A Vegan Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving can be a rough time, particularly for new vegans that still celebrate with meat-eating family. It’s not easy sometimes to handle the chides that come with eating differently from everyone else at the table. And, especially the first time, it can be hard to resist the comfort food we remember from our childhood. There’s been a lot written about how to do a vegan Thanksgiving, but hey, there can always be a little more, right?

So, here are some ways to help get you through the holiday season stuffed and happy.

Get to cooking!

Whether you’re spending a quiet Thanksgiving at home or braving an evening of stupid questions and taunts from 20 family members, there are some great resources online to help you get cooking and make sure that you not only have something to eat, but something to wow the rest of the family as well.

I got a peek at Nava Atlas’ significantly updated version of A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving e-book and it’s mighty impressive. It features 65 recipes in all, including Nava’s own as well as contributions from all your favorite veg cookbook authors and bloggers (among them: Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Dreena Burton, Jill Nussinow, and Bryanna Clark Grogan). The e-book sells for $8.95 and all profits go to “humanitarian charities concerned with hunger, microfinancing for women in developing countries, and the alleviation of human trafficking.”

Then, over at Vegan.com, there’s a guest post from Robin Robertson (author of many cookbooks, including the new and massive 1,000 Vegan Recipes). A full Thanksgiving menu is presented. The Triple Cranberry Relish and Ginger-Dusted Pumpkin Cheezecake sound mighty good. (Last year’s guest post is also still available.)

Go to a real Thanksgiving…

And by that, I mean a celebration that doesn’t involve killing turkeys. Why not hang out with some turkeys instead? Sanctuaries around the country have vegan Thanksgiving get-togethers. The one at Poplar Spring is my favorite event of the year — imagine a vegan potluck with 300 people bringing dishes. Hot damn.

Below is a sampling of sanctuaries and their Thanksgiving events.

Vegetarian and Vegan organizations also tend to do Thanksgiving meals on or around Thanksgiving, so check in with your local groups to see if there’s any thing to get involved in.

Read Things

This is a good time of year to dig into More than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality by UPC’s Karen Davis (here’s a Google Books version). The level of detail is impressive — you’ll learn something. Trust me.

Feel free to share your favorite vegan Thanksgiving events, recipes, or books.

Raising a vegan kid: the first 2 1/2 years

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Our daughter is 2 1/2 years old now. She’s never consumed any meat, dairy, or eggs. She’s being raised vegan and is being taught compassion for animals right from the start. Of course, if you listen to some people, we’re killing our child by denying her animal products.

I’m very thankful that from the very beginning, we haven’t faced any resistance from our families. No snide comments, no threats to call child services, no sneaking meat into her food during family gatherings. We’re very lucky in that sense. Our families understand that we’re doing what we think is best and that we’re not going to be stupid about it and feed her only soy milk and apple juice.

We’re first-time parents, so we didn’t exactly know what to expect going in. What if Rasine was a picky eater? What if she was constantly wanting what her friends at playgroup were eating? What if she “failed to thrive,” as they say? I thought I’d talk a little bit about how things are going so far since I really don’t talk about the parenting side of veganism very often here. (If you just want a cute photo and a funny audio clip, jump to the end.)

Food

My wife and I held our collective breath hoping that Rasine wouldn’t turn out to be a picky eater or stricken with a slew of food allergies. Thankfully, she didn’t and she wasn’t.

Some of Rasine’s favorite foods right now are lentils (which are a staple in her diet — she has them nearly every night mixed with nutritional yeast, DHA or olive oil, and ground flax), pears, tofu, quinoa, rice, steamed broccoli, grapes (as long as the skin is peeled), apples, hummus, grits, whole grain pancakes and waffles, banana muffins, tempeh chicken salad, smoothies… and the list goes on. Sure, there’s stuff she doesn’t like and there are some days where she’ll even deny her favorites, but that’s true of any kid. Her diet is primarily whole foods and she’s been exposed to a wider variety of grains and soy/rice/nut/seed milks than I was until my late 20s.

We also keep her involved in the making of food. She’s always playing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner and she loves helping out with stirring pancake batter, pressing the button on the food processor, or licking hummus right off of the spatula. We want her to be close to her food and to enjoy the process of making it, not just eating it.

Really, the food part of things has been the easiest. I’ve become a firm believer that if you feed kids healthy stuff from the start, that’s what they’ll develop the taste for. Rasine’s not really into fake chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or stuff like that (though Veg Booty and ice cream sandwiches are her vices).

The Social Side

Without a doubt, the most difficult part has been the social side of things. My wife is the one that deals with it most frequently, since she’s staying at home with Rasine right now and hauling her to playgroups, weekday birthday parties, and picnics with friends. It takes some extra prep work to be prepared for these situation. For instance, we make sure to always come with a cupcake when headed to a birthday party. And if we know her friends are going to be having cheese crackers, we’ll pick up some Eco-Planet vegan cheddar crackers. There are times when she wants something someone else has, but if we’re prepared, we can usually deal with it without too much trouble.

I think this will continue to be tricky as she gets older and starts school or going to friends’ houses and realizing that there is a difference between what she’s eating and what her friends are eating. Hopefully the “why” behind it all will be enough to help her work through it.

Health

One of my concerns before Rasine was born was finding a pediatrician that was vegan-friendly. I knew we weren’t going to get a vegan pediatrician, but if we could get one that was knowledgeable enough to know that vegan kids can be perfectly healthy, I’d be happy. Rasine’s first doctor had to have the term “vegan” defined for her, but she was hands-off enough and trusting enough of us to make the right decisions that she worked out well for us. Until she stopped taking our insurance.

Right before Rasine’s 2-year check-up, we had to scramble and find another doctor. We found one that seemed decent and OK with the fact Rasine was vegan. However, during the check-up, the doctor expressed some concern that Rasine was quite low on the growth chart and had fallen slightly off of her curve. She asked that we go see a nutritionist to have Rasine’s diet analyzed.

Damn.

This ended up being a major stress for me. Not because I thought Rasine was unhealthy, but because I was worried the doctor might. See, our daughter comes from small stock. I’m a touch under 5’6″ and was always very, very low on the growth scale growing up. My sister was, too, and her kids have all also been small, but healthy. My wife’s just under five feet tall. Neither of us had any expectations that Rasine would be a center in the WNBA.

Never mind that Rasine had never had an ear infection, had only had one high temperature, and was way, way healthier than many kids her age. The weight thing was becoming an issue.

We visited the nutritionist and, thankfully, things went wonderfully. She was very impressed at Rasine’s diet and had no concerns that our girl was thriving. It was suggested that we add some oils and more calorie-dense foods to Rasine’s current diet to help boot her caloric intake a bit. We did and six months later Rasine was back on the growth curve and our doctor was ecstatic. She’s still a small kid — one of my elementary school friend’s son weighed more at six months than Rasine does now, at 2 1/2 — but she’s healthy and active and well-proportioned.

Teaching Compassion

Rasine loves visiting the farm. When I go to volunteer, she says, “Daddy help bock bocks!” She’s not freaked out by bugs and enjoys helping usher them back outside. The other day, I even noticed that she was taking special care not to step on some Boxelder bugs that have started gathering outside our house.

She also loves our dog Amina. Rasine helps us feed her, loves taking her for walks, and says good night to her before bed. Sure, if she gets in Rasine’s space, Rasine will push Amina away, but we try to catch that as it happens and explain that Amina’s being nice and so she should be, too.

All kids naturally love animals, I think, but explicitly cultivating that love early on by exposing them to what many would consider “food animals,” by using positive language, and by helping them look at animals not as lower beings to be dominated but as peers worthy of equal treatment and consideration, that love won’t die once they get older and more hardened to the realities of the world.

I’d love to hear from some other parents here. Chime in with all your cute stories as well as any challenges you’re facing.

And now, the cute stuff…

Here’s something we recorded last week:

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(Translation of her definition of vegan: “No eat bock bocks (chickens), no eat piggies, no eat moos (cows).”)

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Review: Go Max Go Candy Bars

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gomaxgobars1024x768 I wanted to lead with a photo.  You don’t mind, right?

While this picture makes it look like I went out and bought a Snickers bar and an Almond Joy, let me assure, I have not fallen off the vegan wagon.  And let me also assure you: life is about get better for vegans who like a little junk food on occasion.

A couple of weeks ago, both Ken from Cosmos and Chad from Food Fight made cryptic comments on their respective twitter streams about vegan versions of popular candy bars that they had just tried and would soon be carrying.  I gently nudged Ken for some info, got it, and before long had two of my own candy bars to try out.

The company is Go Max Go and is run by two long-time vegans (11+ years) who had an unfulfilled hankering for the “chocolatey, nougaty, caramely, peanutty, almondy, coconutty crazy” candy bars of their pre-vegan days.  While their site obviously can’t mention which big name bars that theirs bear a resemblance to, the names and descriptions hint at it (the Jokerz is like a vegan Snickers, the Twilight bar mimics a Milky Way, the Buccaneer is similar to a Three Musketeers, and the Mahalo is reminiscent of an Almond Joy).  The bars have no animal ingredients (and, therefore, no cholesterol), hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or artificial ingredients.

The two bars above are the ones I was able to sample.  On the left is the Jokerz bar and on the right is the Mahalo.

When I was in college, I had a number of 8am computer science classes.  Not being a morning person, I rolled out of bed at 7:55 and walked to my class, not getting breakfast until afterwards.  I always had a Snickers bar with me because it kept me full (and was cheap and readily accessible).  I certainly haven’t had one in the last four-and-a-half years and I probably haven’t had one in nearly ten.

The Jokerz bar is a tad thinner than the traditional Snickers bar, but let me tell you: the taste is all there.  The peanuts, the caramel, and the nougat.  Oh, the nougat.  The chocolate is rice milk-based, but is much truer to the traditional milk chocolate taste and texture than other rice milk chocolate bars I’ve tried.  I detected no funny aftertaste at all (though my wife said she could taste a very, very slight hint of rice, she was still incredibly impressed by the bar).

The Mahalo bar is also very true to its Almond Joy inspiration.  It has just the right balance of coconut and almonds.  I’m pretty sure I moaned out loud when I took my first bite.

Both bars were thoroughly enjoyed by both my wife and my two-and-a-half year old daughter.  (Side note: it makes me so happy that there all of these great “vegan equivalents” popping up.  It’s going to make it a lot easier on her when she’s eating with friends.  She won’t feel like she’s missing out on anything because she’s vegan.)

While there have been some forays into vegan versions of classic candy bars in the past, most of them have been too “healthy” tasting (I love you, carob, but…) or come in tiny little packages that rival “Fun Size” bars.  The sample bars I got were full size candy bars and hopefully they’ll be available in that size when they hit the streets.  I also hope they’re available in boxes of 100 that I could have automatically delivered to my face each month, but that may be wishful thinking.

I really can’t speak highly enough about these candy bars.  If a good candy bar is  one of those things you’ve missed as a vegan or if a Milky Way is your last non-vegan vice, Go Max Go has you covered.  I can’t wait for these to become available later this year just so I can hear what you all have to say about them.

Links:

Go Max Go Foods

Review: Teese Vegan Cheese

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teese-vb When I heard all of the initial buzz surrounding Chicago Soy Dairy’s new vegan cheese, I was excited to try it out.  They’d posted some intriguing video showing how it melted versus Follow Your Heart’s cheese and given the mediocre competition, I figured Teese to be the new frontrunner in vegan cheeses.

The folks at Chicago Soy Dairy were kind enough to send along a log of Teese for me to try out.  And so I did.

My wife and I tried Teese in a few different settings.  We had it on top of meatball subs, on a pizza, and plain, on crackers.  Teese tasted decent enough by itself on crackers.  It wasn’t a perfect replication of dairy cheese, but is probably the closest to mozzarella that I’ve tasted soy cheese get.  The real test, though was in the melting.

When vegans gather, it’s inevitable that they joke about Follow Your Heart’s not-really-bold claim on their packaging that “It melts!”  Teese is supposed to pick up where Follow Your Heart left off and melt more like dairy cheese.  From all accounts I’ve seen, it does indeed melt quite well in commercial settings on pizza.  In our kitchen, though, we had a little less luck.  In fact, it melted pretty much like Follow Your Heart.  Certain parts melted really well while others looked like they weren’t even in the oven.  I suspect that commercial kitchens have ovens that heat a little more evenly.

Melting issues aside (besides, others have had more luck), they did make darn good tasting meatball subs and I’ve tried lobbying local pizzerias (unsuccessfully, so far) to start offering Teese pizzas based on the success at home.  A Teese pizza might just be good enough to win over those straggling lacto-ovos.

Where Teese really wins, though, is price.  Sheese and Cheezly are still crazy expensive (and pretty awesome), costing over a dollar per ounce.  Teese, per ounce, is the same price as Follow Your Heart’s cheese, about 47 cents per.  (I won’t even bring up Veganrella, because I’m not entirely sure it’s actually meant to be eaten.)  Availability isn’t nearly as widespread as Follow Your Heart, but if it ever reaches the level of their Temptation Ice Cream, they’ll be in good shape.

We haven’t reached the promised land of perfect vegan cheese yet, but we’re edging ever closer thanks to products like Teese.

La Brea Bakery bread

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La Brea Bakery bread is pretty easy to find around these parts, which is a good thing because decent bread can still be hard to come by in the supermarket (HFCS, anyone?).  I was examining their ingredients recently and decided to drop them a line about their use of “sour cultures.” From initial research, I found that sour cultures are usually plant-derived in the US but can be derived from animal sources.  I also asked which of their breads were explicitly vegan.  Here is an excerpt from their initial response:

All of our products contain natural strains of yeast and beneficial bacteria. These are generally listed on our ingredient declaration as sour culture. A number of products use honey. This again will be stated on the label. We have a seasonal product called Chocolate Cherry Round which contains butter. Finally we have recently introduced some products containing cheese. Each of these ingredients will be clearly listed in the ingredient declaration on the bag if present in the product. There are no animal derivatives in the flour bleaching agents. We use unbleached wheat flour as our main bulk flour.

Our products are made on cross functional production lines so products suitable for Vegans are made on the same production lines as products containing some of the ingredients above. There is a detailed clean down of each line following a production run containing any of the above ingredients. We do have a number of Home-Bake products which are sold frozen by the retailer and can be baked off at home.

I was still unclear on the source of their “natural strains of yeast and beneficial
bacteria,” so I replied asking for clarification.  Less than 20 minutes later, I got this response:

With reference to your query regarding the origin of the yeast and bacterial strains used in our breads I would like to inform you that back in 1988 they were originally propagated from Organic grapes. The strains have been maintained using flour and water since then. I hope to have been of assistance.

Just thought I’d pass this on for others that may be searching for detailed info about the sources of (admittedly trace) ingredients of La Brea Bakery’s very tasty bread.