell you these cowpokes down here are digging the grassy fields more so than not. Lets not leave out that we are also home to the first college to provide an all vegan cafeteria (what?); you’ll find this up north at the University of North Texas.

Of course this revolution and explosion of veganism naturally presents a problem when we take it home to fashion.  I’m not going to lie and pretend that Texans don’t love the look of lots of bling, outlandish boots, cowhide jackets and big hair.  (For the record you will never see me posting a TBT — throwback Thursday — photo on Facebook, that’s one thing I can guarantee!) Shopping, lets just say, is a downright bonafide hobby around these parts. But like food, Texas fashion captures our cultural of diversity and our heritage, which stems from our early settlers from Spain and Mexico. It is a reflection and mix of a rugged lifestyle, from the ranches we work to the city streets we walk, all with a need to stay true to our independence. That is evident on any given day around town from the starched jeans and cowboy hats to the latest designer wear. In between, and even in addition to, you have the boots: the relaxed, cool and comfortable style that tells you that there is something inherently different about being a Texan.

My love affair with cowboy boots started at an early age. They have carried me through many rough-and-tumble years of styles and looks. My boots have taken me through fall days and football games, and the cold, wet and sometimes harsh days of winter; they’ve taken me walking on the first days of spring and wrapped softly around my feet on the hot days of summer. How could I ever depart from something that was so inherent a part of me?  This, folks, became a big dilemma after I went vegan.  [Read more...]


When my daughter, Adair, vegan from the start, was three or four, we visited my parents in Florida. All ready to go out for dinner, Adair listened intently as her grandfather asked, “So, are you ready for a big steak?” She became very serious and said, “I don’t eat cow” – lowering her voice for the final syllable and emphasizing “cow” to be sure he got it.

love animals

In the years since, as I’ve spoken with and worked with hundreds of people looking to adopt this lifestyle, I’ve had the question time and again: “But what do I say to my family? How do I tell them at the office that I need ‘special food’ at the company dinner? ” When I get those questions, I think back to my little girl, now all grown up, and how she stated so simply, eloquently, and with no criticism or judgment: “I don’t eat cow.” [Read more...]

Use veganism as a model to make an entire “home where the health lives” by Carol Schneider, VLCE

Your body is the sanctuary of your health – and your home can mirror that sanctuary as well.

When my vegan life began in January 2009, I attacked my kitchen cabinets and fridge with gusto.  I didn’t want all of my healthy food in plastic containers, so I started saving glass jars for storage – also re-cycling – a double fine move. Plus, I could see my beautiful food!

Vegan model for living

Eating vegan is such a positive model for overall health – self, animals, and earth. I saw it as a model that also guided me to a simpler, more pared-down life aesthetic. Naturally things like my meat thermometer and pounder and turkey roaster went out the door. But so did buying plastic bags and using a battery toothbrush. Why pollute anything?

Let living rooms and bedrooms nourish us. Of course, no wool, feather, leather, nor animal-tested products in our homes. But we can curate deeper.  Consumption habits in this country are burying us in debris.

When you stay in any hotel or time-share, you find a tidy minimalism that sets up guests with just enough of the basics. There’s a reason these places feel like vacation; we feel less pressured and more elegant while there. They transport us from our STUFF-filled homes and give us peace from clutter. If the things in our travel bags get us through a week or two happily, why do we need so much stuff at home?

finer flower

Consider fewer and finer things [Read more...]

Eating Vegan with Food Allergies by Marissa Podany [Pesto Lettuce Cups Recipe]

We vegans like to think that we’re invincible when it comes to our diet.

single lettuce leaf

It’s a nice thought, but we can have food allergies and intolerances, too, and that can make becoming or staying vegan a challenge. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “Well, I’m allergic to soy, so I can’t be vegan,” or “I was just diagnosed with celiac disease, so I can’t be vegan anymore.”

Of course, if you don’t want to be vegan anymore and are looking for an excuse – a poor one, at that – to stop, no one can force you to keep doing it. But if you feel defeated by newly discovered allergies and sensitivities, I’m talking to you right now. If you have SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), including candida, I’m talking to you, too. Know that you can be a healthy vegan despite these issues – lots of people are doing it. With compassion for all as a driving force, there is always a way to make veganism work for you.

A crucial point to remember is that you should focus on the foods that you can eat instead of what you can’t, but when you can’t stop thinking about the off-limits foods, find a substitution you can grow to love just as much. I’ve used sunflower seeds, and sometimes hemp seeds, in place of cashews in creamy sauces with much success. If you want something meaty but can’t have tofu or wheat meats, try to make patties or meatballs with mushrooms, beans, and vegetables. Sun-dried tomatoes also add a meaty texture and that delectable umami taste to food. If gluten is off the table but you loved tabbouleh, try using quinoa instead of bulgur. While you’re at it, buy some tricolor quinoa to make the dish more pleasing to the eye. Never underestimate the power of beautiful food.

Have fun trying new foods you can eat and learn to appreciate the bounty that is available in this modern age. Scan the produce aisle any time of year and notice the variety of fruits and vegetables that are available. Try different grains like millet, quinoa, teff, amaranth, and buckwheat. Even rice comes in many varieties like black, brown, white, pink, and red. Check out ethnic markets. Frequent farmers’ markets. Use herbs and spices with abandon. Forget what you were told when you were younger: play with your food. Have fun, and prepare food with love. You’ll find yourself as one more person who learned that, with a little creativity, becoming/staying vegan with food allergies and insensitivities ain’t no thing!

cauli rice

The weather is finally warming up in Pittsburgh, and I’m getting ready for the change of seasons with these delectable recipes for minted cauliflower rice and pumpkin seed pesto. You can use them separately, but I’ve combined them here to make these gorgeous butter lettuce cups. Taking a bite of these gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free lettuce cups is like taking a cool, refreshing bite out of springtime.

You will have leftover pesto. That is a glorious thing. Put it on pasta, zucchini noodles, or kelp noodles. Spread it on toast and top with thinly sliced radishes and black pepper. Mix it into your next tofu scramble. Serve it alongside roasted asparagus spears. Make a pesto potato salad. Pack it in your child’s lunchbox with some veggie sticks. The possibilities are endless!

lettuce cups

Pesto Lettuce Cups [Read more...]

CAN I BE A LOW-CARB VEGAN? . . . You can be any kind of vegan you like . . . .

Humans can be afraid of a lot of things, from death to public speaking, but there’s another cause for fright out there and lots of health-conscious people are shivering in their athletic shoes over this one: carbs. Carbohydrate. One of the macronutrients that sustains life – and, in fact, the macronutrient we need the most, quantity-wise, because it’s the fuel that sustains the body and brain. That’s physiology 101, but it can nevertheless be a hard sell to people who’ve been schooled in the high-protein/low-carb point of view from parents, teachers, trainers, doctors, diets (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo), magazines, and more.

Fact: you get plenty of protein from a varied, whole-foods, vegan diet – and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics backs this up. In addition, a carb is not a carb is not a carb: a whole plant food – beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes – bears no more resemblance to junk carbs – conventional cookies, cakes, chips – than a savings account does to a Ponzi scheme. The carbohydrate in most processed foods is highly refined – and these snacks and sweets actually get more of their calories from fat than from carbohydrate.

Even so, we all have physiological differences and you may feel that you fare better when your diet is a bit higher in protein and a bit lower in net carbs. Or you may simply believe that you need to be eating more protein and fewer carbs and you’ll have more peace of mind as a vegan knowing that you can do this. The following suggestions, based on the work of David J.A. Jenkins, MD, PhD., at the University of Toronto, show that there’s nothing difficult about creating a plant-exclusive diet that calms the carb fears. Build the diet around: [Read more...]

Vegan at Any Age, by Barbara Becker, VLCE

At 57, the last thing on my mind was anything life-altering.

One day, two co-workers (a vegetarian and a carnivore like me) mentioned trying the 30-day Vegan plan from Alicia Silverstone’s book, The Kind Diet.  I had never heard the term “Vegan”, so they explained it was someone who didn’t eat animal products.

That sounded altruistic but challenging.

A month later, I was walking down the hallway and saw my colleagues.  As we spoke, the change in them struck me.  Something profound bubbled on the surface – an aura, a glow – that inner calm after having “arrived”.  They had “gone Vegan” permanently.  My “vegucation” began in that corridor, eagerly listening to their story of transformation.  They recommended Alicia’s book, watching Food, Inc. and (if I was brave enough) Earthlings, cautioning it shouldn’t be seen alone. Weeks later, I had read The Kind Diet, watched Food, Inc., and was surfing the web regularly for vegan information.

But I was still a carnivore.

The Earthlings DVD from Netflix waited patiently beside my TV.

On Friday evening, November 19, 2010, something compelled me to watch Earthlings – alone – from start to finish.  It was devastating.  Those images will linger forever.  As the end credits rolled, I crossed the threshold into veganism and my journey officially began the morning of November 20, 2010.

Timing is everything. [Read more...]

Food as Vegan Activism

“Oh, vegan food.”

I was at a party once, and after it became know that I’m vegan, the people I was chatting with starting joking about vegan food. They must have said “vegan food” ten times collectively. I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked, “Do you know what vegans call vegan food?” No one had an answer. “We call it ‘food.’ Because it is.” One of the guys I was talking to took a minute to think about it and he apologized. “Yeah, it is really just food. It doesn’t make sense to call it something else.”

At my own Christmas party a few years ago, a friend took a bite of a cupcake I had made and with much surprise in her voice said, “This is actually really good. It doesn’t taste vegan at all.” I asked her what she thought a vegan cupcake should taste like. She laughed and said, “I don’t know. Cardboard, maybe? I guess it’s kind of stupid to think it would taste different than any other cupcake.”

Last year I was eating dinner at Blossom on Carmine in New York City and at the table next to me was a man dining with this mother. When the waiter came to take her plate after she finished her meal, she said, “That was the first time I had vegan food and it was absolutely delicious. I have no idea what I ate, but I loved it.”

It’s clear that to the outside world our food is “foreign” and “strange,” when actually it’s really just food. (I often wonder what people think vegans eat. Do they think we’re sitting around on dirt floors scarfing down bowls of twigs and grass?) I highly doubt that the woman next to me at Blossom had never eaten spaghetti with marinara sauce, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or even an apple before. Even though all of those things are indeed vegan, most omnivores would never consider them to be so. Years ago I had a job where my coworkers constantly harassed me for my eating habits, yet whenever there was a company catered meal, I would have to rush over to the food that was specially ordered for me, because if I didn’t, it would be gobbled up by everyone else. Yet they didn’t seem to make the connection between the food they were inadvertently stealing from me, and the weird “vegan food” that they imagined I ate.

I’m a firm believer in introducing, and perhaps even converting, people to veganism through delicious food. People ask “If you don’t eat meat and cheese, what do you eat?” and, sure, I could answer “everything else,” or “tempeh, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa…” but both answers are pretty vague and neither seems that appealing. But if I were to present the questioner with a delicious kale and quinoa salad or a yummy tofu scramble, they’d be more likely to “get it.” Of course I don’t walk around with containers of prepared food (that would be both inconvenient and really weird), but I do like to cook for people whenever I can. I consider it to be a form of activism (cooktivism!) because sharing delicious food shows that being vegan doesn’t mean depriving yourself of flavor. I believe there are many people in the world who would give veganism a try if they realized that the food is delicious, easy to make, easy to find, and most of it is stuff they’re already eating.

Here are some of my tips on how to share vegan food with omnivores:

vegan food as activism | food gifts

Give Vegan Food Gifts

Giving vegan food as a gift is a great way to show how yummy this “weird” stuff can really be. I usually give people boxes of homemade vegan cookies for Christmas. I love to give friends and coworkers little boxes of vegan chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Recently I’ve also been giving things like mason jars full of “just add water” soups, pancake mixes and even taco crumbles.

Share Your Food [Read more...]

How to Get Out There and Spread the Vegan Love

You’ve watched Forks Over Knives, read The Kind Diet and stocked up on enough nutritional yeast to feed an army. You’ve been enjoying the fruits of plant-based eating for some time now and you feel like you would like to give back to the vegan world that has been so generous to you. You wonder if there is even a way for someone like yourself to get involved in vegan activism. You don’t have a refined skill set and you’re not sure what your niche might be. You might not know it, but everyone can do something to spread the vegan love.


1. Start a monthly community potluck.

Planning a fun “bring a vegan dish” soiree is a great way to support other people who are vegan or are moving in that direction. According to a study done at the University of Pennsylvania, 75 percent of vegetarians will go back to eating meat. The social isolation some feel from eating differently from others may play a part in that. Wouldn’t it feel great to know that you gave another person the social support that helped them weather the course? The first step to planning a potluck is picking a date and deciding where to hold the event. If you’re not comfortable having it at your home, research free spaces in your town. Community rooms are available at many libraries, churches and fire stations. Get the word out by making flyers, starting a Facebook group or placing an ad on Vegans love healthy food, so remember to put up a sign at your local health food, vitamin or grocery store.


2. Leaflet at a big event. [Read more...]

In Praise of the Classic Cookbooks

My bookcase runneth over. The abundance of vegan cookbooks of every stripe is astounding. They’re gourmet (Great Chefs Cook Vegan) and simple (The Four-Ingredient Vegan), comprehensive (Betty Goes Vegan) and specific (Vegan Chocolate), health-conscious (Forks Over Knives The Cookbook) and fun-conscious (The Tipsy Vegan). There are dozens in bookstores, hundreds on Amazon and, and millions of miscellaneous recipes online. Dazzling. Who knew you could do that much with vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds?

Well, it seems that some people knew a long time ago. There just weren’t so many of them, but their culinary expertise was topnotch and they they were willing to share. They nurtured me as a new vegan three decades ago, and I raised my daughter on their recipes. Here are the five books that served me so well, with a favorite recipe from each one:

The Vegan Kitchen, by Freya Dinshah. Originally written in 1965, this book by the co-founder of the American Vegan Society taught me that it really was possible to forego eggs and dairy, still get plenty to eat, and enjoy the food.

Garbanzo Cheese

© Freya Dinshah 2004

¼ cup Brazil nuts

¾ cups water

1 cup soaked garbanzos (from ½ cup dry)

3 Tbls. nutritional yeast

1 small tomato

2 sticks celery

1 carrot

½ tsp. onion flakes

1 fl. oz. lemon juice

½ tsp. kelp powder

Mix the Brazil nuts and water in the blender, then add the rest of the ingredients and blenderize well. Place in double-boiler over boiling water. Cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Pour into a heat-proof bowl or pan that has been rinsed with cold water. Chill a few hours in refrigerator. Unmold, slice, serve.

Ten Talents, by Rosalie Hurd and her husband, Dr. Frank J. Hurd, was published first in 1968. The Hurds are a Seventh Day Adventist couple who raised a huge flock of children on these healthy recipes that are pure American comfort food minus the bad stuff.

Corn Tamale Bake

© Rosalie Hurd 2012

In skillet, sauté till tender:

1 large onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic

Oil to tenderize


3 cups canned tomatoes

1 box frozen corn

¼ cup chopped olives

½ tsp. cumin

¼ tsp. cayenne or paprika

¾ cup corn meal

Salt to taste

Simmer in skillet, covered, for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and add a little water (up to ¾ cup) if it gets too thick. Put in baking dish to warm over.

The Peaceful Palate, by Jennifer Raymond, is a 1989 work with the subtitle “Bountiful, beautiful, easy, low-fat, and delicious.” I serve “Aztec Salad” whenever I have guests, and if you’re entertaining someone on an oil-free diet, this accommodates that person’s needs without any of the other guests feeling that something is missing.

Aztec Salad

© Jennifer Raymond 1996

2 15-ounce cans black beans

½ cup finely chopped red onion

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

2 cups frozen corn, thawed

¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons apple cider or distilled vinegar

1 lime or lemon, juiced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a large salad bowl with the onion, peppers, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro. In a small bowl, combine the vinegars, lemon or lime juice, garlic, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes. Pour over the salad  and toss gently to mix.

american vegetarian | main street vegan academy

The American Vegetarian Cookbook from the Fit for Life Kitchen, by Marilyn Diamond, grew from the phenomenal success of the 1980s mega-selling book, Fit for Life. I’ve made Marilyn’s “Lemon ‘Stedda’ Chicken” at least once a month since this cookbook was published in 1990. [Read more...]