Thursday, April 19, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Carleigh Williams...


I love meeting new people who are spreading the compassionate living message in a fun and engaging way so it was my pleasure to meet Carleigh Williams of The Vegan Clubhouse when she was tabling at Indy VegFest. The Vegan Clubhouse, which you can also find on YouTube and Instagram, provides a fun, informative and welcoming platform and as well as helpful resources for those who are exploring veganism. Please check out and share what Carleigh and The Vegan Clubhouse have to offer! I am honored to feature Carleigh as this week’s Vegan Rock Star. 

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I always loved animals, but I also definitely used the whole “we need it to be healthy” justification to continue eating them. I was definitely addicted to cheese & thought that people who were vegan had gone too far & were just extreme. I worked in the health field & was given the book Reversing Diabetes by Dr. Neal Barnard. After reading that I was blown away. Everything I had known about nutrition & preventing disease, was wrong. At that point I started to do more research. I watched tons of nutrition videos & slowly allowed myself to watch videos about animal rights. Once I watched “the best speech you’ll ever hear” by Gary Yourofsky, I was determined to go vegan. Unfortunately, I was so addicted to cheese that I immediately started going through withdrawal. I added cheese back into my diet for about 6 weeks while I weaned off it. I realized that I would be more successful working with my body, just a little, than forcing it. I wish I could have gone overnight, but I’m so glad I made it to fully vegan!

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

The tools that I use the most now & that I think would have been the most effective on me would be to show me that I can live the same life I already live, just vegan. There are so many alternatives now & it really comes down to, why not? Why not try it? Had someone suggested it and offered to show me alternatives to all the things I loved & just asked me to try it and see how I liked it, I would have done it. I also never met a vegan before I went vegan--so I think knowing some vegans and their ability to show me how exciting living vegan was would have intrigued me. So, make yourself known as a vegan & show people how awesome it is!

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

I find the best way to spread the message is to live as an example. I don’t keep it secret that I’m vegan, but I also don’t tell everyone everything about what they’re eating & supporting. I make it clear what I do and don’t support & that it’s not a temporary thing for me. I also try to be a patient with people around me as I can. I will answer any question they have, even if I’ve answered it 100 times before. I want them to have a good first impression with veganism. I think there’s such a negative stigma & stereotype with veganism that if we can start to shift that, it will make all the difference in the world.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

I think the biggest strength is that veganism is a win-win-win. There’s really no downside to it other than discomfort & inconvenience. & those are tiny downsides compared to the upsides. Veganism is beneficial for everyone. For the animals, the planet, the starving children, our own health. I think people are seeing more and more information about how it’s beneficial in all these other ways and that strengthens their resolve to go for it.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

I think the biggest hurdle for the vegan movement is fear. People are afraid of how it’s going to flip their lives. They’re going to lose their friends, they’re going to live a life of tofu & salad, they’re going to be unhealthy, they aren’t going to be able to be social. And that’s just not true. Veganism will completely change your life, but in amazing ways.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

“Why not?” if someone asked me why I was vegan, I’d ask why wouldn’t I be vegan? I can live a life that’s not only completely full, but it makes a difference. I’m able to save animals every single day, decrease my carbon footprint, help world hunger, take care of myself, & put compassion out into the world on a daily basis. Why wouldn’t I do that?

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

Gary Yourofsky was definitely the trigger to make me decide to go vegan. Some of my favorite resources that I would highly recommend are:
Main Street Vegan Book
ChickPeeps Podcast
Ellen Fisher on YouTube
Earthling Ed on YouTube
& so many yummy food blogs including:

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

I have always been a pretty positive person. I’m able to focus most of the time on how amazing it is that we are constantly moving forward. Whenever I start to get frustrated, I see if I can use that situation to inspire anyone else. Can I make a video around that topic to answer the questions of other vegans? Can I answer their questions patiently to inspire someone else in the room & when I’m really burned out about it, I just go hide out with my cats and disconnect from the Internet. Honestly, I don’t follow very many non-vegan people anymore online & that really helps too.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

I’m constantly amazed by how much veganism and zero waste are intertwined. Animals are dying, their habitats are being destroyed by our consumerism & plastic use. I really encourage people to look at the waste they are putting out into the world & see if they can cut it back, find a more sustainable way to live that helps the animals & planet from another angle.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

To me, being vegan is the ultimate expression of love & kindness. It’s putting positive vibes & compassion out into the world with every bite, purchase, & decision I make. Quick note: Every person featured in our 10 Questions series has come to their veganism from different backgrounds, with different approaches and inspired by different people. The responses to the questions in our interviews are the opinions of the interviewee, not necessarily shared by myself or

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Sarah Woodcock of Trio Plant-based...

One of the brightest lights in the messy morass that is oftentimes social media, Sarah Woodcock is not only a tireless vegan advocate but also adds a vital and distinctive voice that draws attention to the need for racial justice, feminism and a holistic, pro-intersectional approach to the vegan movement. As someone who became inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting against injustice (you can read more of her inspiring story here), Sarah, along with her partners Louis Hunter and Dan Woodcock, will be bringing a unique vegan restaurant to Minneapolis - the first of its kind that is primarily owned by people of color - with Trio Plant-Based, serving their commitment to anti-oppression activism along with fabulous plant-based comfort food, already showcased in three successful pop-ups. With a newly launched Kickstarter (please share and donate if you are able!), Sarah and company have their sights set on opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Minneapolis as soon as possible. I am so excited for Trio Plant-based and to have a new place to check out the next time we are in Minnesota. I am honored to feature Sarah as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

My mom is an excellent cook with a real passion for cooking. Growing up, she was always cooking for the family, and she definitely instilled the love of cooking in me. I would often get inspired, as a child, to bake bread or cook meals. And just so you know, I never added Cherry Coke™ to a bread recipe that called for soda (i.e. baking soda).

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

My diet was a Midwestern meat and potatoes diet. But come to think of it, I do recall a family vacation to Maine where we ordered clam chowder, and I exclaimed, “There are animals in my soup!” I could not finish it.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

I love cooking up a Gardein™ Beefless Burger on a Pretzilla bun with Vegenaise and ketchup! Yummm!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

If I have to pick just one person, I would make a meal for my husband Dan…probably vegan eggs benedict because that was his favorite nonvegan breakfast! You have inspired me; I will make that for him now.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I really enjoy getting what I cook to match the nonvegan version as much as possible. Not getting it to match is not a “mistake,” but I am not satisfied unless it is similar or as delicious, and it ought to be more delicious!

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

Kala namak salt (i.e. black salt) is magical for eggs! Purely magical. And I always have garlic and onion on hand!

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

I love US American food and Italian food, and third place is shared by Thai and Korean food!

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

It has not been one person or group or thing. It has truly been the individual vegans who I have observed, supported, and been supported by who have been most influential to me. A special mention to my dear friend Rhonda Anderson, who has been there for me inside and outside the vegan movement. I would not be who I am today without her loving friendship.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Oppression. I know that is really broad, but our world would be a hugely better place if people gained a better understanding of the power dynamics of oppression especially as they play out with racism. People really do not get it. I recommend the powerful and groundbreaking anti-racism work of Catrice Jackson for those who are sincere in wanting to start getting it. I know vegans really want to just focus on animals, but they fail to realize animals will never be free if we do not unite with our fellow humans. And uniting with our fellow humans means supporting, truly supporting, those who are oppressed by racism.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

…so good for animals; it can have benefits for human health and is less harmful than nonvegan food from an environmental perspective.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Do You Really Want to Go Back to 1995?

An Open Letter to a Vegan Who Dislikes “Processed” Vegan Food,

Hi! How are you?

So…now that the pleasantries are behind us, can we talk about something?

I know you will only eat the most noble and wholesome of healthful foods and that nary a speck of “unnatural” food shall ever pass your pristine lips, but I want you think of something. I want you to think of the numbers 1-9-9-5.

I picked those exact numbers because that was the year I went vegan. Nineteen ninety-five. It even sounds old-timey. It was the year of the Oklahoma City bombing and the year that Alanis Morrisette drove me to distraction with her kitchen sink approach to the meaning of irony. It was also the summer after I went vegan. The years have passed by quickly but I can clearly remember a time that there was very little by way of vegan convenience foods in 1995. It was a totally different, and much more barren, landscape. Before then, things were way worse in terms of accessibility. So when you disparage vegan convenience foods as “junk,” “processed” or “gross,” all I can think of is 1995.

Things are still not much better in many small or even medium-sized towns but depending on where one lives, today is a whole different ballpark for living as a vegan and it is so much better. I think I need to emphasize this with the magic of italicization: so much better. When you disparage vegan products, are you aware that in 1995, there would be no such variety to complain about? Are you really thinking you want to return to an age when vegan convenience foods were not available for the most part and if they were, they were awful? And because vegan convenience foods were so scarce and so bad, our numbers didn’t budge at all, which meant that we were in a holding pattern for years in terms of progress. I have to ask, how can we change the world if there are few food options anyone but the most diehard animal advocate is willing to try?

So the next time you want to say something negative about a vegan food product that isn’t up to your dietary standards, I want you to think of these numbers: 1-9-9-5.

Because here is what it looked like in 1995

You had to do much of your shopping at specialty health food stores, which were generally dusty hippie shops with limited options or faith-affiliated shops with limited options and it was much more expensive than today. Soymilk, tofu, you name it: you couldn’t get that at a regular grocery store for the most part and all the tofu was either shelf-stable or in one variety: mushy. Prior to my era, though, people would have to scoop their tofu out of open barrels where soy blocks were floating around in germs and who knows what else and I don’t even think about it now without wanting to puke so I will just leave it at that. Be grateful. That is all.

Speaking of vegan milks, it was basically singular because we had one kind and it was an aseptic soymilk carton that, I swear, came in a flavor that can only be described as Extra Beany. Maybe that was even a selling point. It was what beige would taste like if it had a flavor. I was part of a lucky time, though, because before that, dairy abstainers had powdered soymilk. Is this really a bygone era you want to return to, dear vegan?

There was vegan processed food you could buy at an aforementioned hippie or religious health food store, things like wienies in a can and boxed, dry burger mix, in other words, items that were frightening close to what you might find as the last remaining options in a survivalist’s bunker and they would make you the loneliest person at the family grill. No one wanted that shit! And now you’re complaining that we actually have items that could be tempting and appetizing to a meat-eater???

In 1995, if you happened to live in a city where there was a vegetarian restaurant, they generally only knew how to make brown rice and bathed everything in Bragg Liquid Aminos. None of your non-veg friends would eat there with you. Hell, you couldn’t blame them. But, oh no! Now we actually vegan restaurants that can create amazing food and desserts that look great and taste better. How horrible it is to be us!

Speaking of, if you weren’t at a vegetarian restaurant, you would be very lucky to find menus that could serve vegans at all, let alone options beyond hummus and portobello mushrooms awash in the dreaded Bragg Liquid Aminos. You would have to decipher a menu with surgical precision to engineer a dish without animal products and sometimes you’d be lucky to get plain white rice. Lucky! Get off my lawn!

Speaking of hummus, it was our mayo. It was also our butter. Hummus was a condiment. WE HAVE MAYO(S) AND BUTTER(S) TODAY, as in a plurality of them. Don’t like this fact? I have a really novel idea that just occurred to me: Don’t eat them. I am an expert problem solver.

It has been well-reported that the only vegan cheese available in 1995 was basically food-grade (???) plastic but it’s also worth remembering that the only ice cream was frozen sugar + milky water and it always tasted like it had freezer burn even though it rarely would freeze but we happily ate it up because that was what we had. Do you love your raw frozen banana “nice cream” and want to point that out every time someone posts a picture of vegan ice cream? Here’s the thing: I have no hate for frozen banana confections. In fact, I have more than a couple of recipes for it myself. But I also love that non-dairy ice creams are slowly nudging dairy-based ones out of available shelf space at the grocery store and that I could give my non-vegan friends a scoop of Chocolate Cherry Chip from Trader Joe’s and know that they will love it. Guess what? Dairy cows would probably appreciate this and not tsk-tsk us about the sugar.

I must take a quick moment now to let you know that in 1995, lard was still very much a thing you might come across on a label or in a restaurant.

Don’t like processed foods? Good, because if it’s 1995, if you go out with non-vegan colleagues, family and friends, you will be eating a lot of plain salad. You might even have to ask for no cheese and/or eggs on it. In 1995, you will hit the jackpot if a restaurant has plain baked potatoes because even though it’s boring as hell and your server has to ask you 27 times if you really want just a baked potato with nothing on it, it’s at least filling. Sometimes you might even find salsa on the menu to dress it up and, hey, salt and pepper are vegan. Woot woot! (Damn these forsaken companies that make it possible for a vegan to eat a regular meal at a restaurant that doesn’t generate furtive looks of second-hand embarrassment and pity from our dining companions. Damn them all!)

In 1995, nobody knew how to pronounce the word vegan, partially because it was before the Internet but also partially because it was so fringe and rare, not many people had heard it spoken, including vegans. Do you really think it’s helping the animals if veganism is so uncommon you don’t even know how to say the word?

Speaking of, because vegans were as rare as unicorns, unless you lived in a city, you were often on your own. If you did live in a city, vegans were still so few and far between that you still had to hang out with people you otherwise had nothing in common with just because they were vegan, which for me included this one guy with spiders tattooed on his face who always went to the circus protests and ran after cars and this other guy who I was half convinced might have been the actual Unabomber for a while.

Still want to go back to 1995? You’ll have to wear Keds or Converse shoes all the time and order “dressy” shoes from a catalogue. Most shoes were a very hard plastic, uncomfortable and very unstylish, kind of like polio shoes. If you wanted to wear anything but sneakers to the office or a wedding, these were your option. Speaking of dressing up, if you were looking for cosmetics, you’d find better quality make-up in a picked over Spirit Halloween store discount bin on November 1.

Traveling as a vegan meant you had your VRG restaurant directory or Tofu Tollbooth directory and a prayer that when you drove 300 miles to the closest option listed in Oklahoma, it was still open for business. Or else, yeah, it was nothing but miles and miles ahead of you. Gas station potato chips were your main source of sustenance.

So, dear vegan, does all this mean that I’m saying you shouldn’t eat fruits and veggies? Of course not. Eat what makes you feel your best! But don’t disparage these options because they are a sign of how far we have come with building a vegan movement that is accessible for everyone. Don’t like those things? Easy. Don’t eat ‘em!



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Matthew Prescott

t-based cookbooks keep getting more and more impressive and one that recently arrived on our doorstep is no exception. Food is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World by Matthew Prescott is an ambitious undertaking, Full of informative chapters on how animal agribusiness harms animals, people and our planet – and plant-based diets help all of the above – Food is the Solution concentrates on persuasive arguments in the first half and great recipes in the second half. All is lushly photographed, well-organized and written for people to absorb in bursts, though it’s hard to resist the temptation to thumb through from start to finish. With accessible recipes for beginners to slightly more experienced home cooks, the dishes span the globe from Sourdough Panzanella (Italy) to Coconut-Lemongrass Curry with Rice Noodles (Thailand), Pistachio and Sunflower Seed Dukkah (Egypt) to Spicy Chocolate Milk Shake with Whipped Coconut Cream (Mexico), relying on flavorful, fresh ingredients but occasionally assisted with some convenience foods like packaged vegan cheese shreds and proteins. In all, it’s a cookbook with a mission: wake people up to the reality of what is happening to our planet and her inhabitants but it’s a lot less doom-and-gloom than that. Mainly, Food is the Solution reminds us that the keys to our future are solidly in our possession and it will not take sacrifice and scarcity to make things right. With the abundance of rich and flavorful plant foods, there has never been an easier time for conscientious people to transition away from supporting animal agribusiness and with Matthew Prescott’s Food is the Solution, it is just that much more within reach. I am honored to feature Matthew as this week’s Vegan Foodie. 

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

When I was about 10, my father and I built a small garden in our backyard, planting peas and carrots and peppers and squash. That was my first introduction to real food, and I fell in love. From there, I started preparing my own dishes—simple kid foods like microwaved pancakes made in a mug. I took great joy and pride in organizing our spice cabinet. I even once took my mother’s favorite recipe clippings and pasted them into a homemade book made from construction paper and illustrated with crayons—my first cookbook, if you will. On top of that, my family always ate meals together around the table, which really fostered for me a love and appreciation for eating and mealtime.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

I ate what I think was a fairly typical diet as a child. We’d host BBQs and order pizza and have taco night—the usual. We did always have a lot of fresh produce—and barely any junk food—in the house, which in hindsight was pretty atypical for the 1980s, when everyone else seemed obsessed with convenience foods and sugary cereals and such. We’d also have a big salad most nights with whatever else we ate—something I still enjoy today. Growing up in coastal New England, we also ate a lot of seafood, which admittedly hasn’t been easy as a vegan. But that’s changing, with companies like Good Catch Foods and Gardein making met-free fish, and with so many delicious recipes for vegan chowders and other dishes that might normally contain seafood. I like those products quite a bit, and I still really enjoy preparing vegan versions of the things I ate as a kid: grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers and tacos and all the rest. I think the way we eat when we’re young really influences how we eat as adults, even subconsciously, and I was fortunate to have a mostly-healthy (though far-from-vegan) and quite varied eating experience as a kid.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. Whatever that may be. If I’m getting home late, it probably means I have a drink (or three) in me, and I go straight to the fridge for leftovers.

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I’d love to make a vegan Reuben sandwich for my (Jewish) grandfather, Ben – my mother’s father. He died when I was very young so I never got a chance to know him. I’d love to sit down and chat over a nice, sloppy Reuben. 

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I think the mistakes in vegan cooking tend to be the same types of mistakes made in other forms of cooking – using too many ingredients, going too heavy on the spices, making things more complicated than they need to be. I prefer simple, fresh meals that focus on a few choice ingredients to really make the flavors pop.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

As someone who became vegan in the 90s, I’m especially psyched about all the dairy-free milks and cheeses and ice creams out there – made from a variety of ingredients like nuts and oats and so much more. Twenty years ago, we had one brand of ice cream and nearly every milk and cheese was made from soy or rice. Today we can cook with almond milk ricotta and make milkshakes with cashew-based ice creams. We can make heavy cream from nuts and even Parmesan cheese from sunflower seeds. I tend to keep on hand a range of nuts and seeds to turn into these types of ingredients.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

If I’m traveling, Thai – because most cities have Thai restaurants and they all carry tofu, which I love. I could eat Thai food every day for the rest of my life and be happy. I also really love Ethiopian food a lot, and am fortunate enough to live close to two Ethiopian restaurants. (If you’re ever in Austin, go to Habesha and order the “Veggie Dulet” – a vegan version of a classic Ethiopian dish that’s essentially a pile of spiced ground beef and jalapeno peppers.) And if I’m going for comfort, there’s nothing quite like Italian food.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

From a culinary perspective, I was turned onto meat-free eating by my sister, who came home from middle school one day and proclaimed herself a vegetarian (after learning something about meat production in science class that apparently didn’t sit well). That had a lot of influence on me, because I was then opened-up to many different types of foods I’d have otherwise probably not even thought to try. So I was able to see from an early age that there’s a whole wide world of ingredients and produce and proteins out there, and that by sticking with a meat-and-potatoes diet, I was really limiting myself. From an ethical perspective, probably the first vegan-centric film I saw was the 1977 British documentary, “The Animals’ Film.” I watched that when I was about 16, and it made a huge difference in my evolution as an activist.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Food, of course! Food itself is a major social issue, since how we eat impacts so much of the world around us, and ourselves. Food is an extension of what it is to be human, so when we change our diets to better reflect our morals—whether we care about the planet or animals or health or basic principles of kindness—we can really begin to transform the world around us.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

…delicious and everywhere! J