An update, the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, and vegan sugar, oh my!

13 Nov

Not just tofu and kale...Don't be afraid to ask vegan companies for a full disclosure of their ingredients and sources.

Hello all you loyal hungry people,

I’ve been absent for quite some time–at least it feels that way to me–and so an update is an order. As you may have picked up, I’ve recently moved back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire. And it couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time–right smack in the middle of VeganMoFo. The twenty recipes I had lined up to go up for the month of October sadly became only ten. I’m still pretty proud that of the ten I blogged, many were made in the midst of a crazy schedule of driving back and forth between states to look at apartments and in the midst of packing, settling into the new place, and interviewing potential roommates. And, many of them are getting a lot of attention still, despite that VeganMoFo is over and that I was forced to stop blogging weeks ago in order to stay afloat with everything else I had to do. It’s November now and I don’t know how I made it here. Coincidentally, I made it to yet another birthday at the same time. Hurrah!

Although other food blogs rarely ever delve into anything but food and especially anything centered on ethics–in order not to piss off potential readers who aren’t vegan or who don’t agree–I’m going to push against the grain.

There have been a lot of changes in my life recently, most notably the move which has limited the amount of time I spend driving back and forth for work and eating in the car. I’ve also been able to catch up on sleep, finally, which has given me the energy I need to reassess my current situation as it relates to the kind of work I want to be doing for a living and the kind of work I want to do with regard to vegan education and advocacy. They’re unrelated, and at the same time, related. Now that I’m settled in a new place, closer to more people and closer to other like-minded vegans, I’m ready to get back to work on all the advocacy goals I’ve had in mind, which among other really great projects unrelated to food, includes recipe writing, cooking, and blogging about it.

Although other food blogs rarely ever delve into anything but food and especially anything centered on ethics–in order not to piss off potential readers who aren’t vegan or who don’t agree–I’m going to push against the grain. I can almost feel the admonishing stares of the vegan food blog goddesses going “Oh no, she didn’t!” But here goes: one other big change is that I went from living by myself in wholly vegan apartment and kitchen to living with non-vegans in a home with a vegetarian kitchen. I won’t lie, it’s jarring, to say the least. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve opened up a refrigerator or cupboard at home and seen the products of our oppressive culture glaring at me. It’s odd how the mind can, in some ways, ignore this sort of thing in other people’s homes and bodies, but when it’s brought to your own home, your own sanctuary–it smacks you upside the head, confounds, and reminds you of the unjust world you live in and of just why veganism is such an ethical and moral imperative when you seriously consider the interests of other sentient beings. My housemates have been really great about limiting their use of animal products in the kitchen and not using any of my kitchen tools or dinnerware to make or serve non-vegan dishes. Some of them are so close to veganism it’s a wonder they don’t just switch the honey out for agave or coconut syrup.

I’ll never understand the misguided logic behind the desire to be environmentally aware by recycling, using environmentally friendly products, and limiting one’s use of packaged foods while at the same time participating in what has been proven to be the most destructive action against the environment: eating animal products.

I’ll tell you, it’s been a long time since I sat with someone who was relishing in a bit of cheese. That’s not to say I don’t hang out with omnivores, hell, I even date them. I think it’s just that vegetarians are a different sort of breed in that they make the connection between humans and non-humans or speciesism and other social injustices like racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia, and then effectively stop themselves from seeing it through to it’s logical end, which is a commitment to nonviolence and justice. A commitment to veganism. That’s not to say that they aren’t good, well meaning people. They certainly are. I just think that road block where one thinks vegetarianism is enough, justifiable, or sustainable is a high one to cross for some and can get “comfortable”, especially when so many pro-animal organizations and foodie authors are telling us that we can be ethically and environmentally conscious and still eat animal products. Which reminds me, I’ll never understand the misguided logic behind the desire to be environmentally aware by recycling, using environmentally friendly products, and limiting one’s use of packaged foods while at the same time participating in what has been proven to be the most destructive action against the environment: eating animal products.

Anyway, all this means is that my “cook food to share” mode is in overdrive as it almost seems obligatory that I make massive amounts of food to show just how easy and delicious being vegan is and how entirely unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly eating animal products is.

This delicious, cakey doughnut was made by a partygoer at a Halloween party I attended. I haven't had a real vegan doughnut in a year. It was cold (hence the congealed icing) and I had it for breakfast. It was PERFECT.

In other news, I recently tabled for the Boston Vegan Association at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival. As far as tabling goes it was pretty standard and fun. I love talking to people about veganism and about the abolitionist approach to animal rights. I love hearing what non-vegans have to say, I love considering their inquiry with seriousness and respect for their concerns, and I love how receptive many of them are to nonviolent, full-on vegan education. One woman actually came up to one of the other volunteers and thanked him because it was his conversation with her the previous year that made her switch from vegetarianism to veganism. What an incredibly wonderful thing to witness! That’s why we do what we do.

Volunteering with Jasmine.

Besides tabling, I was able to do some walking around and enjoy the festival. I attended one of the lectures put on by historian and author, James McWilliams, who made an engrossing case against “local” and “humane” animal products. This was particularly refreshing because his outspoken position is coming in at a time when most pro-animal organizations, foodies, and theorists are focusing on factory farming as “the problem” as opposed what it really is: a symptom of the greater problem of animal use. With his background in American colonialism and environmental history, McWilliams has been able to make some really insightful commentary on the history of modern animal-centered agribusiness. It’s empowering and enlightening to also see him pursing the ethics of animal use with a more rights-minded approach. McWilliams writes for The Atlantic and blogs over at Eating Plants.

I also enjoyed seeing groups dedicated to vegan apparel, especially Herbivore Clothing Company and the local Boston vegan shoe store, Sudo Shoes, back again this year. As well as meeting some of the fine folks over at For The Animals Sanctuary who thankfully made it out this year. I picked up a lot of freebies as well, among them Sunsational nondairy milk which is made from sunflower kernels. It’s sensationally delicious! And gray! I was able to enjoy the baked goods from some but not all of the bakeries there this year as well. Which brings me to my other soapbox ditty.

It came to my attention that the Boston Vegetarian Society who puts on the festival requires that all food served at the festival be vegan. However, honey and some trace animal ingredients are allowed so long as the are clearly marked for festival goers to be aware of. Not all vendors adhere to the “labeling” part, especially if they’re a non-vegan company like Whole Foods–obviously because they have an interest in selling their product. Because of this, whey made its way (no pun intended) into the mouths of many vegans. And this vegan in particular, had herself a taste of honey, by accident. Thankfully, I noticed my faux pas almost immediately after putting that Daiya grilled cheese sandwich in my mouth and was able to spit it out. It’s really alarming that the BVS (made up mostly of vegans) doesn’t take the considerations of vegans (a good number of whom attend the festival) more seriously. It wouldn’t hurt the vegetarians and omnivores who attend the festival to do without animal products for a whole weekend. Their sponsors and vendors, a good number of whom are vegan, would still attend.

…the fact of animal exploitation in the processing of sugar is very clearly defined.

But that wasn’t even my biggest issue. I found out just how unreceptive and unconcerned some vegan food retailers are to adhering to, well, veganism. Of the many vegan bakeries whose tables I stopped by, only a few were honest, prepared, and open to addressing my concern about where they obtained their sugar. As many of you know, there is vegan sugar–that which is processed without the use of animal bones–and there is non-vegan sugar. Many people will be like, “What’s the big deal?” The “deal” is that as a vegan, I reject unnecessary animal exploitation entirely. I refuse to consume anything that it is in my ability to avoid that has animal products in it or that in which results in animal exploitation. Non-vegan sugar, like non-vegan alcohol, and like many products tested on animals, is one such product that it is in everyone’s ability to avoid. And thus, consuming it results in an unnecessary harm caused to animals. Most vegan food bloggers and writers won’t even take on the sugar issue. They won’t even talk about it because it’s controversial for some reason. This surprises me to no end when the fact of animal exploitation in the processing of sugar is very clearly defined.

That being said, I appreciate that some of the vendors there were honest enough to tell me that although they market their product as vegan, it is actually not, as they use non-vegan sugar. There was one very popular vegan bakery in particular, whom I know with my own eyes to be using non-vegan products, who outright lied to me or didn’t take the time to acknowledge my concern. If not harming animals is important to you, and it is in your ability to avoid using any and all animal products within reason, then avoiding companies that market themselves as vegan but benefit from animal exploitation is something all vegans should consider doing. Some may think I’m taking on a “purist” position, but I’m not. I don’t want to participate in animal exploitation if I can help it. And I can. Additionally, this position is simply holding companies accountable for lying to their consumers about their products. Especially when it would benefit the animals and consumers to not consume animal products without inconveniencing the business owner! If it costs 10 more cents to use vegan sugar, then charge more. I, for one, would rather put my money towards a truly just and ethical cupcake than one that’s frosted with animal exploitation for the sake of saving a few cents.

The owner of this company informed me that although she markets her business as vegan, the toppings she offers are not vegan because of the sugar. I spoke with her and she is going to look into using only vegan toppings from now on.

Veganism isn’t hard. Sure, it may inconvenience you in those times when you really want the cupcake or doughnut, but can’t be sure of where the sugar comes from. But in the end you have to make a decision. What’s more important: the momentary pleasure of a non-vegan cupcake or standing up for what you believe in: against the unnecessary harm of animals for something as trivial as frosting?

I urge vegans to consider the sourcing of their ingredients, always. I urge you to consider where you spend your money, what you’re funding, and to ask even vegan restaurants and vendors about their ingredients. With the large public misunderstanding of veganism and with how often it is linked to vegetarianism–as if they are remotely similar–it has been my experience that just because a product is labeled as “vegan” it isn’t necessarily so. Read your labels, ask questions. You have a right to know what you’re putting into your body, you have a right to know if someone was exploited unnecessarily or if your money will help perpetuate animal exploitation.

I hope you’re all well read, well fed, and warm–it’s cold here in Boston. I’m working on a number of vegan entrees and desserts that I’ll hopefully be able to post in time for Thanksgiving. Until then…

Stay vegan,
Melody

Yes, that's cake in an "applicator" on the top right under the Halo Bars. They've literally invented a way to suggestively shove cake into your mouth. It's so wrong and so, so good at the same time.

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