Thursday, March 29, 2012

Don't Get Slimed: Buy Local

The standards of industrialized food production were called into question recently when details about “pink slime,” the ammonia-treated animal bits used as filler in most ground beef sold in supermarkets, came to light. The stuff is pretty much indisputably disgusting.
Since the media revealed to Americans just what they have been nomming on every time they devour a Big Mac (hint: it rhymes with schmat and schmonnective tissue), pink slime’s biggest producer has taken a financial hit. Beef Products, Inc. has had to suspend production at three out of its four plants, affecting over six hundred jobs.

Obviously, nobody wants to see jobs disappear. But nobody wants their kid to be served a burger that’s 25% pink slime for lunch at school, either.

This isn’t the first slime-related controversy to sweep the country. Since the 1980s, the TV channel Nickelodeon has been dumping green slime on any game show participant who utters the phrase, “I don’t know.” Just listen to the stress it was causing these mullet-headed kids in 1984:

I wasn’t aware of the slime debate in 1984 for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t born. Second, even after I was born and of the Nickelodeon-watching age, my parents didn’t allow me to watch You Can’t Do That On Television, the most slime-happy show of all. Apparently, they deemed the dumping of slime on unsuspecting kids to be inappropriate.

If only American supermarkets had the discretion of my parents. When it comes to slime consumption, most chains seem to have had the parental controls disabled until this past week. Yes, this type of slime is pink, not green. (And yes, this analogy is getting a little out of hand.) But I’d much rather accidentally ingest the green Nickelodeon stuff, which is apparently just a combination of water, Jell-O powder, and flour.

It’s my hope that this pink slime scandal will result in individual Americans evaluating their meat-purchasing decisions and coming to the conclusion that buying ground beef from Who Knows Where is just not worth it.

Maybe they’ll cut back on their meat consumption all together. Or maybe they’ll start spending a few extra dollars to buy meat from local ranches. I just don’t know! (Cue green slime.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Meghan, Post-Veghan

Exactly a year ago, I decided to become a vegan. I was motivated by my environmental and economic beliefs, and by what promised to be a challenge. I was excited for what I saw as a lifelong adventure ahead of me.

But I knew I was taking a risk by adhering to a diet that would require me to restrict my food intake. I suffered from a pretty gnarly eating disorder during college, and even though I’ve had a healthy relationship with food for over five years, I knew I’d have to take careful note of any weird habits that seemed to be resurfacing.

Well, a few weeks ago, my roommate Erin had some friends over for dinner. They were going to have homemade pizza; though Erin encouraged me to hang out at the house and be social, she apologized that the pizza dough wasn’t vegan. I said I’d just go to a coffee shop and get some writing done rather than join them for dinner. As I walked to the coffee shop, I became aware of a disturbing feeling. I was glad the pizza wasn’t vegan because it meant I couldn’t eat it, and thus I didn’t have to eat dinner.

I could skip dinner and nobody would notice. That thought might seem inconsequential, but it was a huge red flag for me. It was an impulse to use my very public veganism to mask a very secret anxiety about food.

When similarly unhealthy thoughts popped into my head in the following weeks, I took note. And I decided that while veganism has been conducive to my physical health (and the physical health of countless animals, I like to think), at this point in my life, it was threatening to my mental health. I like food. I want to keep liking food. And sticking to any kind of restrictive diet is not the best decision for me.

Emphasis on for me. I am not suggesting, in any way, that veganism is an eating disorder, or that vegans develop eating disorders any more frequently than anyone else. In some cases, though, veganism and vegetarianism can be used as a cover for an eating disorder; Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre published this article about it a couple years ago. (For more about eating disorders in general, visit

I knew that Meghan the Veghan would have to become Meghan the Post-Veghan. But I wanted to continue to eat in a way that reflects my environmental and economic concerns. And it’s not like I could ever get tired of writing about myself...

So from now on, I’m going to do my best to buy local groceries, eat at restaurants that use local ingredients (there are a ton of them around Santa Barbara), and learn as much about my food as possible. And I’m going to blog about it. I hope my followers, vegan and non-vegan, will continue to support me! I know this post has been kind of a downer, but I’ll be back to myself once I get writing about my adventures in local eating.

By “local,” I mean food that I could feasibly go get for myself (and I don’t mean by walking to the supermarket). There is a farmer’s market almost every day of the week here in Santa Barbara, so it will be pretty easy to get local groceries. I might even start a little garden (or I might just mooch some produce from my landlady’s garden; I haven’t decided).

It’s been a good year. But as much as I’ve enjoyed my vegan adventure, I have missed eating certain things. And by “certain things,” I mean bacon.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Kid! Some Vegan Snacks to Make You Feel Young

This week, I participated in my very last seminar meeting as a graduate student – the last class of my life. Of course, I will still be a student for infinity the next couple of years as I write my dissertation. But as far as coursework goes, I’m done!

This milestone, while exciting, is also terrifying in that… I’m kind of an adult now. At the very least, I’ve inched a little farther along that life axis that spans from the belligerent, generally inappropriate child I once was to the belligerent, generally inappropriate old person I hope someday to become.

In recent years, I have become more and more anxious about aging. (The other evening, I purchased a bottle of pinot noir without getting carded and I almost cried.) So I decided that if I couldn’t regress physically back to childhood (obviously, I couldn’t), I could at least regress gastronomically.

I got to work preparing three of my favorite childhood snacks, one of which had to be veganized. The recipes, if they can be called that, are delightfully simple. Just like childhood!

Ants on a Log

Chop celery sticks into 3-inch pieces. Spread a generous amount of peanut butter on each one, and top with raisin “ants.”

Homemade Apple Sauce
Skin, core, and chop up four apples. Put them in a sauce pan with ¾ cup water, ¼ cup organic sugar, and ½ tsp ground cinnamon. Cook over medium heat, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Transfer the apples to a food processor and pulse until the applesauce is the texture you want.

Bagel Pizza
Cut a bagel in half. I use Bagel Josef’s plain bagels from Trader Joe’s, which happen to be vegan. Sprinkle Daiya vegan cheddar cheese and layer sliced avocadoes (or tomatoes, or whatever creative pizza toppings you have lying around) on top. Broil in the oven for about three minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hey-o! Vegan Mayo!

Sandwiches are one of those things that can either be mindblowingly good or incredibly bad. We all know what it’s like to bite into a surprisingly delicious sandwich – the kind that makes you a horrible lunch buddy because all you want to do is talk about how amazing every bite is. On the other end of the spectrum, a poorly made sandwich is not just disappointing – it’s devastating. A bad sandwich can really ruin your entire outlook on life day.

Unfortunately, I haven’t eaten too many sandwiches since becoming a vegan. At first I thought it was because most sandwiches include meat and cheese (except for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, on which I could subsist for weeks if I needed to). But I recently realized another non-vegan ingredient that has thus far prevented me from enjoying sandwiches as regularly as I would like to: mayonnaise.

I’ve never been a huge fan of mayonnaise on its own (who is?), but it’s hard to deny that it really makes a sandwich hang together. Vegan-friendly sandwich shops often substitute hummus, but it’s just not the same. There exist a few vegan mayonnaise options – vegenaise from Follow Your Heart is my favorite, and they just came out with a few flavored varieties.

But vegenaise is only sold at Whole Foods. The problem with Whole Foods is that… I love everything at Whole Foods. Sometimes I manage to pay my eighty bucks for six things and get the heck out, but usually I do more damage to my grad student budget than that. So I needed a way to have vegan mayonnaise that didn’t involve setting foot in a Whole Foods.

With perfect timing, my former classmate Jesse sent me a link to Kenji’s slideshow of vegan recipes from his month-long vegan adventure (see his story at All the recipes look mouth-watering, and I have added a bunch to my To-Try-To-Prepare List (excluding the ones with “spicy” in the title).

Included in the slideshow is Kenji’s recipe for – you guessed it – or did you? – let’s assume you guessed it – vegan mayonnaise. I followed his directions, but I decided to add Ener-G Egg Replacer because I thought it might act as an emulsifier. Also because I have a huge box of Ener-G Egg Replacer and I don’t know how I’m ever going to use it all up.

What, you might be thinking, is an emulsifier? Apparently, it’s an ingredient that just makes the rest of the ingredients hang together. Much like mayonnaise itself, when used in a sandwich.

Here’s what I used:

Vegan Mayonnaise

4 ounces soft silken tofu
1 clove garlic, chopped
juice from ½ lemon
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 ½ tsp Energ-G Egg Replacer + 2 tbsp water
1 ½ cups olive oil
pinch of sea salt

I dumped all the ingredients except for the olive oil and salt into my food processor and blended them together until they looked like this:
Now comes the risky part. I had to drizzle in the olive oil while the food processor was running. I've had bad luck with similar situations in the past, and I couldn’t help thinking of that old saying that goes something like: Explode all over the kitchen once, Food Processor, shame on you. Explode all over the kitchen twice, Food Processor... well, I was committed to making this mayonnaise, so I went for it.

And the mayonnaise didn’t explode! It stayed right in the food processor where it belonged while I poured in the olive oil, a quarter cup at a time. Here's what it came out looking like:
I enjoyed it on whole grain toast with slices of organic beefsteak tomato on top. It tastes good; almost exactly what I remember regular mayonnaise tasting like. The only problem is that it is really oily and hard to spread. I had to kind of pour it onto the toast.

But I plan to use it in every sandwich I make now! Except for peanut butter and jelly. Gross.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vegan Camping: Be(an) Prepared

Last Saturday, David and I went camping at Jalama Beach near the random little town of Lompoc. It was the second time I’d been camping as a vegan; the first time was with my sister Katie last summer, and it involved a long, precarious, uphill drive and a plan to avoid getting eaten by bears. (Bears are not vegan.)

I discovered to my delight that there are no bears at Jalama Beach. There is a lot of wind at night, which is arguably about as dangerous as bears, especially when your tent has no stakes holding it down. Ahem.

There is also a little store right near the campsite that doubles as a restaurant. David, whose appetite would eat my appetite for breakfast, bought a hamburger to eat as an appetizer to the vegan dinner I had brought. I was slightly annoyed at his lack of faith in my vegan dinner, but I didn’t complain because I wanted to eat his French fries.

After a rousing game of Rummy 500, we got to work on dinner. I had not planned the specifics of the meal; rather, I had just thrown ingredients that seemed like they might go well together into a tote bag. I had already-cooked, tri-color quinoa leftover from the night before, a few fresh tomatoes and a Hass avocado from the farmer’s market, a can of organic black beans from Trader Joe’s, and Daiya vegan cheddar cheese:

The only meal option I could envision was to toss them all in a pot together. Obviously, we started with the canned beans, which were already cooked. Our campsite had a little fire pit, so it was easy enough to heat up the beans in a pot. Then we stirred in about a cup of Daiya cheddar cheese, which melted immediately, and the tomatoes, which we had chopped into small chunks.

Finally, we poured the bean mixture over the quinoa and arranged the avocado slices on top. It looked… well, it looked like something I had thrown together at a campsite:

I decided to call this concoction “Fancy Beans,” since it was obviously a fancier version of the boring omnivore camping staple of beans and… hot dogs? Pork? What do omnivores put in beans when they camp? Something less fancy than tri-colored quinoa, I’m sure.

I decided not to share the name “Fancy Beans” with David, who is much too cool for silly food names. You know what else I decided not to share with David? My misery at being kept awake by stomach cramping and gas while he snored peacefully in his sleeping bag beside me. There I was, awkwardly alternating between child’s pose and happy baby pose (difficult to do inside a sleeping bag), cursing myself for believing I could eat half a can of beans with no consequences. What hubris!

My insomnia wasn’t helped by the gusts of wind that threatened to blow our tent over every few minutes or by the rowdy, pot-smoking thirty-somethings having a reunion at the neighboring campsite. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because I dreamed I saw the sunrise over the ocean. I only realized it was a dream when David reminded me that the sun does not rise over the ocean on the west coast.

In conclusion, I have to ask: why do people eat beans when they camp? The world may never know. But here’s what I do know: the next time I feel compelled to go camping, I’m bringing some coconut oil and anise seeds and I’m making myself a Libido Burrito. Lesson learned.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What Do Zombies and 93% of American Adults Have in Common?

Hey, there's you.
I recently started watching Season 1 of the AMC series The Walking Dead, which, to the detriment of my productivity, is available on Netflix. And slightly more recently (today), I finished it.

On to Season 2, once Erin gets home from her dinner party. If you think I’m watching this terrifying show at night in my rickety, old, definitely-not-zombie-proof cottage without my 105-pound, mild-mannered roommate to protect me, you’re crazy.

I have to admit I watch most of the gory scenes (and there are quite a few) through my fingers. The goriest moments include the human characters hacking up dead bodies and the zombies (or “walkers,” as the show refers to them) tearing into and devouring humans and animals indiscriminately. I haven’t gotten to Episode 6 of the second season yet, but I hear it involves a zombie massacre in a barn.

It got me thinking and I came to a couple of (completely useless) conclusions. First, I want to be one of the extras who gets to play a zombie. I have the right skin tone so they wouldn’t need much makeup other than to make it appear as if my face is decaying and falling off.

Second, in a zombie apocalypse, pretty much everyone would become an almost-vegan. There just wouldn’t be any non-perishable animal-based food to be had, other than candy and bread products. The human characters in The Walking Dead eat fish and squirrels when they can get their hands on them (who wouldn't? It’s a freaking zombie apocalypse), but most of the large animals have been eaten by zombies.

That brings me to my third observation. Those zombies don’t discriminate: they eat any living thing, from humans (of course) to horses, deer, barn animals, and dogs. It’s not even clear that they prefer human flesh to that of other animals; when the characters come across a zombie tearing into an animal, it’s not like the zombie loses interest in the animal and starts chasing the humans instead.

And the producers don’t discriminate, either: they amp up the gore just as much when a group of zombies is digging into a dog torso as they do when it’s a human getting nommed on. As I watched a zombie unraveling a horse’s intestines, it occurred to me that this scene was meant to be disgusting to all viewers.

But why should meat eaters be disgusted by the eating of animal flesh? They eat that stuff, too. And at least zombies eat the whole animal, not letting any of it go to waste. It’s not that I’m comparing meat eaters to zombies, but… yeah, I’m comparing meat eaters to zombies. Way to have more things in common with zombies than I do, guys.