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Monday, September 26, 2011

From hippies to hipsters: Vegan cookbooks

Every social justice movement has a history of events and milestones that you can look back on to see how far it has come. With veganism, we have a variety of things with which we can measure its influence: for example, no longer having to add boiling water to powder to make veggie burgers, an increase in dining options, and of course our cookbooks.

I recently received a copy of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and my first impression was it is a gorgeous book. It’s happy, inviting and the recipes definitely look delicious!

I had to think for a second why I was so damned impressed with the book. And I realized, vegan cookbooks didn’t exactly start out that way.

For those of you who know me well, you know that for me, making spaghetti (noodles from a box and sauce from a jar) is a big cooking ordeal, so what do I know about cookbooks?

The answer is – a fair amount. Now, what do I know about cooking – absolutely nothing.

In the ‘80s when I went vegan and got involved in the animal rights movement, recipes were mostly typed pieces of paper with ingredients and preparation instructions on them that were copied one too many times. Eventually, groups began to make their own little booklets of recipes – typed – no pictures. Eventually, PeTA started to include small recipe cards in their magazines with drawings on them.

In the ‘90s some great cookbooks came out, including my favorite, The Compassionate Cook by PeTA, and although the cookbook had a great drawing by Berke Breathed on the front cover (and great recipes) it was still only the recipes, just like Vegan Vittles by Jo Stepaniak.

And one of my favorite cookbooks (again, I only eat the food, I don’t make it) is from a vegetarian cookbook (almost vegan), The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook created by the good people in Summertown, TN. It did have black-and-white photographs and well……..umm… looked pretty hippie and (no offense to the hippies who read this blog), that particular look can only win a certain audience.

Then in 1999, something happened and veganism got hip (well, we already were, but our cookbooks started to shout it!) That was the year How It All Vegan by Tanya Barnard & Sarah Kramer came out and it was quirky, cool and tasty!

Later, Isa Chandra Moskowitz tipped the scale with Vegan with a Vengeance and then it was all over – delicious color recipes and people knew exactly how cool vegans were and could be. Then in 2006, Isa helped us to conquer the country’s cupcake craze with another outstanding cookbook – Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

In 2007, we got a taste of Colleen’s first cookbook, The Joy of Vegan Baking, which welcomed us to this joy with a picture of delicious cookies on the front and healthy pie and bread recipes inside.

Melisser Elliott continued the trend with The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life, which had recipes and more.

And well, Colleen, Isa, Sarah and the rest continue to show off loads of recipes with gorgeous color photos! Yes, our food looks tasty, healthy (when it should) and so decadent when it needs to.

Obviously this is not a history of vegan cookbooks as much as it is a walk through it from my perspective. We have come a long way from the days of squeezing vegan cheese out of tubes (that would plasticize when baked),and our cookbooks no longer make it seem as if our food isn’t tasty enough to display or is "full of hay."*

For me, cookbooks have always been a decoration, more of a status symbol to others to show them how many vegan cookbooks are out there. You can learn from me: you don’t have to cook to enjoy cookbooks; just find someone who knows how to cook!

*Hey where did the hay comment come from? When I was in college the Beyond Beef Campaign (started by Jeremy Rifkin) organized a day where activists around the country would have a delicious-looking veggie burger in front of McDonald’s to show how delicious they could be. At our event in Austin, two men came up wearing cowboy hats. One with a bun and some hay inside the other was more dressed up. By the time they arrived the media had left so we were able to confront them and after I debated with one of them for a while one of the activists commented on my ‘bravery’ I asked why – she said he was the Agricultural Commissioner of Texas. And now, this idiot is running for President – he is the Governor of Texas Rick Perry (the other was the head of the Cattlemen’s Association).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Activism Down Under Part 2: The Aussies

As my last blog post explained, I was recently in New Zealand speaking at their national animal rights conference. Since I had flown that far already, it made sense to travel to Australia as well. I had never been there so I was looking forward to meeting activists with whom I had worked on various campaigns.

Before starting Food Empowerment Project, I was the Executive Director of a group called Viva!USA, and one of our campaigns we ran was against Adidas for their use of kangaroo skins for their soccer cleats.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of spending time with animals in a more natural environment at sanctuaries throughout the United States. It is truly a joy to be around animals like ducks, pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows, and sheep, especially since people often think of them as food. But observing them when they are allowed to be the individuals they are, indulging in their instinctual behaviors, well, it can be a life-altering experience. Yet one animal I had spent years protecting, and one I was unsure if I would ever see in person, is the kangaroo.

I was lucky enough to meet one of the activists I have been working with on behalf of roos: Lindy Stacker. Because I had never met Lindy in person, she brought along a special companion so I would recognize her at the airport. There is nothing quite like being greeted by an incredible woman/activist and an inflatable kangaroo!

Lindy took us to an orphanage where we met a baby wallaby and both Eastern and Red Kangaroos. We were able to touch them, and I even felt the tail of a Red Kangaroo hit my leg; his strength was amazing.

We also met another individual who deserves mention. His name is Howard Ralph.

Howard is a medical doctor, surgeon, aesthetician, and a veterinarian. He is all of these and, well, an incredibly humble and gentle man.

After some coaxing from Lindy, he eventually handed me a photo album wrapped in a pillow case.

I had anticipated seeing images of injured kangaroos whom he had helped heal. What I had not expected to see was the range of animals this man has sought to help and cure: the small frog whose leg was broken and he put a pin in to fix, tortoises whose shells had been cracked when they were hit by a car, the wombat with cataracts, as well as the snakes, kangaroos, owls, possums, koalas, echidna, bats, and more.

His thought and practice has been, if you can help humans with this experience, why not animals?

The pictures in his “bible” were of animals before, during, and after surgery.

Here is one story: A bearded dragon suffered a fractured mandible after being hit by a car. Under anesthetic, the fracture was pinned and, because the lizard wouldn’t be able to eat for some months while his fracture healed, an oesopitalostomy tube was inserted to allow him to eat until he was well again. According to Howard, the patient healed.

There is also the story of the brushtail possum who was taken to the vet and was going to be killed because he had a broken arm! Just because of a broken arm. Luckily, the vet’s nurse knew about Howard, and she took the possum to see him.

More stories and even images can be seen here:

Unfortunately, donations are difficult to send from the states, but Food Empowerment Project plans to do some sort of event to showcase Howard’s efforts and raise needed funds for his clinic, Southern Cross Wildlife Care, which truly embodies the belief that every individual matters. (Everything that is done at this clinic, including the work of Howard and Lindy, is done as volunteers; the clinic receives no government funding.)

The world needs more doctors like Howard Ralph. If they have the experience, they should put their talents into practice to save lives – all lives, big and small.

Of course, we need not be a gifted vet to help animals. We all have the power to impact their lives every day by choosing to keep them off our plates.