Thursday, November 24, 2011

Adopt a Turkey - Don’t eat One.’ - 1 Year Vegan Birthday, and Happy American Thanksgiving...

Today is American Thanksgiving, and my one year Vegan birthday which I’m quite excited about. I went vegetarian in August of last year, but by last American Thanksgiving I was more then ready to take the plunge into veganism. I found the transition to be quite smooth actually. I’d known from the start of my vegetarian commitment that veganism was my goal, and so even though I was vegetarian I was living a mostly vegan life. When it got to the point where I was using vegan dairy products more then dairy ones, and finding my tastes towards cheese turning I decided to finally take the plunge. Thanksgiving might seem like an odd day to decide to go vegan. I know a lot of people can’t believe it when I tell them. "But how were you able to deal with all that temptation?" "But it’s the holiday." "All that food" etc.. People often consider holidays to be about food, but I consider them to be about sharing time with the people in my life. For me, because I was already devoted to vegetarianism, and veganism was something I desperately aspired to, it wasn’t difficult, and there honestly was no temptation. Once you truly make the choice to change, it doesn’t matter how much you may have loved this or that food in your previous life, you simply no longer desire it. At least that’s how it was for me. Cheese, butter, cream, eggs, milk etc... were no longer appetizing to me and so there was no temptation. Of course last Thanksgiving was a bit difficult, but it was difficult because I was the odd-woman out so to speak. My husband was not even vegetarian at that time though he fully supported me, and everyone else around me was scarfing down turkey and the fixin’s while I ate my Gardein, with mushroom gravy, Roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry curry and cous cous.

I got a lot of stares, a lot of looks, a lot of avoidance, and a lot of questions. However when it came time for me to answer the questions posed by a very few, the majority of people sitting around the table did not want to hear what I had to say. This was probably most difficult, trying to answer someone genuinely curious, while the majority is just glaring at you to be quiet. People get very defensive when you don’t engage in their traditions, they take it as a personal affront. Bringing your own food to a holiday dinner definitely rubs some people the wrong way and for a while I was viewed by some as "Thinking I was better then them." or that I was "Militant." I got all those "Who does she think she is?" comments. Now I don’t want to give the impression that people were mean to me outright, or treated me poorly, but when you are the only vegan in the room, you certainly feel it. That was and has always been the most difficult thing for me about veganism, actually living a vegan lifestyle is easy, but it’s dealing with others that can be stressful. However that has never caused me to falter. I’ve never once compromised my values simply so I could ‘fit in’ and being able to stand up for myself and my values only makes me stronger. Today I consider going vegan to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I can’t imagine even for a second going back to the way I used to be.

This Thanksgiving is going to be much easier. I’m much more versed in veganism and can properly articulate myself when questions are asked. I don’t feel like an outsider (at least not in a bad way) and more importantly I have extra support. My husband is now vegetarian/vegan and so we will be able to eat our meal together. My friend J Is trying to be vegetarian and so she will be joining us in our meal, by bringing a spinach lasagna with tofu ricotta, as well as the chocolate raspberry blackout cake from Vegan with a Vengeance. I will bring appetizers and desserts, and we’ll have a wonderful time together.

However the best thing about this Thanksgiving for me is that my husband and I ‘adopted’ a turkey. Farm Sanctuary has an "Adopt a Turkey, Don’t eat One" program around Thanksgiving, and they’ve been doing it for years. It’s a $30 sponsor donation that you can give to a particular Turkey of your choice or $180 that you can donate to a flock. Around Thanksgiving Farm Sanctuary receives a lot of rescued turkeys some in ill-health and every bit that we can donate helps go a long way in providing a comfortable peaceful life for this beautiful majestic birds. We decided to adopt a super-cute Turkey named Victoria, and just thinking of her living the remainder of her life out in peace, with warmth, shelter, food, friends and love and care just brings a smile to my face and a lightness to my heart. Being able to take part in something so special is the best feeling in the world, I only wish I could do more. I would love to take part in their program in which you can adopt a turkey and have it come to your home, unfortunately right now that is impossible, and my neighborhood isn’t zoned for it anyway. Though one day I think it would be nice to own a good acreage of land on which I can keep rescued animals.

In closing I wish you all a wonderful and happy cruelty-free Thanksgiving, or tofurky day if you will. May your plates be full of delicious vegan fair, and may your company and conversation be inspirational. I also ask that if you’re able to, please help support these rescued turkeys by making a donation and sponsoring one this Thanksgiving. Please adopt a turkey, don’t eat one this year, it is the best holiday gift you can give yourself and they will be eternally grateful for your help.

For more information and where and how to ‘adopt’ a turkey go here....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Life Of The Modern Domestic Turkey: From Birth, To Death, To Plate...

There’s an old saying that goes "Thanksgiving’s not a good time to be a turkey." It’s pretty commonplace and people usually say it nonchalantly with a good natured chuckle. Unfortunately the vast majority of people haven’t any idea just how much truth lies behind those words.

Between 250-300 million turkeys are slaughtered annually for their flesh in the United States, 20-40 million of those slaughters occurring at Thanksgiving each year. What the average person doesn’t know is that turkeys are beautiful and intelligent creatures with a keen awareness of their surroundings. When afforded the opportunity they are highly social and playful, making fast friends with other animals and humans alike. They love having their feathers and underbellies stroked, and relish in building nests, rearing their young and singing! Personality wise turkeys are as varied as dogs and cats, and just as loyal and loving. Yet despite their admirable qualities, their agility, and their magnificence virtually all turkeys raised in the United States are subjected to living out their lives in unbearable pain and suffering in the most horrendous conditions.

Due to the industrialization of the animal agriculture business (Factory Farming) today’s commercial turkeys bare little resemblance to their wild ancestors. Today’s commercial turkeys have been systematically bred, and genetically manipulated by the industry to grow as large as possible as fast as possible. Turkey breeders are able to (and do) manipulate ever aspect of the animals life literally from the moment of conception to their slaughter. Turkeys are selectively bred for production-related traits like fast growth and fleshier bodies. Turkey farmers after all are paid by the pound not by the bird. The heavier the bird the higher it’s monetary value. Unfortunately this system of breeding has caused significant animal-welfare issues. Since breast meat (white meat) is the most desirable, therefore yields a higher price, turkeys have been anatomically manipulated to be so heavy and large breasted that they are now incapable of reproducing naturally. Meaning virtually all turkeys raised commercially in the United States are the result of artificial insemination, which in this case is really just a ‘nice’ term for rape.

Breeding male turkeys (Toms) are typically kept in dark crowded pens for one year. During which time they are handled twice a week for ‘milking’ sessions to collect their semen. This process has the male turkey’s legs secured in a clamp on a bench, while the bird is held over the lap of a worker who induces the turkey to ejaculate. The semen is then collected in a suction hose and mixed with the semen from other toms.

For each of these breeding Males there are more then 20 breeding female turkeys (hens) who are subjected to overcrowding and abusive treatment. Twice a week these breeding hens are herded into a room and then one after another they are held upside down, "Cracked open" (A term used by the Industry) and inseminated in an assembly line fashion. As with the male turkeys the females legs are clamped in metal forceps while the workers race to inseminate between 1200 to 1400 hens within a two hour period.

Toms and Hens used for breeding are typically slaughtered before their second birthday and then used for low grade processed turkey meat products. The turkeys raised on factory farms are hatched in large incubators and never see their mothers nor feel the warmth and safety of a familial nest. When they are only just a few weeks old the baby turkeys are moved into filthy, windowless sheds with thousands of other turkeys, where they will spend the rest of their lives, never setting foot outside.

The overcrowded and filthy conditions in these sheds is so unbearable, and stressful that often times turkeys will take out their frustrations on one another by pecking or attacking other birds. To prevent the turkeys from killing one another under these horrible conditions parts of the turkeys beaks and toes are cut off in a process called ‘de-beaking’ or ‘de-toeing.’ the males snoods (the flap of skin located under the chin) are also typically removed, and all this is done without numbing or pain relievers. Millions of turkeys don’t even make it past their first few weeks of life as the conditions are so stressful they’ve been known to induce a condition referred to as ‘starve out’ which causes the young birds to simply stop eating, and so they starve to death.

As already mentioned turkeys are systematically bred to grow as large as possible as fast as possible. In 1970 the average turkey weighed 17 pounds, today a male or female can be as much as 28-38 pounds when brought to slaughter. Inability to breed naturally isn’t the only problem related to the birds unnatural growth. Commercially raised turkeys are now so obese that they can not fly, and many can barely walk, while their wild ancestors are capable of flight of up to 55 mph for short distances. Their unnatural size also causes many birds to die of organ failure or heat attack, or worse a turkey’s organs can be crushed internally by it’s own grotesque weight. Often times this happens before the birds are even six months old. They also suffer regularly from collapsed lungs, swollen joints and crippled feet. According to one industry publication, modern turkeys grow so quickly that if a 7 pound human baby grew at the same rat it would weight 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age.

At 14-18 weeks of age turkeys are ready for slaughter, but the transportation conditions are no better then those of the sheds they’ve been forced into for their entire lives. At the time of transport workers will often grab turkeys by their legs and throw them violently into crates. Several turkeys are crammed into each crate, making it almost impossible for them to move. The overcrowded crates are then stacked on the backs of trucks. The turkeys are given no food and no water before or during transport and because of this many turkeys are already dead upon arrival at the slaughterhouse. During winter conditions are so bad that many turkeys freeze to death before reaching the slaughterhouse, or even have their limbs freeze to the crates while in transit. When it’s time to remove the turkeys from the crates, if these partially frozen turkeys are even still alive they are often forcibly removed from the crates, leaving their frozen limbs severed in the crates behind them. During summer transports many turkeys die of heat stress, heat exhaustion or dehydration as it’s legal to transport farm animals for up to 36 hours without food, water or rest.

In fact Turkeys (as all poultry, chickens, ducks, geese etc..) have no legal protection or status. The USDA continually refuses to protect Turkeys and other birds in it’s enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act. So if the life of a turkey wasn’t already bad enough, their death by slaughter isn’t any quicker, easier or painless.

At the slaughterhouse turkeys are routinely shackled upside down by their feet along a moving rail while still fully conscious. On their first stop along the moving rail the turkey’s heads are submerged in an electrified ‘stunning tank’ which immobilizes them, but doesn’t render most of them unconscious. Their throats are then slit by a mechanical blade and they are left to ‘bleed out’ as they continue along the rail. However due to the extreme speed at which the rail moves, the large amount of turkeys that are processed in just one hour let alone a full day, and the inaccuracy of the mechanical blade, many turkeys are missed and continue on from this step fully conscious and alive. The turkeys are then submerges in the scalding tank to remove their feathers. Many of the turkeys are still alive at this point, and so are essentially boiled alive.

If the process of slaughter itself weren’t cruel enough there are numerous undercover videos and investigations that have taken place over the past few years revealing even more unthinkable egregious acts of animal-cruelty that have now become commonplace within the industry. Turkeys with broken wings, legs, bloody open wounds, tumors, and other untreated injuries have been seen slaughtered for human consumption. Workers have been caught punching live shackled turkeys for fun as they move along the assembly line. Employees have been witness forcefully shoving their fists or feet into the vaginal and anal cavities of turkeys and chickens. Employees have been seen throwing live turkeys and chickens across rooms, up in the air, onto the floor, into machinery while still conscious. Workers have been caught ripping the heads off of live turkeys, stomping on turkeys heads, wings, legs, and bodies. Kicking them, stabbing them, and crushing them under the wheels of trucks.

The atrocities committed in Turkey slaughterhouses all across the country are innumerable and horrible. No being, wether human or animal - should ever have to endure such senseless cruelty, and suffering. These are living, breathing creatures with feelings and individual personalities, deserving of our respect, and our compassion. Treating any creature in this way makes us no better then the most awful participants of human genocide, and blindly continuing to support an industry that deems these atrocities as ‘okay’ makes us no better then the monsters committing the acts. Thanksgiving should be a wonderful time of joy and celebration. Celebration for all that you have, and a time to reflect on the good in your life and give thanks for it, yet for so many beings this day and all those leading up to it are nothing but a twisted nightmare. People stupidly offer thanks to the dead turkey carcase that becomes the center piece of their diningroom table on this day. Thanking the turkey for ‘giving it’s life’ so that we may revel in it’s ill-begotten flesh, but no turkey ever willingly gave it’s life so that it could sit on our dinner plate. The reality is that we continue to choose to murder these birds, and to support these acts of cruelty out of our own greed, fear and inability to change. We call it ‘tradition’ but as I discussed in my post  'Thanksgiving - Reexamining Traditions' is absolutely nothing traditional about eating turkey on Thanksgiving. In fact seeing as how we only due so because of the insistence of one woman, it’s really more traditional not to eat turkey. Yet we continue to do so, citing tradition because it’s easy, because it’s what we’ve always done, but if being part of such mindless cruelty is something you consider easy then count me out.

I don’t say these things lightly nor do I say them to be mean, I say them because I know, because I used to be that person too. For years I happily and greedily ate my turkey, offering foolish words of thanks for it’s ‘sacrifice’ and never giving a moments thought about the process that brought that turkey to my plate. Once the reality of the situation made itself clear to me however I realized I had to change. I am at heart a compassionate person, and I believe in the equality of all beings. I don’t believe you can live a fully compassionate life if you continue to engage in practices that contribute to such cruelty. After all there is nothing compassionate about the systematic manipulation and murder of millions of turkeys a year. My inner values don’t align with these practices and so as a vegan I’m happy I no longer have to defend myself against them.

So for yourselves but more importantly for the turkeys make the compassionate choice this year and choose a turkey free Thanksgiving. It’s really not as hard as you think, and it’s oh so worth it, especially with so many great vegan food options out there!

For more information check out -

PS: Images found through Google images.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Product Review - So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog...

I want to take a moment to talk about Eggnog. I loved eggnog when I was a kid, it was definitely my favorite thing to drink around Christmas, and I have many fond memories of enjoying it around the holiday season. Of course that was before I knew what was used to make it - blah -and long before I ever went vegan. As I grew into my teens and then my early twenties I noticed my taste for eggnog had changed. A small four ounce glass was often more than enough to satisfy my craving for the traditional holiday drink, and any more would often leave me feeling bloated or ill. I rarely drank eggnog after I got married, mainly because my husband has never liked the stuff and with my changing tastes there was no way I could drink an entire carton myself before having it go bad. However I would still occasionally partake in a drink if someone else had eggnog available.

When I went Vegan of course I had to give up eggnog all together which honestly didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time, especially once I found out all that ‘traditional’ eggnog contains. Of course I did enjoy me an eggnog latte from time to time, or eggnog flavored ice cream, or eggnog French Toast, and every once and a while through that first holiday season I found myself growing slightly nostalgic for the beloved beverage of my childhood.

Then I discovered Silk Nog. Say what you will about Silk but I’ve always liked their products. I rarely drink soy milk these days and when I do I typically use Earth Balance Soy Milk, but Silk still holds a special place in my heart and their nog was good. It might not have been quite as thick as traditional nog but all the flavor was there. In fact it was so reminiscent of the nog I remembered that more then just a few ounces would give me that old blah feeling. That didn’t stop me however from enjoying it in small quantities all through last year’s holiday season.

This year I didn’t see Silk Nog on the shelf of my local groceries. However I did discover that Earth Balance came out with their very own Soy Nog. I promptly bought a carton and really enjoyed it. The taste and texture were very similar to the silk nog I remember from last year, and it too was very comparable to traditional nog, right down to giving me that blah feeling if I indulged too much.

By the time I finished my carton of Earth Balance nog a few weeks ago I had come ro realize something. Perhaps I don’t like eggnog as much as I thought. If I always get that blah feeling when I drink to much then maybe it’s something about the flavor itself or perhaps the richness that no longer appeals to me. Maybe my desire for nog at the holidays isn’t a physical craving at all but a nostalgic desire at re-creation. After this realization I was content to let nog go, at least for the remainder of the holiday season, and then I read Bianca’s post over at Vegan Crunk about So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog.

Now I’ve tried So Delicious plain Coconut Milk before and I honestly hated it. I thought it was terrible, and this is coming from an avid coconut lover. For whatever reason this brand did not appeal to me, and I’ve also tried a couple of their coconut milk ice cream flavors that I wasn’t particularly fond of either. When it comes to coconut milk used for drinking I much prefer Silk’s Pure Coconut Milk, or Coconut Dream. For baking, soups, curries or sauces I generally use Thai Kitchen or 365 brand. However Bianca made So Delicious sound, well so delicious. So when I saw it on sale while I was doing my grocery shopping Friday I decided to pick up a carton and give it a whirl.

This in my opinion is the definitive vegan eggnog! And from now on it will be the only one I ever purchase. This coconut nog blows all other vegan nogs, and quite frankly the traditional egg and dairy based stuff out of the universe! This nog is thick, creamy and rich, almost custard like and it doesn’t have that aftertaste that all other nogs have always imparted on me. This nog also doesn’t give me that blah feeling after I drink a glass or sneakily gulp down a few mouthfuls in the middle of the night. This is truly the perfect nog, and the best part is that it’s got just the slightest hint of coconut. That really makes this nog for me, that teeny-tiny hint. I love it. In fact I love it so much I’ve already drank half the carton since Friday, and I’m sure it won’t be long until the rest is gone.

So if you’re a former nog lover like me, or a current vegan nog fiend then give this nog a try and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. For all you nog haters or skeptics out there I dare you to try this nog, you never know, you might come away a changed vegan.

PS: I am very eager to try the Nog French Toast recipe on the side of the carton! American Thanksgiving Breakfast here I come!

The Obligatory Post-Holiday Leftover Tofurky Sandwich...

Before I get to the matter at hand I believe this post requires a bit of back story.

On Friday afternoon while doing a little grocery shopping, my husband and I walked past a frozen display case showcasing items that were on sale for the holiday’s. Among them were Tofurky’s 1 pound vegetarian roast, and a carton of their mushroom gravy. I have never before eaten a Tofurky roast, nor had I any interest in doing so. In fact I tend to steer clear of Tofurky products - with the exception of their marinated tempeh bacon which is delicious - because of negative reviews from people I know. However as we stood there staring into the display case I couldn’t help but feel a little curious about the roast. My husband - exuding much more enthusiasm then me - declared "Let’s try it!" and promptly plopped the thing into our cart. At first I was tempted to put it back, but then after a few moments consideration I decided it would make a quick and effortless meal one day this week. Since it is a holiday week which will see me busy with all manner of things but also working more then usual the convenience of this appealed to me. As much as I love to cook, there are just some days where even I want to say "Screw it!" so I grabbed a carton of mushroom gravy too. I figured as long as I was already going down that road why not get both feet wet, you know?

The Sandwich Open Faced

Yesterday after a long and tedious day that began at 4:15am I decided to prepare the roast. I was skeptical about it for sure, not only because of my negative associations with Tofurky but also because I generally do not like meat substitutes. Yet as I began reading the preparation instructions along with their listed suggestions I felt some excitement brewing. Originally I planned only to serve the roast with some mashed potatoes, but the package suggested I roast the Tofurky in a casserole surrounded by chopped carrots, onion, and potatoes. Not only did this sound delicious - I love roasted vegetables - but it was also convenient. I mean who doesn’t love a one pot meal? I took the suggestion to heart added the recommended vegetables along with some minced garlic and their ‘turkey baste’ which was a mixture of olive oil, soy sauce and sage. After later uncovering the roast to let it cook uncovered for the remaining fifteen minutes I also threw in a cup of frozen peas because for some reason I just can’t imagine eating gravy without peas. I love the combination of sweet peas and savory gravy so much I could literally just eat that as a meal!

As the Tofurky roasted the smell that emanated from my oven was surprisingly heavenly and very Thanksgiving like. It got my mouth watering and my creative juices flowing. How could I just roast a simple tofurky without any proper ‘traditional’ sides - I use the word traditional very loosely considering my last post on the matter. - Suddenly I felt in the mood for cranberry sauce, strange since never in my life have I ever liked or desired cranberry sauce. I never ate it growing up, and always adamantly avoided it when it appeared on the holiday table, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not cranberry sauce I dislike but canned cranberry sauce. There is indeed a massive difference, and as a child I’d simply never eaten homemade before. Cranberry sauce is easy enough to make from scratch and doesn’t require a recipe but considering my goal of late I decided to use Alicia Silverstone’s Cranberry Sauce recipe from "The Kind Diet" and it was delicious! To round out the meal - and because I’ve been desperately craving greens lately - I made Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Stewed and Sauteed Collards from "Appetite for Reduction." Which too were fantastic.

As for the Tofurky? Fantastic! I literally could not believe my tastebuds. The flavor was wonderful, and didn’t have that strange aftertaste I find most meat alternatives have. The texture was also chewy yet soft, very comparable to turkey or rather what I remember turkey to be like. Both my husband and I quite enjoyed it, and came to the mutual conclusion that it might be nice to indulge in a tofurky once a year or so from now on.

Now, to bring this post back to ir’s original intention. The Obligatory Post Holiday Leftover Turkey Sandwich. As I was enjoying my tofurky smothered in mushroom gravy with a generous dollop of cranberry sauce I started to have these memory flashbacks of my childhood.

Look at all that oozy delicious gravy!

I started to recall quite vividly that when I was growing up my Oma, post holiday - would always make for my uncles - and anyone else who wanted one - a special sandwich made up of holiday leftovers. I don’t think this is at all unique to my family but I don’t know many other people who do this. What my Oma would do was take slices of leftover turkey and place it on a piece of bread. Top it with a scoop of leftover stuffing, a dollop of leftover mashed potatoes. Pour onto it some gravy and then slather a second slice of bread with cranberry sauce and press that on top. This would happen after every holiday that featured a turkey dinner. - In Canada, at least for my family that meant Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. As unlike most Americans we never ate ham or beef roast during the holidays - Now as a child I found this utterly disgusting and I can say with total honesty that I never, ever ate one of these monstrous and grotesque sandwiches. Never had any desire to, the very idea of it made me want to be sick. That is until last night. I mean for whatever reason as I enjoyed my tofurky all I could think about was using the leftovers to make one of those post holiday sandwiches. I don’t know what suddenly prompted this idea, or what fueled my desire for it, but there it is. Isn’t it funny how veganism can change so many things in your life?

So this afternoon when lunchtime rolled around I very excitedly bounced into my kitchen eager to try for the first time ever a post holiday sandwich. I heated the tofurky, a few spoonfuls of mushroom gravy and a scoop of leftover vegetables. Left the cranberry sauce cold though I suppose you could heat that also and then grabbed the wheat bread to assemble. When I finally sat down to take a bite out of my creation it was as if all the goodness of Thanksgiving exploded into my mouth. This sandwich has all the things you love about Thanksgiving rolled up into one big, delicious, decadent treat. My only complaint is that there should have been more stuffing. I suggest if you’re a stuffing lover you make an extra dish of stuffing to serve alongside your tofurky roast, and be sure to leave some extra for your sandwich the following day!

The Obligatory Post-Holiday Leftover Tofurky Sandwich.

2 thin slices roast tofurky
2-3 generous spoonfuls of mushroom gravy
1 scoop of mashed assorted roast vegetables or mashed potatoes
1 generous spoonful of cranberry sauce
2 slices whole what bread
1-2 generous spoonfuls of stuffing of choice (optional if you have any leftover available)

- On a plate heat your tofurky, vegetables and stuffing in the microwave until warmed through but not piping hot. About 1 minute and 30 seconds.

- In separate dish heat your mushroom gravy, until warmed through. About 1 minute.

- Place sliced tofurky on 1 slice of wheat bread. Top with optional stuffing, roasted vegetables or mashed potatoes and then pour gravy over top. Slather the cranberry sauce over the second slice of bread and press on top of the sandwich.

- Slice sandwich in half to make it easier to eat. Caution sandwich will be messy but it’s oh so worth it! Serve with a side salad of mixed greens and enjoy!

PS: This is definitely comfort food not health food, but then what are the holidays about if not comfort? Thanksgiving only comes once a year right, allow yourself to indulge a bit!
PPS: Regrettably I neglected to take pictures of the full Tofurky meal from last night. This has a lot to do with the fact that we ate rather late, and both of us were too hungry to wait for my photo shoot to be over. Appologies for that as I now wish I’d taken photos of every dish to accompany this post, and so you could see what a roasted tofurky looks like - the picture on the box is a little less then appetizing in my opinion - as well as see Alicia’s cranberry sauce and Isa’s Stewed and Sauteed Collards. C’est la Vie! Next time I promise.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Baking Powder Biscuits with White Bean and Tempeh Sausage Gravy....

Can I confess something to you? Before I moved to the U.S. I’d had never heard of biscuits and gravy before. Well, I knew what biscuits were, and I knew what gravy was of course, but I’d never heard of the two being served together, and certainly not for breakfast. Yet it’s a dish that everyone I know here grew up with. Interestingly Biscuits and Gravy emerged as a popular regional dish after the American Revolutionary War, precisely because it was cheap, hearty and used ingredients that were readily available to the average person. As far as I know there is no Canadian equivalent, or at least not that I ever saw growing up. So it wasn’t until after I’d moved to the U.S. that I tried this dish for the first time.

Biscuits Fresh Out of the Oven

I’d heard plenty about it by that time, lots of people raved about it, even going so far as to label it the quintessential American breakfast, so I was interested, and curious, though I have to say I was also skeptical. I was never really a meat in the morning kind of person, and for those of you who don’t know the gravy for traditional biscuits and gravy is made with ground pork sausage or ground beef, including the greasy drippings from said meat, mixed with flour, milk and a dash of this or that. I’ve also never really been a fan of milk, and honestly the idea of cooking ground beef in milk kind of put me off. The smell alone was horrendous, and then when I saw the finished product I thought it looked - advanced apologies for any former biscuits and gravy lovers - a lot like dog vomit. In any case it looked a lot more like something that should be coming out of you rather then going in, but scepticism aside I decided to give it a try. Well, I couldn’t get through more then a couple of bites before I wanted to retch - which is surprisingly exactly the reaction I had upon my first and only encounter with another popular American dish, Chicken Fried Steak. - There was absolutely nothing about it that I found appetizing aside form the biscuits and so I stared in awe as my husband continued to shovel mouthfuls of it into his mouth. Really the idea of cooking greasy ground beef in milk just gives me the shivers. Suffice to say I never ate biscuits and gravy again, nor had I any interest or intention of trying to veganize the dish.

Then last Thursday rolled around, and well you see I’ve set myself a little project. Since finishing vegan mofo I realized something. Though I own at least 20 or more cook books, I only ever use a handful of them. I’d never realized before that there are only about five or six books I consider to be me ‘go to’ cook books, while the rest I leave neglected in a pile to collect dust. After vegan mofo I decided to set myself the challenge of cooking at least 10 recipes from every one of my virtually unused cook books. I don’t have a specific time frame in mind, it’s just go at my own pace, and ever once and a while I’m sure I’ll share a recipe with you - as I’m doing today - So last Wednesday I was looking for something special to cook for my husband for breakfast on Thursday since he had that day off, and I happened upon the Baking Powder Biscuits with White Bean and Tempeh Sausage Gravy recipe from "Vegan with a Vengeance" As already stated my experience with biscuits and gravy was so bad that I’ve never thought about them for even a second since that day, but my husband has always been a fan. Since going vegetarian/vegan he hasn’t had them obviously, nor has he had a vegan version. Thinking it might be a nice treat for him I decided to take a moment to look over the recipe, and I don’t know something about it just started calling to me. The idea of blending up a can of white beans with vegetable broth to make a thick savory gravy, seasoned with Italian spices and loads of sage just got my mouth watering. I actually really like the idea of using white beans to make sauces, gravies and soup bases because they’re rich and creamy. I also love sage but don’t use it often enough.

White Bean and Tempeh Sausage Gravy

Now, tempeh I’m not such a fan of as I’ve mentioned before but I thought I’d give Isa the benefit of the doubt here. I liked the sound of her recipe for Tempeh Sausage Crumbles. It was relatively quick, and super easy, used ingredients I had on hand, and I’m always curious to try tempeh cooked in new ways to see if I like it any better. I think simmering it in water for twenty minutes as you do in this recipe goes a long way in cutting out that awful bitterness, while also loosening the tempeh up so that it can soak up other flavors. Once the water has been absorbed you then brown the tempeh in olive oil, and soy sauce and season it with garlic, oregano, marjoram, basil, sage, and fennel. I don’t particularly like fennel so instead of using 1 tbsp of fennel seed I used ½ tbsp and added 2 more cloves of minced garlic then required, and honestly it was fabulous!

Once your tempeh is all browned you add your blended gravy into the pan, warm it through then serve it over the biscuits, which by the way were exquisitely soft and doughy with just a slightly crisp outer edge just as I like them. I was completely blown away by this meal. I ate three biscuits and three generous scoops of gravy and I am more then willing to make this again. The tempeh sausage tasted just like what I remember Italian sausage to taste like - something else I never liked, but surprisingly don’t mind veganized - except a little milder, and not the slightest bit greasy. The fennel wasn’t overpowering and the sage was absolutely perfect, although I had to use dried sage because I didn’t have any fresh available. This breakfast couldn’t have turned out better. Although next time I think I might double the gravy recipe because I would have liked a bit more creamy liquid to soak my biscuits with.

Whether you were or weren’t a fan of biscuits and gravy I definitely recommend this recipe. If you were I imagine you’ll like this a lot, and If you weren’t you just might find yourself surprised. So if you own ‘Vegan with a Vengeance’ seriously, snap to it already!

PS: They taste good drizzled with a bit of Earth Balance then the gravy too! Yum1

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving - Reexamining Traditions....

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but because modern Thanksgiving traditions focus so heavily on the consumption of turkey flesh, it can be the most difficult holiday to sanely maneuver as a vegan. Today Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, yet what few people realize is that Turkeys had virtually nothing to do with the first Thanksgiving in either Canada or the United States, and were not a common meal item during Thanksgiving until the Mid 20th century. In fact many of the things we consider Thanksgiving traditions today, from the spirit of the holiday to the food involved have little or no connection to the original celebration, and are complete myths. The Thanksgiving traditions that we are all familiar with today, have only been developed over the last two centuries.

In America there is actually very little known about the first Thanksgiving, and what we do know about it comes from only two sources. One a letter by Edward Winslow dated December 1621, the second a book by William Bradford written twenty years after the event took place. Though interestingly enough Bradford’s book was stolen during the revolutionary war, and didn’t resurface until 1854 so it had very little influence on shaping American Thanksgiving traditions. No where in either document do they write that turkeys were slaughtered for the actual Thanksgiving feast. In fact the only mention of turkey is from Bradford, who writes in his book only that the colonists hunted wild turkey’s during the autumn season. Though his book gives clues as to what may have appeared at the feast.

The animals killed for the first Thanksgiving were likely ducks, geese, various kinds of fish, and possibly deer. Though there is some speculation that because of the bounty of abundance brought in by the fall harvest, there would have been less meat, and more fruits and vegetables adorning the table. Interestingly many of the dishes we consider so familiar were entirely absent at the first Thanksgiving. Cranberry’s if they were used at all would have been used almost solely for their color because their tartness wasn’t desirable to the European settlers. It wasn’t for another fifty or so years that people began boiling fruit with sugar to make sauces and pies. Though had the settlers been privy to this trick it is unlikely that sugar would have been available anyway. Potatoes either regular or sweet were also not available at this time as cultivation of the popular root vegetable had not yet spread to North America. Pumpkins were also likely absent, but even if they had been available there was no flour so pumpkin pie would have been impossible, subsequently there were no ovens in which to bake a pie so it’s doubtful any pie at all was served for dessert. Another interesting fact is that there were no forks at the Thanksgiving feast.

There is also some controversy not only about whether or not the pilgrims actually first landed at Plymouth Rock, but also just how friendly their relationship with the Wampanoag Indians was. There are many stories and accounts of the European colonists stealing from and raiding the homes and ‘pantry’s’ of the Wampanoag. Taking their corn, beans and other harvest foods. It is also said that the Wampanoag weren’t originally invited to join in the festivities. That it was only after hearing gunfire from the settlers hunting rifles that the Wampanoag - thinking the settlers were preparing for war - appeared on the scene. Once they realized that they were mistaken and that it was a feast being prepared they returned to their homes to gather their people and the bounty of their harvest to share with the settlers.

Contrary to popular belief this first Thanksgiving really shouldn’t be labeled as such, but rather be called "The first Thanksgiving of the New World" Thanksgiving historically and traditionally has always been a celebration of the fall harvest. This tradition of celebrating the abundance that comes with autumn goes back as far as civilization and appears in some form or another in every culture in every country across the globe. The European settles likely celebrated fall harvest in some form in the years before their journey to the new world, making this ‘first Thanksgiving’ just a continuing tradition of something that was already familiar to them. Thanksgiving has little to no religious significance, in fact the European settlers while religious, never would have celebrated fall harvest in a religious manner, doing so would have been considered inappropriate. They actually had two separate fall traditions, the fall harvest which we know today as Thanksgiving, the celebration of food and feasting, and then an actual Thanksgiving which was spent in quiet reflection and fasting in the name of God. This second tradition was a solemn and serious affair as were most religious rituals and practices of that day. A very different kind of thanks giving then we are accustom today. For centuries afterwards Thanksgiving remained a religion-free celebration, and it wasn’t until the twentieth century that Thanksgiving began to take on a more religious significance at least in the United States.

So, how, you might wonder did our current traditions and notions of Thanksgiving come to be? Well the credit can almost solely be placed upon the persistence of one woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, who lived from 1788 to 1879. Hale was the editor of a very popular magazine. She is also the author of the novel Northwood: Life North and South, one of the first American books written by either gender about slavery. She is also famous for authoring the children’s nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Believing there were too few annual holidays celebrated in America, Hale embarked on a 40 year quest beginning in 1827 to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Before becoming a national holiday Thanksgiving was only regularly celebrated in New England. While other states had harvest festivals, their traditions were sporadic and took place anywhere between the beginning of October to the end of January, and was relatively unknown in the South. She used her status as an author and the vehicle of her editors position to write romantic and idealistic tales of the First Thanksgiving, taking many liberties to better appeal to her readership, she also went so far as to include her own personal recipes for some of her favorite fall dishes in the magazine. Recipes including those for roasted turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, things that - as already mentioned - would not have been present at the first Thanksgiving, but subsequently are all things that we eat today as part of our ‘tradition.’

In her quest to make Thanksgiving a national holiday she wrote letters to five different American Presidents - Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln - as well as other officials. Virtually all of her letters went ignored, until her letter to Lincoln which was persuasive enough to convince him to support legislation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. The new national holiday was considered at the time a unifying day after the stress of the Civil War. Interestingly prior to the addition of Thanksgiving the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday.

However even as many of the myths Hale started began to seep into the culture’s collective consciousness, turkeys were not widely accepted as the picture perfect Thanksgiving meal until the mid twentieth century. You see wild turkeys - the kind of turkey the pilgrims would have eaten had they eaten any turkey at all - are adorned with dark plumage, and are thus dark skinned, meaning they have dark meat. Dark meat was unappealing and unappetizing to a great majority of consumers so to make turkey meat more desirable the Beltsville white was bred in 1947 at the behest of the National Turkey Federation. Since the white meat was more appealing to consumers, this is when turkey consumption went on the rise, increasing exponentially over the years. Turkey consumption continues to rise, and according to the USDA slaughter numbers an average of 240 million turkeys are killed each year, and anywhere from 22 to 40 million of those deaths occur at Thanksgiving, with another 22 million occurring at Christmas.

Canadian Thanksgiving traditions aren’t based in reality any more then the American ones. Various First Nations in Canada had long standing traditions celebrating in the bounty of the fall harvest dating back centuries before the European settlers arrived. Though the history of Thanksgiving as we sort of know it today can be traced back to the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England in search of the Northwest Passage. It was his intention to start a small settlement in the pressent Canadian territory of Nunavut and his fleet of fifteen ships was fitted with men and materials for exactly this purpose. However his expedition was plagued by ice and freak storms which at times had scattered his fleet, but upon rejoining at their anchorage Robert Wolfall an appointed preacher gave a sermon of thanks to God for their miraculous deliverance from danger, after which they celebrated.

Years later French Settlers having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1604 and onwards, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed "The Order of Good Cheer" and happily shared their food with their First Nations neighbors.

After the Seven Years War ended in the 1763 handing over of New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving. Beginning in 1799 Thanksgiving days were observed though not held every year. After the American Revolution American refugees who were still loyal to Great Brittan moved from the newly independent United States into Canada bringing with them many of the traditions and customs of American Thanksgiving. Still celebrations varied across the country. Lower Canada and Upper Canada for example celebrated Thanksgiving in different ways and on different dates, usually coinciding with the ends of wars and rebellions. Following the rebellions when the two Canada’s had merged into a united Provinces of Canada Thanksgiving was only observed six times between the years of 1850-1865.

It wasn’t until 1879 that Thanksgiving Day began to be celebrated every year, though the date was initially a Thursday in November. The theme for Thanksgiving also changed each year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In the early years it was for an abundant harvest, however after World War 1 Thanksgiving Day was combined with Armistice Day and celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. In 1931 the two days once again became separate holidays, and in 1957 Thanksgiving was permanently set on the second Monday in October.

Interesting no? Another interesting little fact is that while Hale was no friend or savior to the Turkey she did have some other very noble ideas about what a Thanksgiving tradition should include. She originally envisioned that Thanksgiving would be about charity and generosity writing, "Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place fo plenty and of rejoicing." I guess some traditions stick better then others which is kind of my point in this writing.

We as people pick and choose our traditions and our beliefs. Our emotional attachments to ‘traditional Thanksgiving’ - as well as other cultural traditions - are incredibly powerful, and very often we try to justify them by citing historical accuracy. However historical accuracy plays no role in the Thanksgiving traditions of today, the idea is completely absurd. We continue to view turkeys as the quintessential Thanksgiving meal because that’s what we’ve been taught. We continue to eat turkeys because that’s what we grew up with, it’s what we’ve always enjoyed. At a very young age we are conditioned into a set of traditions, rituals and values, but often as we grow up we choose to ‘cherry pick’ those traditions, and values that best suits us, while leaving the rest behind. We choose to make Turkey our tradition but we can just as easily not choose it. It’s our ideals that shape our traditions, they’re not - or at least shouldn’t be - dictated by what people may or may not have eaten 400 years ago. That’s crazy if you think about it.

Our celebrations should reflect our values, and my values don’t jive with the mindless slaughtering of millions of beautiful animals whose flesh I have no nutritional requirement for. It’s important to remember that we can live our values and honor tradition at the same time. Remember that above all else Thanksgiving was a celebration of the fall harvest. We can easily, happily, healthfully and without murder celebrate in the countless bounty of fall. 22-40 million innocent and beautiful turkeys are slaughtered every year for this day of Thanks, but they don’t have to be. You can choose to celebrate kindness, you can choose to celebrate mercy, you can choose a gentler tradition.

This year live the values of compassion and celebrate a turkey free Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sage is The Spice of Life...

I can’t believe my last Spotlight Food post was in September, and my Last Spice of Life Post was back in July! I regret that the absence of these posts has gone on for so long and have no real explanation for it except to say that life has been very busy of late, and particularly during those months. I found myself unable to wrangle the time it took to write so expansively about vegetables, fruits and herbs. Though we are now working our way into the holiday season, and life show’s no signs of slowing down yet, I’m hoping that I can once again begin to set a little time aside for such endeavors. If not once a week like originally intended then at least once a month, because being educated about the food that we eat is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. Understanding how the foods we eat effect, protect and harm our bodies is extremely valuable for so many reasons, and the sad truth is that so many of us are clueless when it comes to food.

With that being said I resume my Spice of Life series with a delicate herb I use mainly during the fall and winter months, sage. Sage has a sweet, savory, and slightly peppery flavor and has traditionally been used throughout the world to season and flavor fatty meats. It’s also the number one ingredient in most people’s Thanksgiving Stuffing recipe. I of course use it in my vegan stuffing recipes as well - because what stuffing is ever complete without sage? - but I also use it to season soups, stews, tomato based sauces, savory cream sauces, gravy, herb biscuits or scones, and mushrooms amongst other things. For whatever reason I rarely use sage in the Spring or Summer months, even though it pairs beautifully with light summer produce. To me sage is all about winter, and winter all about sage.

Sage is The Spice of Life


Sage (Salvia officinalls) also known as common sage or garden sage, is a small perennial evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean Region. It has a long history of both medicinal and culinary use, and in fact it has the longest medicinal history of any other medicinal herb. It’s reputation as a cure all is in fact represented in it’s scientific name Salvia derived from the Latin Salvere which means "to be saved." In ancient times it was used to ward off evil, protect against and cure snakebite, increase a woman’s fertility and more. The Ancient Greeks and Romans praised sage for it’s many healing properties, and treated it as sacred. The Romans used the herb as a diuretic, as well as a local anesthetic amongst other things. Both civilizations also used the herb as a preservative for meat, a tradition that interestingly continued until the advent of refrigeration. It’s thought that the Romans first introduced sage to Europe, from Egypt originally as a medicinal herb, from where it spread. It’s legendary status of continuing throughout the Middle ages. Arab physicians in the tenth century believed that it promoted immortality, while fourteenth century Europeans used it to ward off witchcraft. In China in the seventeenth century the herb was in such great demand that it’s said the Chinese were willing to trade three cases of tea leaves to the Dutch for one case of sage leaves. Sage was even called S. salvatrix - sage the savior - at one point and used as one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague.


Though sage has been recommended at one time or another by herbalists for virtually every ailment under the sun modern science shows evidence of possible uses as an anti-sweating agent, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic and tonic. In a double blind study sage was also found to be effective in managing mild Alzheimer’s disease. Sage leave extract may also be effective in safely treating hyperlipidemia.

The strongest active components of sage appear to be found within it’s essential oil, which contains cineole, borneol, and thujone. Sage also contains a variety of flavonoids (including apigenin, diosmetin, and luteolin) and phenolic acids, including the phenolic acid names after Rosemary - Sages sister herb in the mint family - rosmarinic acid.

Rosmarinic acid can readily be absorbed in the GI tract, where once inside the body it works to reduce inflammatory responses by altering the concentrations of inflammatory messaging molecules. The rosmarinic acid in sage and rosemary also functions as an antioxidant. The leaves and stems of the sage plant also contain antioxidant enzymes and peroxidase. When combined, these three components of sage - flavonoids, phenolic acids, and oxygen-handling enzymes - give it a unique capacity for stabilizing oxygen related metabolism, and preventing oxygen related damage to cells. The increased use of sage as a seasoning in food is recommended for people who suffer from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis as well as for bronchial asthma and atherosclerosis.

If that weren’t enough reason to add liberal doses of sage to your soups, stews and sauces get this - sage boosts better brain function! Research published in the June 2003 issue of Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior confirms that sage is an amazing memory enhancer. In a placebo controlled double-blind crossover study two trials were conducted using a total of 45 young adults. Participants either recieved a placebo or an essencial oil extract of sage in doses ranging from 50 to 150 microls. Cognitive tests were then conducted 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, hours after administration. In both trials it was found that even the 50 microls dose of sage significantly improved the volunteer’s immediate recall.

Other research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Harrogate (September 2003) Peter Houghton from King’s College provided data showing that the dried root of Salvia miltiorrhiza (also known as Chinese sage) contained active compounds similar to those developed into modern drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. Four of the components isolated from the root of the Chinese Sage were found to be acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors. Which is interesting because the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is accompanied by the increase of AChE activity that leads to it’s depletion from both the cholinergic and noncholinergic neurons of the brain. Also Amyloid beta-protein, which is a major component of the amyloid plaques that form in the brain in Alzheimer’s. acts on the AChE, and AChE activity is increased around the amyloid plaques. By inhibiting this increase of AChE activity, sage has shown to provide a useful therapeutic alternative to the use of pharmaceutical AChE inhibitors.

So there you have it, whether you believe as the ancients did that Sage is a panacea, or some sort of herbal ‘new age’ magic bullet. Or you’re simply swayed by the science, sage certainly has beneficial properties, so experiment with it, and try to find some new ways to add this delicious herb into your daily meals.


You can use sage either dried or fresh. Both are wonderful and nothing beats the smell of fresh sage. A few years ago I planted some in my garden and I absolutely loved the smell. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t go outside just to revel in the scent. As for how to use it, there are many things you can do with sage fresh or dried. I’ve listed a few ways in which it can be used and I highly recommend adding it to a pasta cream sauce recipe. Something along the lines of an Alfredo, that’s always quite nice. Use it to make vegan biscuits and gravy as I did for breakfast this morning. Use it to season olive oil to dip bread into. Mix it with your favorite vinegar and some garlic and pour it over a hearty green salad. I also find that sage goes surprisingly well with pumpkin. It sounds strange perhaps but if you make a pumpkin soup, stew or a pasta dish with baked pumpkin give it a try. I’m sure it would be equally tasty on butternut squash. It’s great mixed with toasted walnuts or pine nuts and used to sprinkle over pasta. Use it to flavor tempeh and definitely, definitely put it into your next Thanksgiving stuffing!!!

As always, Happy and Healthy eating to you!

Monday, November 14, 2011

'Never Cry Wolf' - by Farley Mowat...

"Whenever and wherever men have engaged in the mindless slaughter of animals (including other men), they have often attempted to justify their acts by attributing the most vicious or revolting qualities to those they would destroy; and the less reason there is for the slaughter, the greater the campaign of vilification."
                                                  Never Cry Wolf - Farley Mowat - 1963

When I first read this quote, the truth of it cut so deep into my core that I had to read it slowly, four or five more times. I wanted to savor the words, and meditate on them. It’s the kind of statement - both haunting and piercing - that transcends time. For as long as the human species has been alive, and for as long as we continue to survive we have and will continue to murder out of greed and out of fear. No truer words could be said about humans, and in fact the statement is so paramount that it should be etched onto the tombstone of humanity.

Tuesday I was in my beloved local library searching through the rather large section of books that fall into the category of ‘animal science/animal behavior’ This is not a section of the library I had ever ventured to before, nor is it a subject I felt compelled to research thoroughly. That is until the winds of interest suddenly changed and I found myself blown quite haphazardly into a vast world of literature I never knew existed. Among those books I found this little gem by Farley Mowat. Knowing nothing at all about it, yet finding myself almost mesmerize by the picture of two beautiful wolves on the cover, I slipped it onto my already towering stack.
Two days later when I was trying to decide which book to read first I immediately grabbed for this one. I cracked it open, read the first paragraph and was hooked. It’s been quite some time since a book completely overtook me and this one did. I could barely put it down. I read the first 130 pages well before lunch, and finished the rest of it after dinner. I’ll tell you, that six hour break between meals was a killer. Every now and then I’d pick the book back up and read a paragraph or two before forcing myself to put it done so I could do the rest of the things I had planned for the day.

For those of you who are unaware Farley Mowat is a popular and distinguished naturalist and author from Ontario Canada. He’s written tons of books, many of which are internationally acclaimed, and two movies have been made based on his work. One of them "Never Cry Wolf" the adaptation of this book, and the second "The Snow Walker" starring Barry Pepper, which you may be more familiar with.

This book was written in 1963 and details Mowat’s experience investigating the cause of declining caribou populations in Arctic Canada and determining whether or not wolves - as Canada’s Dominion Wildlife Services suggested - were responsible. The book chronicles the time he spent living nearly alone in the frozen tundra studying the wolves, and examines his growing affection for them.

There is some controversy over how accurate or factual the book really is, some critics have called Mowat Bias a liar and worse, and in turn many of those critics have also been called the same by others. Controversy or no I could care less. Whether the book is 100% factual I have no idea, but I doubt it is. Though if we’re being honest has there ever been a biography, autobiography or book supposedly based on ‘true events’ that is 100% factual? Not likely. With books in this category a certain level of embellishment is the expected norm. Books such as these of course are meant to entertain, and life isn’t always ‘stranger than fiction’ but regardless of the books factual integrity I loved it. I loved every second I spent reading it, and I knew immediately that I’d have to discuss it here once I’d finished it.

It may sound boring to you, the premise of a man alone in the arctic tundra studying beings who can not speak as we understand it, and who can not interact in a manner in which we are accustom. You might wonder how much one could write about a baron landscape but you will be amazed. Not once was I bored, in fact I was enthralled. Mowat writes with passion, and beauty. His words are evocative and haunting. He writes with humor, and paints such vivid pictures that one could easily imagine themself inhabiting the time and place of which he writes. Mowat’s writing style is a perfect balance of lean yet detailed, simple yet complex, and his characters - the wolves - are truly magnificent creatures/creations. The wolves are so richly drawn that one almost forgets they’re wolves

Factual or not the book is peppered with penetrating quotes like the one above. His musings and observations are astute and exquisite and leave the reader with much to mull over and think about later. I still can’t shake the books imagery from my mind, and have thought about it at least once everyday since I finished it. I like to believe that Mowat’s wolves were real, and that his account is mostly true, as this book had a huge impact on how society views wolves. For centuries they were hated and feared by virtually every culture. There was a time, not so very long ago, when people were actively trying to eradicate them. Though the idea of the wolf as a ruthless, bloodthirsty savage deserving of nothing more then our contempt is a powerful one this book went a long way in transforming wolves from monsters into a cause for sympathy and compassion in the hearts of many readers. For that reason alone - at least from a conservation stance - this book should be held in some esteem.

It swiftly and ferociously plunged itself into my heart, and has become an instant favorite of mine. A book I highly recommend for it’s beauty as well as it’s perceptive observations of humanity.

"We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be - the mythological epitome of a savage, ruthless killer - which is, in reality, no more than the reflected image of ourself."
- Farley Mowat

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Black Rhino Conservation In South Africa....

I"m still shaken by the news of the Western Black Rhino’s extinction, and though there’s nothing we can do for them now - they’re gone forever - there is some positive news.

Last week The World Wildlife Fund’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project sedated 20 South African Black Rhinos and airlifted them to a new (hopefully safer home) in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. The WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has worked to relocate 120 Black Rhinos in the hopes that a new home will keep the critically endangered species safe from poachers.

According to the WWF. More Black Rhino’s have been killed in South Africa in the past 10 months then in the entire year of 2010. Statistics from South Africa’s National Parks reveal that 341 Rhinos have been lost to poaching so far this year, compared to last years record total of 333.

While sedating, blindfolding and airlifting a 3000 pound rhino by the ankles may not appear to be the gentlest way of transporting these creatures, the WWF assures that this method of removing rhinos from critical situations is an improvement over previous methods. The transport only takes 10 minutes, and according to the WWF the rhino’s suffer no ill-effects due to the process.

In 1970 there were 65,000 Black Rhinos in the world a number greatly decreased from 1900. Today less then 5,000 have survived thanks to human greed and ignorance. It’s shameful the way that we treat the world around us, but this news gives me hope. I truly hope that these conservation efforts are able to repopulate the worlds rhino population. I truly hope that we’re able to save the rest of this species from extinction. As humans we are capable of so much, and in situations like this we should be doing everything we can. Though I strongly believe that our greatest tool is education. The more we educate people, the more we spread awareness, and the more we dispel the myths the continue to perpetuate poaching, the greater the chance we’ll have at saving the rhino species.

Most importantly remember that we all have the power to educate. You don’t need to be a scientist or a zoologist to inform people of what’s going on. Tell your friends, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors. Post a status to Facebook, or Twitter, write about it on your blog, share the information with a stranger, but whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Act now, in anyway you can.

*** Pictures taken from Animal Planet who has them credited to Green Renaissance/WWF ***

For more information -

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Western Black Rhino Officially Declared Extinct....

Today I sit here stunned into tears by the announcement that the Western Black Rhino has officially been declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With the addition that the subspecies of White Rhino in Central Africa and the Northern White Rhino have been listed as possibly extinct in the wild. As if that weren’t enough it’s also thought that the Java Rhino is now probably extinct in Vietnam after the last animal succumbed to poachers in 2010. Although not all hope is lost for the wild Java Rhino as a small yet dwindling population still resides on the Island of Java, Indonesia.

"Human beings are stewards of the earth, and we are responsible for protecting the species that share our environment," says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. "In the case of both the Western Black Rhino and the Northern White Rhino the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented. These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve breeding performance, preventing other rhino’s from facing extinction."

"We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever," says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Program.

A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos, and increasingly illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.

Historically this rare subspecies of Black Rhino lived across the savanna belt of Western Africa but in recent years Cameroon became it’s last remaining habitat. Heavily hunted at the beginning of the 20th century the Western Black Rhino population began to steadily decline until the 1930's when the population increased slightly as preservation action was taken. However as protection efforts declined over the years so did the number of Western Black Rhinos and by 1980 the population was estimated to be in the mere hundreds. Poaching continued and by the year 2000 only an estimated 10 had survived. Illegal poaching, limited anti-poaching laws and the failure of courts to hand down sentences to punish poachers all contributed to the Western Black Rhino’s demise. There are no Western Black Rhinos known to be in captivity.

The Black Rhino is hunted almost exclusively for it’s horns which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and are said by herbalists to be able to revive comatose patients, cure fevers and aid male sexual stamina and fertility. Claims that have never been proven or confirmed by medical science. Another major market for the sale or rhino horns is the Middle East, where the horns are used to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers called jambiyas. Demands for these daggers exploded in the 1970's causing the Black Rhino population to decline 96% between 1970-1992.

This is a sad day indeed for all animal lovers, naturalists, conservationists, and compassionate human beings. Though I’ve read article upon article presenting me with the same information I still find this news hard to digest. How can so many subspecies of an animal as magnificent and majestic as the Rhino be extinct or so near extinction? I know the statistics of course, I’m well aware that the rate of extinction is currently estimated at 27,000 species per year. Most of which is due to deforestation, destruction of rainforests, and other habitat loss. I know that the rate of species extinction is rapidly rising and that it’s estimated that within the next 100 years 30% of all the worlds animals and plants could be extinct. I know this, and because I know this I feel as though I shouldn’t be so shocked. Maybe it’s naivety, but I never truly thought I would see an animal as massive and iconic as the Black Rhino go extinct in my lifetime.

The words extinct and extinction are very powerful, and everyone knows their meaning to be ‘No longer in existence,’ but I think far to often we attribute these words to long ago beings like the dinosaurs, or the dodo, rather then those creatures we have grown up knowing and hearing about. It’s almost as if the majority of us don’t consider the word extinction to be relevant to the present, when in fact it’s more relevant now then ever before. We are losing species upon species, many of whom are virtually unknown and unstudied, at an astounding rate and many of us it seems can hardly be bothered to bat an eyelash in concern. The diversity of our eco-system and wildlife is the single most important thing to humanities continued survival as a species, yet we treat everything around us with ignorant disdain and disregard.

I want so badly to believe in the innate goodness of humankind. I want to believe in the ability of good to triumph over evil, but on days like this I find my hope falters. With every person I see toss a water bottle onto the ground, drive a gas guzzler, kill a bee, or simply turn a blind and uncaring eye away from a monumental news story like this I feel the hope inside me grow smaller. I don’t want to believe that the average person is unkind or callous but on days like this I can’t help but wonder why? Why was nothing done? Why were no voices heard? Why did we sit back and do nothing? Human greed, ignorance, and a lack of education are the only things I can think of, but if those are truly the reasons I don’t feel as though that leaves us with a very positive outlook about our future. Human greed is a raging fire we seem incapable of snuffing out, and human ignorance is just as strong. Today I feel as though all the kindness and compassion in the world are not enough to fan this fire, but my husband begs me not to give up, or to loose hope. If we give up then they win. He is right of course. Even in these darkest moments we can not despair.

Though my heart is breaking with the sadness of this latest crushing blow to our planet, I feel more strongly then ever about the rightness of the path I’ve chosen for myself. I am more determined then ever before to spread as much information to as many people as possible. I believe without a doubt that education is the key. The more people you and I can educate about what is truly going on in the world and of how our actions or inactions can effect and promote negative reactions across the globe, the more hope there’ll be. With every individual voice that rises up, our collective voice will only grow stronger until it becomes so strong that it can not be ignored.

Gandhi said "Be The Change You Want To See In The World." So I ask you now, to please be that change. Be that change and live that change everyday. Inform yourself and others, and live your values without refrain or apology. Consider every moment an opportunity to promote change, and don’t despair or loose hope. Standup for yourselves, for those around you, for all the creatures that share this world with us. We were meant to be the stewards of this world, the protectors, not the destroyers of it. So stand up and let your voices be heard.

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*** All images acquired from Google Images.***

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Vegan Mania Chicago 2011...

As I briefly mentioned a couple days ago, Saturday, November 5th saw Chicago’s third annual Vegan Mania take place. More then 2,500 people flooded Pulaski Park Fieldhouse on West Blackhawk for the one day extravaganza. It was a big, exciting day for Chicago’s growing vegan and vegetarian community. A one of a kind celebration of everything vegan from nutrition, food and fashion, to compassion, community and commerce. The weather was beautiful, and the fieldhouse was overflowing with animal welfare organizations, vegan-outreach and support groups, vegan merchandise kiosk’s, booths providing health, nutritional, and spiritual information, and of course the many delicious food vendors who were offering up amazing vegan eats all day long. In addition to that there was a host of wonderful speakers, some fun food demonstrations, a children’s activity corner, live music in the food court, and a ‘café’ upstairs complete with poetry readings.

In all honesty I’d been looking forward to the event all year. That may sound like an exaggeration but I assure you it’s not. You see, it was only last year that I became aware of the event known as Vegan Mania but it wasn’t until after the fact that I heard about it. I’d missed last years vegan mania by only a couple of days and since then I’d been determined to attend this year. Rain or shine, hell or highwater I was going! So big was my excitement and anticipation that by the time Friday rolled around I could barely concentrate on anything else. I had no idea what to expect from the event but I’m happy to report now that Vegan Mania did not disappoint!

For me one of the best parts of any event like this is getting to meet and talk to other vegans. I know very few, so to have so many like minded people gathered in one place is amazing. I got the change to talk to a lot of really interesting people, particularly while waiting in line for things. Some were volunteers, some were from out of town, some were vegans, some were Raw Food practitioners, one was a Fruititarian, and surprisingly a couple were curious omnivores. Regardless of background and lifestyle everyone was really friendly and joyfully open to conversation. There’s nothing better then being with people you can relate to, sharing your experiences, offering your and receiving other’s opinions, trading information, and sharing a good laugh at some of the sillier things we’ve endured. I think it’s easy for us to feel isolated in this world, vegans are a minority after all, especially in this country, so it’s always a tremendous feeling to know that you are not alone.

But by now I’m sure you’re probably wondering "But what about the food?!!" Well it was fantastic of course! I went to Vegan Mania hungry. I purposefully did not eat a breakfast because I knew I would want to be stuffing my face all day. You see the other thing I love about events like this is that the food is stuff I typically do not eat. Rarely do I eat vegan meat, rarely do I eat vegan cheese, rarely do I eat anything greasy or fried or in some other way bad for me (aside from the occasional homemade baked good), and rarer still do I eat these things in abundance. When it comes to vegan and vegetarian festivals however I allow myself the pleasure of going a little overboard.

Upon first entering the food court I was so overwhelmed by the choices that I didn’t know where to start. My husband and I did decide though that we’d try to get a bit of everything and share it between us that way we could eat as many different kinds of food from as many places as possible. The Chicago Diner was the first table I saw, (a really great restaurant by the way, a must eat when in Chicago) and I recall having heard someone in the merch room say that the Reuben Slider was really good. I thought that’s as good a place to start as any right? Now, I should say that I honestly don’t get sliders. I don’t get why people make a big deal out of them and I never have. Why eat 2 or 3 tiny burgers when you can just have one? It just doesn’t make sense. However since this was a day of ‘sampling’ and ‘snacking’ rather then full on meal eating the Slider’s small size didn’t annoy me. Interestingly I think this may have been the first slider I’ve ever eaten, and it was pretty good. Considering I’ve never liked Sauerkraut (I know, strange right? Me being half German and all.) My husband neither, this was pretty good. Thin slices of seitan, a pile of sauerkraut and some mayo I believe. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the bun. It had way to much caraway in it for my taste.

Next up was the BBQ ‘Chicken’ Pita sandwich from The Vegan Food Truck/Ste Martaen (Great vegan cheese by the way!!) And it was absolutely phenomenal! I’m talking melt in your mouth, orgasmicly delicious good! I literally could not get enough and I was Mm-Mming through every bite. When all we had left was the wrapper I was half tempted to go back for a second one, but I thought better of it. After all I was really interested in trying their ‘Cheesesteak’ unfortunately when I went back later that afternoon for it, it was sold out.

Next up was a ‘Chorizo’ Tamale from Upton’s Naturals (A great Chicago based seitan company) I had a really hard time deciding between this and the nachos but eventually I went with this because I love the flavor of Chorizo and haven’t really found a super amazing vegan version yet. I also like tamale’s but am way to lazy to make them myself. I should have got this with some salsa verde or queso but it was pretty damn good all on it’s own too. The chorizo flavor was uncanny, and I loved the texture, it also didn’t have that weird gluten taste that I find most seitan has.

Then we got a seitan gyro from Soul Vegan which was fan-flipping-tastic! Seriously the flavor was mind-blowing, the texture was great, no gluten aftertaste just scrumptious. Again I was half tempted to go over and grab another one. Props to my husband for finding this little gem when I unknowingly walked right past it. This is probably one of the best gyro’s I’ve had, ever, vegan or not.

Then my friend J grabbed us a couple of samosas with mint chutney and tamarind chutney from Arya Bhavan. I’ve really been craving a samosa lately so this was a nice surprise, and extremely delicious too but a little on the mild side for my liking. J also gave me a bite of her mac and cheese from Soul Vegan which I thought was okay, but not as good as they usually make. J also gave me the Thai iced tea she bought and didn’t like from Urban vegan. I admit it was very sweet, but not to bad. At the time I really needed a drink and pretty much anything would have done.

Finally I wrapped up my food eating with a couple of bites of J’s Chana Masala from Arya Bhavan, and a Papaya salad from Urban vegan. I really liked the Papaya salad, it was a little sweet, but mostly sour, yet not so sour that it was off putting. Although I did think it was a little salty but oh well. I would have loved to eat more, there were so many things I wanted to try and didn’t have the stomach room for. Especially after getting so many free samples from Loving Hut, Teese, Vegan Hot Pockets, Native Foods, Wayfair, and a few other little food kiosks that were selling their products in the food demo room.

Speaking of food demo’s by the way I watched The Chicago Diner food demo, in which they demonstrated how to bake and decorate vegan cookies. It was interesting, but being a pretty accomplished baker myself I didn’t learn anything new. I’d been hoping that they were going to demo something a bit more involved but for a novice vegan or baker I’m sure this would have been a really great and worthwhile demonstration.

After the demo I headed up to the speakers room, where I was fortunate enough to hear Robert Cheeke (The famous Vegan Body Builder/athlete) talk, along with a panel of three other vegan body builder/athletes, Amanda Reister, Nicole Sopko and Brian Duda. Even though I have no interest in becoming a professional athlete myself or in spending countless hours working out at the gym I found their talk interesting and inspiring. It’s great to hear people that work in that industry talk about their veganism because everyday just by doing what they do they’re myth busting. They’re living proof that you don’t need to eat meat, or dairy to be big, strong, healthy or fast. This is a really important message, one that by now with all the available information out there should be common knowledge, but stereotypes are powerful, and the spread of misinformation is strong. So it’s great to have these kind of lectures available for people. I know both my husband and I really enjoyed it.

As far as the merch tables went I didn’t buy too much. I got way less then I did when I went to the Naperville Vegetarian Festival in August. Aside from food the only item I bought was a t-shirt from the Herbivore Clothing Company (To add to my growing collection) that has a picture of a chicken on it, and says "Wings are for Flying not Frying" it’s super cute, funny, and a great in your face message. My husband bought about six bumper stickers to adorn are VW Golf with. Some of them very in your face, a little too in your face to be driving around Chicago with maybe but I’ll hope for the best. Though that was all we bought we were fortunate enough to be among the first 100 people in line and so we were given a free ‘grab bag’ of stuff upon entering. I was also given a free copy of the book "World Peace Diet" but Will Tuttle Ph.D. From a couple of very nice ladies representing Loving Hut, plus a lot of other free pamphlets, brochures and such from PETA, the Chicago based Mercy for Animals, Millions Against Monsanto, Vegan-Outreach, Vegan Meetup, Dog Rescue and others. All in all it was a pretty eventful, informative and fun day.

One of the best parts though happened to me right as I was getting ready to leave. I had just paid for my shirt when my friend L came running up to me. "There’s a lady out front that wants to interview a strict vegan come on." I laughed and told him I wasn’t interested. "Come on!" he insisted. "She wants to interview strict vegans, that’s you! You have to, I said I’d bring you." he tugged on my sleeve but I continued to resist. You see I’m a very shy person, and though I’ve become more outgoing in the past 4-5 years I can still be quite shy. This sort of situation especially is not something that would ever appeal to me. I get a little frazzled when put on the spot, and though I may know the answers to a question, or be knowledgeable on a subject when put on the spot I’m just no good, I don’t have the confidence it takes to come off sounding as intelligent and concise as I should. In fact I always say I’m a much better writer then I am a speaker for exactly that reason. Writing affords one the luxury of re-reading what you wrote and correcting your ‘fumbles’ so to speak. L however wasn’t having any of it, and then both J and my husband jumped on the band wagon and were encouraging me to do it. So I asked L "Is it on camera?" "No." "Is it live?" "I don’t think so" "Okay." I agreed. I figured it would be some lady jotting things down on a notepad to do an article for a local paper later. That I could deal with. That was easy enough.

When I got there though I realized she was recording these interviews and that they would be airing on radio. I got a little nervous, but she’d seen me by that point and was wrapping up her interview with the Fruititarian. As much as I thought about ditching the whole thing I swallowed hard, took a deep breath and prepared myself for her questions. She was friendly enough, and her questions were easy, plus I had L by my side, and my husband and J off to the side for moral support. The Fruititarian was also near by and in that circle of people I felt relatively at ease, and comfortable. I hardly even noticed the little microphone in my face, and the whole experience felt very much like explaining my veganism to my extended family whom I only see maybe once or twice a year. Polite and informative, with a bit of humor but not an overwhelming amount of depth. No graphic accounts, or gruesome stories. The other big surprise was that I had an answer ready to go for each of her questions, they just rolled off of my tongue and I seemed to have an endless amount of things to say.

After the interview I was pretty energized. Amped up, and excited. I’d never done anything like that before. I’d never been interviewed by anyone about anything and it was an interesting experience. I felt accomplished afterwards, like I’d just done something really good. I was one more vegan voice speaking my truth into the great abyss, talking compassionately and passionately about the choices I’ve made and how they not only benefit me, but the animals and our planet as well. I felt as though I’d truly done something worthy.

That evening after we’d left J and L’s house we got back into the car, turned on the radio to FM 101 which Is the station the journalist who interviewed me was from, and we were just in time to catch my interview! Spliced together were a few vegan voices talking about why they chose to be vegan, amongst them my own. They didn’t air my entire interview all at once, but right then they played a nice chunk of it, and hearing my words played back to me like that I realized that despite how I’d felt in the moment I’d given the interview I sounded extremely confident. I was intelligent, positive, and coherent all the things I’m afraid I never am in person. It was such a good feeling, it was also quite a trip to hear myself speaking on the radio. Throughout the evening the station played bits and pieces of the interviews, but just that one moment. Just that one moment between my husband, myself and the car radio was enough to keep me smiling all night and well into the next day. It’s definitely one of life’s unforgettable moments.

So that about sums up my experience at Vegan Mania this year, and I can’t wait until next year. Hopefully it’ll be at a bigger venue with even more merch booths, book stalls and vegan food options, as the Chicagoland Vegan community seems to be growing every year. Honestly I think it’s pretty awesome to have 2,500 vegan or veganish people congregating in the city formerly known as the meat capital of the world. Go vegan power!