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Easy Vegan Holiday Entertaining by Lynne Agnew

If you like hosting small get-togethers with friends but are hesitant to do so during the hectic holiday season, read on for some ideas and suggestions that everyone will enjoy.  Keeping it simple and fun will allow you and your guests plenty of time to relax, catch up, and have a really good time.

Beginnings

Everyone wants to escape from the daily grind.  Set the mood with candles, twinkle lights and great music playing in the background when your guests arrive. Have a variety of beverages on hand: wine, beer, non-alcoholic drinks, and sparkling water. To make it special, use festive, gem-toned glasses from a retail store such as Christmas Tree Shops. They are inexpensive and if they accidentally get broken, it’s no big deal!

vegan entertaining 1

Cheese and crackers are a party staple.  In the past, most vegan cheeses left much to be desired.  Times are changing and there are many new brands available that are rich, creamy and delicious.  I was recently introduced to Miyoko Schinner’s products.  She’s from California and has been at it a while, developing the most intriguing flavors like High Sierra Rustic Alpine, French Style Winter Truffle and Aged English Sharp Farmhouse.   They are fantastic and getting rave reviews!

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Chips and guacamole are easy to prepare and a crowd favorite.  Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top for a colorful touch.  A couple of great websites to learn more about these powerhouse fruits are californiaavocado.com and pomegranates.org.

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The Main Event [Read more…]

Animals Are Our Friends: Farm Animal Sponsorship & Adoption by Carmella Lanni-Giardina, VLCE

“Animals are our friends” has been the moral of many instructive fables and childhood stories. The main characters, non-human animals, were endearing, and they’d become my friend, your friend, everyone’s friend. I couldn’t imagine anyone ever eating or harming them, because they were good animals who cared for others, did good deeds and taught valuable lessons. If they were in trouble, I would be sad, and vow to help them in any way I could.

I also grew up in an omnivorous home, eating animals at just about every meal. Never did we say we were eating animals. As a child, I would recap stories from my favorite books about amazing creatures. All the while, Grandma’s Chicken and String Beans were there on the plate, being devoured by ME. Even when visiting my great-uncle Tom’s backyard farm in South Carolina, I didn’t think twice about the animals that were on my plate versus those the pets running around his home, chickens and pigs among them,

Adopting veganism in my early 30s helped me to see that I had been contributing to the suffering of animals. Certainly, it wasn’t on purpose. It was that cognitive dissonance that didn’t make the connection between my non-human friends and WHO would be on my plate. Needless to say, I learned a new lesson: “Animals are our friends, not our food.” I vowed to help in any way I could.

Animal sponsorship programs, like Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt a Farm Animal Project, do just that. They tell real stories of individuals who are seen AND heard. These animals can touch your heart, make you laugh and cry and teach you something more than any storybook could. It doesn’t matter how near or far from you the animal you’re helping lives, you’ve given a gift to a special creature and her caretakers to make sure she and her loved ones have robust lives as intended.

This is why my husband and I sponsor animals as part of our donations to local shelters and sanctuaries. This year, after attending our second NY Country Hoe Down at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, we “adopted” Fanny, a beautiful cow we’ve met on both visits!

Fanny

This is also the fourth year, we’ve adopted a turkey from Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt A Turkey Project: Cecilia, one of twenty-four babies Farm Sanctuary recently saved from factory farming.

cecilia

In helping these few individuals, we show our love and compassion for all. By sharing stories of Fanny, Cecilia, and others, we can hope to have an effect on others who want to make a change, big or small, for all animals, including us humans. [Read more…]

Vegan Thanksgiving, Simplified by Vicki Brett-Gach, VLCE

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. For the last 20 years, in every year but two, my husband and I along with our two kids have been the hosts to family and friends from both sides, with 12 to 20 people joining us around the table.

We always serve loads of seasonal favorites, but I learned long ago that it’s most fun when we keep things pretty simple. Contrary to what you might think, planning ahead is the key to simplicity for me. A couple of weeks ahead of time, I actually develop a full menu, create grocery lists, and even decide which serving pieces to use – plus, I make notes about what can be prepped ahead, and when. That’s most critical of all. It may sound extreme, but it’s actually fun, and it’s my best secret for successfully neutralizing the stress that hosting a big holiday dinner can prompt.

My next rule is enlist plenty of help. Allow guests to bring a vegan dish if they offer to do so, because it makes the holiday more fun for everyone. And of course it relieves pressure from the host.

Finally, have fun at your own party. Even if you are the type that can’t relax until dinner is served, know that your guests do not care about (or expect) perfection, and neither should you. What matters only is that you’re with your favorite people. Each moment is a memory in the making.

If you serve non-vegans on the holiday, as I do, you already know that pleasing them can be a tricky mess. But really good (vegan) food speaks volumes and paves the way for peace across the aisle. So here are a few of the favorites that will be making an appearance on our holiday table.

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu 

cauliflower soup

Creamy Cauliflower and Carrot Soup

This recipe is always a hit. Sometimes guests help themselves to a cup of this satisfying soup before we ever sit down to dinner.

salad

Spinach and Kale Salad with Pecans, Dried Cherries, and Maple Citrus Dressing

I like to start with a bright green salad, using pecans or walnuts, and either dried cherries or cranberries, along with this easy no-oil-added Maple Citrus Dressing.

shepherd's pie

Hearty Lentil Shepherd’s Pie [Read more…]

There’s a New ‘Zine in Town by Victoria Moran

Fashion magazines . . . Ah, the guilty pleasure! I first fell in love with them when I was ten. I was in Italy and picked up a copy of Mademoiselle because it was the only thing I could find to read in English. The hotel’s elevator operator, a dashing young Frenchman, said to me, “Mademoiselle. C’est française, n’est-ce pas?” That was enough. I planned to read those magazines every month forever – and I pretty much have.

They’ve given my life beauty, fantasy, and some benign escape. They also trained my eye for fashion and it’s been a lifelong love. (I remember talking with a friend years ago about how skilled she was at home décor, and she told me that she’d spent her allowance as a kid on Architectural Digest and House Beautiful. It seems that the education we choose for ourselves early on has a way of sticking.)

Unfortunately, however, the bloom is somewhat off the fashion magazine rose for me because the fashion industry itself can be so cruel. I suppose that happens on a lot of levels – implying, for example, that only certain body types are acceptable, or that anyone who won’t (or can’t) spend money on designer labels is somehow deficient. Then, of course, there are human rights abuses in the garment trade in many parts of the world. But for me the cruelty that hits closest to home is the use and abuse of animals in those magazines – at times tolerated, at others celebrated. I’ve seen fur go out of favor, even on those glossy pages, twice in my life – the 1970s and the 1990s – and both times I thought it was the death knell for that awful industry. But it rallied – and the last time that happened, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, was seen as the savior of fur coats and collars and cuffs, and the people who profit from them.

I realize that leather is more difficult for people to transition away from than fur. My leather epiphany came during the day I spent in a slaughterhouse and saw the skins sliced in a single piece off cows who moments before had been as alive as me, creating a growing “leather pile,” another source of income for the animal ag cartel. Sure, the shoes in those magazines are artfully designed, but as Emerson said of meat, “…however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”

Even the ads for cosmetics, the pacifying promise of becoming more “beautiful” and “radiant,” are more often than not promoting jars and bottles filled with the suffering and torment of animal experimentation.

You can imagine my elation, then, when Main Street Vegan Academy graduate Adrienne Borgersen, a New York City image consultant and fashion designer Lois Eastlund teamed up to create an entirely vegan and cruelty-free publication, La Fashionista Compassionista – LAFC for short. When they asked if I’d be in the premier issue, I was over the moon. And when they said I’d be on the cover, I could hardly believe it.

LAFCMagCover FINAL

I’m sixty-four years old, and I’m being asked to do a fashion shoot – something I’d daydreamed about as a fashion student myself at eighteen. Well, if you wait long enough . . . .

lafcbox

So, on a most memorable Saturday a few weeks back, Borgersen and Eastlund came to my apartment with their gifted photographer, Chris Pearce, and the dreams of my former life came true. The equipment was set up, and my erstwhile living room became the backdrop for holiday season wonders and LAFC’s holiday issue. The Lois Eastlund dresses were such fun to wear (and, I was to learn, affordable for regular folks). The photographer even had an English accent (all fashion photographers had English accents when I was eighteen!). And my fabulously photogenic dog, Forbes, got in on the act. [Read more…]

How ‘The Daniel Plan’ Did Not Meet My Expectations by Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, VLCE

There is something very powerful about expectations. I remember, as a child, when I expected a certain gift to be under the tree – and it was not – I experienced a great deal of disappointment. I know there are times when I disappoint my spouse. She expects me to do something (or not to do some thing), I do something different than what she expects, and voilà, we are sitting down having one of those conversations (my partner is a wonderful communicator!).

One of the psychologists I have studied the most, Albert Ellis, is supposed to have said something like, “The best way to go through life is to lower your expectations.” Though I have not actually found those words in the books of his that I’ve read, there are many mental health professionals who toy with this idea of how low expectations may increase happiness.

I believe there is little doubt that expectations best serve us when managed. My unrealistic expectations create upsets, and upsets lead to disappointments, and too many disappointments can lead to places we don’t want to go.

The reason I tell you this is because I did not manage my expectations when I read The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life.

The Daniel Plan

Let me be honest and tell you why I was disappointed.

The book is written by very well-known men. Rick Warren, the mega-church minister and author of books which have sold in the millions, and Drs. Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, both well known in their respective fields and both featured on PBS television specials. These men hold great influence in our world around the areas of faith and health. And when I discovered they had teamed up to write a book called The Daniel Plan, I really felt like that child hoping to find something especially for me under the Christmas tree.

You see, I thought the book was going to extoll the virtues of a vegan diet. I am a vegan. I eat, for the most part, a whole foods plant based diet for a lot of reasons, but I came to this way of eating initially as a way to improve my health. And it did. My health improved dramatically when I ate a healthy vegan diet. And it is natural, I think, that you want to read the works of others who agree with your position. We all do this. Fox News viewers and MSNBC viewers want to have their ideas reinforced by “experts” from their respective camps. And I was thinking, “Wow! If Rich Warren, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hymen are going to tout a vegan message, this could be huge!”

Now, why would I think they were going to do this? Why did I believe these men were going to proclaim veganism to the world?

I based this assumption (this expectation) on the title of the book, The Daniel Plan. Daniel was a visionary and prophet in the Hebrew Bible (you may remember Daniel and the Lion’s Den). Rick Warren is a renowned pastor of a huge church. Though I, too, am an educated minister, I am admittedly no biblical scholar. But surely, I thought, veganism and faith were about to intersect in a powerful way.

They did not.

All Warren really says about Daniel is, “…I was preaching that day about a man in the Bible named Daniel who refused to eat junk food and challenged a king to a health contest, I named the program The Daniel Plan.” (Kindle Locations 103-104)

And he is correct. The story in the Bible tells us Daniel was in the custody of King Nebuchadnezzar who had seized Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to educate him (and others) in the ways of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to wine and dine them so ordered that Daniel and the other captives be given royal rations of rich food and wine. Because only the wealthy were able to eat much animal food back then, we can safely assume an abundance of meat was on the table.

Daniel, however, refused the rich food (he would not be “defiled” by it) and said, “Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.”

The Daniel Plan 2

Now that is a vegan diet — an austere one, to be sure, but vegan (perhaps raw) nonetheless. This disturbed the guard because Nebuchadnezzar’s orders were not to be defied. But Daniel basically said, “Let’s just try this for ten days. Give me vegetables and water, give the others the royal treatment, and we’ll see who performs better.” [Read more…]

Vegan Tween: A Mother-Daughter Interview by Lynette Cowie, VLCE

Isabelle is almost a teenager, a time when friends become new major influencers. Yet this vegan tween is already facing and dealing with peer pressure on her terms. This beautiful young girl is also my daughter and today she gently tells us about what it’s like to stand up for one’s ethics at the age of 12.

vegan tween

How did you feel when you first heard about veganism? “I was totally keen to go onboard; even vegetarian wasn’t enough of a leap for me. I wanted to get all cruelty off my plate. I’ve always felt a deep compassion and connection with nature and its animals. It just didn’t feel right or fair to eat or use them.”

What is the most interesting thing you have felt or learnt in these past 18 months? “I’ve felt more physically lively and I’m so learning how to stand up for what I believe in!”

Aside from your sister, what’s it like to be the only other vegan in your school? “It’s challenging. Sometimes I wish there was another vegan in my grade to stand beside me. There’s plenty of teasing about me eating only plants. This happens in class, whenever the subject of meat or food in general comes up.”

vegan tween 1

What type of teasing? “Things like they say they are top of the food chain and I am then below that. I also get teased, mainly by the guys, for being slim, which they call thin. I laugh this off, and give it right back, by jokingly telling them that it’s just because they’re fat! I know that what I eat is solid good food, filled with protein, calcium, antioxidants, fiber and all that good stuff which makes my body strong and healthy.”

How do you deal with these types of social attitudes?  “I don’t take it very personally because they don’t mean to hurt me. They’re just either curious or crazy defensive.”

And lunch box time, how does that go?  “Well often, out of pure curiosity, someone might ask me what I’m eating during school break and another will quickly comment ‘gross stuff.’ But at least I have plenty of girl friends who will stand up for me, not because they believe in veganism, but because they see these comments as rude and tactless.”

What does your lunch box vs. their lunchbox tell you? (Laughs) “That I eat a lot healthier. There’s biltong (cured meat), chicken strips and chips, ham and melted cheese sandwiches in theirs. I like my ‘mac & cheese’, coconut chunks, snow peas, sometimes freshly baked bread with hummus or peanut butter, always strawberries in summer.”

What would make your school experience with regards to veganism better? “I wish for vegan awareness, firstly among the teachers who would then filter it through to the students. That would be great but teachers are just parents, too, feeding their kids what they were fed, or what they assume is good and so it goes on.” [Read more…]

How to Create a Monthly Vegan Potluck in Your Community by Bonnie Goodman, VLCE

Whether you make the change for the love of animals, the environment, social justice, or your health, becoming vegan is such a thrill. But it can also be lonely. The desire to share the magic of this amazing lifestyle may not always be met with enthusiasm by friends and family, and here you just want to explore new recipes and throw a dinner party every night! Well, that might be a bit much….How about once a month?

No matter where you live, there are other vegans (or pre-gans) in your community – and they may be feeling a bit isolated, too. Starting a plant-based potluck in your town is a great way to find like-minded people and make new friends. A potluck can be a cozy get-together with other vegans, where you don’t have to worry about what’s in the food, and can just relax. Or do you want to create a potluck for activism?

The intention of our potluck in Montana

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(Photo Credit 2013 Thanks Living Dinner: Robert Howell)

is to demystify veganism and share delicious food and easy recipes with people who are open-minded and veg-curious. Everyone is welcome at Live and Let Livingston events; our slogan is “You don’t have to be Vegan, but the Food Does!”

Four people attended the first potluck six years ago. Now we average a couple dozen every month, and double that during the holidays. Thanks-Living Dinners are the most popular, and our “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party” even made front page news!

Christmas Sweater Party

If you want to start a monthly potluck that’s open to the public and educational, here are ten tips: [Read more…]

The Writing Life, ca. 2014 by Victoria Moran

In the past few weeks, three different people have written to me innocently asking how I write, not realizing that they were asking for a treatise on my life’s work and my life’s purpose. I told them that I’d do a blog post about writing. Although the topic isn’t strictly vegan, it is interesting to note that at this time in history when print media are, if not on their last legs, at least not experiencing a heyday, vegan books are being published at a steady clip and selling well enough to keep the momentum going. New cookbooks seem to come out weekly, along with nonfiction titles and the occasional fiction book with a vegan message or protagonist. (The memoir, The Dogs Were Rescued and So Was I, by NY Times bestselling author, Teresa Rhyne, describes how her dogs turned her vegan.)

main street vegan | Victoria Moran

If you want to write for your own purposes, write. If you want to write for a living, write, but keep some other income coming in. The Internet era has cheapened the value of words and diminished the profession of writer. You may be able to make a go of it, but every writer I know these days writes and does something – or several somethings – else as well. Either way, schedule your time to write five or, maximum, six days a week. Enjoy. Edit. Hone. Suffer. That part is because waiting for the Muse isn’t all fun; sometimes I think she’s at a different Starbucks.

And there’s a tip in itself: in the tradition of writing teacher and author on authoring, Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), try your hand at writing in a café. I rarely write at home. Home is the place where other things take precedence: when the beds are made, you can write. When the errands are done, you can write. When the email box is as empty as Mother Hubbard’s pantry, you can write. This is, of course, the sad yarn of never writing.

Therefore, I write in coffee shops and have done it for years. Back in Kansas City (I moved to NYC in 2000), I always wrote in independently owned cafes. I didn’t want my inspiration to arise in a corporate setting. I’ve become more pragmatic since my New York conversion. Starbucks are everywhere and they let you sit for hours with their WiFi and, if you can claim a lucky table, an electrical outlet, too. While some people prefer to write in monastic seclusion, I like to write with life and energy teeming around me. I translate those sights and sounds into what I’m writing. It’s not a direct correlation, e.g., I won’t write: “A woman wearing a purple hat just walked by,” but because she was self-confident and gutsy and celebratory enough to wear a purple hat, the piece or the page or the chapter I’m working on becomes more confident, courageous, and festive.

I write, most the time, in the mornings. My writing mentor, Jerrold Mundis (www.unblock.org), tells his protégés, “You get your best stuff in the morning. If you need breakfast, eat. If you do a spiritual practice, tend to that. But don’t do one other thing before you write.” I disobey somewhat in that I go to the gym first because I know myself: I could conceivably find excuses for not writing, but I could devise an encyclopedia of excuses for not going to the gym. In the sensible spirit of, “Do first what you’re most likely to blow off,” I work out, then get to my café (i.e., “satellite office”).

Once there, I write for three hours. That’s the sweet spot. Jerrold Mundis says that the human nervous system can only take four hours of writing. You can do other things during a writing day: research, proofreading, work on appendices and the bibliography, but actual writing is best kept to three or four hours.

And this needs to be non-distracted time. Email has been the enemy of my writing for the past ten years. I found programs that would keep me offline for a proscribed period, but that was no good because I needed the Internet for looking up facts. I just wanted to be blocked from email, which can take up a whole day and leave virtually nothing to show for it. I found my salvation in a program called Anti-Social (www.anti-social.cc) which automatically blocks Facebook and Twitter plus, optionally, other social networking sites and email accounts for a time you specify, up to eight hours. It’s a godsend for me and for lots of other writers, too.

The Writing Life, ca. 2014 | Victoria Moran

As precious as this discrete writing time is, I think the more important time for my writing is when I’m living my life away from the keyboard. Observation, contemplation, conversation, and reading (both for information and simply to be exposed, over and over, to wonderful storytelling and the beautiful usage of words) are essential. Going to movies, looking at art, and being out in the world where everything happens are necessary requisites for me to write. For other people, it’s time in nature or running or journaling first thing in the morning. [Read more…]

Self Improvement by Setting Goals by Matt Korsky, VLCE

Goal setting is an important task for all of us and can be the difference between a life well lived or accepting the status quo. Somewhere along life’s journey our own passion and fearlessness starts to recede and we become hesitant about going after our big desires.  We second-guess what we are doing and tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we are able to achieve. When the personal limits we’ve placed on ourselves aren’t enough, society likes to jump in and tell us what we can and cannot do.

To live a life that is not determined by mental limiters – our own or others’ — we need to set goals. These goals need to be viable but also far enough out of our reach to excite us and evoke a sense of fear within us. I know that can be a shocking word because we think of fear as such a negative thing, but if you see it as the incredible excitement that sends adrenaline to fuel a racer for a run or a singer for a performance, you see the positive role that it can play. This kind of fear is important because it keeps us motivated to continue on our journey especially when times are tough. People may try to talk you out of doing something so extreme (extreme in their opinion, anyway), but this is simply the limiters that they have already placed on themselves that they are now putting on you. They are scared themselves to step into the unknown and if you do it, then they will have no excuse to not do something out of the ordinary themselves, because they now see firsthand that the impossible is really possible.

The targets that you set need to be personal and important to you. If you choose a goal that is based on other people’s interests, you’ll have no inner motivation to stay focused. Having a concrete time frame in which the goal must be met is an obligatory action in order to reach the finish line. This time frame is crucial because it forces us to get the ball rolling; otherwise we may never start. It’s easy to say you’re going to run a marathon someday, but if that date is never set, it most likely won’t happen. After your goal is set and the date is in stone, the next vital step is sharing your goal with others. It’s one thing to let yourself down but quite another when you include others in on your goal.  [Read more…]

Be a real man by Michael Suchman, VLCE

Coming Out as Gay, Coming Out as Vegan

For many people, coming out can be difficult, often scary. If it were easy, everyone would do it. When we come out, we are calling attention to ourselves, intentionally highlighting what makes us different from the perceived norm. For men, coming out as gay or vegan raises the question of what it means to be a man. Sadly, a gay man or a vegan man is often still not perceived as being a “real man” by the standards of our culture.

Some of the negative stereotypes of gay men and vegan men are remarkably similar. We are perceived as weak, effeminate, and not “real men.” Traditionally, a “real man” is seen as a provider and protector. These are admirable qualities and ones that all men should strive to possess. How we manifest these traits is where the disconnect happens. Often times, it seems that our culture values superficial expressions of being manly. It is more about an outward display of bravado rather than strength of true internal character. The time has come for us to change the image of what it means to be a “real man.”

To live up to the expectation of “real men” as providers and protectors, we need strength, not necessarily physical strength, but the strength that comes from within. We must have the courage to speak up and share our truth even when doing so is scary or dangerous. The modern gay rights movement was started by a group of unarmed gay men and drag queens standing up to armed policemen. These men, despite having no weapons, had the strength to fight back and demand equality. Similarly, vegan men contradict the stereotypes of being weak when they come out as vegan. We are willing to risk the labels and negative stereotypes to say that we believe that all beings, regardless of species, deserve to live free of human interference. Rallying around the stereotype of “Real men eat meat” is easy, but that is actually the safer route. It is a real man who declares, “I will not be a part of this,” when he encounters injustice and bullying. Gay men and vegan men, by coming out, display a true strength of character that is emblematic of what is means to be a “real man.”

VeganMos

A real man is secure enough in his own skin to show emotions, a trait often seen as a sign of weakness. Caring for others is what enables a person to be a true protector and provider. If we don’t care about someone else, we won’t be willing to stand up for them. Caring should not be the birthright of women alone. Men must be encouraged to express their innate compassion and caring. As more men come out as gay or vegan, the more society as a whole will rethink its notions of what it means to be a “real man.” [Read more…]