Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Mayo and Me
I was a kid raised on Miracle Whip. It fit in well alongside the Kraft processed cheese slices, canned Kam luncheon meat, white bread and Tang orange drink that were also fixtures in my mother's kitchen when I was growing up. It wasn't until I left home to head off to college that I had real mayonaise for the first time and it quickly became a condiment of choice on sandwiches. I had been a ketchup-loving kid and had never explored mustard, since my only exposure to it had come from the vile neon yellow stuff that squirted out of the plastic bottle in the fridge which only Mom ever seemed to use for her burgers or egg sandwiches. But mayo? Rich tangy mayo? It stuck. Or at least it did until around half-through my vegetarian years, as I found myself beginning to shuffle out dairy and egg-based products.
At some point, years later, one of the large supermarkets here began to carry Nayonaise. I brought home a jar of it one day and my non-vegetarian spouse at the time seemed overjoyed with it. It never quite clicked with me, though. I didn't like its funny aftertaste and it reminded me of a cheap blah variation of the Miracle Whip with which I'd grown up. Clutching my sandwiches protectively, I opted to explore the world of mustards instead and found myself falling for everything from creamy licorice-scented tarragon mustards to sharp and grainy Dijons. Imagine my surprise a few years later when I found myself noticing another vegan mayo contender in my grocer's refrigerated section.
Discovering Vegenaise was like discovering mayo all over again, except without the torture and slaughter. It felt rich and had a pleasant taste and for a short while, mustard got pushed aside and I indulged myself. Vegenaise won a spot in my fridge, but not for long -- or at least, it wasn't a permanent and everyday spot. Oil-based Vegenaise's 90 (versus soy-based Nayonaise's 35) calories per tablespoon was disheartening, particularly because I think that I could have made Vegenaise a food group. These days, I've learned to regard it as a treat. When I do buy it, it's usually with a specific purpose in mind, more often than not to make chickpea salad wraps or potato salad. (I've not tried Earth Balance's oil-based mayo since it's unavailable in these parts, but like Vegenaise, it also contains around 90 calories a tablespoon. (I would, of course, be quite happy to try it out if the friendly folks at Earth Balance ever decided to send me a care package containing a jar of it along with their Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs, their P.B. Popps and their Vegan Aged White Cheddar Popcorn to review. But I digress...)
I've never played around much with making vegan mayo myself. I tried a tofu-based recipe out of some 70s whole foods cookbook at some point while I was in college and experimenting with basic vegetarian recipes. It had used powdered soy milk and it was simply awful. Times have changed, though. These days, ready-made soy and other plant-based milks are plentiful, as our various textures of tofu. Over and above all of this, vegan cookbook authors and food bloggers have also been creating and experimenting with nut-based recipes for mayo. The tastes, textures, nutritional and caloric values all differ considerably, as do methods used to thicken them. I've gathered together a variety of recipes to make plant-based mayo from a number of the blogs or cookbook authors whose other recipes I've loved and whose mayo recipes come highly recommended. With the exception of this one, I'll skip over the overwhelming majority of tofu-based recipes out there; do a Google search and you'll find hundreds. Maybe in a future post, I'll indulge myself in an informal mayo testing of a number of them along with those here to compare and contrast.
First, though, here's a pretty informative post about the "science" of making mayo (it comes from a non-vegan who sometime last year decided to dabble with a 30-day plant-based diet -- I reckon that it didn't stick). Its focus is on the fact that all the egg yolk in animal-based mayo does is serve as an emulsifier. Find another emulsifier and you're all set. Seriously, read the article. Now, on to the recipes...
The recipe that roped me into spending most of my day thinking about mayonaise today is by Claire at the must-bookmark Chez Cayenne blog. Over the weekend, she posted a recipe for Cashew Mayonaise that introduced me to the whole idea of using cashews to make mayo. I've only ever used them to make "cheese" before, so this is intriguing to me.
Isa Chandra Moskovitz has a recipe for Cashew Miso Mayo in her book Appetite for Reduction which she states outright shouldn't be expected to taste "exactly" like mayo, although it still does the trick on sandwiches and in salads. A Facebook friend told me that it's a staple in his home.
Susan Voisin of the wonderful FatFree Vegan Kitchen site posted one just last year for Tofu Cashew Mayonnaise. She throws in the suggestion to use cashew butter instead of soaked cashews to ensure a smooth consistency if using a regular blender or food processor (i.e. rather than a high speed blender or processor).
Beverly Lynn Bennett, author of almost all of the vegan-related books of the Complete Idiot's Guide series, features an Almond Mayo recipe on her website. There are a number of similar ones scattered all across the internet, many warning of the absolute need for thorough soaking of the almonds and the use of a high-powered blender or processor, since they're more difficult to process into as creamy a texture as are cashews. You'll end up with mayo with a slightly grainy texture.
The Vegan Epicurean blog has a recipe for a Reduced Fat Almond Milk Mayonaise which its creator admits doesn't have quite that right texture one expects from mayo, but it's an incredibly straightforward recipe. It's her soy milk variation on it for her basic Homemade Vegan Mayonaise recipe which intrigues me most, however, since she claims that it it's "just like egg mayonaise" and several of the comments left in response to it praise it for being similar to Vegenaise in taste and texture.
If you dig around enough, you can even find simple flax-based recipes for mayo, like this one. And then there are the avocado-based mayo recipes that just sounds so very scrumptious.
So what about you folks? Do you have any favourite vegan mayo recipes to share? Do tell.
Posted by M at Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
To my fellow abolitionist advocates:
No more silence; no more complicity. That being said, we have too much work to do to let ourselves get bogged down in bitterness and sniping, whether our own or that of others which may be directed at any of us.
As advocates, we each know ourselves and our true intentions. Rather than let ourselves be affected by the disparagement of those who stand off to one side with fingers pointing, we should let our work speak for itself. In terms of sussing out with whom we should choose to engage in our work? We should each take start taking the time--moving forward--to learn to know the hearts and minds of our fellow abolitionist advocates, rather than abide by others' opinions and proscriptions and end up shunning one another.
Over 95% of the North American population alone is still non-vegan. Let's stitch up a few tears and get on with building this grassroots educational movement together, yes?
Posted by M at Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Thursday, May 09, 2013
D.C., a vegan and former animal rights blogger once wrote: "I am vegan for precisely the same set of reasons I am not a cannibal." Most who would hear this would think that it sounds outrageous. How on earth could a person compare not eating other humans to not eating non-human animals? For D.C., though, basic sentience is the only relevant moral criterion that needs to be weighed when assessing whether or not it is ethical to eat or otherwise use another being.
All that matters is that they have an awareness. They have preferences and desires and they take steps to attain those desires. They are pleasure-seekers, whether this involves something as simple as seeking out the perfect warm sunbeam to have a comfortable nap or enticing another animal into a playful game. They have sounds and odours to investigate and itches to scritch. They are not just "alive" but they actively live their lives, making decisions and acting upon them. Like us, they form bonds of family and friendship. They have preferences and desires all their own and if we interfere with those in any way, they become visibly frustrated and disappointed.
We're used to seeing animals we call "pets" engaging in such behaviours--bonding, expressing wants and needs--and many of us accept these normal and even as a given when it comes to cats and dogs. However, our relationships with animals who are raised for human consumption are almost always invariably at arm's length. If we think of them at all, it's in a sort of almost generic sense. We think of them in groups--herds, flocks and so on. They're generic. They're anonymous. We associate them more with pieces of their bodies on plastic-wrapped styrofoam trays then we think of them as living beings. At least they are until we get to spend some time with them in settings where they are allowed to pursue their interests, to form bonds, to seek out sunbeams--in settings where they don't spend their short lives restrained, confined, mutilated and tortured.
A visit to an animal sanctuary provides us with the opportunity to actually meet individuals, each one with his or her own story and with his or her own distinct personality--his or her own preferences and desires. We can see first-hand the delight with which two goats frolic together and the calm contentedness of cows or bulls allowed to spend their afternoons lounging in whichever spot they deem most comfortable, occasionally enjoying the company of another bovine friend. We can be nuzzled curiously by a happy pig looking for a scratch, or held at bay by a turkey protecting a more skittish buddy. We can look into their eyes and see that they're neither generic nor anonymous and that they're most certainly not things with no interests of their own. They're individuals. They're persons. They engage the world around them and if they're lucky, they get to do it on their own terms or at least in a way that's as close to that as can possibly be provided to them as the refugees they are.
These interests they have need not be identical to ours to be valid any more than my interests need to be identical to those of my neighbour's to be valid. These interests need not even be particularly complex. The expectation that they be identical or that they be assessed according to their complexity--and their dismissal if they're deemed not sufficiently "human-like"--is speciesist. Too often, we display selective indignation over the use or treatment of other species based simply on how similar they are too us and how intelligent they are. We want our tuna to be "dolphin-safe", yet fail to see how the tuna himself has no more of an interest in ending up suffocated and killed than does a dolphin. (As an aside, the "dolphin-safe" label is actually fairly meaningless in terms of any guaranteed protection it offers dolphins when it comes to our consumption habits. Over 300,000 cetaceans around the world are killed annually as "by-catch" of the overall fishing industry, yet we're lulled into thinking that the "cuter" dolphins are safe as long as we purchase the right can of tuna, never mind what doing so entails for the tuna.)
Becoming vegan means recognizing that these individuals aren't ours to use and rejecting their continued use. Whether we enslave them to consume their secretions or to eat their flesh, to take their skin or fur or to entertain us, we're imposing our own arbitrary preferences and desires on them. The outcome of our doing so is that we breed them into lives of misery where they are treated as things. We kill billions of them each and every year--preventable deaths, preventable suffering. I had been vegan for several years when my friend Gary took me to visit my first sanctuary this past January. I had long-since learned to compartmentalize to a large extent that all of my family and all of my local friends continue to consume animals and animal products, even those of them who consider themselves animal lovers and who earnestly adore the non-humans in their immediate care. (We compartmentalize to stay sane, right?) It started off as a peaceful and wondrous afternoon spent with the cows, bulls, goats, horses, donkey, sheep, gees, turkeys, chickens, rabbits and pigs at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. After that short time with them, though, I found myself unexpectedly and overwhelmingly sad, wishing that all of my non-vegan friends and family members could have been alongside me to meet these casualties of the industry, this industry that churns out the products for which their own consumption habits provide demand.
As an aside, I have to say that getting to spend time in the VA/DC area with my friend Gary (who's been vegan for over twice as long as I have) and then getting to talk to and break bread with other vegans was life-altering for me. I had never before in my life had the opportunity to spend so much time with others who get it. An afternoon's lunch with Gary Loewenthal of Compassion for Animals and longtime online vegan friends Valerie K. and Deb Durant (who volunteers at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary) left me feeling warmth and kinship. Meet-ups with Leila and Nicholas Vaughn who volunteer with the Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) left me feeling a sense of belonging. Then another lengthy afternoon's lunch with Robin Helfritch and Alexis Jonelle Cornell (and her guy Mike) of Open the Cages Alliance (OTCA) and Demo Maratos (Communications Director at the Sustainability Institute of Molloy College in NYC and someone who'd helped me cement my veganism on the old Vegan Freak Forums years ago) left me me a little overwhelmed. I realized then that coming back to my own stomping grounds would be hard. And it has been. I miss each and every one of them tremendously. It's knocked me out of my compartmentalization of others and has left me feeling a little lost, a little alienated. I miss my vegan friends.
Each time I look into the eyes of Sammy, Eli or Minou, I remember looking into the eyes of Poplar Spring's inhabitants and thinking a cat is a goat is a pig is a dog. A cat is a goat is a pig is a dog is me. We all want to be left alone to seek out that perfect sunbeam or that perfect scritch. But how to get others to get it? How do those of us who don't have the luxury of being surrounded by vegan friends manage to get those around us to get what to each of us has come to seem so obvious?
Posted by M at Thursday, May 09, 2013
Sunday, May 05, 2013
|Goofing around like a couple of old pals.|
|I Am Fridge Cat!!!|
|Sweet Minou, exhausted after playing.|
|Just a few days after Minou's arrival.|
|Does this even need words?|
Posted by M at Sunday, May 05, 2013
Thursday, May 02, 2013
A little over a month ago, I received a press release about Rory Freedman's soon-to-be-published book Beg. A review copy was offered up and as much as the book's description intrigued me, I spent several days mulling over whether or not I wanted to commit myself to writing up an assessment of it. I feared that I would be doing so with a bias unrelated to the book itself. Around 7-8 years ago, its author Rory Freedman had co-authored a book called Skinny Bitch whose goal, it seemed, had been to hone in on women's body image issues and obsession with thinness to win them over to adopting a plant-based diet. I won a second-hand copy of it given away on a fellow vegan's blog and gave it a read. Twelve pages in, she was dropping expressions like "fat pig" to describe overweight women, assuring them that nobody wants to socialize with a "fat pig". As a vegan who fights against speciesism, as a woman who's spent her life dealing with the self-consciousness that comes from constantly dealing with societal expectations of what physical beauty is or isn't -- as a woman who's watched loves ones, friends and family both, struggle with eating disorders, Skinny Bitch disgusted me thoroughly. So it was while grappling with this that I allowed my curiosity to overcome me and I replied to the publisher to agree to accept a free copy to review for My Face Is on Fire.
Beg -- Animals We Call "Pets"
The book begins by identifying itself as a "love letter" to all animals and a "battle cry" for them. Freedman makes it clear from the start that her intention is to get her readers doing some serious thinking. In the same sort of snappy writing style used for Skinny Bitch (albeit minus the harsh and hostile words used therein to shame women about their bodies), Freedman grabs your attention immediately with personal anecdotes about her own experience in life as a caregiver for felines and canines, including the experience as a self-described "foster failure" that opened her eyes to the plight of the 3-4 million cats and dogs killed in US shelters each and every year. (She uses the term "euthanized" for it, with which I take issue. Killing perfectly healthy -- but merely unwanted -- animals is not euthanasia.) But she sets down the brutal facts and identifies the unfortunate misinformation surrounding shelters, the "pet" industry, puppy farms and so on and does so incredibly effectively.
What resonated with me because of my own recent adoption experience, was when Freedman pointed out that two of the main reasons people don't adopt from shelters are based in fear. On one hand, people are afraid that they won't get the certain look and temperament that they associate with a certain breed of dog they desire. Along those same lines, I'll throw in that people assume the same when it comes to choosing the adults cats and dogs left to languish in shelters versus the incredibly young kittens and puppies they can obtain from a breeder to "train" from scratch. (Freedman also addresses later in the book how pet shops cater to impulse buyers who melt at the site of big sad eyes and clumsy kitten or puppy hijinks. Freedman dismisses the breed-need fears by pointing out that 25% of dogs entering shelters are, in fact, purebreds. She also later brings up the multitude of health issues that arise from the years of deliberate breeding -- in-breeding, often -- for specific traits.
What really resonated, though, was the second fear-based reason Freedman gives concerning people's aversion to visiting shelters. We don't want to see those animals languishing. We don't want to feel awful. Years ago when I worked as a tech writer, I used to organize Xmas drives for one of the local shelters, raising money through various sales and collecting donations of toys, collars, blankets and so on. I always had the hardest time talking a coworker into coming with me to drop off the stuff. I'd invariably be told that it made them "too sad" to go to the shelter without springing someone loose. Freedman points out that for those who are looking to adopt, though, it's precisely that opportunity to spring someone free from his or her cage that ends up being so joy-filled for human and animal refugees, both.
Freedman does a good job covering the issues of puppy mills and other breeders. Those places are just awful, period. Filth, sickness, in-breeding and loneliness prevail in puppy mills. As for "reputable" breeders? They treat dogs and cats -- puppies and kittens -- as commodities. They're no more than money-making things to breeders. Then there are breed specific practices -- heinous procedures banned in so many places in the world -- involving mutilation, such as tail docking, ear cropping and debarking. All of these practices go hand-in-hand with dog shows, as well. While people get swept up in their love affair with the image of a "perfect" dog or cat, millions of dogs or cats -- individuals -- are killed for the sole reason that someone stopped wanting them. Freedman point out, though, that as indignant as we may get over puppy mills, the truth is that most of the dogs and cats we bring into our homes actually come from friends, family, coworkers and others who've not spayed and neutered the animals in their own care. We wag our fingers at breeders who profit from sales, then turn around and contribute to the problem ourselves as a society.
Covering All Possible Bases
Almost a third of the book is devoted to exposing all of the issues inherent in exploiting cats and dogs in the "pet" industry and Freedman does it with the passion of someone who's lived with and loved both cats and dogs. Freedman then announces in letter format to her readers that the rest of the book will go further and expand to cover the plight of animals in the rest of the "real" world, and expand she does indeed. Freedman goes on to present facts about animal experimentation -- everything from tobacco industry testing to vivisection, spelling out how ineffective animal testing actually is and holding out for hope that recently increasing shifts towards non-animal models are boding well for those who are currently exploited in the name of science.
She discusses animals used in the entertainment industry, covering everything from how they're often sourced, the heinousness of the "training" process for most and of their casualties on the set and behind the scenes -- all of the sake of frivolous human entertainment. She moves on to discuss the problems inherent in circuses and in zoos and rodeos. with horse-drawn carriages and in bullfighting and then in racing -- whether horses, greyhounds or dog sleds are used. She punctuates this about halfway through the book to ask that her readers consider that animals exist for their own reasons and have an interest in living their own lives -- that this interest lies outside of their existing for the sake of human pleasure.
She covers hunting and the deer overpopulation myth and how human's interference with natural predators is often to blame. She highlights how "conservation" groups are often pro-hunting and how the so-called conservation efforts inevitably involved keeping other animals around to raise revenue in parks through hunting licenses and how government at both the state and federal levels works hard to indoctrinate children into hunting at a young age. She discusses the barbarism inherent in sport fishing and the sentience of these animals we don't factor in as "cute" enough to avoid killing for pleasure. Fur, leather, down and wool? She covers it all. She raises the point that so many humans get indignant over the Japanese whale hunts and dolphin slaughtering (thanks to SICs) when maybe 30, 000 whales and dolphins are killed annually through these methods when ten time as many die as "bycatch" of the food fishing industry.
Our indignation is selective -- so very selective. Pigs, cows, chickens are all subjected to atrocities both behind the scenes and publicized. Freedman does focus a bit on factory farming practices, unfortunately, but then goes on to state that animals on organic farms fare no better since they all end up in the same slaughterhouses. She explains how descriptors like "free range" or "cage free" are meaningless to those chickens enslaved on these so-called happy farms. She wraps things up with a brief section on the health issues linked to the consumption of animal products, making reference to T. Colin Campbell's best-seller The China Study.
Much of Freedman's book dredges up facts familiar to most serious animal advocates who are ethical vegans. Thanks to mainstream media coverage and the internet, those facts are often made plainly available to anyone and everyone else. Too often, though, they're presented in chunks as part of problematic easy-sell single-issue campaigns. Freedman gathers them all together and I'll admit that there was some information in the book with which I wasn't familiar -- and there were at least 4-5 sections in the book that left me, sitting outside in the warm spring sun of my local coffee shop -- actually tearing up and feeling heavy-hearted. It's almost at the end of the book that Freedman "outs" herself as a vegan and calls upon her readers to join the "vegan tribe". It's at this point, though, that I wish the book had proceeded with a clear and unequivocal message about veganism. I'm sad to say that it doesn't.
Freedman goes on to say that "going vegetarian, and then vegan" were two of the best decisions she'd ever made. From that point on, she encourages her readers to try going "vegetarian or vegan" for a short period. She refers her readers to PETA's online vegetarian starter kit and starts using the words "veg" and "vegan" almost interchangeably, as if both options are equally valid. She raises the stereotype of oh-so-nasty vegans and insists that most vegans are just like most non-vegans except that "we've made the decision to align our actions with our beliefs" which is something with which I certainly agree, but the Freedman chooses to offer up engaging in SICs as rightful solutions to animal exploitation, including everything from encouraging her readers to write to various embassies of countries in which bullfighting is practiced, to encouraging them to confront people wearing fur when they encounter them.
She lists off resources that include books by people like the anti-abolitionist promoter of "happy meat" farms, Jonathan Safran Foer. She lists off the most welfarist of non-profits -- HSUS, PETA, Sea Shepherd and so on and asks her readers to visit their sites to sign petitions, subscribe to action alerts for SICs, et al. Then she writes what left me shaking my head at what I felt was an summation that was a missed opportunity for a clear vegan message, saying that if her book changes anyone's life that all her readers would need to do to thank her would be to donate to one of these welfarist non-profits. She writes: "It's all the thanks I want or need."
She ties it all together at the end calling on her readers to go "vegan" but after the preceding pages with their confusing mixed-messages, I was left disappointed. Freedman's book could have been a great opportunity to put forth how all animal use is wrong and how the only effective and earnest response in light of this is to reject all exploitation. She touches upon that, but her promotion of groups that dodge doing so themselves, her own back-tracking here and there in promoting vegetarianism as ethically significant and her encouraging her readers to waste their time participating in welfarist campaigns or doing nothing other than forking over money to groups that initiate these campaigns? It took what could have actually been a great book and made it a book that appears to bow down to the power of large profitable animal advocacy groups. Most of these groups help maintain the status quo (and profit from their doing so!) rather than striking at the roots and fighting against speciesism in ways to trigger serious and permanent changes in how we regard these other animals around us.
This book could have been great. Instead, it's a reminder of the work those of us who take other animals seriously need to keep doing to ensure that there is a loud and clear message being disseminated to the public.
Posted by M at Thursday, May 02, 2013