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Reflections of a Coffee House Writer, by Victoria Moran

I read an article ages ago about a writer who built a shed in his yard and outfitted it with a window shade reading: GO AWAY. He wanted to write in total solitude, and while I realize that that’s a valid position, I’m the opposite. While I’ll  slog through office tasks and emails in my home office, I write at coffee houses, usually a ubiquitous Starbucks. I sometimes giggle to myself that this place is the American equivalent of a Dutch smart shop. While those outlets purvey hallucinogenic mushrooms and hashish, legal in the Netherlands, Starbucks offers less controversial drugs: caffeine and sugar. However one feels about such substances, you can sit here for the livelong day, plug in a laptop, and get inspiration from the bustle that’s all around. As Parisian cafes of the 1920s nurtured Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, Starbucks nurtures writers across America and around the world today.

I wish there was more here that, as vegan, I’d want to eat. As it is, I pay for my “remote office” space by buying water, Earl Grey tea with steamed soy milk (that’s a misto, I’ve learned), a little bag of nuts, a banana (on the rare day there’s a ripe one), and formerly a bottled “Superfood” drink, impressively swamp-colored but packing thirty-five grams of sugar (thus the “formerly”). On a good day, I’m here in time to grab the brown rice and kale salads before somebody else does. Jackpot!

Of course I’d love to spend my days in some ma-and-pa juice bar where I could down elixirs in shades of green and having unlimited kale availability, but those places can’t afford to have me take up a table for much of a day while I court the Muse. My current host, for all its corporate, cookie-cutter limitations, allows that, and I’m fed here in intangible ways, connecting me to the life and liveliness of a city and its people that I can incorporate into my writing.

Today, for instance, I’m at a Starbucks on Seventh Avenue in New York City, looking out super-sized windows at Macy’s. It’s the Macy’s – from Miracle on 34th Street and those televised Thanksgiving parades of my childhood. For a girl from Kansas City who nurtured big dreams, this is all pretty magical. I’m here, in the midst of it all.  IMG_2200 [Read more…]

How to Travel in Southern Europe as a Vegan, by Marissa Podany, VLCE

Spain, France, Italy, Croatia. I took my first trip to Europe last fall. I’d traveled in Andean South America years ago, feasting on quinoa, massive avocados, and delicious produce, but I had no idea what to expect from Europe. Cured meats and cheeses are the kings and queens over there, right?

Throughout the trip, I ate a wide variety of plant foods. It took 13 whole days to get a dud of a meal. I found beautiful vegan food from the hip alleys and cobblestoned streets of Barcelona to the seaside shops in a tiny Croatian village. I indulged in fresh-pressed juices, couscous salads, pizzas, baguettes, chocolates, and the best grapes I’ve tasted in my entire life. I was definitely not deprived!

Below, I’ve compiled some of my most helpful travel tips. With some forethought, you can set all of your food worries aside and be fully present in your adventures!

rome gelato

Be prepared.

Look up your destination on Happy Cow (www.HappyCow.net) for a list of vegan-friendly restaurants, and to better understand your general options, research the local cuisine, too. Learn useful phrases in their language like, “I am vegan” and “no eggs/dairy/fish sauce.” Once you’re there, be gracious to those who help you. Please and thank you go a long way.

In addition to researching options, pack travel-friendly snacks like fruit, trail mix, a grain salad, or food bars for the plane (even if you’ve requested a vegan meal) and in case of unexpected events like missing a connection or arriving after everything has closed.

croatia corner store

Book accommodations with kitchen access.

Because I had ethical and health considerations, I booked places that had full kitchen access. Best decision ever. Even a fridge or hot plate would be helpful, though. Buy the basics, cook at your place, and store the leftovers for another time. Lentils and grains are super cheap, nutritious, filling, and easy to cook in bulk.

marseille fruit

Take advantage of farmer’s markets and produce stands. [Read more…]

Compassionate Consumer or Angry Stereotype? It’s Our Choice, by Katie Medlock, VLCE

We all have those moments in which we see veganism being represented in a completely cringe-worthy way and it makes us want to crawl out of our skin. I had such a moment a few weeks ago when reading a post in a local Facebook group about a woman’s visits to a restaurant which offers a separate vegan menu. She had twice experienced the unfortunate ordeal of being served Parmesan cheese-sprinkled fries and described promptly running to the bathroom to throw up. The account even details how the woman’s boyfriend complained to the waitress that she and her guest were “vomiting in the bathroom.” Cringe, cringe, cringe.

Now, I’ve had my share of heart-sinking moments realizing my food was served with animal products — it can make any vegan feel sad, angry, and disgusted. Yet, this reaction seems like a bridge too far. As vegans, we are ambassadors of the lifestyle wherever we go – and especially wherever food is being shared. Being the “angry vegan” or the “dramatic vegan” only serves to reinforce unsavory stereotypes in the minds of potential vegans.

I am also reminded of witnessing other incarnations of these stereotypes in action and wondering “What happened to our compassion?” Firstly, histrionics and anger-tantrums will do nothing for helping the plight of animals — in fact, they will likely be more harmful. And secondly, failing to see an opportunity to practice compassion toward other humans is a problem. This isn’t to say we aren’t entitled to feel whatever emotions come up when faced with the horrors animals endure, yet finding an appropriate outlet and representing our heartfelt ethics in ways that won’t send people screaming is a must. [Read more…]

I am a food addict, by Natalie Forman, VLCE

It’s time to be honest with myself, and with you: I am a food addict. I always suspected that I was, and then just a few months ago I had that suspicion confirmed during a seminar given by Victoria Moran during the October 2015 Mainstreet Vegan Academy session. She spoke to us on one of our last days about working with clients who may have psychological issues with food. I’d been dreading that particular seminar, just because it is obvious from my outward appearance that I do have some sort of problem with food – I am vegan, but rather than being a shiny, trim, and healthy representative of veganism, I am what they call a ‘fat vegan’. My weight almost prevented me from even attending MSVA; being the only overweight person in a group can be incredibly awkward, and I had correctly assumed that during the course I would be surrounded by a dozen of the most beautiful and vibrant people. How blessed that I am that not one single course-mate or speaker we hosted during the program ever made me feel singled out or different.

Despite what people might think when they look at me, I rarely eat bad foods – obviously, being vegan has greatly curtailed my possibilities for indulgences. Fast food joints in my city don’t cater to herbivores, snack foods usually contain some sort of milk ingredients or palm oil, and if I want vegan donuts I have to go clear across the city on the one day a week they are sold at a speciality market. No, my problem isn’t WHAT I’m eating – it is how much; as Louis C.K. jokes in one of his stand-up specials, I don’t eat until I’m full, I eat until I hate myself. As Victoria read aloud through a list of signs that a person may be a food addict I couldn’t help but recognize all of my behaviours, spelled right out for me. I am a food addict, and at that moment in time, was completely powerless over food. Thankfully, Victoria has lived with the same struggles, and conquered her addiction, and best of all, gone on to write a book about how she successfully found balance in her relationship with food. After that class discussion I purchased her book, The Love Powered Diet, and have been – admittedly very slowly – working my way through it, and the twelve steps. I just completed Step 3 and am now moving on to Step 4, which is a place closer to finding peace with this disease than I’ve ever been before. [Read more…]

The Great Plant-Based Setup, by Victoria Moran

220px-Herbert_M._SheltonI saw the setup the first time forty years ago. Dr. Herbert Shelton, a pioneer in the holistic health movement, was in his eighties and wracked with Parkinson’s. People tried hard to explain it. He’d been very stressed, they said. He’d suffered years of harassment from the medical establishment. This was why he was no longer in good health. There was no other explanation.

Then, in 2000, American Vegan Society founder Jay Dinshah died of a sudden heart attack at the age of sixty-seven. People were as shocked as they were saddened. Vegans weren’t supposed to die in their sixties — or seventies, for that matter. Dying at 90+ in good health was the plan, as Dinshah’s father had done, falling from an apple tree at, if memory serves me, ninety-four. In Jay’s case, stress was again deemed the culprit. Then some people said that he hadn’t been on an oil-free diet. I thought that was mean and they should have kept their opinions to themselves.Unknown

Two years ago, we lost Rynn Berry, the great historian of the vegetarian movement, at sixty-eight. The longtime vegan and (mostly) raw-foodist was out running (good; running is good) when he collapsed with an asthma attack on a January day in a Brooklyn park (he was so healthy that most of us didn’t know he had asthma – again: good). We consoled ourselves that the underlying asthma, so well controlled for years by his great diet, was to blame. Some even conjectured that since he’d been running with no ID and days passed before he was identified as a retired professor with good insurance, perhaps his care at the hospital had been substandard.Unknown-1

These are stories of three remarkable men who did the unthinkable: they died. No one knows when he or she will leave this life, but somehow when we’re vegan, we start to think that this universal truth no longer applies. It is inconvenient for the vegan/plant-based/natural health movement when one of us passes before ninety, or gets sick at any age. We think it makes us look bad. But there are worse things than looking bad — doing harm, for instance.

Think how difficult it is to be sick, especially with some chronic, painful or, heaven forbid, fatal disease. Maybe the person “caused it” with their habits, but there are plenty of nonsmokers who get lung cancer and emphysema, a goodly number of type 2 diabetics who are fit and trim, and people who have heart attacks while running fast enough to leave the rest of us in the dust. Like our beloved companion animals and our non-vegan fellows, we sometimes get sick, and at some point, we’ll all leave the physical world. Nobody knows when. And oftentimes no one knows why, either. [Read more…]

“Have you lost weight?” and other questions I’m asked as a vegan, by Diana Goldman, VLCE

Vegans eat plants. That’s it. To many, this diet sounds radical. I get it. Less than two years ago I ate meat, fish, eggs, and dairy and a vegan diet seemed to me “a bleak and inexplicable asceticism akin to culinary celibacy”[1]. So I do welcome and sympathize with the following five most common types of questions my diet evokes:

  • The epicurean asks: “What do you eat?” And from a particularly forthright friend, this question was followed by “cardboard?” I’m guessing this question stems from an effort to imagine walking in my shoes and a genuine curiosity about how one can find satisfying meals without animal products.  My answer:  The first time I heard this I responded, “I eat fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.” I’ve since learned that “vegan pancakes, muffins, stews, casseroles, burgers, stir-fries, salads, cakes and cookies” is a bit more illuminating. To see some pictures of the type of food I eat, look here.
  • The diplomat shares: “I don’t eat red meat either. I rarely eat chicken. I mostly eat fish. Do you not eat fish?” Perhaps this response is motivated by a fear of being judged and/or a desire to establish some common ground. My answer: I don’t judge. I spent the first 48 years of my life consuming animal products. Now, I am so troubled by the exploitation of animals, including fish, I cannot eat them or their byproducts. I realize my views are unusual for the culture I live in. I don’t expect others to respond to animal use as I do.

[Read more…]

Supporting Local Sanctuaries (Don’t Forget the Smaller Ones!), by Marissa Podany, VLCE

When going vegan, it’s common to wonder, “What do I eat?” and “What can I wear?” At some point, though, we yearn to help in ways that reach further than our consumer habits. Supporting sanctuaries is just one way that we can help animals in which the focus shifts from what we are (or aren’t) purchasing to what we can do for the animals themselves, which is the crux of the matter. These places are, quite literally, heaven on earth for animals who have seen the merciless depths of hell, and they are the embodiment of the change that we vegans would like to see in the world: compassion towards, and peace for, all living beings.

Larger sanctuaries typically have more reach, resources, funds, and celebrity endorsements. While their increasing visibility excites me, I urge you to seek out the smaller, local sanctuaries and support them, too. The people who run them often work day jobs on the side, relying on unpaid volunteers to help them with farm chores, and often just scraping by. It’s great to support the larger sanctuaries – I have a sponsor goatie at one – but let’s rally behind all of them, big and small!

If you don’t know of any in your region, do a Google search, and remember not to limit your search within the invisible confines of state lines. You can also ask people in your vegan community if they know of any places, or take your query to social media. At the rate that new sanctuaries are popping up, a lot of you can find one that’s close to home.

Here are some of the many ways we can we support small/local sanctuaries:

hope haven

Sponsor an animal. Opt for long-term sponsorship with monthly donations and/or one-time sponsorship fundraisers. These make great gifts, too! This Thanksgiving, I sponsored a turkey named Tony from Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary, located in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Turkey adoption is a popular fundraiser for many sanctuaries in the fall each year. I loved taking part because not only did I help Hope Haven financially, but I also got to put Tony’s card on my Thanksgiving table in remembrance of the turkeys who weren’t so lucky, which also serves as a conversation starter if people were so inclined.

Organize or attend fundraisers. This is a fun way to foster community involvement while also raising awareness about the lives of farmed animals and provide much needed financial support.

Donate supplies. Their websites often have a list of most-needed items.

Visit with family and friends. Show you’re the people you care about “why vegan,” meet the animals and hear their stories, and lend financial support all at once.

happy trails 1

I took a day trip with my family to Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, located in Ohio about 1 ½ hours from my home in Pittsburgh. It’s fun to go to various sanctuaries because they can have different focuses based on need in their area. For example, at Happy Trails, they have a program in which they take in retired Amish horses that have been destined for slaughter, and many of their roosters come from busted cock-fighting rings. They adopt out most of their animals, but some are permanent residents. [Read more…]

Am I Vegan Enough? by Barbara Becker, VLCE

When I adopted a vegan lifestyle over five years ago, it was a crash course in unexpected change plus an extreme wake-up call to the unethical nature of animal agriculture and its harmful impact on our humanity as well as our planet.

Having spent the ensuing time learning what to eat and how to prepare plant-based foods, reassessing my clothing, bags, shoes, household cleaners, cosmetics, toiletries, splurging on a Vitamix and refurbishing my home with sustainable products wherever I could, it has taken even longer to find a way to peacefully co-exist with those who don’t follow, understand, or agree with my lifestyle.

At first, I didn’t show enough tolerance for those who challenged or dismissed me. I was on the right path, after all. They were unenlightened, brainwashed by the media, or they didn’t “get it.” My false sense of superiority and a certain lack of compassion undoubtedly helped me navigate what was often a lonely new road.

Whether faced with typical questions like “How do you get your protein?” or passive-aggressive or blatantly aggressive queries like “What would you do if you were on an island with nothing to eat but an animal?” I was often defensive and spouted any ethical or nutritional tidbit I had grasped in order to stand my ground – without ever feeling confident justifying myself to “non-believers!”

Luckily, I began to connect with the vegan community through Meet-Up groups, Main Street Vegan Academy (all hail Victoria Moran!), and more recently on Facebook. Ironically, this presented a whole new set of stumbling blocks since being around so many accomplished and active vegans made me feel inadequate.

I needed to find peace with whatever I could offer while following my path, and stop comparing myself to anyone else’s journey. How? With time. [Read more…]

Overcoming Holiday Gift Anxiety: What If It’s Not Vegan? by Carmella Lanni-Giardina, VLCE

vegan gift

Source: Pixabay

‘Tis the season to spread joy, love and compassion. The holidays can be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but they can also be stressful, especially when it comes to gift giving. How do vegans overcome gift anxiety during this time of the year?

“Gift anxiety?” you ask. It may not be a formal diagnosis but it does exist. Have you ever experienced any of the following:

  • The strive for present perfection
  • The fear of the unknown behind the wrapping paper
  • The struggle to explain what veganism is to your Aunt Janie at the holiday dinner table?

There are a lot of emotions felt during this time of the year. For many, it’s based in wanting everyone around us to be happy.

There’s an element of surprise that’s quite exciting. The expression on someone’s face when you’ve given or received the one special gift can be memorable. It can make the holidays even more special.

BUT…WHAT IF THAT GIFT ISN’T VEGAN?

Gift anxiety isn’t a “vegan thing.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve received my share of “bad” gifts, even in the pre-vegan days, and I’m sure someone will say I’ve given a dud or two in my life. What I’ve learned is that it’s all about how you handle the situation to make things comfortable for everyone.

I’d like to think people generally mean well when giving and receiving gifts. Whether it comes with a statement or is a simple sign of appreciation, most people (hopefully) are not trying to be malicious.

Tips to handle the non-vegan gift: [Read more…]

Vintage Recipes from My Real Life, by Victoria Moran

Sharon Auerbach, a reader of this blog, wrote me the following: “I was so impressed by your comment about the “Lemon ’Stedda’ Chicken” recipe, which you posted in your February 4, 2014 article/blog entry ‘In Praise of the Classic Cookbooks’: ‘I’ve made Marylin’s “Lemon ‘Stedda’ Chicken” at least once a month since this cookbook was published in 1990.’

“In a way, getting excited about a new recipe can be kind of like getting excited about a new article of clothing- it seems so fabulous at first but after you wear it a few times you realize that it’s uncomfortable when you sit down in it, or it is a pain to have to iron all the time, or the colors don’t go with anything else in your wardrobe- etc.  In other words- I see great value in recipes that have withstood the test of time!  While I’m certainly not against experimentation, I’d like to try some recipes that have very high odds of being ‘keepers’.  Would you be willing to share your wisdom?  If there are other recipes that you make at least once a month, I would love to try them!”

Well, Sharon, and any other traditionalists out there, I’m here for you. First, I want to draw your attention to a few recipes that are in Main Street Vegan (the book), which fall in this tried and true category. They are:

  • Neat Loaf – page 50, from The Peaceful Palate, by Jennifer Raymond
  • Baked Chee Spaghetti Casserole – page 58, from Ten Talents, by Rosalie and Dr. Frank Hurd

samantha marie baked chee

  • Cool Dilly Tofu Dip (or Dressing) – page 298. I found it on the wall of a food co-op in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1977. How’s that for history?

To follow are perennial faves that I didn’t borrow for Main Street Vegan. I’ve given an Amazon link for each book. Please note that these are the copyrighted work of their creators. I always like to get that in. Writers and creative folks of all stripes are having a hard time in the Internet era.

Green Bean Casserole

From Ten Talents ©1968, Rosalie and Dr. Frank Hurd – Here’s an Amazon link to the 2012 edition.

I love this cookbook and made this dish for Thanksgiving last week, as I have for every TG since, gosh, since forever! There are no amounts given here; I generally use two 10-ounce packages of frozen, organic beans and one full recipe of cashew milk gravy. I find that this serves 6 nicely.

  • Green beans, cut & steamed (I use frozen and don’t steam in advance)
  • Cashew milk gravy (recipe below)
  • Almonds, blanched, sliced
  • Dry bread crumbs, seasoned
  1. Lightly steam green beans in boiling water and salt.
  2. Pour over beans cashew milk gravy.
  3. Stir in almonds.
  4. Top with seasoned crumbs, salt and oil (thread on).
  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Cashew Milk Gravy (white sauce)

  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup raw cashew pieces
  • 2 Tbls. arrowroot powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 Tbls. oil
  • ½ tsp. salt

Blend the above ingredients together. Stir constantly until thickened over medium flame (about 3 minutes). Dilute if necessary. (Note from Victoria: I use a lot less oil than I used to and find that this recipe works fine with no oil at all.)

Aztec Salad

From The Peaceful Palate, by ©1992 Jennifer Raymond

My assistant, Danielle, and I had this salad for lunch today. I was out of peppers so I added an avocado. This recipe is naturally oil free. “Seasoned rice vinegar,” if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a slightly sweetened vinegar that has a richness that’s almost oily; it can actually stand on its own as salad dressing.

  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 2 Tbls. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbls. 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.

Real French Dressing

From The American Vegetarian Cookbook from the Fit for Life Kitchen,

©1990 Marilyn Diamond

Okay, so I said I’m using a lot less oil these days. I still use in this exquisite gourmet dressing that wows guests every time.

  • 4 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 ½ Tbls. lemon juice
  • ¼ to ½ tsp. Dijon-style mustard

Ground rock salt, seasoned salt, or salt-free seasoning (optional; no salt is necessary because mustard contains salt)

Freshly ground pepper (optional)

Measure oil and garlic into salad bowl. Add lemon juice, mustard, and seasonings to taste. Whisk until dressing is light yellow and thick. (Note: Especially with tender greens, avoid combining dressing with greens until right before serving. The salt component in the dressing will wilt the salad if it sits too long.)

Flourless Chocolate Cake [Read more…]