Thursday, February 26, 2009

Finding Renewed Hope in Fellow Activists

"Please don't be depressed. Don't dwell on the big picture. Because that's more than any sensitive person can ever endure. Remember all we've achieved in history, all the changes we've made in this very small time of animal rights activity." - Ingrid Newkirk.

The above quote is something I need to remind myself of often as an animal and environmental advocate. The big picture can be overwhelming. But for as many people who don't give a second thought to animal welfare or the well-being of our Earth, there are passionate people everywhere standing up for these causes.

I met many of these eco guardians at a volunteer appreciation dinner held by the Hackensack Riverkeeper. The event came at the perfect time...the same day my spirits were down, as my company inexplicably decided to start regularly supplying free, unlimited Poland Spring water bottles. Just when our office kitchen was becoming so green! Among the volunteers I met was a school administrator who works with his children to collect bottle caps to send to Aveda, who recycles them into caps and bottles, as well as a woman who works for the Land Conservancy of New Jersey, which strives to save our open land from development.

Onto the night's events. There was a festive pirate theme, and catering was by Jamaican Delight Restaurant, 463 S Washington Ave., Bergenfield, NJ.

Eco-friendly cups and plates, and delicious veggie food.

I couldn't indulge in the non-vegan dessert, rum raisin ice cream, although I did find a vegan recipe, should you have an ice cream maker (I don't).

There was a tricky tray raffle. This fair trade coffee and organic chocolate had my name written all over it. I didn't win.

Aveda Bottle Cap project
The Land Conservancy of New Jersey
Hackensack Riverkeeper

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Who can celebrate Mardi Gras when you've got a 9-5 desk job? I'll just have to transport myself back to New Orleans via memory. I was lucky enough to visit the city on a business trip about a year ago. I was still a lacto-ovo vegetarian and had not yet taken the vegan plunge.

I loved the city...its architecture, the Southern hospitality, the jazz music. I inherited my interest in jazz from my father, who saw many of the greats as a young man in New York City, including Louis Armstrong.

Preservation Hall is a must go-to for a jazz fix.

Local street musicians are everywhere.

The chef at Louisiana Bistro, which is just off the touristy-path of Bourbon Street, is very accomodating to vegetarians.

Bananas Foster may be one of the most brilliant dessert ideas...ever. Luckily, it is easy to veganize.

The sun shined on Jackson Square.

Artwork at Jackson Square.

Famous Cafe du Monde

Veganize their beignets and cafe au lait.

I love these balconies.

Gas lamps bring you back to another era.

They don't make houses like this any more. Modern home contruction usually lacks a "soul" in my opinion.

Yes, I now know what it means to miss New Orleans. While Bourbon Street and excessive drinking are just not for me, I believe when you travel you can make a city your own.

Visit Preservation Hall Jazz Band on MySpace.
Make your own Mardi Gras feast at home...jambalaya, dirty rice, collard greens and sweet potato pie.
Learn about the Make It Right Foundation, which is helping to build affordable, sustainable housing in the Lower 9th Ward.

One of the more modern songs from Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
Complicated Life

Monday, February 23, 2009

Eating Vegan Food for A Good Cause

I went, I ate, I mingled, all for a great cause: supporting local environmental groups. If only I could figure out a way to nap for a charity...I'd make millions.

First, I hit Blue Moon Mexican Cafe in Wycoff to support the Community Night to benefit Hackensack Riverkeeper. This place is no Pancho's. The manager came over when I had questions for the waiter about what was vegan, which was a perfect opportunity for me to mention they should consider offering soy cheese and tofu sour cream. She didn't even know tofu sour cream existed.

A virgin peach margarita and a cup of black bean soup. Both $4, and both just okay. The margarita was a bit slushy.

A house salad with corn, black beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and tortilla strips, $6.95. This salad was just screaming for an avocado. Next time, I'll just dine at Pancho's and write a check to the Hackensack Riverkeeper. Sorry, Blue Moon!

Then I hit Bergen SWAN's fundraiser at the Hillsdale, NJ borough hall, with tasty food supplied by Veggie Heaven and my favorite, Trader Joe's. There were a few preparations of Trader Joe's meatless meatballs, including two vegan (BBQ and chili sauce) and non-vegan (vodka sauce).

There were also river poems recited and a silent auction, where you could bid on, among other items, cute reusable totes filled with eco-friendly cleaning supplies. Why the reusable grocery bag trend has yet to catch on is beyond me. They sell them for as little as 99 cents at major supermarkets, and everyone in suburbia where I live has a car where they can easily store them.

As a young teenage activist, I participated in a fundraising walk to support Bergen SWAN's efforts to protect land surrounding the local reservoir...a dream that was realized. They have been working to maintain this land and promote environment education for over two decades. Learn more about Bergen SWAN.

Learn more about Hackensack Riverkeeper, which offers paddling activities, bird-walks, and many volunteer opportunities for river clean-ups.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rejuvenating the Spirit at Tea & Sympathy

I love many British things...the comedies (from classic campy fare like Keeping up Appearances and Mr. Bean to more modern shows like Coupling); a good 'cuppa' tea; I even like rainy weather. And of course one of my favorite restaurants in New York City, Tea & Sympathy. I feel like not only has my stomach been nourished after a meal here, but so has my soul.

Tables are tiny (as is the restaurant), but it adds to the charm.

You always get a charming, often kitschy, tea pot. I've gotten everything including Alice in Wonderland, teddy bears, cats, and Queen Elizabeth adorning the pots. On this visit, I opted for always delicious blackberry tea, while my friend went for fragrant vanilla mint. $4.50 a pot.

Broccoli soup, $6.95 for a bowl. They always have a non-dairy, vegetarian soup of the day. Interesting varieties I've tried include spinach as well as celery.

Fresh beet and onion salad on mixed greens, $8.50. The perfect accompaniment to my soup.

My friend had the lentil casserole, $11.95. So hearty on a cold winter's night.

When I go into Carry On Tea & Sympathy, the shop next store, I always feel like Hermoine Granger, waiting for Harry and Ron to meet me to get some treats after passing our latest exam at Hogwarts. You'll find all tea-related things here, as well as British foods for your pantry.

Tea & Sympathy, 108 Greenwich Avenue, New York, NY.

Poor Richard Bucket stands up to Hyacinth on the classic, Keeping Up Appearances.

One of Steve's famous rants on Coupling.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Friday!

That means indulging in a bagel with tofu cream cheese...

...and dreaming about my weekend ahead.

You can socialize with the above cutie at the C.A.T.S. resale shop in Westwood, New Jersey.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not Dublin...But Close Enough

I love cozy Irish pubs, especially on a blustery winter day. One of my favorites is PJ Finnegan's in Westwood, New Jersey. Their vegetarian offerings are few, but I never tire of their veggie burger, topped with sauteed mushrooms and served with a side salad ($8.95).

PJ Finnegan's, 274 Fairview Avenue.

Since I've gone vegan, their rice pudding is off-limits. When you become vegan, you can't always eat what you used to where you might have in the past, and likely may have to make it yourself. But I find this a small sacrifice. Mercy for Animals' ChooseVeg site offers a vegan brown rice pudding recipe.

Westwood has a cute, affordable downtown area. I like to support the "mom and pop" establishments as much as possible. I don't want to live in a world of WalMarts. Find friendly service at Shaw's Book Shop (179 Westwood Ave.); check out Music Merchants (157 Westwood Ave.) for CDs, including a descent used section; and Fabulous Finds for women's designer consignment clothes (186 Center Ave., next to the movie theater).

One of my favorite Irish bands (and most photogenic!), The Corrs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pancho's, You Never Let Me Down

It's always so good, I had to go back. Can you blame me with food like this?

A virgin mango margarita. $4.50

Sweet fried plantains, served with cinnamon sugar. $6.50

Grilled portabella burrito. $11.50. Filled with Spanish rice and choice of black or pinto beans. Ask for non-dairy, and you'll get soy cheese, tofu sour cream and brown rice. Portabella mushrooms are nature's mock meat for me. But can we talk about portion size here? I got three meals out of this.

Pancho's Burritos, 214 Main St., New Milford, NJ. Or visit 20 Jefferson Ave., Westwood, NJ.

PETA's VegCooking site offers up easy-to-make Mexican recipes, including black bean soup, guacamole, pepper quesadillas, limeade, Mexican chocolate cake and flan. Vegans just eat tofu, right? All those carnivores are really missing out.
Search by cuisine type (German, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and more) or by food type (appetizer, salad, entree, dessert, etc.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope you are indulging is some delicious vegan chocolates or a nice glass of organic wine. We are all Valentine's to all the animals, giving our love and passion to them each and every day.

One of my favorite love songs, The Cure's Lovesong, covered by my favorite singer, Tori Amos.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pizza Fusion: Take 2

I recently hit Pizza Fusion in Ridgewood for a second time. I spoke with the manager and he said more vegans have been coming in. Yeah!

A large cheese, tomato sauce, artichokes and crimini mushrooms on a multi-grain crust. This was $20, a bit over-priced. I liked it, but my mom...not such a fan, even though her palate is very used to vegan food. We both prefer pizza from Brooklyn's Brick Oven Pizzeria, with locations in Ridgewood and Hackensack. They'll do half-half pies (half cheese, half without), just be forewarned: it's cash only.

They had the vegan brownie this time. Hooray! This was the saving grace of the meal. More reasonably priced at $4, and didn't taste "vegan" at all.

Luckily, my workplace recently brought back the biggest moral booster since bagel Wednesday luncheons. Food tastes so much more delicious when it's free, don't you find?

Otherwise, I'm sticking to my roasted veggie pizza from Trader Joe's. At $4.69, hard to get a better deal.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Foie Gras: Crossing the Boundry of Human Descency

"We don't face firing squads, lifetime prison sentences or the gas chambers for saying what's on our minds and in our hearts. We won't lose our lives if we speak out against animal wrongs wherever we see them, but the animals do lose theirs if we don't, so we must." - Ingrid Newkirk

Ducks destined to become foie gras. Learn about Farm Sanctuary's No Foie Gras campaign.

On Friday night, I joined 10 other animal rights advocates to take a stand against foie gras, fatty, diseased goose liver considered by some to be a delicacy, but what Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur has more appropriately labeled it: "gustatory narcissism."

Our target: Damien Brassel's Knife & Fork restaurant in New York City. The Farm Sanctuary-sponsored demonstration may have rustled the feathers (pardon the pun) of a few neighbors, who were vocally annoyed with our loud chants. I'm not sure how their suffering compared to the suffering endured by the ducks and geese who live of modern day foie gras farms, who are confined to their cages or pens for their entire existence and force fed until their livers are expanded to 10 times their size. It's all about perspective, I suppose.

While I can't get into the mind of Brassel, I think Anthony Bourdain's sentiments speak for many chefs of his ilk. In his book, Kitchen Confidential, he writes, "Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food."

But enjoyment at what cost? With no boundaries whatsoever? Is torture socially acceptable in the culinary world? As Gene Baur has asked, "What are willing to do for this flavor?" Their sense of entitlement knows no bounds. To me, that attitude is an affront to everything natural, Mr. Bourdain.

Thankfully, there are chefs, such as Jamie Oliver, who actually give a second thought to the life of the animal that ended up on people's plates for their fleeting enjoyment. Chefs like Bourdain and Brassel perpetuate some false image of the "good life," but there is nothing good, nothing natural, about the way factory farmed animals, including ducks and geese tortured for foie gras production, live, if you can even consider it living at all. It seems more like these animals have to endure their entire time alloted to them on Earth, until we are ready to slaughter them to satisfy our whims. What is good and descent in the human spirit about that?

As Gene writes in his book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, "Critics of animal welfare reform always ask "Where will it end? What's next?" Those are exactly the questions I ask about unnecessarily cruel treatment of animals. Where does that end?"

Please use this web form to contact Knife & Fork, and tell them you will not patronize their restaurant until they permanently remove foie gras from their menu.
Learn about ACT, Farm Sanctuary's Advocacy Campaign Team.

Some lucky ducks and geese at Farm Sanctuary's Watkins Glen, NY, shelter, enjoying a swim at the pond and socializing freely. Some 500,000 ducks are killed each year for foie gras in the U.S. and in Canada, respectively, according to Farm Sanctuary.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Will an American Jamie Oliver Please Stand Up?

"Those barricades can only hold for so long." - R.E.M., Belong

Our American animal movement hasn't paid much attention to the broadcast of "Jamie Saves our Bacon," Jamie Oliver's latest expose on factory farming conditions which aired in the UK last week. Perhaps because he is an unapologetic carnivore. But he is the only celebrity chef carnivore who exposes his countrymen to the connection of low-cost food and animal welfare. Thank you, Jamie! I think the fact that he is a meat-eater makes his case for raising the humane standards of farm animals even more credible. Even if that means paying more.

The visual is so important. On Oliver's show, two million viewers saw a baby pig having its tail docked, being castrated with no anaesthetic, and stunned, chained, and slaughtered with a knife, according to the Guardian. They are denied all their natural instincts...rooting, nesting, socializing...all so we humans can consume cheap meat.

Britain introduced welfare rules in 1999 that the rest of the EU has until 2013 to adopt, the Guardian noted, so this show was meant to enlighten Brits about animal welfare standards in the neighboring EU, where more and more of their cheaper pork is coming from, and encourage them to support British pig farmers. A report by Compassion in World Farming showed that 100% of farms it surveyed in Spain, and nearly 90% in Germany and the Netherlands provided no straw for their pigs at all, compared to about a third of British farms. Some 40% of breeding sows in Britain are kept outdoors, compared to less than 1% in the Netherlands.

Ina? Tyler? Giada? I would love to get into the heads of our Food Network stars. Do they give any thought to the lives of the animals they advocate the masses eat? Perhaps we animal activists should attend their book events and ask them these hard questions. In my pre-vegan days, I used to admire Giada De Laurentiis. I thought she had the most amazing life...traveling, cooking, attending culinary school in Paris, a handsome husband. But not anymore. She, like most of the Food Network chefs, cook their pigs, cows, chickens and fish and animal by-products on their fancy sets, where animal ethics sit on the back-burner. A life of ignorance is not a life I want to emulate. "Give me a bloodless road," Tori Amos signs in Sweet Sangria, which is now one of my life mottos.

Read the Guardian's full review of the special here.
Learn more about the Compassion in World Farming report.
RSPCA's 'Rooting for pigs' campaign.

One of the special's more G-rated fare. I apologize in advance if the video gets taken down, as Jamie's three videos on the special keep getting removed and put back up.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Be a Valentine to Mother Earth

Feast on vegetarian food to support two of my favorite local environmental groups? Okay, if someone needs to make the sacrifice. Sign me up!

Bergen SWAN, whose mission is to preserve the natural lands surrounding the drinking water supply reservoirs in Bergen and Rockland counties in New Jersey, is hosting a "Valentine for the Watershed" to help raise funds for a professional office and support ongoing environmental education programs.

When/Where: Friday, February 13 at the Hillsdale Borough Hall, Hillsdale, NJ
How much?: A minimum donation of $25 per person is requested.
The details: Enjoy vegetarian morsels from Veggie Heaven and other local establishments, hear river poems and essays, and bid on a silent auction, which will include a vegetarian candle-lit dinner for two at Mark Becker's historic home in Hillsdale, prepared by the SWAN Co-Directors.
Learn more:

The event: Blue Moon Community Night to support the Hackensack Riverkeeper
When/Where: Tuesday, February 10, visit Blue Moon Mexican Café in Englewood, Old Tappan, Woodcliff Lake or Wycoff, NJ
The details: 20% of your check (excluding tax/tip) will benefit the Hackensack River Keeper when you bring along this coupon:

Never too early to start perusing the menu! The guacamole, fried plantains, vegetarian chili and vegetable fajitas all look delicious. While I'm there, I think I'll tell the manager what a great addition tofu sour cream and soy cheese would make to the menu!

But back to the Riverkeeper. This amazing organization hosts bird walks, eco-cruises, and my favorite springtime activity...river clean-ups. Get out your old clothes, bring your reusable water, and pick up trash from local parks on foot or via canoe. You won't believe what we find! Their first clean-up is Sunday, April 26 in Leonia. It will definitely get you thinking about your waste...and where it all ends up. Learn more:

Not in the area? Seek out your local environmental groups. The Sierra Club can get you pointed in the right direction:
In my neck of the woods: