Book Review: Eating Animals

About five years ago I picked up a discounted hardcover copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book, Eating Animals. I never did end up reading it – I kept putting it off until it was eventually purged in one of my many moves. But, the existence of the book stuck with me, and when I re-committed to living vegan it was the first veggie non-cookbook I picked up. To say that Eating Animals has changed my life would be a bit dramatic. I’ve been obsessed with the injustices of the factory farm industry for the last year, so there was little in the nearly-300 hundred pages that fully shocked me. What this book did, though, was educate me on a system of cruelty in the most intelligent and thought-provoking way.

eatinganimals

If you’re coming into veganism or vegetarianism motivated more by health concerns that anything, you might not know exactly what factory farming is. If you’re an animal lover, but an omnivore, you might have an idea of where your food comes from, but prefer not to think about it. If you’re already an ethical vegan or vegetarian, you might not know the statistics that Jonathan Safran Foer digs up during his research, but you know the gist. Well, this book is for all of us. No matter what your stance on eating meat, you will find words in this book that resonate with you.

Safran Foer does the unthinkable – he, while himself a vegetarian – shares the wealth of information he has accumulated over a three year period with a mostly-unbiased, kindly and entirely human perspective on our own species’ strengths and our faults. He speaks at length on the importance of food to our culture, to our traditions, and the role food plays in evoking and preserving precious memories of the past.

“Our decisions about food are complicated by the fact that we don’t eat alone. Table fellowship has forged social bonds as far back as the archaeological record allows us to look. Food, family, and memory are primordially linked. We are not merely animals that eat, but eating animals.” (page 194)

The author understands that choosing not to eat meat, while being the ethically sound choice when confronted by the nightmarish magnitude of the damage that factory farms are causing to our planet and to the billions of animals slaughtered in its wake, is not as simple as some vegan idealists might like everyone to think. And that is something that I can relate to.

I did not stop eating meat because I didn’t like the taste. Trust me. I’m not one of the lucky ones who is revolted by the smell of a steak barbecuing, the aroma of fatty pork sizzling on the stove, or the scent of a perfectly seared salmon steak. But, I am fully conscious. I am awake to the reality of where those foods came from. I cannot divorce myself from the truth – that the chunks of chicken in my favorite chicken salad sandwich are the bodily remnants of a living, breathing creature. She had a beating heart. She had the ability to experience joy. The desires of my taste buds are not worth the knowledge that I am responsible for her death.

Eating Animals is an incredible read. I am so impressed with Jonathan Safran Foer’s ability to craft a treatise that does not alienate anyone, regardless of where they stand on living meat-free. He even goes so far as to advocate for traditional heritage farming, if only as an alternative to factory farming.

I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, and will endeavor to share it with whomever will listen as I continue on my vegan journey.

On Sandwiches (or, War of the Cheeses)

UPDATE:  So, the GO Veggie! slices I’ve been eating are NOT vegan. I’ve had several kind people correct me on this. I’ll definitely be sharing a post soon about the importance of ALWAYS checking the ingredients list. I took it for granted from the name that these cheese slices were vegan, but they actually contain casein, which is an animal protein. I apologize for misrepresenting this product.**

 

Okay. SO. I might be one of the few people to feel this way, but I honestly cannot stand Daiya cheese. No more hemming and hawing for me. I have now tried Daiya in four formats (cream cheese, block cheddar, sliced cheddar, and sliced swiss) as well as combined into two recipes and no matter how badly I wanted to be able to, I couldn’t – just couldn’t – stomach it. Maybe my dislike for these products stems from having eaten dairy cheese too recently to not compare the Daiya to it. Does a longer distance between tasting “real” cheese and tasting Daiya cheese make a difference in one’s enjoyment of the latter?  I may have to try Daiya a little further along down the road to test this theory.

For now, though, I’m quite happy to trumpet my enjoyment of a different cheese brand, Go Veggie! Cheese. I buy their cheddar-style cheese slices from Safeway (I’m miles away from the nearest Planet Organic or Earth’s General Store, so I take what I can get) and not only do I find the packages of slices reasonably priced, I also find that they taste almost exactly like the processed cheese slices I used to eat in my omnivore days.

GO Veggie!

I love sandwiches, and the Go Veggie! cheese slices help make for a hearty breakfast, lunch, or dinner (sandwiches are perfect any time of the day, IMHO). When constructing one of my beloved sammies I like to start with some Veganaise slathered atop a vegan bagel (no L-cysteine for me, thanks). Next, I lay on the piece of cheese – or two if I’m feeling fancy-free –  and then I top the cheese with a little lettuce, a slice of tomato, a couple of rings of white onion, and lots and lots of alfalfa sprouts! So good, and so filling. That was actually the only way I’d tried Go Veggie! slices until this week when I FINALLY attempted to make one of my former favourite foods, the grilled cheese sandwich. I love grilled cheese sandwiches, so much so that I don’t even want to tell you how many I could eat in one sitting (hint: it’s not pretty). I had tried with Daiya sliced cheese early last year and it was so awful I hadn’t felt inspired to try again. Thankfully, this much-overdue second attempt turned out fantastic. Crispy, buttery, gooey and perfect, I found myself in grilled cheese heaven. Thanks, Go Veggie! for rockin’ my world.

gilledcheese

“Pulled” Carrots (or, They Can’t All Be Winners)

I’m not sure if I’m unique in this, but I’ve never tried pulled pork. Not once. Not ever in my life. I remember a little while ago it seemed like pulled pork was EVERYWHERE – featured in every fast food restaurant able to afford mainstream TV advertising (Subway, I’m looking at you). The taste never appealed to me though, so I left the phenomenon untouched until recently, when I found a vegan version of pulled pork that used carrots as the main component rather than the flesh of an innocent animal.

The recipe, which you can find here – http://www.thekitchn.com/stewed-carrots-the-new-pulled-pork-old-ingredient-new-trick-215252 – is very simple. So simple that it would take someone pretty ridiculous to mess it up. What has two thumbs and can’t make pulled carrots? This guy!

Let’s start from the beginning. The recipe called for carrots (natch), and uninterested in the time-consuming process of cutting said carrots into matchsticks I thought I’d go for the spiralizer suggestion. Except, I don’t have a spiralizer. So, I used my regular veggie peeler to make long, flat strips of carrot. I sautéed some onion and garlic in oil until it was nicely aromatic, and then added a honey garlic barbecue sauce I found in the fridge (fully vegan) along with the carrots. I made sure there was enough sauce to make a mixture that bubbled as it cooked, and left the pan on the stove for a good fifteen minutes over  medium-high heat.

pulledcarrots

After stirring the carrots a few times, I decided they were sufficiently cooked through. I swiped a touch of vegan margarine on a hamburger bun, then piled some of the stewed carrots on top. Adding the extra thickened sauce as recommended, along with a touch of salt and pepper, the finished product LOOKED good. Sadly, it did not taste the way I’d hoped.

pulledcarrotsandwich

I’m not sure if I didn’t let the carrots cook long enough, but they were still tough to bite into, not soft at all like I’d been expecting. And, the barbecue sauce I used did not suit the dish – much too sweet when combined with the natural sweetness of the carrots. I finished the sandwich, but more out of duty than enjoyment. I COULD try this recipe again, with a longer cooking time and a different sauce, but really don’t feel motivated to do so. Has anyone else tried something similar that worked?

Eggless Egg Salad (or, Getting Ova Eggs)

Removing eggs from my diet has not been a hardship. A few years ago I learned that eggs are essentially the product of a hen’s menstrual cycle, and ever since then I cannot look at an egg without visualizing the egg being squeezed out of a chicken’s lady parts. So, save for egg salad sandwiches (which were always a weakness for me) and the occasional scrambled egg breakfast at Albert’s restaurant, I haven’t made the high-cholesterol high-fat artery-clogging food a part of my everyday eating.

But, as mentioned above, I have always loved egg salad sandwiches. Well, I love sandwiches in general – when people ask me what my favourite food is, or what food I would choose if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, its the sandwich. I love bread. I love the things that go between pieces of bread. I love the spreads that go on bread. So, having exhausted peanut butter sandwiches since going vegan, I decided it was time to try this fantastic thing I had been hearing about… eggless egg salad.

I wasn’t very adventurous: I literally followed the recipe on the side of the Mori-Nu Tofu package, using the ingredients I had on hand (so no capers, and regular mustard instead of dried). This was my first hands-on experience with tofu, so it made the endeavour even more fun. Following advice I had read online, I unpackaged the tofu and put it on a plate between two dish towels, and then sat my Forest Feast cookbook on top for weight. I left it for half an hour, then replaced the damp towels with dry ones, and let the remaining water drain from the tofu for another thirty minutes. The rest was simple: I smushed the tofu in a bowl until it actually kinda resembled hard-boiled egg whites, mixed in the Veganaise (I was careful with this part because I didn’t want the tofu to smooth out – I wanted it to remain chunky), then mixed in the rest of the ingredients (shallots – or onions, as that’s all I had, and the mustard, and a lot of salt, and pepper).

Voila! Egg salad sandwich!

Now, obviously I knew that what I was making was not going to taste exactly like the egg salad I grew up with. But, I have to admit, the mixture really did take on a surprisingly similar texture to what I have been accustomed to, and made for a satisfying lunch.sammy

You know, I’ve really started to understand that the trick with veganized versions of our favourite recipes is to accept that these new versions are not going to taste exactly the same as their carnivore-catering counterparts, and to simply do our best to enjoy them for what they are – delicious foods that are tempting to the taste-buds in their own right.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes (or, Get in Ma Belly)

Okay. I may have said this before, but I really think that this time I have found THE ONE. The most delicious, most incredible, most perfect food ever known to man. My favourite recipe ever created. The smashed potato.

I could rhapsodize for hours about the potato. It is the one edible on earth that I will eat, no matter how it is prepared, because I have yet to discover a bad way to enjoy potatoes. I’ve been wanting to try smashed potatoes for awhile but just never really remembered when it came to feeding time… usually I just boil up some taters and throw them in a bowl with vegan Becel and some salt. I found a tasty recipe, though, from Oh She Glows (everyone’s favourite vegan chef/blogger!) and had to try it.

You can find the full recipe here. But in brief, all you need are some potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, some garlic powder, and parsley (for decoration). Its so easy! Just boil the potatoes (one of the culinary tasks I am actually proficient at) until they are tender, and drain. Once they’ve cooled just a touch, set the potatoes on a baking sheet. Then, with the bottom of a glass (or any firm flat object – a glass worked best for me) press down on each potato just hard enough to pop the skin of the potato and flatten it slightly – it should mostly still hold together though. Then, you top each of the smushed potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and really any other spices you want to throw on there, and then you bake em! They come out all golden and glisten-y and crispy and soft and salty and delicious and oh my goodness get me some now!!!!

pertater

The Oh She Glows recipe goes a few steps further and tops the potatoes with an avocado aioli. Unfortunately, I do not have a food processor, so while I did attempt to make the aioli in my decrepit blender it didn’t exactly turn out. So, I ate the potatoes relatively naked and used my avocado mixture as a sandwich spread for lunch the next day.

To go with the tasty morsels above, I pan-friend an Yves Chick’n Burger patty and made myself a faux chicken burger with Veganaise and lettuce. SO GOOD. SO satisfying. Being vegan is easy!

pertater and burger

The Clever Rabbit

One of the goals I’ve made for myself for this new year is to invest my money in local restaurants, and to eat only at places that offer vegan options. I cannot change the world, but I can make decisions in my own life that better align with the world I would like to see. An excellent Edmonton restaurant that offers a fully vegan and vegetarian menu is The Clever Rabbit, on 124th street and 107the avenue. I wrote about the eatery for an animal rights newsletter awhile back and upon returning for my second visit I was pleased to find the only thing that had changed was that the place was even more homey and charming than before.

On my first visit to the Clever Rabbit I enjoyed the lentil loaf (which was delicious) and had to fight the urge to get it again; instead, I chose to try the curried lentils with rice. As my side I went with the insanely good homemade tortilla chips and salsa. The curry… let me be honest here… was perfect. I was in heaven after the first bite. I wasn’t so much a fan of the rice (hidden under the curry in the picture below) so after I had demolished the vegetable/chickpea/lentil mixture I used my leftover appetite for the chips.

curry

I strongly recommend this restaurant. It is run by excellent folk, the food is tasty, and the atmosphere welcoming. There is also an almost sinful dessert counter which, while off limits to me right now after a holiday season spent overindulging, will be my first stop on my next visit. Full of cupcakes, nanaimo bars, giant cookies, and donuts – ALL VEGAN, the sweet spread held so much temptation I could barely get myself out of the restaurant empty-handed.

For more information on The Clever Rabbit, you can visit their website here or stop in for a meal you won’t regret at 10722 124th street.

2015: An Odyssey?

My goals for the new year are to

live compassionately: as you may have read in another of my posts, 2014 was a year of transition for me. I am happy to have called myself a transitioning vegan for the past twelve months, and for doing the learning and growing that I’ve done. Thanks to some amazing resources and unshakable support I achieved more than I thought possible. But I’ll admit I used the status of ‘transitional vegan’ as a bit of a scapegoat for those many times that I fell off the wagon. No more messing around, though. 2015 is the year I commit fully (or as close to 100% as I can manage) to eating and living vegan.

eat (and enjoy) one salad a day: I HATE salad, and could never last on a raw food diet. But, salads and raw vegetables are amazing for the body, so this is my concession – one salad a day. Ugh. Here is my first salad of the year (literally, I made it and ate it the afternoon of January 1st 2015). Baby kale, butter lettuce, shredded carrot, cubed tomato, mushrooms, hemp hearts, chia seeds, and raisins (thank heavens for raisins), and then just a touch of low-cal Catalina dressing. New Years Salad
save 10% of my earnings: this was a tip given to me by my grade 8/9 language arts teacher and its about damn time I listened to him, and others who state the same.

invest in local and/or vegan businesses: this year I am going to do my small part in encouraging positive change by letting the way I spend my money help determine the kinds of businesses that succeed. I am going to choose cruelty-free businesses over any other options, whenever possible. To help – Cruelty-Cutter, an amazing app developed by the Beagle Freedom Project.

elle-cruelty-free-mcneil-h-lgn

Then, with any extra money I may have left over at the end of paying all my bills every month, I am going to support vegan businesses. In the past I’ve invested in two Kickstarters for vegan products and am so excited to be starting off 2015 by supporting the Kickstarter for Laika, a vegan magazine that I wrote more about here. There is still time to back them!

You know, I used to think of a New Year’s Resolution as a promise I would inevitably fail to keep. Every January 1st was the same – “I want to lose weight.” I never would. Then, for a few years, there were no resolutions at all, just as an effort to stave off another excuse to disappoint myself. This year I feel confident in my goals, and its because I’m not just thinking about myself this time. I’ve resolved to live a better life in order to make a better world, and I know that every step forward is one more small success.

I hope that whether you’ve set one goal, or a stack of them, you achieve whatever your heart desires in this brand new year.