Sunday, June 26, 2011

Zen Gardens, Cambridge; Healthy Foods & More, Waterloo; and our 5th Wedding Anniversary

On Friday we celebrated five amazing/wonderful/slightly insane years of marriage by stuffing our faces with fried foods.

And before you judge me for it, know that I tried to do the right thing. I swear to God I tried. We had a reservation for a restaurant that does raw vegan and we were going to order the healthiest thing possible. And then three hours before we were to head out there they called saying they had to close the restaurant early that day, due to unforeseen circumstances.

Sometimes, the universe just wants you to have fried chick'n balls. Sometimes.

It's kind of a bugger actually because I've been doing really, really well. Veganism has always been great to me and nearly three years ago when I finally took the plunge my body went through an amazing detox. I lost well over fifteen pounds without doing a single thing other than cutting out dairy (I had cut out meat about a year before). I was also 24 years old and while the difference between 24 and 27 doesn't seem all that great, the metabolism begs to differ. I am no longer at the point where I can consume anything "as long as it's vegan" and not gain, or even maintain, a certain weight. The universe is designed in this particularly cruel way in which it dangles buttercream cupcakes in front of you and then demands that you not eat them. And I've eaten a lot of cupcakes over the last year. And cookies. And deep fried tofu-ish entities.

About a month ago I came to the conclusion that it was time to take my health and wellness more seriously and so I embarked on a cardio challenge as well as cut out all the less-than-healthy treats. I'm down four pounds and feel really awesome. Aside from my personal vanity and the weight I still have to lose, I know that how I feel right this instant is how vegan is supposed to feel and it's easy to forget that now that vegan convenience foods have mass market availability.

In this Project: Get Fit of mine I'm focusing more on the fitness end than the diet end because I tend to think I eat pretty darn well for the most part. And since I have been busting my butt so much on my daily runs, I figured that celebrating five years of wedded bliss at one of our favourite restaurants was not going to kill me (plus I doubled my workout the morning of - that's got to count for something, right?).

At Zen Gardens, we always get the exact same thing. Everytime we go. Because it's so good and I'm always so scared I'm going to be disappointed by trying something new. However, since our visit there was a bit of a surprise this time around I figured I'd better try something different so that I could at least blog about it for those you guys that haven't had a chance to get out there and subsequently blame the blog rather than my own lack of self-control for any scale-related backlash that results.

Of course, those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that we started out with an order of their famous chick'n balls because for God's sake we are only human and there is only so much compromise I can take. But here is what else we got:

Veggie Squid (aka vegan calamari) which is something I never consumed as a carnist but quite enjoyed as a vegan!

Curry Vermicelli
From the menu: Lightly fried rice noodles done Singapore style with seitan, bean-curd, bell peppers, and an assortment of vegetables in a spicy curry sauce.

Kung Po Soy Fritters
From the menu: A traditional Chinese chicken dish. This vegetarian version combines soy protein with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, celery, bell peppers, vegetables, and chillies

Everything was so amazing, as it always is at Zen, but I think the Kung Po takes the prize for best selection of the night. I'm fairly certain it's going to be added to our already lengthy list of "Zen Regulars" and if you can't eat it all in the restaurant I can promise you that it tastes even better the next day. Plus, if you find yourself needing a doggy bag, you get one of these adorable little takeout boxes!

The one thing that we didn't get at Zen that we were looking forward to at the other restaurant was dessert. And we were fine with that. But then yesterday afternoon we found ourselves wandering the aisles of Healthy Foods & More in Waterloo when the bakery called out to us on some subconscious level. I didn't think anything of sauntering through it because the last time I was at the store (months and months ago - we live on the other end of town and rarely get out that way) they didn't really have anything fresh-baked vegan. That I can recall, anyway.

Except now, the entire bakery display case is pretty much vegan. Vegan cupcakes and a black forest cake and a bunch of raw cheesecakes and raw fudge and the mother of all vegan desserts, the Sweets from the Earth carrot cake that I developed an unhealthy obsession with last year at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair. And on top of all that there were shelves full of vegan muffins and cookies and whatnot, packaged up and ready to be taken home.

We said a collective "Uh-Oh" and then determined that we had to buy something. I have this thing where if a store/business does something vegan I feel it is my duty to support it both financially and via the blog so that the vegan market is recognized as legitimate and profitable and subsequently more interests will be piqued. It is this self-determined "duty" of mine that has put me in the position of needing to drop a few pounds in the first place but nonetheless, we totally bought some desserts.

Paul had the S'mores Cupcake

And I had the Raw Macaroon

We are so gluttonous we couldn't even wait to get home, we ate the freaking things in the car in front of the store. Can you tell we've been a bit sugar deprived as of late?

And so that is that, we celebrated our anniversary and our marriage with delicious food (and a bit too much wine, even for us - but since our first anniversary the tradition has always been to watch our wedding DVD over some drinks - who am I to argue with tradition?). Now it is back to the business of smaller portions and really long and painful runs up and down hills. God, I hate hills.

Love you PK, xo.

Zen Gardens
65 Water St. N
Cambridge, Ontario N1R 3B4
(519) 620-8809

Healthy Foods & More
75 Bridgeport Road East, Unit 2
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2K1
(519) 880-0700

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mexican Orzo Salad

Summer officially made its entrance around 1pm this afternoon, although I have to admit I have been living the summer life - with its visits to the lake and dinners on the patio - for a couple weeks already. Anytime the temperature exceeds 10C, you are hard pressed to keep Canadians indoors.

Earlier this month I headed up north the beautiful Lake of Bays area of the Muskokas for an Annual Girls' Weekend. This is the third year in a row that I've attended, and it's a weekend I look forward to all year long (particularly while shoveling ten feet of snow off the driveway in January). The women are all really great people, really fun and also very thoughtful and considerate of my vegan diet. Almost too considerate, because I end up coming home weighing five pounds more than when I headed up.

One of the dishes brought up to the cottage this year was this Mexican Orzo Salad, a seriously refreshing take on the typical pasta salad and an absolute must for your summer patio menus.

I liked it so much that I made it just a week later for a Father's Day cookout/pool party and I plan on making it many more times before summer is done with us.

A simple, colourful salad that packs a serious flavour punch from the sheer variety of vegetables and legumes, you can find it here.

My only complaint, and it has nothing to do with the recipe or the salad, is that I couldn't find any whole grain/spelt/anything-other-than-white orzo pasta in KW. To be fair I only had time to check a few stores, but for the love of all things carb-y, let's get some fiber in there. White pasta is a thing of the past(-a)!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

KW Raw Vegan Meet-Up at Thrive Juice Bar - June 17, 2011

My favourite thing about keeping a blog is hearing from readers. It's really nice to know that there is someone else on the other side of these posts and that I'm not just talking to dead air (although if it was just dead air, it still probably wouldn't stop me - I'm well-versed in talking to myself). While I love hearing from everyone, I get especially giddy when I get an email or comment from fellow Kitchener-Waterloo and surrounding area citizens, because the truth is we don't really know any vegans and it can be lonely out here sometimes.

So I was especially excited when some wonderfully interactive readers invited me to attend a K-W Raw Vegan event at Thrive Juice Bar in uptown Waterloo!

I don't know much about raw food, other than the fact that I loved it after thinking I would hate it. So much so that I am desperate to learn more and do more in and around my own kitchen. This was the perfect opportunity to not only meet fellow veg*ns but to learn a bit more about a way of preparing food that can seem daunting to someone as inexperienced in the kitchen as myself. The truth is, though, that there was a time that I was intimidated at the prospect of vegan cooking (there was also a time that I was intimidated by warming up a can of soup but that is neither here nor there), my point being that there is no time like the present to develop a new skill set and incorporate more living foods into my diet.

I tend to have social anxiety when it comes to walking into a room full of strangers but everyone was so kind that I felt I was among old friends. It was so great to talk vegan and KW with some folks from our hometown - thank you to the group for making us newbies feel so welcome! There is something that non-veg*ns take for granted, I think, and that is not being the "outcast" or the "issue" at dinner. Even among the most welcoming people there are times where we vegans feel like we are a hassle or an inconvenience. It's not that someone made me feel this way, it's just something that comes with the territory of not eating the standard diet. And this is why sharing a meal with fellow veg*ns is so rewarding - for once you're not the one sticking out at the dinner table.

Not everyone in this group is raw, or even vegan for that matter, and it is important to note that among them there is no judgement with regard to dietary choices. They are very welcoming to anyone and everyone who recognizes the benefit of incorporating living foods into a diet.

We had a great time at Thrive and this is some of what we ate:


The greatest soup I've had in recent history - raw, coconut, carrot, curry-style.

Pad Thai, which was so massive I'm not sure I'm going to need to eat for the rest of the weekend.

And we can't forget dessert!

The proverbial icing on the raw vegan cake was that Paul won the little raffle draw and got a DVD of "Food Matters"!

Thank you so much Kitchener-Waterloo Raw Food Meet-Up Group for inviting us out and making us feel so welcome. And thank you for your continued support of This is Vegan...we can't wait for the next event!

Thrive Juice Bar
The Bauer Buildings
105 – 191 King Street S,
Waterloo, ON
(519) 208-8808

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Grilled Tempeh & Pepper Wraps with Green Apple Salsa

The official start of summer is next week. Next week! Can I get a collective "Where the hell is this year going?"

If you're like me and would much rather run through sprinklers with a pitcher of sangria in hand than sweat your face off in front of a boiling pot, I've got a killer summer meal idea for you, courtesy of Vegan Planet. Here on the Internet, it is yet another mysteriously absent recipe, but it's so straightforward that I'm sure you can figure it out. If not, get the cookbook - the premiere of Big Brother is coming up soon, I can't go to jail for plagiarizing right now.

You start with some apples.

And they turn into this sweet salsa that is supposed to have mint in it, but I forgot to buy mint, so I'm fairly certain that I missed the entire point of it, but all the same it was really freshing.

Then you put that aside and get going on the tempeh. Some folks say tempeh has a bitter taste, so they like to boil it for ten minutes or so before carrying on with grilling/pan-frying/etc. When I first went vegan I used to do this all the time and it definitely does get rid of that somethingsomething that people find annoying about tempeh. But, like so many things, after nearly three years of veganism I've come to appreciate the sophistication of tempeh sans the boiling and so we don't ever bother anymore. Do what you must, as long as it gets you eating a superfood like tempeh!

Tempeh rub! Paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, allspice and some others. Go for whatever combo you like (sometimes I like nothing more than a little italian spice and garlic powder!).

Brush each side with just enough oil so that the spice will stick and rub 'er down.

Fire up the backyard grill and toss the tempeh on, along with a halved red pepper (also brushed with a tiny bit of oil).

This was both an exhilirating and terrifying experience, as believe it or not, I had never operated a BBQ all by my lonesome until the night I made this dish. The BBQ is and always has been Husband Territory (how conventional of such an unconventional couple!), but he had to go out unexpectedly (because I forgot to buy tortilla wraps, actually) and so I was in charge. Turns out BBQs are quite hot and I feared for my eyebrows a little bit. However, you'll be happy to know that both me and my eyebrows survived.

When both sides of the tempeh have these nice grill marks, you are good to go.

A little tempeh, a little red pepper, a little salsa and a sprinkling of hot sauce and you've got yourself a fine little wrap there, no sweltering stove or oven required.

People always ask me if we use the BBQ less since we stopped eating meat and the truth is that we use it so much more than we ever did pregan. If you have the space for one, I'd say a BBQ is absolutely essential to the vegan experience, especially in the summer!

P.S. Exciting news for my local readers: Forks Over Knives is premiering at Princess Cinemas this coming Friday, June 17, 2011 (first showing is Friday night at 9:10pm)! The Princess is located at 6 Princess Street West, Waterloo, ON. Click Here for the Princess' page for the film (complete showtimes and an article from the Waterloo Region Record). After months of anticipation, I cannot wait to visit the Princess this weekend and blog about it afterward. I hope you will also take some time out to see this important and essential film while it has its run at the Princess. If you are not in the Waterloo Region, showtimes for across the United States and Canada are found here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Red Chile Seitan with Rice & Black Beans

I've got such a delicious one for you guys today! It comes from the Show Me Vegan blog and is a veganized version of a recipe from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless, using seitan instead of chicken and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

You start by coating each seitan piece in ancho chile powder (I went with chipotle chile powder instead because I'm crazy like that).

You pan fry each seitan piece in a tiny bit of oil until they turn a nice brown on both sides and the room you're in becomes deliciously fragrant.

The rest of the recipe comes together like your typical rice dish will (rice, broth, spices, onions, etc.). The one thing I will note, however, is that I needed a bit more water/broth than the recipe suggests. Even at a low temperature it cooked off too quickly for the rice to be done. This is probably because brown rice takes a bit longer to cook than white rice. I just kept a glass of water close by and checked on the pan every once in awhile. When needed I just tossed in a little water and raised the temperature to bring it to a boil before returning it back down to the Low setting. If you use white rice you probably won't need as much liquid as I did.

The original, non-vegan version of the recipe is found here. Using seitan instead of chicken and veggie broth instead of chicken broth while maintaining the original flavour makes this recipe particularly great for those new to the veg*n cooking scene. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Report - "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism" by Melanie Joy

Somewhat unique to veg*n literature, this book discusses our relationship with animals from a sociological and psychological perspective. Melanie Joy explores the social and cultural component of eating and subsequently how our brains compute and our societies justify dietary choices through various categorical classifications and schema.

By exploring dietary choices as an inherently cultural phenomenon, Joy dismantles the notion of eating cows, chickens and pigs as a natural component of the human lived experience, arguing instead that "we like the foods we've learned we're supposed to like". Importantly, she does not dispute evolutionary evidence with regard to certain tastes like sugar, for example, or even "meat" as a general category in and of itself. However, she does muse, "Ever wonder why, out of tens of thousands of animal species you probably feel disgusted at the idea of eating all but a tiny handful of them?" and uses this as a starting point for addressing how, as a society, we have come to be okay with eating some animals and not others. And not only how we have come to eat certain animals and not others, but how we have come to be complicit in the extreme violence associated with mechanized animal agriculture.

For me, it's integral that Joy embraces a discussion on the role of meat in evolution as opposed to simply dismissing it. If I had a dime for every time someone pointed at their canine teeth and talked about cavemen when the topic of veganism came up, I'd be a rich lady. For me, what the "cavemen" did or didn't do is completely irrelevent to a modern discussion on food ethics. For some reason, eating animal flesh seems to be the only aspect of primitive life that our species is interested in maintaining and subsequently using as a basis for justifying their dietary choices. The cavemen ate meat, but contrary to popular representations, it wasn't all the time. And they didn't get it from a drive thru. It also wasn't a product of a gestation crate. They didn't eat it three times a day plus snacks and they didn't sit at desks for eight hours a day letting it clog their arteries. If we want to talk about what the cavemen did or didn't do, we need to look at the whole picture, not just the components that satisfy our pleasure principle.

As annoying as the use of these misinformed justifications is, if we want to further the vegan cause, this is a topic that we cannot dismiss. The rolling of eyes has never amounted in anything productive. We need to instead open the dialogue and embrace the debate, working to dismantle this inaccurate understanding of what evolution is and how it works. Consequently, this book is such an important step in the right direction. Using far more control than I have when it comes to archaic justifications for the slaughter of millions of animals each year, Joy calls attention to the fact that eating meat or not eating meat is not an issue of survival anymore - unless, of course, we're talking about how the Standard American Diet hinders survival. This book is a discussion on eating meat in the 21st century, where we do have the luxury of debating food ethics and can survive (some studies show up to 10 years longer than our meat eating counterparts, actually) without animal products and byproducts.

Joy uses the remainder of the book to dismantle the notion of eating meat as a natural act by introducing the reader to the schemas at work when we consider food's appropriateness (or subsequent inappropriateness) - or, more simply, the psychological systems that organize our beliefs and values and in turn perpetuate them. Schemas are an integral component in organizing our experiences, but because they operate outside our realm of awareness they are often difficult to challenge. It is schemas that continue to perpetuate the notion that eating meat is natural, even in the face of contradictory evidence. This is why eating meat is normalized and veganism is considered unnatural. This is why veganism is referred to as a choice, while eating meat is not. Based on our schemas, eating meat is a given. That is, meat in the form of cooked cow, pig, chicken, turkey and a few other exceptions. Not dog or cat or rat (in North America, that is). If you don't salivate at the sight of a freshly killed raccoon at the side of the road, there is nothing "natural" about your eating meat and instead your cravings and desires are based more on social and cultural phenomena than they are on biological and physiological urges.

Joy argues that veg*ism means re-evaluating and challenging these schemas, but you can't do this until you are aware not only that they exist, but just how powerful they can be in inciting action (or inaction).

Right from the first chapter, I knew that I would like the underlying spirit of this book. In a lot of veg*n literature, people who eat meat are the jerks of the universe. These people are, in fact, quite often kind and well-intentioned people. So much so that these psychological defense mechanisms (what Joy calls "psychic numbing") become so impervious to reality, so complex and so intricate that they operate outside of awareness in order to guarantee conformity. This is not exclusive to the abuse of animals, but to the many value, moral and belief systems a society endorses (like gender roles, for example). Joy confirms that "Psychic numbing is not evil; it's a normal, inevitable part of daily life, enabling us to function in a violent and unpredictable world...but it becomes maladaptive, or even destructive when it is used to enable violence."

The first step in increasing awareness about a violent ideology is giving it a name. Joy calls this particular system carnism. Even though I personally come from a sociology background and am well versed in conflict theories, I've never really been one to argue about semantics and terminology. That being said, there is no denying that language is power and labeling something not only gives it a name, it gives it a description and legitimizes its existence. Knowing all of this, I'm surprised that until now I never really considered what the opposite of vegan is. In my daily dialogue and through this blog I've referred to non-vegans as "omnivores" or "meat eaters" for lack of a better term, but it wasn't until I read this book that I realized how grossly inaccurate those terms are. Joy calls to attention that when the term "vegetarian" is used in the mainstream sense it implies not only dietary practices but an ideology; a set of values and often times, a set of characteristics. Whether or not these traits are stereotypes or realistic representations of what veg*ns are is less the point than the fact that the term is used to reflect an entire person rather than just a dietary circumstance. That being said, the terms "meat eater", "omnivore" and the especially inaccurate "carnivore" are but mere biological predispositions and are thus inadequate when discussing the human experience that goes along with them. There is no social component to them at all. Joy believes the term "carnist" more adequately reflects the opposite of veg*n:

"Carnism is the belief system in which eating certain animals is considered ethical and appropriate. Carnists - people who eat meat - are not the same as carnivores. Carnivores are animals that are dependent on meat to survive. Carnists are also not merely omnivores. An omnivore is an animal - human or nonhuman - that has the physiological ability to ingest both plants and meat. But like 'carnivore,' 'omnivore' is a term that describes one's biological constitution, not one's philosophical choice. Carnists eat meat not because they need to, but because they choose to, and choices always stem from beliefs."

After all these years, this system finally has an accurate name. The carnist system is so entrenched within our sense of society that it becomes mistaken with "common sense" and "fact" rather than a choice that is being made three times a day, everyday. The fact that it is a violent ideology (i.e. violence - slaughter - is the main component of this system, without the violence itself there is no system) the psychological component is all that more powerful: "The violence of carnism is such that most people are unwilling to witness it." This is why cameras are never allowed in slaughterhouses. This is why Oprah did a show on veganism and showed the slaughterhouse experience, everything up to and after the animal was killed but not the most important moment, the slaughter, missing the point of visiting a slaughterhouse entirely. The violent experience is so far removed from the act of eating meat that most people don't even think about it. The invisibility protects and perpetuates the system. The psychological defense mechanisms inherent to violent ideologies like carnism are so fierce that people are participating in them without realizing that they are doing it. Without realizing that they are behaving in a way that is completely and totally contradictory to all that they hold to be true and good. Three times a day. Plus snacks. This system has been so normalized it didn't even have a name up until this point.

Throughout this book, Melanie Joy assigns this system a name and thus makes it real. Once there is a term for something, it makes it all that more difficult to ignore and all that more easy to discuss.

The middle section of the book is dedicated to raising this "sheath of invisibility" -highlighting the horrors on Old McDonald's farm. Because invisibility is a key component in maintaining a violent ideology, it can only be challenged when it is within each individual person's awareness. So we keep telling these stories over and over, because even if it's the same story of the factory worker who sliced off pieces of the live pig's snout or the story of the factory worker using a live chicken as a football over and and over again, we are refusing the sheath of invisibility that encourages otherwise non-violent people to condone violence. We keep talking about it and blogging about it and tweeting about it because it is still there, existing, at the rate of tens of thousands of lives everyday and because not talking about it doesn't somehow make it go away. Joy says, "Naming carnism and demystifying the practices of meat production can help us begin to see through the facade of the system".

In her effort to combat the invisibility, she not only focuses on the animal violence, but also the human casualties involved in meat production and consumption. People are so quick to forget that humans are animals too. Referring to a discussion on carnism as an "animal rights issue" is not somehow indicitive of a lack of compassion for humans. On the contrary. For me personally, the well-being of human animals is as strong a driving force in my dedication to veganism as my love for animals and I think that rings true for a lot of my vegan counterparts. Joy dedicates a chapter to the direct plight of those skilled and untrained workers in meatpacking plants, suffering serious and debilitating diseases of both the body and the mind, making meatpacking "the singlemost dangerous factory job in the United States" as well as the most violent. It is easy for us vegans to sit back and think of those that slit the throats of the animals that eventually line the supermarket aisles as evil, sadistic and even sociopathic. But Joy highlights the truth of the mental and emotional "conditioning" that occurs in these plants and looks at how the desensitization translates to violence outside the meatpacking plant, noting the high rates of self and spousal abuse among those who kill animals for a living. So you see, it's not just about nonhuman animals. It never was. Participating in violent actions against humans and nonhumans alike is related; intricately connected in the most frightening of ways.

The testimonials of extreme violence (both sanctioned and unsanctioned) that occur on the kill floor are difficult to read. You want to hate these people. You really, really do. As a vegan, how can you not be hateful toward someone who can look, square in the eye, at a being that is so gentle and patient as a pig and then proceed to beat her skull in with a three foot pipe until she finally, belatedly, painfully dies at his feet? How can you not hate this person? While I can't guarantee this violence won't incite a little bit of violence within yourself, on however a secret level, but I will say that Joy addresses the issue with such control that you find yourself suddenly aware of the suffering of the human as well as the pig. The physical, mental and emotional suffering that brings an otherwise sane person to commit such heinous act on a defenseless creature has to be addressed. It just has to.

I don't say this in order to encourage pity upon this person or to somehow excuse his actions. I say this because on some level, unless you are of the minute portion of the population that has sociopathic tendencies, you know that this behaviour is wrong and is, in many instances, a product of human suffering too. Within carnist ideology, both the suffering of the pig and of the human are normalized and thus ignored and hidden and this invisibility is even protected by societal institutions, like the law and the media (in 2011 cameras are watching us all day long, doing the most mundane things, yet there is no surveillance of those working on the kill floor? Seriously!).

Finally, Joy gets to everyone else. Even if you don't care about animals or humans or the environment. Even if you are a person of the most narcisstic proportions and care only about yourself, this situation can be viewed not as an animal or human rights issue but as a tried and true "ME" issue. Joy takes some time to highlight the impact of animal products on our health and on the environment and how these two "casualties" of carnism are so intricately related, finding their battleground within the human body. I know all these statistics already. I know that livestock are routinely fed euthanized cats and dogs and that eating meat can increase your risk of developing colon cancer by 300%. I know that in the United States, "Caracasses have been considered acceptable for human consumption even when they've contained blood clots, stains, scar tissue from ulcers, liver spots and hemorrhages." They're considered acceptable even when the cattle being led to slaughter "wheeze loudly" as their "lungs are filled with fluid" that "have scar tissue and abscesses running all up and down the sides of their lungs, stuck to their ribs and have popped blood vessels in kidneys that are no longer functioning...that are stuffed with regurgitated food...oozing out."

Even though I know all of this, it doesn't matter how many times I come into contact with these statistics I am equally scandalized. The shock doesn't go away. Nor should it. This is as much a "Me Me Me" issue as it is an issue of compassion, or animal rights, or environmental preservation. I don't want this crap in my body. If you don't care about anything or anyone else, care about yourself and what these kind of toxins are doing to YOUR body and the bodies of those you love. And don't wait for someone else to protect you, because they won't. As Joy notes, big agribusiness and the government are now and have always been in bed together (i.e. the livestock industry contributed $8 million to the 2008 American election). When the industry is allowed to police itself, it's no small wonder that this is allowed to go on and no small wonder that the vast majority of people don't even know about it.

Once the practical information has been established, Joy returns to a sociological exploration of carnism, beginning with the "mythology of meat" and how carnism is justified. It is through these myths that we ignore, or aren't even consciously aware of, the inconsistences inherent in our participation in the ideology. Joy explains that there are Three N's of Justification: Normal, Natural and Necessary and underlines the fact that these justifications are not exlusive to carnism; rather, they are a part of every violent ideology that ever existed, including African slavery and the Holocaust. I know that people get a bit uncomfortable when "animal rights issues" are discussed in conjunction with human rights tragedies such as the Holocaust because they think human rights are being trivialized as a result. The truth is that these systems, regardless of the specifics and both in terms of ideology and practice are terrifyingly similar and these patterns cannot be ignored. Ignoring the similarities is not only a mistake from an intellectual and analytical point of view, but from a place of real-life and the desire to never, ever again allow these atrocities to occur (even though they do occur, everyday, in 2011 - but that's another story).

This is a great section of the book, as Joy uses examples of standard attacks on veg*ism that we face everyday and addresses how they fit into the three N's of justification. The big one, for me, is the notion of eating meat as "Normal" because that myth is actually correct, just not in the way people think it is. Eating meat is normal because most people do it. The problem arises when people don't realize that referring to something as "normal" does not somehow make it any more real or any more correct. The normalization of something is inherently social and it is both created within and perpetuated by the system itself. This is simple sociology and not exclusive to discussions on carnism/veganism.

In every aspect of our lives we are rewarded by adhering to the normal and berated for going against the grain. As a vegan, how many times were you teased about your choices? How about if/when you were a carnist, how often were you teased for eating meat? (I'm not going to say you were never teased, but the odds are unless you live in some super awesome vegan community, you were teased a lot less as a carnist. As an aside, if you did live in some super awesome vegan community please email me because I want to go to there).

Our entire social existence and subsequent interactions with one another are based on social norms that are often completely beyond our awareness - they are so ingrained within our way of life that we don't even think of them as sociological concepts. We make them into something that is Natural (the second N of justification) and we not only confuse the difference between the terms of "natural" and "normal" but also "natural" and "justifiable". In our society, eating meat is considered natural and so it must be Necessary, and at even the tiniest sniff of veganism there is a tendency to threaten - usually with health and wellness, because if eating meat is "natural" then it is also "healthy" and subsequently the opposite of natural (veganism) is unhealthy.

The importance of this chapter on myths cannot be overstated. I literally want to copy and paste the entire thing onto my blog because everyone needs to read it. Joy herself notes that the thing with violent ideologies is that once people become aware of them - not the myths themselves but more so how they are created and the ideological system at work itself - they demand change. They always (eventually) demand change. That is why it is so imperative to the carnist system that these myths remain intact and that those who rebel against them are ridiculed, giving the justifications priority in all discussions.

This brings her to a discussion on the "Myth of Free Will". Joy argues that within a carnist system it appears that each of us as an individual is operating under free will - choosing to eat meat. But the system is so complex, so intricate and internalized that it is impossible to call it free will. Before you have the capacity to make a choice, the choice was already made - pureed chicken and Happy Meals and Thanksgiving turkey. As a result you have to UNLEARN. You have to work with purpose to not subscribe to carnism because it is always at work around you. Because this system existed before even you yourself took a toothless bite of that meaty puree it makes it all the more difficult to view carnism from outside it. In fact, it typically makes it downright impossible. And even when you do question the system, even when you actually decide that you've had enough and no longer subscribe to carnism, there are often still little bits of the dominant ideology that float around your mind. Everytime you apologize for being an inconvenience to a host. Everytime you reminisce about ice cream cones after baseball games. It's within us and a part of us, even though we are consciously aware of the ideology and the system and we disapprove of it. It is THAT permeating and THAT difficult to unlearn. That can in no way be referred to as "free will" in the traditional sense of the concept.

In a violent ideology like carnism, justifications are not only promoted, they are internalized. As a result, we look at not just our food and dietary practices, but our entire worlds, through the lens of carnism and this in turn reinforces the carnist system. Joy argues that the internalization of carnism is based on "The Cognitive Trio": 1) Objectification (right down to the language we use, animals are considered "somethings" rather than "someones"), 2) Deindividualization (because it is easier to commit violence against a faceless abstraction than an individual being) and 3) Dichotomization (arbitrary categories that draw lines between "us" and "them".

Dispelling the myths of carnism involves shaking up this internalization. It means challenging how we consider and refer to animals. It means continually individualizing and personalizing animals and telling their individual stories, the way that organizations like Farm Sanctuary do. I've always found it interesting how the public reacts with such rage to stories about violence committed against a baby cow, or a puppy, or one specific baby raccoon, but the annihilation of millions of animals every year doesn't cause an eyelash to bat. We vegans get frustrated everytime a carnist rages over a story like this, but Joy helps to illustrate the psychology behind this kind of reaction and shows us a good place to start combating the carnist system - by personalizing animals. This not only helps eliminate deindividualization, it also calls into question the dichotomies created to justify the system, like "edible" versus "inedible". More often than not these categories are based on arbitrary and even nonsensical criteria (such as "cute" animals being viewed as more valuable than "ugly" animals, or "stupid" animals considered as more appropriate for dinner than "intelligent" animals) and this ambiguity needs to be addressed.

When we tell their stories over and over again we shake up the cognitive processes at work in carnism. Vegan literature often highlights the intelligence of pigs, or the sociability of chickens, or the peacefulness of cows, and I've often wondered why. Who cares if an animal is (by our standards) smart or not? What does that have to do with our right to their flesh? Joy's book opened my eyes to the great importance involved in the continued mainstream exposure with regard to these studies because they contradict our internalized dichotomies, provide faces and individuality in the face of abstractions and most importantly they bring to attention the ambiguity and downright hypocrisy inherent to a violent ideology such as carnism.

It is only when you are aware that the carnist system not only exists, but the ways in which it has become so entrenched in our daily lives, that you can begin to personally step out of it and move toward a new system. Joy concludes this book by providing practical steps to move forward from a system of violence, the first and most important step being "bearing witness". She argues, and I could not agree more, that collective awareness is the key:

"Virtually every atrocity in the history of humankind was enabled by a populace that turned away from a reality that seemed too painful to face, while virtually every revolution for peace and justice has been made possible by a group of people who chose to bear witness and demanded that others bear witness as well."

The system will try and ensure its sustainability via invisibility, which is precisely why we need to keep talking about it - even when we are berated and even when it seems like no one is listening. We need to dismantle the psychological process of disassociation and continue to help people become aware of the system. Not in a similarly violent way. Not in a forceful or hateful way. But with the same compassion that we extend to the animals. We need to not grow frustrated or angry with our carnist counterparts. We can do this by always keeping in mind the complex psychological and sociological systems at work that we too (lifelong vegans excluded) were also once upon a time a part of. At some level, even if they aren't aware of it, most people do actually care and don't actually want to cause harm to anyone. Many of even the most avid carnists have no interest in slitting throats.

We have to remember that bearing witness means suffering and so compassion and patience is as integral to the process as is the providing of information. Knowing is inconvenient. And people are tired. They work hard. They have their own problems. People are often so burnt out from being bombarded day in and day out with information on all that is wrong with the world and the end result is retreat. We need to encourage the value of truth over the comfort of ignorance and illustrate that awareness is power. Not helplessness. Because knowing about this stuff does often lead to a sense of apathy, even among the most seasoned activists. We need to help people be aware of the power that just changing yourself via awareness leads to, regardless of the impact of the overall system. You may not be able to change the world but when you change yourself you are never helpless. You are no longer apathetic. How can you feel helpless when you are doing something?

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows is positive and empowering. It does not end on a depressing and overwhelming note like so much other animal advocacy literature out there does.

If you take no other advice from this blog, please read this book. I am comfortable saying that it is the most important piece of literature on animal ethics available today. Through this book, Joy is not playing the blame game. She's not accusing or berating. People who are curious about animal ethics but are not themselves veg*n can feel completely comfortable picking this book up.

This kind of approachability is exactly what our cause needs at this point and time.

Now is the time to keep telling our story and the story of the animals. The cause has made such strides in these last few years. I mean, Oprah talked about it! Martha Stewart! In the middle of the day, no less! We vegans get frustrated by these shows and the elementary information on veganism that they provide, but seriously you guys, the word vegan is being used on daytime TV now. That is progress. I don't care what anyone says. And that progress has been made possible because of a few brave souls who weren't afraid of being ostracized. People who told and tell the stories and take on the giant carnist entity that's been operating around us since before veggie burgers were available at large scale restaurant chains. There is no need to feel helpless because progress is happening!

Technology plays a strange role within carnism. It certainly perpetuates the violence, often times keeping it hidden through mechanization, but it has also been an integral component of dismantling the system. We live in the time of the Internet, and timing has never been better to challenge carnist ideology. Imagine going vegan before the Internet? I will be the first to say that the Internet was THE most important tool in my transition to veganism and it continues to be a source of encouragement. When I'm feeling discouraged by carnism in real life, my Twitter feed, filled with dozens of vegans from around the world experiencing the same things and still motoring forward, gives me a sense of kinship. It no longer matters where you live and if the store nearest to you sells tempeh; these days you always, always have a support system.

To end the book, Joy provides realistic steps toward embracing a compassionate lifestyle, based upon becoming involved in the vegan community, be it in real life or online. Even if you're not vegan. I promise, we don't bite (unless you are a head of broccoli, in which case you better watchout). Join some message boards. Sign up on Twitter and check out what some awesome vegans are up to each day. Start a blog. Start small and stay involved. Keep dialoguing away. This blog here is for the cause, for sure, but it's also for me too. To help keep me connected and motivated.

And, if all else fails, you always have a buddy in me and you can always stay strong against carnism and integrated in the vegan community by emailing me ( I have no life and I tend to burn easily when I receive too much direct sunlight. As a result, I make a pretty good penpal and I'd love to talk vegan with you.

This was long. I hope Melanie Joy doesn't mind and seriously, this is just a simple summary and there is so much more to this book that you need to be knowing and you need to be knowing it right now.

If you made it this far you are kind of crazy and I like that in a person. If you are just skimming to the end to appease me, you probably can't see this, but you will see this...


Sunday, June 5, 2011

White Pizza with Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onions

"Pizza. Great equalizer. Rich people love pizza, poor people love pizza, white people love pizza, black people love pizza." - Michael Scott.

Of course he's talking about non-vegan pizza but I think the quote still translates. Pretty much everyone that was born in North America will at least tolerate the notion of a slice of a pizza for dinner, even if we don't agree on the toppings.

And there will be no tolerating this pizza. There will be the clobbering of each other's faces in an effort to secure the last piece.

You start with a big ol' pile of onions.

Which are then caramelized. When you are salivating over the pan, they are pretty much ready. You then toss in some portobello mushroom and garlic.... which point it smells so good that you consider it, and decide that should the need arise, you would lay down your life for these onions and mushrooms.

Meanwhile, you prepare the white sauce, a simple silken tofu mixture, and spread it over your rolled out pizza dough.

On goes the blessed onion-mushroom mixture.

And then the sweet potato slices that you have baked a little bit to soften them up. (Note: the recipe calls for baking the sweet potato fully and then tossing it on to the finished pizza. I got distracted and apparently didn't read the entire recipe through - something I never do, I assure you - so what I did was bake them a little bit while I was preparing the other stuff and then put them on top of the pizza before baking it to get them to their desired soft texture. This worked fine too).

So good, you don't even know!

I can't miss an opportunity to show off the amazing pizza scissors I got for Christmas. If you are any type of pizza enthusiast at all, you NEED these scissors. You will never lose toppings in a pizza-cutter catastrophe again.

If you haven't picked up Nava Atlas' Vegan Express yet I'm not quite sure what is wrong with you, but nonetheless you can find this particular recipe on the Humane Society website, here!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Polenta Fries

Welcome to June, TIV friends!

Now that BBQ season is once again upon us, I rarely feel like turning on the oven.

Unless, of course, it's to make a side dish to accompany whatever main is in the works on the backyard grill.

Today I bring you an alternative to the all-American favourite summer combo: hot dog and fries. This here is the hot dog and polenta fries combo (and a little bit of asparagus, for good measure).

The first time I had polenta fries it was at this restaurant that we used to frequent as omnis called Salute in uptown Waterloo. It has long since closed, but I often find myself thinking of that polenta fries appetizer that I had at Salute on my 23rd birthday.

Awhile back my mom bought me a bunch of prepared polenta tubes in various flavours, like this one... it was the perfect time to try making them myself.

Making fries out of polenta is pretty self-explanatory. You peel the coating off the prepared polenta tube and then cut it into fry-like strips, like so:

Then, you mix in your favourite spices. I like chipotle chili powder myself, but this time around I followed this recipe from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan and used rosemary instead. Mix together with a little bit of oil and a little bit of cornmeal and toss in the oven at 450F for 20 minutes to a half hour, just long enough to get those pinto bean hot dogs or portobello burgers going on the grill.

You can also take a tip from that old restaurant we used to go to and serve it on its own, with a dipping sauce. Dreena Burton suggests her Smoky Avocado sauce, which I am known to smother burritos in from time to time. A nice vegan garlic aioli would be awesome too!

P.S. Judging from the photos on this post and my pinto bean hot dog post, you'd think I'd never used a ketchup bottle before. It never fails, whenever I'm taking blog photos the ketchup bottle decides to explode all over the damn place. No big deal..who doesn't love extra ketchup?!

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