Eating Vegan in Ocracoke

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This year, my wife, daughter, and I vacationed on the island of Ocracoke, the most remote of North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands, a 40-minute ferry ride from Hatteras.  I was a tad concerned about the vegetarian options on the island, but was pleasantly surprised by the choices.  In addition to staying at an accommodating bed and breakfast, we found that the island has a surprising amount of vegetarian food available for the taking.  Here’s a quick run-down of where we went (and a few we didn’t) for others that might be considering a visit to Ocracoke.  Keep in mind that many of these places don’t have web sites (and those that do are often very low-budget), but if you Google the name and “Ocracoke” you may be able to find menu scans or, at the very least, an address.

Ocracoke Coffee Company – A great little coffee shop that seems to have its fair share of regulars.  They have the standard assortment of coffee options (with soy milk on hand), a modest loose tea selection (sadly, stored in glass containers, exposed to the light), and some really good smoothies.  The smoothies are cheap ($4 for 21 oz.) and tasty.  Their Very Scary Berry smoothie (which is their Very Merry Berry smoothie plus spirulina) is excellent and their Tea Breeze smoothie with berries and black tea is unique.  Some smoothies have yogurt but soy milk can be subbed.  I didn’t ask about the source of their optional protein powder. None of their baked goods appear to be vegan. Free wi-fi and a connected bookstore make this a must-visit if you’re on the island.

Fig Tree Deli – Right next door to where we stayed was The Fig Tree Deli and Bakery (also the Sweet Tooth ice cream shop).  They offer three vegetarian sandwiches.  One is cheese-heavy, but the other two are perfectly serviceable (and, indeed, tasty).  So stop by and enjoy the Hummus and Veggie Wrap (homemade hummus, lettuce, and cucumber-tomato relish on a flour or tomato tortilla) or the Rice Salad Wrap (marinated rice, black beans, and veggie salad with lettuce and tomato on a flour or tomato tortilla), just ask them to hold the feta.

Ocracoke Pizza Company – Take out only here, but they offer olive oil (with no cheese) or tomato sauce as a base on a hand-tossed or thin-and-crispy crust.  All the standard toppings.  Note that their pesto base does contain cheese.  We ended up ordering twice from here.  Both times, our pizza was decent.

Thai Moon – A Thai restaurant seems out-of-place here, but it’s mighty welcome thanks to their good vegetarian selection.  I was told that their vegetarian options do not have fish sauce or fish seasoning, though I’m not sure whether the oyster sauce used in one of their vegetarian dishes is vegan or not.  I really liked their veggie fried rice (which uses fried silken tofu!) and Huyen enjoyed their sweet and sour veggies.  Take-out only and very easy to miss.  Shop next door at the Natural Selections hemp store while you wait for your order.

Mango Loco – Though not very vegan-friendly by default, this Mexican/Carribean restaurant on Hwy 12 turned out to be a great visit.  Knowing that the preparation of Mexican food varies greatly from restaurant to restaurant, I told our server I was vegan and wanted to make sure the beans weren’t cooked in lard.  She said, “The beans are safe, but the rice isn’t.  That’s cooked in chicken stock.”  She then offered alternatives and said she’d check on anything else we had questions about.  Huyen had a mighty spicy spinach and mushroom enchilada (hold the cheese and sour cream, white rice instead of their regular rice).  I opted for a delicious Mexican lasagna with layers of tortillas, beans, and salsa (again: hold the cheese and sour cream, swap out the rice for white rice).  The plate was huge and I only managed to finish half, still coming away feeling uncomfortably full.  Chalk this one up to a good vegan experience in a seemingly unvegan restaurant thanks to a very helpful waitress and accommodating kitchen.

Places We Didn’t Eat That Have Veggie Options

Back Porch Restaurant – There’s not a lot here for vegans, but their Chana Masala (tofu, spinach, and chickpea curry) sounds mighty good.  I might have given it a shot if it wasn’t $18.

Cafe Atlantic – They have a vegetarian pasta that would likely be vegan without feta and a veggie or Carribean wrap that could easily be made vegan.

Howard’s Pub – Their “PETA Burger” is vegan, though I was told that it’s just a frozen patty (Boca?) that’s been reheated and not homemade.  I haven’t confirmed this.

Creekside Cafe – Standard wrap options.

If you’re going…

The Variety Store across the street from the Fig Tree Deli/Sweet Tooth seems to be the best place to get groceries, but you’ll definitely want to stock up before coming because it’s small and isn’t exactly teaming with vegan convenience foods.  However, they have a large selection of menus posted outside and flyers and newspapers inside that will help you decide about where to go for dinner.

The Natural Selection hemp store (mentioned in the review of Thai Moon) is worth a stop for their inventory of hemp, organic cotton, and bamboo products.  They’ve got a few vegan snack items in their kitchen area.

A B&B is a good way to go, though it is a tad more expensive than other options.  But, B&Bs will often cater to your dietary needs when they serve up a homemade breakfast.  Our hostess was wonderful, serving up fruit and toast with hummus one day, nearly-vegan waffles and pancakes two other days (we found out later that they were made with honey… an honest mistake), and delicious black bean enchiladas on our last morning.  She noted that it was a challenge for her, but she never complained about it and was extremely friendly (and not just because we were her last guests before selling the place!).

Of course, it’s also worth looking for lodging that offers at least a fridge and perhaps a microwave or kitchenette.

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of options there were on the island.  Being as remote as it is, I was half expecting to be subsisting on Clif Bars for four days.  But thanks to the B&B and the good restaurant options, we ate well during our entire visit.

(I also can’t let this post go by without a shout-out to my sister who made some kick-ass vegan cupcakes for our daughter’s second birthday and put us up for the night on our way to the island.)

On Kids

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I’m pretty sure everyone else has moved past this subject, but I’m going to continue my trend of talking about issues after everyone else.

A couple weeks back, Josh posted a pair of entries about the anti-kid sentiment he was seeing amongst many vegans he knows.  I thought the entry was well thought out and made good points, but it really stirred up a shitstorm.  I was honestly surprised at the vitriol I saw on other people’s sites. it was like they’d read a completely different post.  I figured I’d throw in my two cents as a dad of a vegan kid.

Let me start by saying this: if you decide not to have kids, that’s completely cool.  I fully understand the reasons and respect all of them, whether it’s concerns about overpopulation, not having the maternal/paternal instinct, not being comfortable around kids, or just plain old not wanting kids messing up your well-organized collection of vintage LPs.  I promise you I’ll never tell you, “Oh, you’ll change your mind” or say anything like “You never know real love until you have your own child” because that’s just obnoxious.  Parenthood isn’t for everyone and I think we are each fully capable of making the decision to parent or not to parent for ourselves.

That said, I think one important thing to remember is that the kids are on our side.  They shouldn’t be viewed as enemies and even if you’re staunchly anti-breeding, don’t hate the kid. it’s not their fault they were born.  You don’t have to be their best friend or even talk to them, but reserve your hate for something else.  Honestly, as a parent, I’d rather you hate me and snub me for having a kid rather than taking it out on my daughter.  Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with that, but then again, I’m not really around vegans very often.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these kids are at a point in their veganism that most of us didn’t reach until high school or much later.  I look at 5-year-old kids that are happy vegans and have a grasp of animal rights concepts that I didn’t have when I was in college and it’s amazing to me.  Kids deal with much more peer pressure than we do as adults, and if they can keep their vegan edge at a point in their lives where all they want to do is fit in, more power to ’em.

I’m also constantly amazed (and inspired) when I hear about kids that aren’t even teenagers that decide to give up meat even when no one else in their family does.  Often, these kids get their friends or families to go veg with them.  That’s some realness right there.

Kids are a huge influence on other kids.  Strong, confident vegan kids are going to influence their peers over time.  So, maybe it would be better to think of those kids you “hate” as advocates for the future generation.  We’re going to have a tougher time as adults reaching eight-year-olds than one of their classmates is, so let’s give those vegan kids all the support we can.  And if “support” for you just means showing a little more tolerance to a kid and not hating him based solely on the fact he’s a kid, that’s fine by me.

OK. that’s all I have to say about that.  Now can I share a couple of pictures?

Cages chickens Sad

This is my daughter.  She turns two in less than two weeks.  Earlier this week, she was visiting a fruit farm that also sells eggs.  Their chickens are kept in cages, as seen in the first photo.  In the second photo, she’s making her sign for “sad” or “crying” because the chickens are in the cage.  A few days earlier, she and I were in Petco to look at some kittens that a local rescue group had brought in.  After petting the kitties, we looked around the store a bit and I pointed out the birds for sale.  I said very simply to my daughter, “Those birds are probably sad because they’d rather be outside flying around, right?”  She didn’t respond at that moment, but she was clearly processing it, comparing the birds in the cages to the birds she’s seen in our backyard.  When we got back in the car a few minutes later, she made the “sad/cry” sign and said “birds,” reminding me that the birds we saw in the store were sad.  And then, a week later, she applied the same idea to the chickens she saw in the cage.  Amazing.

I suspect some people would criticize my decision to bring up something depressing like that to kid that’s not even two yet, and believe me, I thought about it a lot.  But I stand by what I told her; while I think it could do some damage to start telling kids about the horrors of slaughterhouses before they’ve even gone to pre-school, I think that it’s very important as parents to instill the idea in kids that animals are sentient beings that want to be free every bit as much as we do as human animals.  I think one of the primary reasons that otherwise intelligent adults aren’t vegan is that the cognitive dissonance is so strong and so ingrained that people have a very tough time overcoming it.  If we can gently teach our kids this lesson early on, they’ll grow up to be adults that don’t have to learn about the sentience and inherent self-worth of animals that are traditionally consumed, it’ll be a completely normal concept to them.

Animals and Politics

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What’s the deal with Republicans and their VPs?  Apparently it’s a requirement that you support or participate in the most heinous of hunting practices.  Current VP Dick Cheney, when not shooting friends in the face, is a fan of the canned hunt.  Meanwhile, John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin, has supported the aerial hunting of wolves and bears.  This practice involves chasing the animal by helicopter until the animal is exhausted, and then shooting her point blank.

Aerial hunting was outlawed by the federal government in 1972 in the Federal Airborne Hunting Act, but Alaska has been wiggling through loopholes to allow this sort of thing.  Governor Palin “actively opposed a ballot measure campaign seeking to end the aerial hunting of wolves by private hunters and approved a $400,000 state-funded campaign aimed at swaying people’s votes on the issue,” according to the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.  If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to read up over at the Defenders’ page about Governor Palin’s record on this and other wildlife issues.

The thing is, I can guarantee that a question about this will never come up in any of the vice presidential debates.  In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that no question related to animal use or even animal welfare will come up during any debate or be prominently mentioned by either campaign.  Sure, Obama’s got the Animal Rights Advocates for Obama on my.barackobama.com.  The group has, after all, raised $12 for Obama’s campaign!  Wonder if they did that selling lemonade on the corner.

And, sure, Obama’s been quoted as saying, “I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other, and it’s very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals.”  Which is good.  Really.  But it’s kind of a blow-off statement, especially considering his seemingly lackluster voting record on animal welfare.

What I’m getting at is a point that a fellow Poplar Spring volunteer made to me the other day at lunch.  He told me how, as a vegan and animal rights advocate, he felt completely distanced from either candidate.  He said that he had to pretend other issues were more important to him than animal issues for the sole fact that politicians never talk about animals when campaigning.  I had to agree.  This issue that is so important to us, one that we see tied so closely to the mainstreamed issues of human rights and the environment, is completely ignored during the campaign season.  It’s unbelievably frustrating.

I realize it’s likely the candidates ignore the issue because they would alienate much of their base if they were to discuss the rights of animals.  So, until the base changes, the issue won’t be raised.

I think all we can do is continue to work our best to advocate on the individual level, making people aware of the issues and getting people to go vegan.  We have to tie animal rights and veganism to the rights of the human workers in slaughterhouses and the environmental affects of meat, dairy, and egg production.  Once more people are protesting the use of animals in their everyday lives and can see how it’s not just “an animal issue,” then maybe politicians will start talking about the rights of all sentient beings.  Maybe then people like Sarah Palin will be questioned about her support of illegal, barbaric hunting practices.  And maybe then we can start to make some real progress for the animals.