Holiday wrap-up

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Hi there! I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season without too many “I could be a vegan… except for cheese”-type conversations.

For Christmas, the family converged on my parents house for three days filled with family visits, cooking, and other assorted holiday mayhem. The “food situation” wasn’t too bad… my mom’s nearly vegetarian and always makes sure there’s something vegan for me. She and my dad have even taken to preparing certain things vegan only rather than having two versions available (Christmas cookies, mashed potatoes, etc.), which is nice, because people simply don’t notice unless you tell them.

Other family continued to be a bit baffled by my veganism (c’mon, folks, I’ve been veggie for over six years now!), but at least it allowed for some decent conversation and education on the subject. One relative surprised me by trying a piece of my tofu cheesecake and enjoying it and I had to break down the “free range myth” for another. Another made me laugh a little bit when she told me, “Since you’re vegan, I made the fish with fake bacon bits instead of bacon,” to which I paused and replied, “Yes… but there’s still the fish…” She laughed and realized her mistake pretty quickly after that.

My sister gave Rasine the very cool Tofu Bear, a soft little teddy bear made out of “soy silk,” a “a cutting edge fiber made from the waste produced during the manufacture of tofu.” Replace “fiber” with “product” and “tofu” with “meat” and you’d be talking about leather! Does this mean that meat eaters that eschew tofu will have to say they don’t support soy silk because it “still supports The Industry”?

My cousin and I also chatted about Big Antifreeze and how they’re suckers for not using taste-aversive additives to deter dogs and cats from ingesting it (though, interestingly, the ASPCA is “neutral” on the subject).

Food I made for the holidays that turned out well: a yellow split-pea soup from a Polish cookbook, the very Toll House-ish cookies from Don’t Feed the Bears, Dreena’s Sublime Chocolate Bark, and chocolate chip tofu cheesecake from the Chicago Diner cookbook.

Any good hoilday stories to share as we kick off this new year?

A positive lunch experience

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Today I went out to lunch with a group of people from work, something I generally don’t do since I’m not terribly close socially with many people I work with, plus I’m pretty introverted. In any event, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant nearby. I was the only one that had eaten there before so they asked me what was good. I told them, “Well, obviously I only have experience with the last two pages of the menu (the vegetarian dishes), but they’ve all be good so far.” Everyone except for one person took a quick glance at the back of the menu and then returned looking through the regular meat dishes.

I was pleased, though, that the one person saw a soup from that page that he thought looked good and ordered it. I asked him afterwards what he thought about it and he said he enjoyed it. I told him, “It makes me happy when non-vegetarians try something with tofu, something outside of their comfort zone.”

He told me that he had never had tofu before. “Were those the fried white chunks?” he asked. I told him they were and explained about how the fried tofu in soups usually just have the flavor in the crust whereas you can also marinate tofu to infuse flavor into it. He seemed interested.

It just impressed me that someone who had never had tofu didn’t shy away from the dish just because there was something unfamiliar in it. It’s one of those small things that makes me realize that not everyone else in the world requires meat at every meal they eat.

Christmas Eatin’

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I hope you all had/are having a wonderful holiday.

Christmas weekend went relatively well for us, though this was the first time in a while that “the food thing” has been an issue. This part of the family is about as far from vegan as possible, which made things a little tricky. Not really in terms of what we had to eat–we made our own meals–but in terms of having to deal with the questions and comments we’ve all heard a thousand times before. One family member in particular seemed particularly challenged by my mere presence, annoyed that I wanted to make my own curry because she was using dairy-based margarine and milk. She did buy vegetable broth in anticipation of my arrival, though, which was thoughtful, and made preparing my sauce alongside hers easier.

I also found myself challenged with the “But the cow’s need to be milked! It hurts if they’re not!” line as well as the “Plants feel pain” bit. I wonder sometimes if people really believe these things or are just repeating what they’ve heard. I can only be thankful that the honey issue didn’t come up.

In case you’re wondering how I handle these situations, I don’t let them escalate. Holidays with family are not the time to be spreading The Word. So, to the cows-need-to-be-milked comment my reply was, “Well, we won’t get into that right now” and I ignored the plants feel pain comment altogether. If I feel like the person might actually be receptive to the message or is genuinely interested in talking about it, I’ll add, “I’d be happy to talk with you about that later, when we’re not eating,” but in this case, I think it was more of a challenge than any interest in finding out why dairy’s worth avoiding.

After having not eaten or prepared meat for this long, the sights, smells, and discussion of meat are really starting to make me feel uneasy. Early on, it didn’t bother me too much because I wasn’t that far removed from it, but like they say, once you find out what goes into producing the roast on the platter, you can’t unlearn it. I end up thinking about the animals I see each week at the farm and making that very uncomfortable connection with the slab of flesh sitting out on the table.

Thankfully, to most members of the family, my veganism has stopped becoming a topic of conversation at every meal we share. It’s something they’ve gotten used to and doesn’t need to be discussed too much. As a nice byproduct, many of the family members that were most confused about the idea of avoiding meat have begun to understand the reasons behind it and have even made pleasant comments about how they “admire” the act. It’s a step in the right direction.

If you’ve read this far, the least I can do is tell you about the good food my wife and I had. One night, we joined the rest of the family for a curry dish. Our curry sauce was a makeshift concoction I put together based on the non-vegan version in the pan next to mine. We had plenty of veggies and fried tofu in ours and it was absolutely delicious. I had leftovers for lunch just a few minutes ago.

For Christmas night dinner, I made a veggie pot pie recipe from Robin Robertson‘s Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook. We used lightly seasoned and fried seitan in place of the tofu, but otherwise followed the recipes for the pot pie and gravy as-is. The end result was spectacular. I have bad luck with crusts-from-scratch, but this one was very easy to make and came out nice and flaky. Just about everyone at dinner tried some of the pot pie and it went over really well. My brother-in-law’s girlfriend even asked for seconds, which is always nice since it’s hard to tell how seitan will sit with meat eaters.

Navigating the holidays can be a little troublesome, but you’ll always feel better afterwards if you stick to your guns while still playing the polite card. Like Bob and Jenna say in Vegan Freak (and I’m paraphrasing here), you’ll be best off if you find that halfway point between timidity and over-assertiveness.

What to do with old leather goods

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Over on Vegan Chai, the issue of what new vegans should do with old leather shoes is addressed. This is one of those topics that seems to come up a lot, including in the new Vegan Freak book, so I figured I’d chime in.

Even before I made the full transition to veganism, I decided to start to phase out my use of leather and other animal products. That said, I was still wearing shoes with leather in them a few months after I was vegan. I had made the vow to myself that, “I’ll continue to use my animal products until they’ve worn out their welcome and then I’ll replace them with an animal-friendly product.” The thing is, around my house, shoes can end up lasting forever. Just last weekend I went to the beach and couldn’t find my flip-flops (which is OK, because I don’t really like wearing them) so I grabbed a pair of old sneakers from the basement that date back to at least college. My “lawn-mowing shoes” are an old pair of sneakers-with-leather and I even wear shoes with leather when I volunteer at the farm. I worry that the cows hate me because of this.

For everyday wear, I sport my wicked cool hemp Superstars (and my matching wallet). I’m representing veganism well now, even if most people don’t take notice. Fortunately, they also didn’t take notice when I was wearing leather for those first few months I was vegan. I lucked out because, as Bob and Jenna point out in their book, defensive people tend to try and find any sort of contradiction when they realize you’re vegan. Most of us are too polite to point out the many contradictions our detractors have in their lives as well.

Everyone has to make the choice that’s right for them. I was comfortable with the notion of explaining to people why I was wearing leather, if they asked. Some people aren’t comfortable being put on the defensive, and for them it’s probably best to donate those old leather goods and get some new stuff right away. There’s also the school of thought that says, “If you wear leather at all, you’re sending a mixed message to people about veganism.” I think there’s validity to that point, but at the same I think that very few people will even take notice. And if they do, it’s likely they’ll say something and you’ll be able to counter it with a simple explanation.

I guess I should also take a second to address the idea that wearing man-made materials that look like leather, such as pleather, also sends the wrong message to people. After all, the argument goes, shouldn’t we be working to move people away from the entire leather “look”? Probably, but to me this parallels the “why do vegans want to eat things that taste and feel like meat?” question I get all the time. Just because we don’t partake in animal products doesn’t mean we stopped doing so because we didn’t like the way they looked (or tasted or felt). Personally, I’m trying to replace leather items with things that look nothing like leather, but that’s just because I’m not a leather type of guy. I have no problem with the pushing of pleather (though I do think we need to take a closer look at the environmental affect of pleather versus other alternatives).

Helpful Ordering Friends

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I’d venture to say that if there’s one thing that all vegetarians and vegans have in common, whether they’ve been meatless for six days or six years, is the Helpful Ordering Friend (heretofore, HOF). You know, the person who you’ll go out to lunch with and they’ll try to help you find “something you can eat” before they even consider their own food. And it’s not always a friend, sometimes it’s a family member.

What’s difficult about this social situation is that the intentions of the HOF are noble and positive: they want to make sure that you, the vegetarian with an oh-so-limited choice of food, has something to eat at the restaurant of choice. It’s a nice gesture and should be appreciated. The thing is, after the tenth time it’s happened, it gets a little annoying.

How does one politely deflect an HOF’s assistance? I usually opt for the simple, “Thanks… I’m sure I can find something.” If they persist, I’ll ask back, “So, what are you going to have? Find anything good?”

To all potential HOFs: thanks for the concern. We appreciate it. We really do. But let us worry about digging through the menu and asking questions of the waiter. We’ll take care of it. Really and truly.