Cate at Budget Confessions honored me as one of her seven choices for a Kreativ Blogger award. I am humbled and touched.
In the spirit of the award, I'm revealing seven things about myself, and picking seven blogs to recognize.
1. I once contemplated going to culinary school and worked as an apprentice for seven months in a fine French restaurant, but decided it wasn't for me. I miss the creativity of the kitchen, not the 80 hour work weeks, low pay and lack of benefits. I have no regrets. I can at least say I tried my dream job out. Sometimes, the grass isn't always greener. 2. I've been dancing for years, and can do hustle, west coast swing and even the country two-step. 3. While working as a waitress there in high school, I was named a Friendly's employee of the month! Will modern science veganize the Fribble and the Reese's Pieces sundae in our time? I hope so. 4. I've been a blonde, red-head, and a brunette. I even streaked my hair with blue Manic Panic in high school. I'm back to my natural state: brunette. 5. I have a very loving, very non-vegetarian boyfriend, and I detest when other people say "My sweetheart learned about factory farming and never ate meat again. He's the perfect guy!" Who are these fairytale men? We've visited two farm animal sanctuaries, and he still orders meat every time we go out. Ah, the challenges of being in an inter-dietary relationship. 6. I have always lived in New Jersey. Please, world, we are not all like what you see on the Real Housewives of New Jersey or the Jersey Shore. When traveling around Europe, people would say, "We know New Jersey. We watch the Sopranos." Nooo! Although we can laugh at ourselves. In our last gubernatorial debate, the three candidates were asked, "Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi?" I answer as they all did, Bruce. 7. I lost a job once and it's one of the best things that ever happened. As a result, I'm so much more conscious with money, I met my boyfriend, and I now have a job in New York City and work with amazing people. But it was a dark, uncertain time when I went through it. If you have job struggles, have faith there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The media, television in particular, projects a world overly concerned with pursuits of materialism and a vapid quest for a youthful appearance. Think everything from spoiled teens getting six figure Sweet Sixteens to Botoxed housewives who would look much better with the wrinkles than the Botox.
These bloggers give me hope. There are more important things to pursue and support....thriftiness, environmentalism, farmers, a better world for animals, travel, reading, wisdom, family, friends, and love. Would we all eat the same thing at a dinner party? Definitely not, but the conversation would be lively.
I mentioned Sarma Melngailis' brilliant blog post, I'm Not a Vegetarian, briefly before, but wanted to devote a proper post to an important topic: absolutism, and how nearly impossible it is to achieve, even when trying.
When I started on a vegan path, I was not expecting to encounter a bullying force that brought me back to the fifth grade playground: the label police.
Who and who cannot call themself 'vegan' is a slippery slope. When you start factoring in vegan sugar, wine and beer, and clothes and other items you owned pre-vegan but don't want to give away, almost no one's going to be able to call themself a vegan. I have a down couch from IKEA I bought a decade ago for my first apartment. Am I not a vegan because I still sit on it?
Alicia Silverstone said of her husband, Christopher Jarecki, "He's a vegan who flirts with fish. Sometimes he gets naughty and has a little fish here or there." Some would start griping over "he's not really a vegan then but a pescatarian" and his intentions are misunderstood and dilutes the term. I love Alicia's friendly, accessible approach at promoting a vegan lifestyle, and the way she phrased it.
I consider myself a vegan who flirts with cheese, among other indulgences. I no longer want the weight of being the ambassador to veganism 24/7. If I want a piece of my dad's non-vegan birthday cake, a cookie at a picnic in the park, or other occasional treats, I don't feel like I owe anyone an explanation, nor do others. This is the vegan good life - not the vegan perfect life. Anyone's path is riddled with challenges, temptations and imperfections, as is mine. I still strive for and embrace the vegan life as much as possible.
One blog commenter on another site stated "Molly [Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook]...said...she ate "vegan 95% of the time for 15 years." Well if she was eating dairy, beef, chicken and fish for the other 5%, then she wasn't vegan or vegetarian!" Note the exclamation point. I think 95% is pretty astounding! Exclamation point. Most people I know won't even consider a vegetarian option for a single meal! Exclamation point.
I read a fairly ludicrous post criticizing PETA's I Can't Believe It's Vegan site for listing products that are a mere 99.99% vegan. Much like people who tune in regularly to MTV's Jersey Shore, I thought, "Don't people have better things to do than waste energy on that?"
One reader, Brad, chimed in, and there are millions of Brads out there. "These comments are actually my greatest enemy in my attempt to be vegan...If there is a term for a person who avoids animal products as much as he can but doesn't look for trace ingredients or throw out the leather gloves he bought before he became vegan, let me know. For me, veganism (or whatever I am, you can have your word) is about working to minimize suffering by your lifestyle choices."
Brad is a smart man. The person who immediately took it upon themself to label Brad an omnivore and lecture him is not. I am so disheartened by the people the label police alienate. How can you tell people 'all or nothing'? Isn't this encouraging failure? People are hesitant to explore veganism for that very reason - because of restrictive rules they don't want to live up to. So eat mostly vegan, then.
Our society often roots for failure. Instead of celebrating the growing numbers of those identifying with the vegan lifestyle, purists want to jump on any slip anyone has. Food is emotional, and what's easy for you isn't easy for someone else. This is not a competition to out-vegan each other.
Rights movements have powers in numbers, and millions of people embracing a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle the best they can is more formidable a force to legislators and marketers than thousands of strict practicing vegans. So I'm standing up the the label fanatics once and for all. I'm with Sarma. Let's skip the labels, and rally on in our beautiful, if not flawed, journey.
Lucy's vegan cookies. I found packages of sugar and cinnamon varieties at a New York City store. Four cookies in a pouch, $1.50. I often cringe walking by Starbucks. Why? Because they've made their disposable coffee culture trendy. Their shops are packed with people who could be using ceramic cups (they offer them, but few know that), and instead, forests are chopped down, and the plastic lids and stirrers will be in the landfill longer than you'll be alive. People are even trained to covet their disposable cups, asking when the 'red cups' will show up for the holidays.
However, I did want to support a vegan product release a major corporation - which is huge. I purchased the sugar cookies, and shared with my omnivore co-worker, who eats veg frequently. Her first reaction, "Hmm, tastes like Cap'n Crunch" and "it's not the worst thing I've ever had." She later admitted hating them. Dipped in my tea made at the office, they tasted somewhat better, but not much. I generally dislike gluten-free baked goods. I don't know why vegan and gluten-free need to be lumped together. Sorry Lucy's!
These Whole Foods vegan chocolate cookies are delicious, especially when heated for a few seconds in the microwave. But...
I spotted vegetable shortening (palm oil) in the ingredient list. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "Vast plantations that grow oil palm trees have contributed to the destruction of the rainforest and wildlife of Southeast Asia. They are trying to get cookie manufacturers to stop using palm oil. Read their release.
In the James song, Five-0, Tim Booth sings, "Every answer found begs another question. The further you go, the less you know." I feel this way all the time with food and many other issues. I also think it proves a point that just because one isn't consuming animals or by-products, doesn't mean a diet can't bring harm to animals through deforestation or excessive food miles, and the palm oil is a perfect example. Guess where palm fruit oil is also? Lucy's cookies. It's also in the Earth Balance tub in my refrigerator.
I saw Alicia Silverstone doing a food demo on television for The Kind Diet, and when the interviewer asked what was in Earth Balance, she dipped her head sideways to read the label, since she couldn't name anything. Many of us just read labels for vegan, including myself. It can get overwhelming.
I can't help but think of Michael Pollan's quote, "Don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." I hope our great-grandmothers wouldn't recognize or have approved of eggs from chickens or milk from cows raised on factory farms, so that's not the solution. Read about the Darker Side of Dairy Farming.
I guess for vegan cookie time, I'll stick with Uncle Eddie's, and hope for the best.
Where are these people headed behind the curtain of the posh Parker Meridian in New York City? Here's a hint. If you haven't guessed, it's the not-so-secret "secret" Burger Joint. This place is always packed with people catching a show at Radio City, tourists, and locals unwinding after work. Vegetarians will find a cheeseburger (hold the burger). Sadly no veggie burgers. A bag of fries, $4, pickle, $1.50, and Coca-Cola, $2.50. Health food? No way. But that's not the point of coming here. Kitschy posters and writing adorn the walls. Hey, here's one of my favorite food films! Ratatouille! Note the "Go veggie" writing on the left of it. Fun for a night out to share fries, a soda or beer, and get married? Hmm, they'd have to start offering vegan burgers, soy cheese and non-dairy milkshakes. On to the show. For my November birthday, I asked for a ticket for The Swell Season's concert at Radio City Music Hall. The day arrived! Not bad seats for a change. I'm usually in the last rows way up here. The Brooklyn Vegan was closer, with some amazing shots of Glen, Mar and the gang. Glen Hansard can tell a story that will make you laugh and bring you to tears, sometimes at the same time. I love his howling vocals.
"I'm feeling so small, against that big sky tonight."
While Marketa Irglova's songs are like dreamy lullabies for the soul.
I'm so glad their music is part of the soundtrack of my life. I still find inspiration in Marketa's Oscar acceptance speech:
"It's just the proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And...fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are."
The chorus of Falling Slowly reminds us: "Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice." Here's hoping we continue to foster a world of hope, for animals and all that is sacred to us, and that our dreams for a better world do come true.
Their 2010 Eco-Program calendar is coming soon, with opportunities for bird walks, eco-cruises, and my favorite, river cleanups, which kick off usually in April. I've done multiple clean-ups with this group, one of which brought me to tears after leaving. I was so disillusioned at how so many are trashing the planet. I hope to see you at a clean-up if you are local this year, and will be blogging about the clean-ups and how to reduce your impact. If you are not - trash is sadly everywhere, and you can pick it up with a group or just on your own.
Why do I love and support Farm Sanctuary? Because thanks to them, abused farm animals find safety and love at their New York and California shelters, cruel confinements systems like battery cages and gestation crates of sows are being phased out in many states, and so many are learning about the benefits of embracing a veg lifestyle. Need I say more?
I ordered off of the specials menu: mac and veggies in a 'cheesy' sauce, $7.50 plus tax. Cheese courtesy of Daiya Foods. Good, a bit pricey for something I could recreate for a fraction of the cost at home (sans cheese). To stay or to go? To stay, of course. In this charming 10-seat cafe, just one man was eating, and every order other than mine was to go.
I don't understand our "to go" culture. People don't have 15 minutes to spare to eat it at this cozy spot? I brown bag it most days, saving a small fortune. Some days I feel like the vegan Suze Orman of the office, wanting to spread the message of not only humane dining choices, but that empowering AARP Lunch Savings Calculator.
If I am going to spend $8 on lunch, I'm not going to bring it back to my cramped cubicle and check e-mail. Bring a friend (banish the work gossip, a break is supposed to be a break) or dine solo. Bring your iPod, a library or thrift shop book, a paper or just your thoughts. Watch New York City life going on around you.
Reflect on all the landfill waste our to-go culture does create. Everything is reusable here, except for the napkins and paper cups for complimentary tea - so bring your reusable cup.
Oh, did I mention their benches light up? I bet the chair in your cubicle doesn't do that.
Visit the Loving Hut, 348 Seventh Ave. between 29th and 30th Sts., New York City.
At home, try Road's End Organics 'mac and chreez' line, which I've purchased at Whole Foods and the natural foods aisle of Stop & Shop. Add some veggies if you'd like, and serve with applesauce to kids young and old.
We cleared out our closets. We donated. We ate. We smiled. Here's how the latest clothing swap I co-organized at work looked, and how we did it.
We made no rules.
We invited everyone through e-mail or flyer. One didn't have to donate to take something. The idea is simply to let go of things you don't want or like, and pass it on to others who will use and love them. Leftovers are bound for the Salvation Army in Chelsea and the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop.
We supplied refreshments.
All vegan and all yummy: homemade hummus made by a swap co-organizer, the rest from Trader Joe's: sparkling pomegranate juice, pita chips, brown rice marshmallow treats and cafe twist cookies.
We swapped items of the season.
These cozy warm sweaters reminded me of a Crayola crayon box!
We rejected the notion that $500 shoes (vegan or not) should be coveted when you can get adorable shoes for free.
Cuteness times two! I adore ballet flats. Sadly not my size.
We added jewelery, bags, scarves and other accessories.
That way, every shape and size could find something. Beauty comes in all forms.
A sampling of the offerings. The center and right necklace went home with me.
We included unwanted holiday gifts.
Anything from candles and body lotions to pre-packaged food items. My swap co-organizer claimed a Philosophy lotion set before I even brought it there. A closet shoe organizer was scooped up as it was being unpacked, as were two bags of Dunkin Donuts coffee. I'll be drinking this French vanilla blend in the mornings.
We gained, but we let go.
My other take-aways: a blue Banana Republic sweater (perfect for the office), an embroidered Forever 21 top, and my favorite, a gorgeous jewel-toned green dress.
Among the things I put into the universe, a black BCBG dress. I spent $100 on it at a department store when I used to have the mentality that I worked hard for my money and should "treat myself." I now realize I work hard for my money and should be wiser with how I spend it. Why spend large sums when I can acquire things for free at swaps or for minimal amounts at consignment and thrift shops?
The BCBG dress was one of those things I thought I should have in my closet, perfect for a romantic night out, and when a romantic night would arrive, I would never reach for that dress. I just didn't feel comfortable in it. That green dress, I will eagerly reach for. I think it was my reward for finally saying good-bye to the other one.
We promoted clothes as being reusable, not disposable or to be forgotten.
Last year's boyfriend jeans are now out, Good Morning America tells us, and motorcycle jeans are in. Out: green nail polish (how was that ever in?), in: gray nail polish. The list goes on and on. Who dictates these things, and why don't we want to embrace our individuality? Another "out" is green products, and "in" is green lifestyles. Well wouldn't living a green lifestyle mean not being such a mass consumer and believing in "trends" in the first place?
We pondered at the end why so many didn't stop by to peruse the offerings.
What woman wouldn't want to look at free clothes, jewelry and bags, no strings attached? Some clothes still had tags on them, and most were in perfect condition. I'll never understand why second hand items have such a stigma, but racking up credit card debt and living beyond our means does not.
Think your new department store clothes are clean? Think again, according to this disturbing Good Morning America piece, which sent items from discount, mid-level and high-end stores for testing.
Become a swapper.
Swap kids' clothes with your PTA group. Women's clothes with your friends or co-workers. Donate the leftovers to charity. Swap books at work. Let's decide that permanently "in" are the notions of reuse, reduced consumption and financial empowerment.
Flashback: 1950's, I Love Lucy. An American icon. I loved watching re-runs as a kid. Still do. Two things that bring no laughter: shows in which she covets fur (in one episode, she actually sleeps in her mink stole she loves it so much), and scenes where the Ricardos light up.
We now know how harmful the cigarettes are that they were smoking. Desi Arnaz in fact passed away to lung cancer. But we should also know how egregiously cruel fur is. Yet so many people, even in 2010, still associate fur with the good life and glamour and many are still smoking (The Wall Street Journal put the percentage of American adults who smoke at about 20%).
Flashforward, 1998-2004, Sex and the City. Fur and smoking are both featured on this marketing powerhouse. Carrie, after having successfully quit smoking seasons earlier, resumes the ugly habit when she lives in Paris in the last few episodes. What about the fur coats she was wearing during the series? Real or fake? Do some of the impressionable women watching know enough to demand faux?
Doubt the influence of media images like Sex and the City? You can even take bus tours where they point out how you can shop just like Charlotte, Carrie, Miranda and Samantha. The show is a textbook case on the effectiveness of product placement.
Hopefully our society will become more enlightened. Much like a bad horror film, I will never get this video of an animal being skinned alive at a Chinese fur farm out of my mind from PETA. Horror movies are pretend. This act of brutality is not.
So, what do Lucille Ball and Kim Catrall have in common? Their images above are being used to market products associated death. For Lucy and Desi's Philip Morris ads, it has the possibility of causing a slow death by lung cancer. For Kim's image, it's a a certain painful death endured by helpless animals, who come to earth to suffer for our disposable values and wants.
What's the first word that comes into your mind when you see this? I hope not glamorous if you've watched the video. Learn more about Fur Free NYC. Visit PETA's Fur is Dead site.
Sick. Spotted outside a fur shop on 29th street in New York City.
As (so-missed) Tim Russert scribbled "Florida, Florida, Florida" on election night 2000, I declare, "prices, prices, prices."
I visit my local farm every week for produce and some vegan products, but for almost everything else, I hit Trader Joe's.
A staple in many vegan refrigerators: tofu. These are the best prices I've seen, especially for organic. Make everything from tofu scrambles to chocolate mousse.
Love or hate them, mock meats are a humane alternative to the real deal.
In the mood for Southern-inspired fare? Try the chicken-less pulled chicken in barbeque sauce (in the refrigerated section) on a bun with their organic sweet corn (in the freezer aisle) and organic lemonade. The beef-less strips are great for stir-fry's. Try the chicken-less strips in casseroles (add noodles, a can of mushroom gravy and can of peas and carrots). Their chicken-less stuffed cutlet goes well with rice pilaf and a green salad. They have soy chorizo for just $1.99 if you're looking to make Alicia Silverstone's chorizo tacos. My favorite tacos: bean or guacamole. Simple! Being of Swiss heritage, my family loves our strudel! Oh, we love all dessert, really. Vegan apple strudel, $2.99, for a package of two. These vegan cafe twists will be making an appearance at an upcoming clothing swap at work. Perfect for your next coffee break. Don't forget their soy creamer, just $1.49 for a pint. There's always food sampling in the back at their Westwood, NJ location. At last, a vegetarian one! Beans are one of the healthiest and least expensive protein sources for vegetarians and omnivores alike, in my humble opinion. Nuts are another great protein source, either sprinkled on salads or eaten just by the handful. Find a large selection here. I scream, you scream, we all scream for (soy) ice cream. I love their cherry chocolate chip and chocolate varieties the most. You can make 'milk'-shakes with non-dairy 'milk'. Other flavors: vanilla and mango vanilla. For vegan and organic, $3.29-$3.69 for a quart is a terrific deal. I see small containers for $5+ at Whole Foods. Avoiding soy? Go for sorbet. This lavender scented detergent has a built-in fabric softener, so I only have to buy one product. They have lavender dryer bags, but thanks to Project Laundry List, I've abandoned my dryer for good, hanging drying everything on a drying rack in the bathroom. Saved: $1.50 per load. Their recycled paper toilet tissue got Greenpeace's approval. For a 12-pack, $3.99.
Look your best, for less. With fair skin, a daily moisturizer with an SPF is a must for me. This one is a steal at $3.99. I used to use a seaweed one from The Body Shop, $18, which I liked, but switched when I ran out to save money. Cruelty-free toothpaste for just $1.99! Yes, please! The Tom's of Maine brand next to it is $3.99. Don't want to spend $10 on shampoo? Me neither. This one is just $2.29.
I save a small fortune by getting haircuts at Supercuts, just $15, and for every eight cuts, the ninth one is free. With clothes, haircuts, beauty products, and food, I no longer foolishly think I am "treating myself" to something because the cost of it is high. We shouldn't equate the "best" with being the most expensive. That's thinking drilled into our heads by marketers, and sadly, perpetuated by many women who encourage other women to waste their money on costly products when you could be living the good life, for less.
Get your bargains on at Trader Joe's. Check out their vegan list for quick reference.
Want to contact Trader Joe's to expand soy cheese offerings (their soy cheese contains non-vegan casein), bring back the roasted vegetable pizza (so cruel to discontinue it!) or have other suggestions? Let them know.
Check out PETA's Caring Consumer site to find cruelty-free (non-animal tested and no animal ingredients) companies.
Are you attending a Ringling Bros. or rodeo protest at Madison Square Garden (the bull riders are in town this weekend!), or just catching a game or concert there? Leafleting outside of the fur district? A tourist? An office worker in search of humane dining? If you answered yes to any of these, and are hungry, you may want to consider New York City's new entry on the vegan scene: The Loving Hut.
The former tenant was a mac and cheese place, where I vaguely recall someone trying to hand me a leaflet wearing a sandwich board and a fake plastic cheese on his head. I once e-mailed them to suggest soy mac and cheese (check out Alicia's version). They should have listened. The vegans in the area would have pounced faster than you can shout, "Olsen twins you're so tired, wearing fur in uninspired." The Loving Hut sandwich, $6. With tarragon mayo (which I chose) or chipotle sauce. Not having eaten a real chicken since I was a teenager, I can't compare it to the real thing. Tasty, loved the mayo. To drink: complimentary hot tea. Vegan beef fried rice...my taste buds are intrigued. Share the love for less: 15% off between 3-6 PM. Visit the Loving Hut, 348 Seventh Ave. between 29th and 30th Sts., New York City, Mon-Fri., 11-9 PM, Sat., 11-8 PM. Closed Sundays.
Have a Trader Joe's nearby? Pick up their beef-less or chicken-less strips in their refrigerated section and stir-fry with your favorite sauce and veggies. Below is my mom's version. Add toasted sesame seeds for sesame 'chicken'. Serve over organic brown rice (easy, breezy single serve packs) or their vegetable fried rice (both in their freezer aisle), and you have Chinese take-out, without, well, the take-out. You won't miss the meat. Check out more of their vegan goodies.
That means more books to read, great food to be eaten, causes to fight for, places to explore, laughs to be had, naps to be taken, dreams to be dreamt. I can't wait to find out what 2010 brings.
Phew, I made it until midnight. And without a nap! I did take two the next day. The centerpiece on my parents' table at their New Year's get-together beckoned spring. Old Hook Farm sells Field Roast Grain Meat Company's Celebration Roast. While everyone else had ham, I feasted on this yummy vegan roast with pineapple rings and dried cranberries. A restorative walk in the park on New Year's Day. My soundtracks for the season: Tori Amos' Midwinter Graces and Sting's If On A Winter's Night. Some four-legged friends were out and about. Other souls must have been tucked inside with some cocoa. At home, candles provided warmth and glow, and books sparked the imagination. Many unwanted gift candles end up at thrift shops after the holidays. The large one, a Martha Stewart for $2, still had the gift tag on it. Smaller candle, $1; hardcover book, $1, little cardinal bird, 25 cents. All from C.A.T.S Resale Shop. On a cold winter day, I adore soup. With just a few ingredients, potatoes, leeks, an onion, vegetable stock, soy creamer, some seasonings, I have potato leek soup. Perfect with... cucumber dill sandwiches with Tofutti cream cheese. Add a pot of Earl Grey tea, and I have my own Tea & Sympathy experience at home. These blood oranges start showing up at Old Hook Farm come winter. I love their seasonal offerings. Can you imagine eating watermelon in January? I can't.
I used to dislike winter, but my perspective has changed in recent years. The body and the soul needs rest, and what better excuse to do just that when the temperatures dip.
Sting has talked about how "Landscape are magically transformed by snow." While "It's a dark time, a cold time. It's also a time of warmth and family and love and tenderness."
Savor the moments of the season with your loved ones.
Independent thinker, writer, reader, activist, voter, food lover, thrifter, volunteer, supporter of family farms, main streets, and libraries, traveler, park-goer, friend of animals, people and the Earth, lover of life
This blog is for people of all dietary backgrounds. The Vegan Good Life is not The Vegan Perfect Life. I am not a pure vegan all the time (I do eat vegetarian always), and strive to do the best I can at pursuing a vegan lifestyle. Please feel free to come along on this flawed but beautiful journey. Along the way, we'll advocate for a better world for animals, reduce our impact on the Earth, travel, go thrifting, empower ourselves financially, learn, dream, inspire, listen to music, and celebrate one of life's greatest passions - food.