Thursday, January 29, 2009

Forgot Hallmark, Support Animal Groups this Valentine's Day

Is it almost Valentine's Day? Here are a few gift ideas for the animal lover in your life, or even for yourself, because you are a sweetheart to all the animals, aren't you?

ASPCA's Logo Pawprint Heart Sterling Pendant, $28

PETA's 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' T-Shirt, $20.

So I revert to being a five-year old during certain holidays...Valentine's Day being no exception. The past two years, I handed out those cute little Valentine's cards (Winnie the Pooh and Ratatouille ones, if you must know the embarrassing details) and chocolates to my co-workers, and it was a huge hit. This year, I may treat them to these vegan sweets from Endangered Species Chocolate:

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Love Treats (24-pieces), $6.72, or a set of three bags for $18.50

Farm Sanctuary's 25-piece vegan chocolate box comes adorned with a mini-button, which will last longer than the chocolates will. $35. Visit their online shop.

Flowers last a few days, but a Farm Sanctuary rabbit sponsorship gives all year! You can sponsor a rabbit or chicken for just $10 a month. Call me a crazy fool, but I think this is the most romantic gift yet.

Then, plan a visit to their Watkins Glen shelter in the late spring to visit your friend in person. Stay at one of their three rustic cabins (open starting May 1), enjoy a vegan continental breakfast, and stroll their peaceful and breath-taking grounds. Plenty of opportunities to hike and go wine touring too.

The fine-feathered good life...

The way it should be...

Flashback to my visit, including Watkins Glen dining.

The Ginger Cat Bed & Breakfast, which looks like an adorable Plan B if the Farm Sanctuary cabins are booked, offers a list of vegan-friendly wineries in the Finger Lakes region.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Jersey Girl Hits Jersey Boys

Yes, I'm from New Jersey. Which exit you ask? Very funny, wise guy. In fact, this is such a running joke, Jersey Boys Grill in New Milford even has a drink named "Exit 161." They also have a drink named the "Bon Jovi." And no, I've never seen Bon Jovi in concert (gasp), although I think I have the "Slippery When Wet" cassette back at my parents' house.

Here's a recap of my first visit to JerseyBoys:

A house salad to start with basil vinaigrette. $3.95 for a small, $5.50 for a large.

The grilled vegetable thin crust pizza, which is made in a wood fired stove. $9.50. Who needs cheese?

Visit them at 704 River Rd., New Milford, NJ and sit by the fireplace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Day the Singing Stopped

The mission: slaughter 3,000 to 5,000 starlings. Where? Franklin Township, New Jersey. Who funded this? The USDA, meaning, us...the tax-payers. The reason: to aid a farmer who, according to USDA spokeswoman Carol Bannerman, "has a variety of livestock, and the birds would eat the seed which takes food away from the livestock, costs the farmer money. Also, as the birds eat, they excrete droppings into the food left for the livestock to eat." The killing method: the pesticide DRC-1339, which the USDA claims is inert once it is eaten by the birds and becomes metabolized. Well if the government says it's safe, it must be so, right? Read more of this unbelievable story, which has many of us in the Garden State up in arms.

UPDATE 1/29: Our friends at PETA have issued an Action Alert, urging supporters to contact Janet Bucknall, New Jersey Wildlife Services State Director, USDA, and ask the agency to stop the use of DRC-1339 immediately and find humane flock-control methods. Contact her at:

Learn more.

"And birds go flying at the speed of sound, to show you how it all began.
Birds came flying from the underground, if you could see it then you'd understand" - Speed of Sound, Coldplay

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pancho's Burritos...As Close As I'll Get to Mexico

While I can't make it to the Mexican Riviera anytime soon, I can get to Pancho's Burritos, my local Mexican haunt in New Milford. They have outdoor seating in warmer months. I love alfresco dining. But it's January, so I digress.

Pancho's excitingly offers soy cheese and tofu sour cream. Does your Mexican hang-out offer these? I like to put in a verbal request for soy products when I can. If no one asks, they won't realize there's a demand.

A virgin strawberry margarita, $4.50. I haven't felt like imbibing lately (no particular reason), but they offer alcoholic ones. The mango and peach varieties are delicious.

Veggie enchiladas, $11. I got two meals out of this. Green tip of the day: Bring your own take out containers with you for leftovers, and avoid their Styrofoam containers.

Visit them at: 214 Main Street, New Miford, NJ or 20 Jefferson Ave., Westwood, NJ

Or make your own Mexican feast at home. My Trader Joe's has everything I could possibly need: refried black beans, organic brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, multi-grain tortilla chips, salsa (varieties include pineapple, smokey peach and more). And, of course, the veggies: avocados, bell peppers, onions and portobello mushrooms. Finish with one of their frozen "Fruit Floes": strawberry, Caribbean, mango or lime. So refreshing!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Companions to None: The Plight of Mexican Street Dogs

In going through my Mexican travel photos, I suddenly could not get the street dogs of Mexico off my mind. While in the central square of Valladolid, I actually witnessed a police officer kicking a dog. Being an American in a foreign land, especially one where the authority figures can have a questionable reputation, I felt utterly helpless. I, like some other foreign tourists, gave these dogs a drink from our water bottles, or leftover food, to the judgemental looks of many locals. After all, many of these people are hungry themselves. What to do? There were signs posted to not give money to beggars, many of them children, as it keeps them out of school and perpetuates a vicious cycle. And here, in the United States, there is such excess.

I happened upon the story of this documentary, Companions to None, on the plight of these dogs, which outnumber humans in some areas. There is a common belief in Mexico that sterilizing a male dog will make the dog "gay."

Learn more. Help Mexican street dogs by supporting Save a Mexican Mutt (SAMM).

Street Dogs of South Central examines the plight of homeless dogs in Los Angeles. This documentary is set for release this year.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Good Vegan Eats in Mexico

Eating vegan in Mexico is easy! The main strip in Playa Del Carmen is very touristy. Walk a few blocks over, and eat like a local...and pay local prices. These were veggie enchiladas at a local dive in Playa, which I washed down with a strawberry kiwi shake.

Grilled veggie and pineapple fajitas

Frothy iced coffee. I can't live without my Trader Joe's soy creamer at home, but I quickly became accustomed to drinking coffee black.

A bagel with shredded vegetables. I think I could even give up my tofu cream cheese and start eating bagels this way.

A roll with refried beans, tomatoes, and sesame seeds at the Tamarindo B&B. Do try recreating this at home!

After driving around Cozumel, sauteed mushrooms in corn tortillas hit the spot.

Black beans, rice, avocado and warm tortillas at a charming local restaurant on the way to Uxmal.

Sweet fried plantains over rice, guacamole and chips, and a tropical shake at the local food hall in Valladolid

A pool-side breakfast at Dolores Alba.

Fresh fruit is everywhere. I bought a bag of mango with sliced lime and a side of chili pepper from a woman on the roadside. It was some of the best I've ever eaten. You can also grab some fresh fruit before hopping on the Cozumel ferry.

Can't go wrong with a margarita...

...or a Corona or a sangria. Everywhere I ordered it, the sangria was just fresh squeezed lime juice, topped off with red wine. So refreshing.

I have a confession to make. I fell off the vegan wagon - once. These Mexican rolls, included in my breakfast at the Posada Luna del Sur, had dairy, which I didn't realize until I got home and googled their ingredients. But I think about what Kathy Freston said in "Quantum Wellness." To paraphrase, she said vegans shouldn't torment themselves when they consume minimal amounts of animal by-products, which might make up 2 percent of our diet. It does nothing for the bigger picture of animal welfare.

The non-Mexican fare I tried, including spinach risotto at an Argentinian restaurant in Tulum and cheeseless veggie pizza at a pizzeria near Chichén Itzá, were descent but nothing impressive. The basic, rustic Mexican food was the best. I really embraced the simplicity of the food. No overproccessed ingredients. Just natural, whole foods. I think traveling is one of the best ways to spend money. You learn invaluable lessons about how others live, including how and what they eat, that stay with you a lifetime.

Traveling in developing nations is eye-opening. You appreciate the things we do have, like drinking water that is safe to consume from your tap, sanitation systems for our waste, and a relatively good education and health care system. But you also see how our sense of happiness is often so tied to materialistic possessions, when many others seem content without them. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from "The Little Prince," by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Longing for Mexico

All of this snow has me reminiscing about my trip to the Mexican Riveria Maya this summer. The all-inclusive jumbo resorts of Cancun are just not for me. I far prefer quaint little budget hotels, eating at local hang-outs, and exploring different areas. Breakfast was included at all of the hotels I mention.

First stop, Playa Del Carmen. Less than an hour's drive from Cancun. No high-rise hotels here. But development is going on everywhere, and construction noise was fairly common. This was probably the most touristy place I visited (it had the only Starbucks I saw when in Mexico). But the sandy beaches and turquoise waters made up for that. I stayed at the Hotel Playa Del Karma. Around $80 a night.

Onto Cozumel, about a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa. Avoid the tourist center and stay at the Tamarindo Bed & Breakfast, for only $45.

A street in Cozumel

Definitely rent a scooter and ride around the island

The highlight of my entire trip. When riding around the island, I stumbled by turtle shells hatching and making their trek to the sea.

Off to the sea...good luck!

Onto to Valladolid. Out of about 40 people in this bar, which was filled with locals only, I was the only woman!

A band came in and serenaded the crowd.

A woman sitting in a store front.

Street dogs are everywhere in Mexico, which is so heartbreaking. This one got the nickname, Yuca, since I was in the Yucatan Peninsula. This sweet soul was so friendly. I wish I could have put her in my suitcase.

Next stop: Chichén Itzá, a must-see. Don't miss the light show in the evening.

A resident on the grounds of Chichén Itzá.

I stayed in this campy little hotel, Dolores Alba, for under $60. After exploring the ruins, relax with a Corona at the poolside bar, or take a swim.

In Tulum, I stayed at Posada Luna del Sur, for $70 a night. The owners were so friendly, and often aid the street dogs with food, water and veterinary care.

Cheerful towel arrangements like these are common in Mexico.

When you visit the ruins in Tulum, don't forget your swimsuit. You can take a dip in the ocean.

"You could taste heaven perfectly," Tori Amos sings in "A Sorta of Fairy Tale." That could summarize my entire trip.

Up next, a vegan food update.

Hotel Playa Del Karma, Playa Del Carmen
Posada Luna del Sur, Tulum
Dolores Alba, Chichén Itzá
Tamarindo Bed and Breakfast, Cozumel

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jamie's Fowl Dinners: The Unseen Price to Cheap Eggs and Chicken

British chef Jamie Oliver is not as big a name as Rachael Ray or Emeril Lagasse in the United States, which is a shame. While our celebrity chefs seem self-obsessed and always looking for the next marketing deal (Rachael Ray-branded garbage bowls anyone?) Jamie does what no American chef has the courage to do - enlighten the masses to where their food actually comes from. His "Jamie's Fowl Dinners" special exposed the truth to how Britain's chickens and eggs are produced, very much in factory farm conditions widespread in the U.S.

On the egg and chicken business, he bemoans, "the industries behind which I believe have been pushed, pushed, and even bullied at times, to produce cheaper and cheaper food. I believe if we give you, the great British public, the credit and show you where your cheap eggs and where your cheap meat comes from, next time you go shopping you'll make better choices."

"You're talking about a living machine when it comes to modern chickens. It's not a real bird at all," naturalist Bill Oddie observes. Jungle fowl lays 5-10 eggs a year. Industrial hens lay 300 eggs a year.

"There's 20 million battery hens in sheds in the UK alone. And in my view, they are out of site and out of mind," says Jane Howorth of Battery Hen Welfare Trust, whose group has rescued 60,000 hens in four years and relocated them in homes.

Enriched cages, or "small bird colonies," will still be allowed in 2012 when battery cages will be banned in the UK. Astroturf is their nest. When Oliver asks Andrew Joret of the British Egg Industry Council "What would you say to people that felt there shouldn't be any caged birds at all?" The reply, "The question is what do customers want. It is all about price."

"It's simple. You get what you pay for. Cheap eggs means lower welfare and worse conditions for the hens. In the end, it's your choice," Oliver remarks.

What happens to spent chickens? Pass the MRM (Mechanically reclaimed meat)

"Roughly around one third of a grown man's body weight a year we eat in chicken," Oliver says of the Brits' consumption.

From birth to slaughter? A shocking 5 1/2 weeks. Part of the problem, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall notes, is that "the supermarkets are fighting a price war on chicken."

The slaughter. Unlikely this quick and humane.

When an audience member prefers the tastes of the caged chicken, Oliver seems to agree with the opinion the man's palate is too used to junk food. "I can picture what you showed me earlier," another woman remarks. Precisely the point of this special.

The pork industry is Jamie's next target, as "Jamie Saves Our Bacon" debuts in the UK on January 29.

Jamie's Fowl Dinners
Battery Hen Welfare Trust
Compassion in World Farming
RSPCA: Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Urgent Action Needed on Behalf of Goats and Pigs

Our animal rights community is being urged to act immediately to stop an implausible but yet very real act of extreme cruelty - funded by U.S. taxpayers.

The US Army plans to stab, shoot, and break the legs of pigs and goats this week - starting today - as part of a training program at Fort Dix, according to Farm Sanctuary. While we have a volunteer army, these helpless animals certainly had no choice in volunteering to be brutalized in this needless act.

Please urge Col. Ronald R. Thaxton, the Installation Commander at Fort Dix, to cancel this at once using this form. Learn more.
PETA is asking us to e-mail our Senators and Congressperson to contact the Secretary of the Army and the Army Surgeon General to insist that they prohibit the military use of animals in trauma- and chemical-casualty training courses and use available non-animal teaching methods instead. Contact your Senators and Congressperson through their web site.

Apartment Composting

I'm always looking for ways to lessen my impact on the environment, and have been intrigued by composting for years. As an apartment dweller, I wasn't sure how to make this happen. But this video makes it looks easy.

"It's about changing culture and passing on lessons," Barb Finnin says about becoming a composter. That certainly also holds true for our animal movement.

Yard trimmings and food residuals combined account for 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the EPA. With composting, that could be spared from our landfills. Learn more.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Rewrite the Book" on Farm Animal Welfare

"Let's put our heads together and start a new country up. Our father's father's father tried, erased the parts he didn't like." - Cuyahoga, R.E.M.

While many of our wallets may not be as full as we would like in these hard economic times, what we always have, no matter what, is our voice. And it is those who use it that decide the direction of our nation, and not just on election day. Our elected leaders are sent to the legislature to change society for the better and uphold the values of a fair and just society.

Unfortunately, there is no justice for today's suffering farm animals. Laws to protect them are essentially non-existent in most states. Egg-laying hens are some of the worst treated. A mind-boggling 95 percent of the eggs in the U.S. come from hens crammed five or more into a cage the size of a filing drawer, according to Farm Sanctuary. In the pork industry, the majority of breeding sows spend most of their lives inside 2-foot-wide metal crates. Veal calves are chained by the neck inside 2-foot-wide enclosures for their entire lives. All suffer so we humans can enjoy some fleeting pleasure of a meal. While people's enjoyment of that meal is so temporary, the animals' suffering can last months, even years.

There is something you can do today. You can contact your state legislators and tell them this treatment is unacceptable and that laws need to be on the books to provide more humane conditions for the 10 billion animals who are raised and killed for food each year in the United States.

Farm Sanctuary has created this easy-to-use form letter to contact them.
Learn more about the campaign.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Soup's On...

One word to sum on today: "Brrrr!"

I almost always brown-bag it for lunch. It saves so much money and is usually healthier. But today, I splurged on lentil soup with veggies at the Soup Spot. There aren't many great deals in Manhattan, but at $4.95 for a large soup, a crusty piece of bread and a piece of fruit (almost always an apple), this is as good as one as you'll find. By comparison, a can of organic lentil soup with vegetables at Trader Joe's is only $1.99. The Soup Spot always offer a few vegetarian, non-dairy soups.

New Yorkers love a bargain. Always a line, but it moves fast.

I use only non-disposable dishes at work, as you see below. This includes plates, silverware, a glass and mug. I even have a cloth napkin and towel for washing dishes. I'm mortified at all the paper cups and plates and plastic utensils ending up in our landfills, and have tried to educate my coworkers about this. To my delight, many now use ceramic mugs, and are using the reusables dishes I picked up for next to nothing at the C.A.T.S. resale shop. Can you "green" your office kitchen?

Soup Spot,, 220 W. 31st Street, between 7th & 8th Ave.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More Vegan Finds in Chelsea

Before my company subjected us to a relocation to overcrowded and homogenized mid-town (uh, Starbucks and McDonald's anyone?), I used to work in New York's hip Chelsea neighborhood. I personally want to stop every tourist I see walking through Times Square with their Disney bags and tell them there is so much more to New York.

You don't have to go to a vegan place to find great vegan food. Check out Rafaella on ninth, a quaint little bistro. I had their tasty Mississipi vegan chicken sandwich, with tomato, avocado and roasted red peppers ($7.95). I always order vegan offerings in non-vegan restaurants when I see them listed. The more we support them, the more they will appear.

In the mood for Indian fare? Visit Bombay Talkie (dinner only). I had the vegetarian casserole (baked potatoes, carrots, string beans and coconut milk), $18, followed by grape sorbet. Many months later, I still reminisce about that meal.

Blossom offers organic, all-vegan cuisine. This was their soy bacon cheeseburger with chipotle aioli and caramelized onions ($13), which I washed down with a raspberry fizz ($3.50).

Dining alone? Get a seat by the window and people-watch (and in NYC, dog-watch too!)

Cafe Blossom, their sister restaurant on the opposite side of town, is very close to Central Park...the ideal location for a leisurely stroll after devouring sweet potato gnocchi ($17) or seitan scallopini ($20). Save room for their mouth-watering chocolate cake.

Never be afraid to dine solo either. Food is one of the great pleasures of life in my opinion, and fabulous food can be enjoyed with or without dining companions. Bon Appétit!

Blossom Restaurant, 187 Ninth Ave. (between 21st and 22nd) and Cafe Blossom, 466 Columbus Ave. (between 82nd and 83rd)
Bombay Talkie, 189 Ninth Ave.
Rafaella on ninth, 178 Ninth Ave.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Vegan Soy Cheese Pizza at Pizza Fusion

Vegan options are showing up more regularly on mainstream restaurant menus. For vegans in the northern New Jersey area longing for their days of cheese-topped pizza, Pizza Fusion has come to the rescue with vegan (casein-free) soy cheese. They have vegan brownies listed on their dessert menu, but they said their distributor wasn't shipping to the Northeast stores. How disappointing!

The Fusion Side Salad. Organic spring mix, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions. $4.75.

I selected the personal size Very Vegan (roasted garlic and mushrooms) with a multi-grain crust, $9. But you can definitely build your own pizza with your favorite veggies. Delicious. I'll be back for more.

Cool, basic furniture, made from reclaimed wood. Being 'green' and 'eco-friendly' are big marketing terms nowadays, but this chain practices what it preaches.

Visit their first New Jersey location in Ridgewood on 33 Godwin Ave., across the street from Whole Foods Market. A total of 11 are slated to open in the next three years, great news for vegans in the Garden State.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tarra and Bella...Friends for Life

There's no shortage of depressing stories in the media lately, so this CBS News story is a nice change of pace. What is so amazing to me about this piece is not the love between these two different species, but people's amazement that such a love and a bond could occur. Animals have the same love of life and compassion as we do.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Tarra and Bella enjoying the simple pleasures of life, including a stroll through the woods on a sunny day. We can learn so much from animals. They remind me of the joy of being alive, which we humans often take for granted.

Learn more about the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Saying "Non!" to the Cruel Tradition of Foie Gras

After several short work weeks, it's back to the dreaded five day week. I'm already dreaming of spring...daffodils, fresh asparagus, strawberries and walks in milder weather.

I hung up my Farm Sanctuary Rescue and Refuge calendar to brighten my cubicle. This calendar can be yours too for only $3.95. It's a great way to put a face to what most people don't think about on their plate. Visit their online store.

January features Julep, who was one of six newly hatched babies rescued from a trash can at a Canadian foie gras facility - an entirely normal fate for females, who are viewed as useless for production. These lucky ducks made it to the Watkins Glen, NY, shelter. Males in the industry are force-fed unnatural amounts of food through a metal pipe, engorging their livers up to 10 times their normal size.

While fortunately not common, foie gras does exist on many French menus. I love the French attitude toward the pleasure of eating, but the consumption of this product cannot be condoned in a civilized world.

Please consider taking a few moments to contact the following restaurants, and tell them you are disappointed they still feature this archaic, cruel product and will not patronize their restaurant until they remove it. In today's anemic economy, consumers yield an incredible amount of power.

Contact:, owner of Maison and a number of French-themed restaurants in Manhattan, Jean Georges Management, owner of Jean Georges, JoJo, and other high-end French restaurants in New York City
In New Jersey, write to the Frog & the Peach, a high-end restaurant in New Brunswick.
Write to La Tour, 6 East Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood, NJ 07450.
Also contact any establishments with polite comments in your area that serve foie gras.

Learn more about Farm Sanctuary's No Foie Gras campaign

The unseen side of foie gras that producers don't want you to see. This is footage taken inside Elevages Perigord, Canada's largest foie gras producer, as part of an investigation by Farm Sanctuary and Global Action Network.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Greetings for 2009! I rang in the New Year with family and a Chinese feast of vegetable soup, spring rolls, steamed veggie dumplings, and bean curd. There were two family birthdays to celebrate, so I picked up two adorable vegan tea cakes (one carrot, one chocolate) from Planetary Pastry, available at my local Chelsea Whole Foods Market.

Among other items, I treated the birthday recipients to Sigg water bottles. Breaking the bottled water habit is a great resolution for 2009. More than 1.5 million barrels of oil are used annually to make bottles for Americans' water, enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year, according to Carbon Conscious Consumer. Even scarier, they say 86% of plastic water bottles used in the U.S. are not recycled. Never mind all the fuel that is wasted transporting them, and our hard-earned money.

Want to spread your animal rights coolness while saving the Earth? PETA makes this aluminum bunny bottle, $16.

A reusable coffee mug shows you care about the planet and animals. Think about all of those paper cups and plastic lids in the landfills. ASPCA makes this cheerful travel mug, $13.50, also available in grey.

A mug Bob Barker would be proud of. $9.

Just say "yes!" to reusable grocery totes too. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals die each year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food, Carbon Conscious Consumer reports. Whole Foods Market offers a 5-10 cent discount per reusable bag, and my Trader Joe's lets you enter into a raffle to win a $25 gift card when you BYO-bag it.

ASPCA's Will Fight for Animals tote, $10.

Visit Farm Sanctuary's shop for totes, cups, and more.

Being an animal rights advocate and an environmental advocate go hand-in-hand for me. We are destroying our climate each day, often out of laziness, apathy, greed, and worse, a sense of entitlement. Any action we take to lessen our impact on the environment benefits all animals.