It's Not a Sacrifice; It's an Adventure

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Once upon a time I had a friend who, every time we dined together, would say to me, "I just can't understand why you'd limit yourself to being vegetarian. You miss out on so many food experiences." This same friend would order the same chicken sandwich from the same restaurant nearly every time we went out. But I was the one limiting myself? (He was also one of my many omni friends who doesn't understand why I don't worship at the altar of Anthony Bourdain.)

As I briefly pointed out in my most recent post, I don't see veganism as a sacrifice, in that I've not given up on eating well, I've just made different choices in what I consume. It's not so much a sacrifice or challenge as it is an adventure. In fact, I've found that being vegan has opened up a huge world of culinary experiences to me.

Before I went vegan I had never eaten Thai, Japanese, Ethiopian, or Vietnamese food before. (All cuisines that are now staples of my diet.) Part of this is due to my upbringing in a household where the only "ethnic" food we ever had was Chinese takeout. But part of it is also that when you eat meat, unless you have food allergies or some other restriction, you can walk into any restaurant. It's safe, and many people choose to play it safe by not exploring outside their culinary comfort zones.

On a recent trip to Long Island, the region where I grew up, I was lamenting the fact that our hotel listed as "local restaurant favorites," Applebee's and TGI Friday's. These were, in fact, basically the only two restaurants I ever ate out at until I went to college. Those people I know who never left LI still eat there regularly. When not pushed to be creative with our food choices many people don't bother.

What's worse is when these "open-minded" omnis refuse to try vegan food (as if it's this separate category of food and doesn't already likely make up some of their favorite snacks and side dishes.) Many people I know won't go anywhere near a raw-foods restaurant. (At least not without some snarky comments.)

But one need not spend much time reading vegan food blogs to know there is a wealth of creativity and adventurousness within the vegan cooking community. My favorite meals often aren't the ones that try to replicate meat dishes, but the ones that use vegetables, grains, and legumes in new and surprising ways.

Today I made sunflower seed burgers with avocado and sweet pickles for lunch. Last week I made grilled gnocchi with creamy red pepper sauce. One of the best dinners I've ever had out was dill cous cous cakes with fiddlehead ferns at Millennium. Sounds a little more excting than a chicken sandwich, no?

Why Do Environmentalists Fear Me?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm certainly not the first person to re-post Ezra Klein's Washington Post article, but I felt I should, given that he not only mans up and admits that meat consumption is a major contributing factor to global warming, but as a meat-eater himself, this may have more impact than it does coming from an extremist liberal hippie like myself.

Now, "extreme" isn't a word I would use to describe myself, but as a vegan it's consistently foisted upon me. Apparently I scare people. I guess I can see how me coming towards you with a plate full of dairy-free cupcakes might be terrifying. In all seriousness though, I'm talking about my first-hand experience with people within the so-called "green movement" fearing use of the "v-word." As Klein notes in his article:

The visceral reaction against anyone questioning our God-given right to bathe in bacon has been enough to scare many in the environmental movement away from this issue. The National Resources Defense Council has a long page of suggestions for how you, too, can "fight global warming."... The word "meat" is nowhere to be found.That's not an oversight. Telling people to give up burgers doesn't poll well.

Vegans have long criticized Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth for conveniently ignoring the issue of meat, along with countless other environmentally-focused organizations. I too, shared the experience of writing for a "green" online publication where I was consistently told to tone down my vegan message for fear of alienating our readers.

Now I agree that it's important to at least talk about the way you position your message with respect to your audience, but I couldn't help but think that this was less about alienation than it was about willful ignorance of a problem. To wit, in one of my earliest weeks on the job, my colleagues and I had a booth at our local green festival.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the festival organizers had made a choice to feature only vegetarian food vendors. Many of my colleagues were less pleased and complained loudly about this. In fact, when it came time for lunch, they actually left the festival grounds, and walked a few blocks to grab carne asada burritos. They wouldn't sacrifice meat for one meal at a GREEN FESTIVAL! If they had gone out to get "free-range-organic-locally-raised" chicken salads, I would've rolled my eyes, but at least been a little more understanding. But who knows where the meat in those burritos came from.

As I write this I've already posted a link to this story on Facebook and even my supposedly liberal friends are commenting in backlash. It's funny how everyone's an environmentalist until it calls for some tiny amount of personal sacrifice.

(P.S. It's not a sacrifice. I eat really well.)

Killer Kale Recipes

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Every now and then I have to take a break from promotion Veg Table to actually eat... I'm trying to eat healthier and lose a bit of weight because summer, bathing suits, weddings, blah blah blah. I don't really need an excuse to add healthier meals to my diet. So because I'm trying to eat lighter, smaller portions, I'm trying to work in foods that are dense in nutrients. Like kale! It's a superfood!

I know that eating raw kale makes me sound like one of those vegans who wastes away, subsiding on nothing but berries and twigs. Don't worry, I've consumed enough fried pickles and beer over the last year to more than warrant a bit of a cleanse. And while kale can be great sauteed in garlic and olive oil, you're just losing nutrients and adding fat. So here are a few ways I sneak it into my dishes.

Kale and Soba Noodle Salad

I eat a lot of edamame because it's high in protein and yummy. I buy it frozen and shelled so you can't beat that convenience. I throw about a cup of it in a bowl (don't bother to thaw it) with maybe three large leaves of kale, stalk removed and chopped up. After the soba noodles have cooked, drain and toss them right in. (The frozen edamame will cool down the noodles and vice versa.) Then I toss with a combo of rice vinegar, ginger, black pepper, soy sauce and garlic salt. If you're not too concerned about the calories you can add sesame or chili oil. You can also throw in some pine nuts or almonds. Doesn't get much easier than that. 

Here's another variation...

Kale Sushi Rolls

Take one cup uncooked sushi rice and cook as directed. I used this Jade Pearl Rice which is infused with bamboo for a little extra iron and a nutty flavor, which took about 20 minutes. Move it to a bowl, add a healthy amount of rice vinegar, fluff it up, and refrigerate. While it cools chop up three large kale leaves. (You want to chop it pretty finely.) I added edamame because I almost always have it on hand, but I bet this would work really well using chopped up avocado instead. If you want to avoid the fat, try diced cucumber or daikon. 

Mix into the rice some similar flavors as used for the kale salad. You can't go wrong with soy, ginger, garlic salt, and black pepper. I added a touch of hoisin too for added sweetness. Toss some sesame seeds in there too and then add the kale and whatever other veggies you've decided on and mix well. It helps if you have bamboo sushi rolling mat, but you can make do without. Lay a sheet of nori out and place a few spoonfuls of your rice mixture onto one half. Spread it out so it covers a little over 1/2 of the nori like so and then roll it up into a nice tight roll. This makes about 6-8 rolls. Cut them in half and then serve with your choice of dipping sauce.

Do you have a favorite recipe using kale? Let me know!

Famous on the Internet

Monday, July 27, 2009

That's right, Veg Table is hitting the big time, as I'm happy to brag... er... I mean, report that we've already started getting some natural google search traffic. My page rank is still obviously rather low though, so I'm hoping to amp up the PR a little more soon.

In fact, my first interview was published today on the never-not-awesome blog Vegansaurus where I revealed some of my pipe dreams... er... I mean, big plans for the site. (Though technically, she was scooped by my husband's blog, which was the first to report on Veg Table.)

Now, before I declare myself Queen of the Internet I guess I should keep in mind that it's not exactly earth-shattering to be blogged about by someone who's legally betrothed to you, and a by a neighbor that you've guest blogged for. So I'll just sit here twiddling my thumbs until all you bloggers I don't know in real life decide to drop me a line.

In the mean time I thought I'd share a story about my previous 15-minutes of internet fame. When I was planning my vegan wedding two years ago I got fed up and bitter about wedding websites out there that set up arbitrary rules about how one is "supposed to" get married. In retaliation to one particularly nauseating website, I launched my own site: I became cool for literally, about 15 minutes and got to guest post for a superstar in the indie bride community, Offbeat Bride.

My interest in wedding snark amazingly died down after we tied the knot, so TheVom was shut down. But my interest in delicious food and connecting with the vegan community continues to grow, so Vegan@Large is here to stay!

Mutualistic Symbiosis in the Vegan Community

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Once upon a time I worked for a blog network where one of my roles was to teach bloggers how to optimize their posts for search engines and increase pageviews by using social media. When it comes to internet marketing, there's an extremely blurry line between promotion and spamming. And it made me feel icky and I quit the internet for a while.

But now I am back and I vow to never again write any "Top 10 Sensationalist Claims Sure to Get Me on the Front Page of Digg" posts. So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm trying not to sound like a social media douchebage when I say to you, fellow bloggers, that I think we can help each other out.

Veg Table presents an opportunity for you to promote your own blog. If you've written any restaurant reviews on your site, link to them in our restaurant pages! Here's an example of one I added today for Breakroom Cafe in Oakland:

Another member had already created the restaurant page, so it took me a whopping 30 seconds to link to the restuarant review on one of my favorite vegan blogs: vegansaurus!

So, you get some link love for your blog and more exposure, plus you get to pat yourself on the back for helping out the veg*n community. It's a noble job, I know, but somebody's gotta do it.

I've been discovering so many new veggie blogs recently via my Twitter followers, so I'm happy to hear any other suggestions you might have for ways we can mutually benefit each other. Yay symbiosis! We're just like siboglinid tube worms and their digestive bacteria.

The more you know...

Chocolate-Covered Activism with a Cherry on Top

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Being vegan isn't that hard, but sometimes being vegan around non-vegans is. This past weekend, for example, I was at a friend's barbecue. She had gone out of her way to buy veggie sausages for me to grill, so I felt terrible upon inspecting the ingredients and realizing there was egg in there. I had to then be the jerk who says, "Um, I can't eat this."

I often feel my desire to not impose upon others coming into conflict with my desire to not compromise my morals. I'm already getting nervous thinking about a bachelorette party this weekend. There will be a dinner with a group of mostly strangers in a town I'm unfamiliar with. Gulp. And once your vegan presence becomes known then the floodgates open... "What made you go vegan?" "What do you eat?"

The activist in me knows that I should embrace the opportunity to share my views. But then the socially awkward part of me takes over, worrying "Ugh, do I sound condescending? Am I making people uncomfortable?" And then the activist-devil (or is it angel?) appears over my shoulder again and says, "Good - people should feel uncomfortable about consuming animal carcasses!" And then there's so much back and forth fighting in my head that I try to change the subject and start babbling about how dumb my cat is.

It's a tricky line to walk, and where I personally stand on the issue is, rather than trying to make converts of people by telling them what they do is wrong, I try to make my side seem appealing. So I bake muffins, and take people to gourmet vegan restaurants, and do my best to make veganism seem awesome and easy.  

Maybe this doesn't make me "hardcore" enough for some vegans. Fair enough. I give major props to the people out there rescuing animals and protesting fast food restuarants. But I also firmly believe that vegan ice cream shops are doing equally important work in furthering our cause.

Welcome to Veg Table!

I’ve had this idea floating around in my head for a while. There are plenty of restaurant review sites out there, travel sites, vegan guides and blogs. But in planning some trips this summer (since everyone I’ve ever known has decided to get married this year) I find myself constantly having to cross-reference sites to get an accurate picture of vegan restaurant options in the cities I’ll be visiting.

So if for no other reason than my own selfish needs, I started Veg Table to bring a lot of different already existing ideas together, but to also bring in another noticeably absent feature on most travel sites: collaboration. I like the idea of using a wiki so that anyone can contribute. I’m certainly no authority on restaurant reviews, and there are a whole lot of cities I’ve never been to. Why not let the people most familiar with them, tell the story best? (And frankly I’ve grown a little tired of weeding through Yelp reviews that consist of, “I am a blood thirsty carnivore. Vegans are lame and so are their restaurants.”)

Well, now I’ve got Veg Table. I’ve spent a good bit of time organizing it in a way I hope is clear. I’ve laid the foundation and put up the framework. I can envision the home, but it still need walls… and flooring and paint and curtains and bookcases and throw pillows and tealight candelabras that look like tree branches! Maybe I’m going overboard with the house analogy, but the point is, for Veg Table to really feel like a “home” I need your help in contributing the information and details that will help make the site unique and useful.

I look forward to getting to know more members of the ever-growing vegan community, and to building this site with you.