Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Does Test-Tube Meat Mean for Vegans?

Yesterday, Terry Gross’s interview with science writer Michael Specter about so-called “test-tube meat” was featured as part of NPR’s Week of Food on “Fresh Air.” Originally broadcast in May 2011, the interview focuses on Specter’s article in The New Yorker about his visits to laboratories where scientists are developing in vitro meat.

Scientists like Vladimir Mironov (Medical University of South Carolina) and Mark Post (Maastricht University in the Netherlands) are using stem cells from pigs and/or cattle to grow tiny “slabs” of meat in petri dishes filled with nutrient broth. The next step is to use biodegradable scaffolding platforms to turn those cells into muscle tissue, which would be indistinguishable from animal flesh.

Because it would literally be animal flesh – without the animal.

According to Specter, in vitro meat could improve the world’s hunger problem by providing food for millions without the extensive use of water, grain, and grass that today’s factory farms require. The eventual replacement of farm-grown meat with meat grown in laboratories would also significantly lower the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

That all probably sounds wonderful to omnivores, but there’s one big problem: growing meat in labs just seems weird. Specter acknowledges to Gross that “there is something inherently creepy” about it, but points out that “there is something more inherently creepy about the way we deal with the animals that we eat. ... They live a horrible life, and they often die quite cruelly. So the idea of being able to eliminate some of that is extremely exciting for a lot of people.”

That idea certainly is extremely exciting to a lot of people – people like me. In a world where in vitro meat is on the shelves next to farm-grown meat, what happens to vegans?

A lot of us will have identity crises.

Whether we adopt in vitro meat into our diets will depend on the reasons that motivate us to be vegan. Those of us who are vegan mainly for health reasons will continue avoiding meat, whether it comes from a farm or a lab.

But I’m vegan for environmental and economic reasons and because I’m appalled by the animal cruelty that comes hand in hand with the mass production and consumption of animal products. So I’m all for in vitro meat.

PETA’s with me. In a rare instance of being in favor of something, they’re offering $1,000,000 to the first scientist to make lab-grown meat commercially viable.

If a day comes when omnivores can wrap their heads around the idea of eating meat grown in a lab and in vitro meat becomes available at markets, I’ll be the first in line to purchase some lab-grown bacon.

Because a vote in favor of lab-grown meat is a vote against farm-grown meat. Here’s hoping lab-grown meat eventually replaces farm-grown meat completely, eliminating the factory farming industry and all the cruelty, waste, and bullshit (figurative and literal) that surrounds it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Eat, Spay, Love

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon today hanging out at the Go Vegan Santa Barbara booth at the third annual Wags n’ Whiskers festival in Goleta. It’s the largest pet adoption festival in Santa Barbara County with dogs, cats, and rabbits from over twenty animal shelters and rescue groups.

There was also a pet talent show, which was pretty weird; a pet training demonstration, which was probably helpful to pet owners (I wouldn’t know); and a police dog demonstration in which – and I am not making this up – festival-goers volunteered to be attacked by a police dog.

The festival is organized by C.A.R.E. 4 Paws (C.A.R.E. stands for Community Awareness, Responsibility, and Education), an organization that promotes dog training intervention and spaying/neutering options to decrease the number of animals that enter shelters and to increase adoption rates.

Part of me expected to see Bob Barker there, reminding everyone to have their pets spayed and neutered. Then I remembered that he's dead no longer hosting The Price Is Right.
Go Vegan Santa Barbara decided to set up an informational booth at the festival because, hey – these festival-goers were crazy about pets. If they loved animals so much, they might be open-minded about becoming vegan.

Carrie LeBlanc (Go Vegan SB’s founder and director) and I asked the people who approached our booth if they were interested in learning about cutting down on the animal products in their diet. It was the first time I have ever tried to convince people they should become vegan. I didn’t even feel annoying about it because they were asking for it by approaching our booth.

I also didn’t feel annoying about it because of the open-minded and encouraging attitude that Carrie promotes. If someone said, “I’m a vegetarian but I just love cheese so the idea of veganism is really intimidating to me,” we would congratulate them for the steps they had already taken and encourage them to keep doing what they could, providing them with some literature.

One guy who came up to the booth was a skanky-smelling raw foodist who asked me slightly invasive questions and gave me the impression he was using the whole restricted diet thing as a way to pick me up. When I asked him why he was completely raw, he said he welcomed questions: “Help me help you!” I assured him I wanted none of his help. I was merely making conversation because as long as I was talking, I could breathe through my mouth without being obvious about it.

Most of the people who stopped by had a dog in tow, so if the conversation got awkward I could just stoop down and rub the dog behind its ears, commenting on how adorable it was.

Lucky for me, nobody stopped by with a cat for me to pretend to think was cute. I hate cats. They’re creepy and you never know what they’re thinking.

Some of the people we talked to were already vegan and wanted to get involved with Go Vegan Santa Barbara, so we filled them in on upcoming events. Talking to them made me think I should get some more vegan friends. Like, you know, maybe one vegan friend.

Today was the first time I’ve really felt like I stand for veganism. Obviously I’m not any kind of expert, but I’ve been vegan for five months now so I could speak from experience and give curious people advice about how to inch closer to a completely vegan diet. It came pretty easily and it felt pretty satisfying.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Please Pass the Psyllium!

A recent study published in the August 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (awesomely abbreviated as JAMA) has found that a vegan diet rich in soy protein, nuts, plant sterols, and viscous fibers can significantly reduce cholesterol.

Over a period of six months, a group of 345 Canadian volunteer subjects maintained either a vegetarian diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber and whole grains (the control group) or a special vegan diet including the four foods outlined above. Of those maintaining the special vegan diet, one group received seven counseling sessions with a nutritionist (intensive intervention) and another received only two counseling sessions (routine intervention).

Soy protein, nuts, plant sterols, and viscous fibers have been identified as lowering the risk of cardiovascular heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. But according to study author David J. A. Jenkins, M.D. of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, this study is the first measure of the long-term effect of a diet rich in these foods as compared to conventional dietary advice.

After six months, the LDL-C cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels of those on the special vegan diet with intensive intervention were reduced by an average of 13.8 percent; the levels of those with routine intervention were reduced an average of 13.1 percent; while the levels of those who maintained the generally “healthy” vegetarian diet were lowered only 3 percent. Furthermore, the special vegan diet did not significantly reduce levels of HDL-C (good cholesterol).

The researchers found that this intensive cholesterol-lowering diet significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure. It also reduced the 10-year cardiovascular heart disease risk by 11.3 percent in those subjects who had intensive intervention and by 10.8 percent in those who had routine intervention, compared to just a 0.5 percent reduction in the control group.

So what does this cholesterol-lowering vegan diet look like? Here’s an example of a day’s worth of food:

Breakfast: hot oat bran cereal, soy beverage, strawberries, sugar and psyllium, oat bran bread, margarine enriched with plant sterols, and double-fruit jam
Snack: almonds, soy beverage, fresh fruit
Lunch: spicy black bean soup, sandwich (soy deli slices, oat bran bread, enriched margarine, lettuce, tomato, cucumber)
Snack: almonds, psyllium, fresh fruit
Dinner: tofu bake with ratatouille (eggplant, onions, sweet peppers), pearled barley, vegetables (broccoli or cauliflower)
Snack: fresh fruit, psyllium, soy beverage

I know what you’re thinking. What the heck is psyllium? Turns out, it’s a pretty common dietary fiber of the genus Plantago, used in in high-fiber breakfast cereals (yum!) and in laxatives (yuck!).

Its seed husks are used in ayurvedic medicine for things like colon cleansing and blood circulation.

According to this study, diet alone can have significant effects without the help of drugs or even exercise. That’s great news for people with high cholesterol who can’t afford prescription drugs or don’t have the time or the physical ability to exercise often.

And a dietary approach to health could significantly reduce the country’s healthcare costs in the long run, acting as a preventative measure for diseases and complications associated with high cholesterol.

So please pass the psyllium! And, um, clear a path to the bathroom.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Vegan Police

One of my best friends from college, Nadia, was visiting this weekend and for lunch on Sunday, we decided to walk over to the Natural Café on State Street for some delicious, inexpensive Mexican fusion food.

The Natural Café has a bunch of locations, including one near my old apartment in Goleta. The last time I had eaten lunch at the Goleta location, I had ordered a Buddha Burrito (sautéed vegetables, pinto beans, and rice in a whole wheat tortilla topped with ranchero sauce, cheese, and guacamole). When I had asked my server how to veganize it, he had suggested substituting their soy cheese.

Now, I tried to order the same thing at the State Street location. The girl taking my order was wearing a nametag that said "Justine" and she looked like she meant business. As it turned out, she did.

"I will have the Buddha Burrito, please, with soy cheese and no sour cream," I said.

Justine wrinkled her nose. "You’re vegan, huh? So am I." I was pleased. But Justine looked angry. "So… you know that our soy cheese is not vegan, then. It has casein in it."

"Really? I didn’t know that." It slightly annoyed me that when I had ordered the Buddha Burrito at the Goleta location with the specific direction that I would like it to be made vegan-friendly, the server had suggested this apparently non-vegan soy cheese. Oh, well.

But Justine was not finished. "And… the ginger soy sauce we use is not vegan, either. So you don’t want that."

This news was confusing to me. "How is the soy sauce not vegan?"

Justine sighed, exasperated. "Be-cause. It has white wine in it. And most white wine is not vegan." Her eyes added, "Duh."

I know that animal products like isinglass (fish bladder) are used to clarify most wine after it’s been fermented. But none of those animal products actually ends up in the wine, so it’s not like I’m ingesting them when I consume wine (or in this case, ginger soy sauce on a Buddha Burrito).

"Oh, that’s okay," I told Justine. "I don’t mind the wine."

She stared at me. "But it’s not vegan."

"Okay, but I don’t –"

"Look," she interrupted. "I’m going to make your burrito without the ginger soy sauce that isn’t vegan. Mmmkay?"

I didn’t know what to say. This had never happened to me before. A server at a restaurant had never, upon hearing that I was a vegan, insisted that I maintain the highest vegan standards while I was dining in their establishment.

I considered ordering something different because I was nervous that, without soy cheese or ginger soy sauce, my Buddha Burrito would taste less than enlightening.

But I felt like I had to prove myself to Justine. I was committed to the cause of veganizing the Buddha Burrito now. And I was going to eat that Buddha Burrito and I was going to like it.

It tasted fine. Whenever Justine the Vegan Police cruised by our table, I made a point of devouring it voraciously and raving to Nadia, through a mouthful of food, about how delicious this totally vegan Buddha Burrito was. As a result, I ended up eating it a little too quickly and I felt slightly ill afterward.

But in the end, I’m glad Justine knew what she was talking about. It’s really helpful when a server at a restaurant is vegan, since they know from experience what ingredients at their restaurant are not vegan-friendly.

And her proselytizing convinced me to get informed about which wines are vegan-friendly so I can go out of my way to drink them. All of them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It Depends on What the Meaning of the Word "Vegan" Is.

In a recent interview with everyone's favorite famous doctor, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Bill Clinton discussed his decision to maintain a vegan diet. “I like the vegetables, the fruits, the beans, the stuff I eat now,” he said, explaining that he feels good and has more energy.

I've always had a little crush on Bill, and his decision to be a vegan is just the icing on the proverbial eggless cake. He spoke at my college in 2007 and it was one of the most moving and inspiring hours of my life. I think it's awesome that such an influential figure is now promoting veganism as a healthy, realistic lifestyle.

As long ago as 1993, Hillary was encouraging him to change his famously unhealthy eating habits. She hired Dr. Dean Ornish, director and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, to work with the chefs at the White House to revamp the president’s diet.

But it wasn’t enough. In 2004, Clinton had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery. He committed to lowering his caloric intake, but last year he learned that he would need another angioplasty. After that procedure, Ornish taught him how a plant-based diet could improve and, in some cases, actually reverse heart disease.

In addition to improving his own health, Clinton is dedicated to promoting healthful diets for children. In a joint effort with the American Heart Association, the Clinton Foundation is promoting exercise and better lunches at 12,000 schools.

This is all great news. But not surprisingly, it’s sparked controversy between advocates of plant-based diets and those who feel veganism is unhealthy and unnecessary. Though some of the reactions are purely political (and even religious), many are quite thought-provoking.

Nancy Shute of NPR’s health blog, Shots, reported on the CNN interview with obvious skepticism of Clinton’s diet choice. She mentions that studies have proven the benefits of a plant-based diet but points out:
“Many of those studies, though peer-reviewed, were conducted by researchers who are advocates of diets free of animal products. The former prez will need to keep an eye on his B12. Vegans and vegetarians can be short of this vitamin, which is present in eggs and dairy foods, and can become tired and anemic without it. They can also run short of iron, protein, zinc and calcium.”
This is not unfair reporting, it’s just obviously biased. It’s important to understand the risks of a poorly planned vegan or vegetarian diet, but what about the risks of an omnivorous diet?

Any vegan will tell you how easy it is to get enough B12, and even if by some oversight we don’t… I’ll take being “tired and anemic” over a quadruple bypass surgery any day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Don't Get Your Panzanella in a Bunch

It’s been pretty lonely setting up my new cottage, so yesterday I decided to have some friends over for lunch. Katie, who had spent much of the summer in Florence, wanted to make a traditional Florentine salad called panzanella. She brought over fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and some Italian olive oil for the recipe.

Unlike most salads, panzanella involves old, soggy bread. I lied and told her it sounded like a delicious idea.

Shannon brought some kale to cook up with spinach and eat with tofu and a mixture of jasmine rice and farro: our backup plan in case the panzanella turned out to taste as gross as it sounded. Paul brought nothing, but he had spent the morning helping me build my bed frame, so he got a free lunch.

We put on Foster the People (“Pumped Up Kicks” is my personal summer anthem) and got to work. It was a totally bush-league operation, since I only have one cutting board and most of my kitchen things are still packed in random boxes, but group cooking is always fun.

Everyone pitched in, some more than others. Katie pretty much ran the panzanella-making operation, I handled the backup lunch plan of tofu, veggies, and rice, Shannon chopped veggies, and Paul pretended to peel a cucumber:

Here’s the recipe we used for the panzanella.

Serves 4

6 slices stale bread
1 sweet onion
1 cucumber
3 tomatoes, chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
a few sage leaves

The recipe for panzanella was invented to avoid wasting bread when it got stale. The Florentines would soak the stale bread, then wring it out and crumble it up with veggies. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any stale bread lying around, so we tried to simulate staleness by broiling six slices of my fresh bread in the oven.

After the bread had broiled for about fifteen minutes and was kind of hard, we tore it up into big chunks and soaked it in a bowl of water for about twenty minutes. It became disgustingly soggy pretty quickly. Meanwhile, we grilled the sage leaves and chopped up the vegetables and basil:

When the bread was sufficiently soggy (whatever that means), we tore it up into even smaller bits, like so:

We had to be careful to make the bits like shreds rather than like bunches. Soggy bread is weird enough; little bunches of soggy bread is even weirder. After the bread was shredded, we just dumped all the other ingredients into the bowl with it.

Katie mixed it all up with her hands like a true Florentine, then laid the grilled sage leaves on top of it in a little design. Here’s what the final product looked like:

When it was time to eat, we had to overcome the hurdle of my lack of table or chairs. It’s one thing for me to eat standing in the middle of my kitchen, but it’s quite another to expect three guests to do the same.

So we decided to picnic on my front porch. The panzanella was really good! The bread gave it a density that most salads lack, so it was really filling. We ate the backup lunch, too, since it was made and all, but we really didn’t need it.

Panzanella is definitely up there in my top ten favorite things that come from Florence, somewhere after opera and the Medici family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dear Stove: Burn Me Once, Shame on You

I’m in the process of getting settled in my new place, so things have been pretty hectic. I haven’t written a post in nearly a week for a couple of reasons. First, “blog about what I eat” ranks below “buy a bed” and “unpack my clothes only to discover there is not enough room for them in my tiny new closet” on my list of things to do. Second, I haven’t been eating anything all that exciting. I’m talking peanut butter toast and Clif bars, maybe a few carrots.

In fact, yesterday I did something I have never done before: I forgot to eat. I hear people talk about this happening and I think about how silly they sound while I nom down my third snack of the day.

But yesterday I was preoccupied with setting up my internet connection, picking up pieces of furniture I found on Craigslist, and unpacking various bags and boxes. I even purchased a full-sized mattress and clumsily pushed it on a dolly the whole half-mile back to my cottage so I wouldn’t have to pay for delivery. People in cars yelled encouragement out the window at me.

It got to be 9pm and I realized I hadn’t eaten since the bowl of Cheerios I’d scarfed down at 9am while standing in the middle of my kitchen (I don’t have a table yet). But strangely, I wasn’t hungry. I figured I’d prepare something that would take a while to cook so that maybe by the time it was done, I’d be hungry enough to eat it.

I got excited because it was the first time I’d be using my new stove! It looks much fancier than the stove at my old apartment, and it is gas rather than electric. I’d never cooked on a gas stove before. Keep that in mind.

I put some jasmine rice on to simmer (jasmine rice usually takes a while to cook) and began chopping up some veggies: onions, zucchini, and spinach. I also put some tofu on another burner to brown in olive oil. When the veggies were almost done, I added the tofu into the wok with them along with some Dijon mustard and soy sauce (a combination my sister had discovered while she was visiting).

After about forty minutes, the jasmine rice was still not done and I was getting impatient. It occurred to me that I had probably just used too much water (I hadn’t yet unpacked the measuring cups), and a quick taste of the rice confirmed that it was, in fact, done. I just had to drain the remaining water somehow.

Since the rice would probably fall through the holes in my strainer, I decided to pick up the pot and use the cover to hold the rice inside while the water poured out. But I hadn’t unpacked my oven mitts yet, so there was nothing with which to pick up the pot.

There was no time to dig around in the boxes to find the mitts – if the rest of the meal got cold, heating it up would be a huge pain since I didn’t yet have a microwave.

My eye fell on a knit placemat that was lying on the counter. I grabbed it and wrapped it around my hands so I could grasp the pot. I reached for the pot and WHOOSH! The placemat was on fire.

I didn’t react as quickly as I should have because I was so confused. I almost threw the placemat back onto the stove, which, being a gas stove, had a little flame under the burner. Obviously.

Luckily, I noticed the explanation for the flaming placemat in my hands before throwing the whole unfortunate makeshift oven mitt back into the fire.

I threw it in the sink instead and whacked at it with a spatula until the non-fiery end of the placemat had smothered the part that was on fire.

The whole kitchen smelled like burnt placemat, but the meal still tasted good. I ate it while standing in the middle of my kitchen, looking piteously at the destroyed knit placemat.

When I was done eating, the first thing I did was write a note to myself on a Post-it:


I stuck it to the stove. Burn me once, shame on you, Stove. Burn me twice, and I’m out of placemats.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't Feed the Non-Vegan Bears

Camping is one of those activities during which it's not awkward or socially alienating to be vegan. Most people who like camping also like the environment, so there is probably a higher percentage of vegans among that population. And Clif bars, oatmeal, fruit, trail mix (the kind without M&Ms)... all vegan. So when my sister suggested a spontaneous camping trip to Sequoia National Park, it wasn't the cuisine I was worried about.

It was the bears! I had to assume that bears don't discriminate between vegans and omnivores when it comes to a snack. So I could only hope that any bears I ran into would themselves be vegan.

Sequoia National Park is about a four-hour drive from Santa Barbara, and that's if you don't stop at every fruit stand you see on the side of the road. After losing considerable time but gaining an assortment of fruits (including a gigantic box of oranges for only $3.50), we arrived at the Foothills Ranger Station.

Tim the Ranger told us that all the nearest campsites were full, but that we'd probably have luck if we headed up the "pretty wicked" road to Mineral King. We took his advice, but soon discovered that "pretty wicked" was an understatement. The Witch of the West is pretty wicked. This road was straight-up evil.

It wrapped up the mountain to an altitude of 6540 feet, and most of it was one-lane wide. Of course there was no guardrail and sections of it were unpaved. Every now and then, another car coming down in the opposite direction would appear suddenly from around a bend, causing me to simultaneously slam on the brakes, shout expletives, and have a minor heart attack.

Panicky and sweaty, somewhere around the third heart attack
When we finally arrived at Atwell Mill camping area, we had aged about thirty years and we were hungry. While Katie ran about collecting firewood, I chopped up the vegetables we had brought for dinner: green bell peppers, white onions, and sweet potatoes. We had also brought two apple sage Field Roast vegan sausages as part of the ongoing effort to clean out my fridge before I move.

I drizzled olive oil and sprinkled salt over the veggies and sausage, then wrapped them up in aluminum foil packages. Our fire pit had a grate, so we could just lay the packets on top of that.

After putting the packets of food on the fire, we discovered two obstacles to our meal. First, we had no way of knowing how quickly the food would cook. We would just have to guess. Second, we had nothing with which to remove the food packets from the fire. Neither of us had thought to bring a spatula-like tool, and our first idea - reaching into the fire with our hands wrapped in a sweatshirt - proved likely to result in charred sweatshirt-flavored food. We would just have to use sticks.

The onions cooked incredibly quickly, so we ended up eating them a bit burnt. The sausage situation was even worse. There were only a few good bites. But the sweet potatoes were perfect!

We learned from our mistakes, and the second night we put the sweet potatoes on the fire first, then added the onion packets later. We even got fancy and made spaghetti to go with the veggies.

I'm usually pretty dismal at following directions when it comes to food (I always forget to read "shake well"), but Katie and I successfully followed the directions posted at our campsite: store all food in bear-safe lockers.

By following those directions, we were able to sleep soundly, enjoy a beautiful 7.5-mile hike to (the, unfortunately, aptly named) Mosquito Lake, and play an unending game of Rummy 500 by the fire without getting mauled by a non-vegan bear.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Racially Ambiguous Tofu

I’m signing the lease on a new place today (an adorable cottage downtown), and it’s gotten to be that time: time to eat every random thing left in the fridge and cabinets before moving. By the weekend, I’m sure I’ll be drizzling veganaise over stale Cheerios, but the situation is not yet that dire.

I wanted to get a jump start on using up all the random condiments accumulated in the back of the fridge while there was still yummy food left to enhance with said condiments.

First on the proverbial chopping block: a bottle of Soyaki sauce from Trader Joe’s, purchased by either Emily or Amy at least three months ago and deemed too unimportant to pack for their cross-country flights.

Trader Joe’s has a fun (and arguably racially insensitive) marketing campaign that involves changing the name “Trader Joe” to reflect the nationality of certain foods. So the label of Trader Joe’s brand tortilla chips, for example, reads “Trader Jose,” while that of a bag of bagels is instead “Baker Josef.”

This Soyaki sauce was confused, I guess, because the front label read “Trader Joe San” but the back label read “Trader Ming.” No matter. It was brought to me by Trader Joe San and/or Trader Ming – all the way from Japan or possibly China – and I was by no means going to waste it.

The description on the label said, “a unique teriyaki sauce and marinade for meat, poultry, fish, tofu, and vegetables.” Well, two out of five ain’t bad. I had tofu and vegetables!

Katie and I got to work inventing our dinner. Here’s what we used:

1 block firm, sprouted tofu
 2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 bunches kale, chopped
½ cup slivered almonds
Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce, to taste

I wrote “to taste,” but I just used up all that was left of the Soyaki sauce. That was, after all, the whole point of making this recipe.

I’ve learned my lesson about tofu; I know to grill it on its own before mixing it in with other ingredients. That way you can evenly brown it and not worry about it falling apart all over the place. I cut the tofu into half-inch cubes and cooked it in some olive oil.

Meanwhile, we sautéed the carrots and garlic (also in olive oil in my wok). Once the carrots were cooked, we added the kale. We had to transfer the whole operation to a big pot, since the kale took up so much space at first.

Whenever I stir fry things with kale, I’m worried the whole dish is going to be overwhelmed by all that kale. But this time, it cooked down so much that two bunches ended up being about right, in my opinion. Katie disagrees - she recommends using just one bunch - but she is not crazy about kale in general.

Once the tofu had browned itself evenly, we added it in with the veggies and poured the rest of the Soyaki sauce over the whole thing. Here’s what it looked like:

The best part about it was the combination of textures: almonds, carrots, kale, and tofu. Oh, and also that I don’t have to pack up and take to my new apartment the racially ambiguous Soyaki sauce.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I like quinoa for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the few fancy-looking food words that I actually know how to pronounce: KEEN-wah. People can make fun of me all day for mispronouncing “pho,” but I’ve got quinoa, no problem. Second, it has a really fun texture. Like rice, but fluffy. And third, it’s really good for you.

In case you’ve been living under a rock lobster and you’ve never heard of quinoa, it’s a grain-like chenopod, like spinach, beets, and chard, and it originates in South America. The flowers on the plant are purplish pink and quite pretty in a garden. You eat the seeds, which are little, hard, and round, by cooking them like you would rice.

Quinoa’s gotten a lot of press recently as a “superfood,” since it’s one of the few plants that qualify as a complete protein source. It’s high in fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and amino acids, is gluten-free, and easy to digest. Basically, it’s the Chuck Norris of foods, if Chuck Norris were a hippie and not a Republican.

Once my sister and I decided not to be strictly raw during her visit, we went out and bought some quinoa. I should point out that it is possible to eat quinoa raw: you just have to soak it for two days first.

But we wanted to eat quinoa tonight, not two days from now, so we cooked it. I tried my hand at caramelizing onions to put on top, but I’ve never caramelized anything before, and this attempt was a little rough. They tasted fine, but I think to be completely caramelized they would have had to cook for a little bit longer (I stirred them in olive oil and a teaspoon of sugar for fifteen minutes).

Here’s the recipe we used for our quinoa meal. It came to about four servings, but we ate two servings each because we just love quinoa so much:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked
2 carrots
1 zucchinni
2 onions, carmelized
1 green pepper
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp OM Sweet Mama Carrot Ginger Miso dressing

Obviously, you could substitute any kind of flavoring for the OM Sweet Mama dressing (orange juice, for instance), but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Just because OM Sweet Mama dressing is so good.)

While the quinoa cooked, I (kind of) caramelized the onions and Katie stir-fried the vegetables in olive oil. When we piled everything together, it looked like this:

It looks a little hairy in the picture, but that's just its fluffiness. A quinoa dish like this is so delicious and easy. Quinoa is unbeatable – again, it’s a lot like Chuck Norris. But unlike Chuck Norris, you can eat quinoa without getting round-house kicked in the face.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Say "YES!" to Gratefulness

Yesterday, my sister and I met our cousin, Laura, and her boyfriend, Jan, for lunch at Café Gratitude on Larchmont. It’s become quite the vegan hotspot and a whole section of its menu is dedicated to raw food.

The first thing I noticed after sitting down was the chalkboard directly in my line of vision. On it in big, pink script was written, “Question of the day: What are you saying YES to?”

Hmph. What am I saying YES to? Right off the bat, I was torn between giving in to my deep-down touchy-feely hokey-pokey instincts and raising one eyebrow in a combination of skepticism and scorn. Skeptiscorn, if you will.

I was distracted from my skeptiscorn because our menus arrived. Café Gratitude is not satisfied with just being grateful itself. It wants its customers to be grateful, too, and the titles of the menu items are constant reminders.

Instead of indicating in some way the food you will be served, each title strives to be more empowering than the last. They all follow the formula: “I Am [insert positive new-agey adjective here].”

For example, I ordered grilled organic polenta with puttanesca sauce (which is just seasoned tomato sauce), cashew ricotta, and brazil nut parmesan. It was called “I Am Warm-Hearted.”

"I Am Warm-Hearted"
My sister ordered the handmade corn tacos with brown rice, black beans, salsa roja, guacamole, and cashew naco cheese. It was called “I Am Transformed.”
"I Am Transformed"
This might be obvious, but the food titles didn’t necessarily offer any insight as to what the food itself might be like. They did, however, influence my choices a bit. Did I feel “vibrant”? “grounded”? “dazzling,” perhaps? Apparently my cousin Laura felt “complete:” almond hummus, olive tapenade, live falafels and mint tzaziki sauce.

"I Am Complete"
The coffee is not called coffee. Instead it is called “I Am Courageous.” When my sister ordered it, the server who delivered it came to our table and instead of saying, “Here’s your coffee, lady,” she said, “You are courageous.”

I don’t know if my sister felt particularly courageous for drinking coffee, but I can tell you this: after eating “I Am Warm-Hearted,” I sure felt warm-hearted. And not in a bad, acid-refluxy way. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, I don’t know.

We all agreed that our meals were flavorful and satisfying, even if they didn’t all fulfill the implications of their names (Jan ate “I Am Magical,” but it’s not like he’s pulling off an Expelliarmus spell anytime soon).

The best part about Cafe Gratitude, in my opinion, is the meal called "I Am Grateful." It's by donation, meaning if you can't afford to pay for it, you don't have to. The suggested donation is $7, or you can pay $14 and the rest of the money will go toward someone else's meal. This is the first restaurant I've been to with an option like this, and I hope it catches on. I'd much rather provide someone in need with shredded kale, quinoa, and black beans with a garlic-tahini sauce than a few spare coins.

And that is how I overcame my skeptiscorn. The next time someone asks if I want to eat at Café Gratitude, I’ll “say YES!” to that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

If This Is Raw, Then I Don't Want to Be Right

My sister Katie and I had a plan. She would come visit me and we would eat only raw food. We didn’t have a real reason to do this little experiment other than that we like to think we're pretty hardcore.

At a hypothetical dinner party where the guests are conscious eaters trying to out-brag each other, the raw foodist always wins. “I’m a vegetarian!” “Well I’m gluten-free.” “Oh yeah? I don’t eat anything that’s been heated over 104 degrees.” It’s the trump card of restrictive diets.

I understand that cooking certain foods (like vegetables) causes them to lose enzymes that you want to eat. So it makes sense to choose to eat raw food whenever it’s convenient. But to make it a diet and refuse to eat anything that is not raw seems unnecessary.

No matter. We wanted to try. So when she arrived at LAX airport today, we began to plan our raw day. We would eat lunch at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution on Main Street in Santa Monica (or Dance Dance RAWvolution, as Chris calls it).

Katie had brought along a cookbook called Raw Food: A Complete Guide for Every Meal of the Day by Erica Palmcrantz and Irmela Lilja. So for dinner, we would pick up some ingredients and cook ourselves a raw dinner at Andy’s house for ourselves, Andy, and his roommate, Chris.

Lunch at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution was good. The restaurant has a pleasant, hippie-chic atmosphere, with photos of people doing yoga poses on the walls and raw food interest books to browse while you eat.

After consulting with the women behind the counter, I decided to get the Original Big Matt Burger, named after chef Matt Amsden. It was a burger made out of what looked like seeds to me, with tomato, lettuce, home-made ketchup, and mustard on the side. I got it with avocado and wrapped in cabbage instead of on an onion roll:

My sister ordered the zucchini spaghetti with seed pesto sauce. It tasted like regular pasta but a bit less slimy and it came with a raw cracker of some kind:

The problem with Euphoria is that the meals are pretty expensive. Each of us spent about $14 and we didn't even get drinks or desserts. After looking into the ingredients used in many raw recipes, we discovered the expensive thing is pretty much a rule.

And… that’s a problem. Neither of us has enough money to buy new, expensive ingredients for every meal while Katie is out here, nor can we afford to spend $14 every meal to eat out.

So we decided to amend our raw commitment. For dinner, we’re going to cook some pasta, make some salad, and try to make a raw vegan apple pie that we found in the Raw Food cookbook.

For the next two weeks, we will try new fun raw recipes and eat at raw restaurants we find… but not all the time. It’s the way I feel about a raw food diet in general. Since it doesn’t make a difference ecologically whether I cook my food or not, I’m not going to stress out about it.

I feel healthy as a plain old vegan and besides, I’ve never been too concerned about being that girl who wins "most hardcore" during restrictive diet battles at dinner parties. Nobody likes that girl.