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A Meditation

24 Sep

There’s a longstanding joke, “How do you know there’s a vegan in the room?  Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”  But in my experience, I almost never bring it up and yet it almost always becomes a topic of conversation.  Perhaps I have to decline the cheese tray at a party, or say no to sharing a dessert.  Like moths to a flame, someone will feel compelled to ask, “Why not?”  because even people on diets take a sliver of cheese or a bite of someone’s chocolate cake.  There is just something so weird and uncomfortable about a person not partaking in food that everyone should love and not be able to resist.  So the dreaded “V” word is dropped and boom, there goes the party.

“Wait, really?  Why?”

I don’t think I’ve ever had a truly positive experience explaining to someone why I’m vegan, which is such a shame.  I remember an aunt asking me what I thought was so wrong with dairy.  “Do you really want to know?” I asked respectfully.  “It’s kind of intense.”  “Yes, absolutely!”  She seemed really responsive, so I took the bait.  “Well, veal is a byproduct of the dairy industry, and the abuse sustained by the dairy cows is so heartbreaking that I…”  She huffed.  She didn’t really want to hear it at all.  I backpedaled immediately.  “Also, I’m lactose intolerant.”  That was an acceptable answer.

Showing empathy for animals that most people consider to be food does not go over well.  I learned really quickly that if I didn’t wanna get into it, the best answer was, “Health reasons.  I have trouble digesting animal products,” which is true, but considering how much I love alcohol and cupcakes, it’s not like I’m one to act in the best interest of my body at all times.  Responses along the lines of, “I’m just trying to do my part for the environment,” or “I love animals,” or “It just feels wrong to me,” are rarely ever tolerated because they imply that the person you are talking to does not do their part, does not love animals, and is doing something wrong.  What a wallop.  I’d get defensive, too, if I really loved my eggs in the morning.

I have no agenda.  I am on my own path, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone for being on it.  You wanna know why I’m vegan?  Because I really care about the earth but I’m the laziest person of all time.  It’s the absolute easiest way to be an activist and a good person without having to trade my car for a bike, picket city hall for change, volunteer at homeless shelters, reuse plastic baggies, foster twenty animals, or live off the grid.  I have friends who do so much good work for the community, and I absolutely believe they are better people than me.

If vegans make you uncomfortable, just remember what you’ve done to make the world a better place, and pat yourself on the back big time.  Then tell me all about it – I promise I won’t get defensive.  We might all be on our own unique paths, but we’re on this journey together, and anything we contribute to make our shared home a better place is worth its weight in gold.


Gentle Barn

18 Aug

Wait, I have a blog?

I wish I had an actual excuse like, “I’ve been so busy!” but…that’d be a lie.  I’ve been spending a lot of my summer waiting for things to happen and then they don’t.  But my influx of television viewing has inspired me to write a few spec scripts so at least it hasn’t been a complete waste.  Perhaps.

Buttercup, coming over to give me kisses.

One of the ways I kept from going crazy was getting out of LA.  My first mini adventure was a trip to the Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita.  It’s an animal sanctuary that gives a forever home to previously abused and/or abandoned cows, goats, sheep, pigs, horses, chickens, and turkeys, among others.  Many of them suffer the long term effects of hormones, being four times their intended size or unable to walk.  A few of the cows are blind because they were given cheap feed instead of their mother’s milk.  It’s heartbreaking to see what humans have done to them, but so incredibly amazing to have the opportunity to bond with the animals and get to know them as individuals with distinct personalities.

A goat that was rescued from a backyard butcher rested her head in my lap as I rubbed behind her ears, and I was overcome with emotion.  How could something so sweet and precious ever be seen as dinner?  We snuggled for 20 minutes in the shade.

I started this blog with the intention of committing to veganism for a year, but I’m in too deep.  I don’t think I can go back to eating brie when I know the milk was taken from a mother mourning for her baby.  I’m not going to reduce a pig to bacon when they’re smarter than most 3yo children.  I’m not a particularly moral person, but I guess I believe in the golden rule, good karma, and stewardship.  Unless I want to be treated as a commodity, I shouldn’t treat animals that way, and from here on out, I won’t.

Because we’re not so different after all.  I mean, we’re made of meat, too.

Get and Stay Healthy

7 Feb

My metabolism would lose a race against a snail, no question. I grow noticeably heavier the morning after indulging in a milkshake, so there’s no hiding my sins. When I started dabbling in veganism, I was kind of bummed that the pounds didn’t just melt off like so many people claimed. In fact, I gained weight!! But that’s me, and everyone’s different. My wedding is next year, so I’ve come up with a few easy ways to enjoy eating vegan while losing the excess pounds. I’m not looking for a body swap – I’ve always been curvy and that’s not going to change. I’m here to be healthy and balanced, and these are my tools.

1. MyFitnessPal
This iPhone application helps me keep track of what I eat and what nutrients I’m getting. I hate calorie counting, but bringing awareness to what I put into my body helps me make smarter choices. Low on Vitamin A? I’ll make sure to have a romaine salad with dinner. Went a little overboard with the french fries at The Counter? Whoops, that’s more fat than I should get in a day, won’t do that again! Keeping a food and exercise diary makes me accountable and helps me keep my portions in check.

2. Shake up the carbs, lower the wheat
I freakin’ LOVE carbs. My parents used to call me a pastaholic when I was a kid. But too much of anything tends to leave me feeling unbalanced and bloated, and too much gluten is like eating paste, clogging up the works. While I’ll never be gluten-free, I control the amount of conventional wheat I consume at home to a bare minimum, so I don’t have to worry about it when I eat outside. My flour of choice is spelt, an ancient form of wheat that is much easier to digest and doesn’t leave me in a carb-coma. I’ve never had a problem using it 1:1 in recipes for all-purpose flour, except in pancakes, in which case I almost always needed to add more spelt no matter the recipe. I also keep gluten-free flours around for recipes that call for them. I use Rudi’s “Ancient Grain” spelt bread exclusively, and it is the best bread I have ever had from a bag. For pasta, I really enjoy Tinkyada’s brown rice noodles – earthy, but never mushy. While I love seitan, I don’t center my diet around it, and I’m way more likely to make tempeh than seitan.  My carby grains of choice are quinoa, millet, and black rice. With options this good, who needs modern wheat?

3. Go easy on the processed soy
Again, I’m not on the anti-soy boat, but variety is beautiful! Unfortunately, soy comes in so many different forms, you might think your diet is varied when it’s not. I don’t turn my nose to the occasional soy latte, but in my fridge, I’m all about 365 unsweetened almondmilk. I almost always avoid fake meat products at home (I save those for treats at Veggie Grill, Native Foods, and Doomie’s), but I’m not scared of tempeh, edamame, and miso. I’m pretty cool with tofu, too, just not every day. For a sweet treat, I reach for Coconut Bliss – soy-free, and it’s the Häagen-Dazs of vegan ice cream! Switch up your soy for other alternatives, and you’ll quickly get out of your rut without missing a beat.

4. Cooking low-fat
I’m almost positive that the initial weight I gained when I went vegan was from the increase of oil in my diet. Fat makes food filling and delicious, perfect if you’re entertaining skeptics, but a little too heavy for everyday eating. My favorite cookbooks right now that emphasize low-oil cooking are Appetite for Reduction, Color Me Vegan, Blissful Bites, The Happy Herbivore, and The Beauty Detox Solution. All of these books are very “gluten-free/overly processed soy-free” friendly as well, which is great!  Now, If I’m bringing treats to a party, I’ll opt for the chocolate chip cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance, but if I just want to munch at home, Blissful Bites‘ gluten-free peanut butter cookies are perfect for me. Sauté with water, cook with coconut oil, bake with applesauce, and your body will find its balance.

The beauty of veganism is that you are already well on your way to being your healthiest self.  It only takes a few tweaks here and there to make sure you’re getting everything you need, and not too much of stuff you don’t.

What struggles do you have to stay healthy? What are your tools?

One Month Down

27 Jan

It’s been about a month since I committed myself to veganism, and it’s been fairly uneventful – thank goodness!  I never once had to go hungry for lack of options, I roasted beets without a hitch, and Sam hasn’t run away screaming with frustration, so all in all, I think we’re off to a good start.

Seriously, though, it amazes me how much better I eat now that I’m veggie.  And I’m not even talking about how healthy everything is!  The quality and variety of food I eat now is freakin’ amazing.  I made Ethiopian food the other night, from scratch.  I had raw tacos with the most delicious red pepper cashew spread, and never once wished it had cheese.  I stuff my face with food inspired from all over the world, with local produce, and sometimes top it off with a chocolate milkshake.  My diet has never been more interesting and delicious.

This evening, Sam and I went to our favorite sushi joint, Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya, on 3rd St. in Mid-City West.  Last year, when I was transferring over to veggie pretty successfully and happily ordering avocado rolls elsewhere, I could never resist the salmon and blue fin tuna at this place.  Today’s visit was a test, no question!  But I was ready for it.

Vegetable Sushi

I didn’t want to bombard the waitress with the same question a million times, so I decided to go for miso soup (which was questionable) and a vegetable sushi roll (which would totally be fine).  The miso soup failed the Q&A – sadly, they make it with fish broth and there’s no way around that.  Well poop.  I scanned the menu again really quickly and asked if the Agedashi Tofu was safe, and though she first made a weird, unreadable face, she went with, “Yes, that’s fine.”  Even though her pause concerned me, you can only do so much when you’re at a restaurant, at the mercy of the person making your food.  Go in with the best intentions, because that matters, but don’t let your suspicion make you go hungry.

The vegetable sushi was some of the best I’ve had yet, with an interesting mix of unidentifiable Japanese veggies to go along with the standard carrot/cucumber, and a nice hunk of avocado to smooth it all out.  The Agedashi Tofu was so delicious, I really hope it’s actually vegan because I am definitely going back for that again.  Silky smooth tofu in a savory soy broth, all nicely fried without being overly heavy.  Perfect.

So next time I go, I’ll ask them about the tofu again, and maybe even check if their tempura has egg in it or not.  I also asked her if the chili edamame was fish sauce-free, since Sam was grabbing a plate and I wanted in on the fun, and she seemed to think so, but it’s worth double checking that too.

Mantra: do the best you can!

Happy New Year?

1 Jan

It’s a new year, and my month of saying goodbye to omni-living has come to a close. I welcome veganism with open arms, because this past month has really just confirmed that animal products are not for me.

It’s very telling that on the first day of my commitment to veganism, I was personally attacked by my father. We were in a heated argument, because I so desperately want a cruelty-free wedding and my parents are having none of it, claiming it’s rude to not offer guests options. There was no reasoning with them, and every attempt at defending my view, my father shut me down by telling me I’m in a cult or acting like a child. It was so frustrating!!! I offered to pay for it myself, and just hold off on getting married for a few years, but they found that even more insulting. There was no way to win, with my father threatening to stop funding my education, I gave up. Having a vegan wedding isn’t worth tearing my family apart, but why is one meal so important to have dead animals? I just don’t understand.

My heart hurts. What would you do if you were in my shoes?

Coming Out to Your Family

16 Dec

Admitting any truth about yourself to your parents is difficult. They raised you a certain way, and how you turn out could either work with or against their intentions. Did my parents raise a vegan? Hardly. I remember the first time I went vegetarian, in 5th grade. I read in a teen mag about Alicia Silverstone’s love for animals and her commitment to not eating them, and I was inspired. I was obsessed with dogs, because they always seemed to love me when all the kids at school thought I was weird, so I totally related to Alicia’s point of view – animals are friends, not food. I went veggie, and my poor parents tried their best to support me. My mom sautéed slabs of unpressed tofu in light Caesar dressing (which probably had fish in it) and microwaved veggie burgers for me, but we both got tired of the charade. The food was nasty and mom didn’t want to cook me a separate meal. Plus, I was still a picky kid who turned her nose up to most veggies. The intention was there, it just wasn’t my time yet.

My next flirtation with vegetarianism came during Lent of my junior year of high school. I’ll emphasize flirt because I only gave up land animals at the time, and gave them up for the requisite 40 days. This worked, because my mother mostly made chicken, fish, and pasta. If she made chicken, I could have leftovers from the night before, no problem. I got through the weeks feeling pretty good, but Easter was a disaster. I dug into the festive ham and soon became violently ill. My insides were rioting against me!!! Given the much needed break, my body could finally tell me how it felt about meat, and it was nothing good. Since then, I’ve been able to keep land animals out of my diet, without much fuss from my parents. We’re mostly a fish family, anyway, so it worked.

Over a year ago, my father started complaining about lactose-intolerance, and how dairy made him feel. I couldn’t relate, because (TMI!!!) I’ve always had difficulty going to the bathroom, but then a light went off. Even though he was reacting one way, maybe 24 years of dairy had actually constipated me. I found a non-dairy milk I could stand (almondmilk, I love you) and took it from there. I went a month dairy-free and a hundred problems I didn’t even knew I had cleared up almost immediately. When I indulged in cheese once after that, the signs of lactose-intolerance reared its ugly head and that was that. I self-diagnosed myself and again, my parents supported me, especially easy since it was a family problem!

For whatever reason, giving up eggs seemed to go with the dairy-free territory and there was no momentous occasion for that at all. But again, after a few months off of them, eggs made me sick. It made me really start to wonder what kind of crap our bodies put up with every day so that we don’t all become violently ill on a regular basis, even though they’re repulsed by what we feed them.

All of that my parents supported without much of a whimper. I mean, It helps that I no longer live at home and don’t depend on my mother to feed me. But now that I’m back for a few weeks on break, I’ve had a few chances to break the vegan news.

1. At the grocery store, my mom suggested I pick up Vegenaise so we can make tuna fish sandwiches. I respond, “I’m not really into that anymore.” She says, “Oh.” *crickets*

2. My brother (a cute kid with autism, who’s the best ice breaker ever) asks, “Shannon, are you a vegetarian?” I say with great confidence for the first time in my life, “Why yes, yes I am!” My dad overhears and snidely remarks, “Well, sort of.” I say, “No, actually, I’m vegan now. For real.” He says nothing.

AHHH. I can’t tell if they’re cool with it or not!!! I make all my own food now when I’m home, so that’s not an issue, but I think it further limits what we can eat as a family together, and that sucks. I hate that my favorite aunts don’t know what to feed me anymore. But I do enjoy the opportunity to make my family delicious vegan food that’s not weird or out there, just yummy.

Tomorrow is Little Christmas, an annual gathering of my mom’s sisters and family to exchange small gifts, play games, and catch up before the big holiday. I made pumpkin macaroni casserole, a rip from Veganomicon’s pumpkin ziti (can you guess the difference?), and Mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles, which can be found here. I’m not even going to tell anyone they’re vegan! I gotta let the food speak for itself – vegan food is normal food.

Bucket List

3 Dec

There are the kind of people who can quit cold turkey, and then there are others who need that final goodbye. December has been dedicated to revisiting my favorite non-vegan eats and evaluating what about them I like so much, and how I can live without them starting January 1, 2012. I’ll update this post throughout the month as I cross things off or think of new ways to desecrate my body one more time. I see green smoothies in my future.

1. Umami “Earth Burger”
This was the first to cross off from my bucket list, as I haven’t had it in a really long time but remembered it very fondly. A mushroom and edamame patty topped with white soy & truffle aioli, ricotta cheese, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, and an oven-roasted tomato on a brioche bun. Seriously the best veggie burger I have ever had, but NOT vegan friendly in the least. Even if you take off the cheese and aioli, you still can’t have the bun, and who knows what other things they stuff in the patty to keep it together.

I got it with a side of tempura onion rings (I’m just going to guess and say they’re also on the no-no list, as a lot of tempura has egg in it), popped a lactaid pill, and went to town. Impression? Overwhelming. The butter in the bun was almost nauseating, I had trouble focusing. Instead of being the mind-blowing burger I had remembered, it was kinda gross and no longer my style. I’m happy to say goodbye and move on. WOOT. Shannon: 1, Non-Vegan Food: 0

2. Wawa, “Egg Salad Ciabatta with Pepper Jack”
I grew up with Wawa, the amazing convenience store on the East Coast, and as a little omnivore, the world was my oyster and I was incredibly fond of their turkey and cheese sandwich. When I gave up red meat and poultry, I had to get a little creative, and discovered my new fav – egg salad with pepper jack cheese on ciabatta. I know, it sounds weird, but I even got my mom hooked on it, it was so good. My last visit home, I decided to give this guy a whirl, for ol’ time’s sake.

IT SUCKED SO HARD. After having M Cafe’s Tofu Dill Salad, I have been ruined for all egg salads to come, and good riddance. I also felt nasty for about a day and had to do some serious green smoothie detoxing to recover. I almost feel tempted to give a point to Wawa for almost killing me, but since I can now say NO THANK YOU with confidence, I think I win. Shannon: 2, Non-Vegan Food: 0.

3. Joan’s on Third “Mac & Cheese”
Admittedly, this is the best macaroni and cheese I have ever had (hence why it’s “bucket list” quality), and I was worried I’d find nothing wrong with it. Upon further inspection, it’s not that special, even with its variety of cheeses and perfectly crusted top. It’s greasy, heavy, leaves a film in my mouth, and kinda flavorless. Also, I had to pop a ton of lactaid and digestive enzymes to get it down, but STILL I’m left uncomfortable and a little socially unacceptable (sorry, TMI, but you lactose intolerant kids know what’s up). Good not great, and definitely not worth the physical toll. I CAN DO THIS. Shannon: 3, Non-Vegan Food: 0.

4. Milk “Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Sandwich”
I used to be certifiably hooked on these delicious morsels – excellent cookies & cream ice cream squished between two chocolate macaron shells. I never had anything like it before, and considering how macarons are made, I doubt they’ll ever be vegan. My fiancé, Sam, is OBSESSED and is either eating a sandwich or straight up ice cream from Milk pretty much every day. For most of this last year, I used to stare at him with envy. Finally, I am able to break the spell. I ate one and it was…. just okay. The macaron shells are more of a novelty than anything else, and the ice cream was just so sweet, it made my teeth hurt. Have my taste buds completely changed after a year of being mostly dairy-free? I used to go nuts for this stuff! Sam often describes his experience as a “mouthgasm.” Where’s the magic now? No matter, I’m just happy to say sayonara and lose the jealous stare. Shannon: 4, Non-Vegan Food: 0

5. Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya
This one breaks my heart a little. It’s “our” restaurant, where we go for every celebration, from projects finished to birthdays. Sam is a picky eater, and this was one of the few places we could actually share food. Last night, we went to celebrate his birthday, and for me to bid adieu to fish. We had a feast, and I was able to recognize why sushi has been so important to me when I’ve been able to eschew everything else, including cooked fish. Being able to share food with someone I love is a big deal, and we’re having less and less common ground the more vegan I become. He doesn’t even bother ordering anything at Café Gratitude or Real Food Daily – he’ll come with me, but I’ll eat alone. It sucks! The other draw of sushi is the texture and mouthfeel, which mostly comes from fat. Thankfully, the earth has given us plenty of fat (hey avocados!) and most sushi restaurants have at least a few veggie rolls. I’m not excited to start finding out which of my apparently vegan Japanese foods actually have fish sauce or egg, but that’s why I’m devoting a year to this, because I don’t want to eat ignorantly anymore. Shannon: 5, Non-Vegan Food: 0. Winning!

6. Urth Caffe’s Coconut Custard Pie
Be still, my heart. I never considered myself a huge coconut fan, but a slice of this pie had me doing backflips. Toasted coconut, eggy custard, graham crust, and so unvegan it’s a crime. I still totally love this, but I will take that passion and use it for good – I will veganize it!! Lest trying shall kill me first. Come on, no eggs eggy custard…

I prevail! Shannon: 6, Non-Vegan Food: 0.

7. Giovanni’s Pizza
East Coast pizza – does it get any better? Giovanni’s is my absolute hometown FAV, and I’m gonna miss it. There are a few different outposts, but they’re all kitschy Italian greatness. I said goodbye to cheese pizza and mozzarella sticks on a rainy winter night, and it felt good, because greasy cheese is awesome, but it’s no longer for me. I’ve had some excellent vegan pizza back West, so I think I’ll be okay on that front. Mozzarella sticks are pretty much over, but think of all the other cheesy goodness I can get with Daiya and Teese without supporting the dairy and veal industries! Also, Doomie’s have these amazing deep fried avocados that are the best thing I ever put in my mouth. Really, I won’t be at a loss for high fat yummy junk food reminiscent of my college days. Vegan pizza will be mine! Shannon: 7, Non-Vegan Food: 0. Rock hard!!

8. Tria
I saved the best for last. My name is Shannon, and I’m a wine-and-cheese-aholic. I love Tria because I can chat with my friends for hours while snacking and sipping on delicious wine. I still adore the ritual and will miss this place, which has zero vegan options, but I can make do at home. Dr. Cow cheese is nut based and perfect on crackers. I just wish it was offered in traditional wine bars! Sigh, maybe one day.