Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Miriam Sorrell



Malta-based
Miriam Sorrell maintains a prolific and active presence online through her recipe innovation on her website, Mouthwatering Vegan Recipes. A popular website with hundreds of free recipes, MVR has a special affinity for sun-drenched Mediterranean flavors but can do it all, proving in recipe after recipe how vegan food is not a sacrifice but bursting with flavor and variety. Through her various social media platforms, Miriam shows that amazing vegan food is something anyone can create without a ton of complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients: the simplest food preparations are often the most delicious. Please check out her various social media platforms, including her brand new YouTube channel, as well as her cookbooks, to help spread the word about compassionate living through the lure of some luscious food. As a passionate vegan, Miriam aspires to save the animals, winning over one palate at a time. We are proud to feature her as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I have always enjoyed cooking from a very early age, and in particular preparing delicious food for close friends and family. As a child, I was impressed and influenced by a particular couple who were like an aunt and uncle to me, and she would prepare the most wonderful homely food which I adored – this certainly inspired me, together with the fact that my father owned a restaurant in London, which I used to help out in as a teenager.

 2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Well, of course, food was far simpler then – and because I come from a Mediterranean background, I have always loved the best of Greek and Maltese cuisine. Inevitably, meat and fish would feature fairly prominently, and kleftiko was a firm favourite, together with the simple Maltese ‘Ħobż biż-żejt’ (Maltese bread drizzled with olive oil, and smeared with beefsteak tomatoes or tomato paste, then served with olives, crushed black pepper, etc). I still love simple rustic cuisine, though due to the constantly expanding horizons of my work, I have had the privilege of exploring so many different foods and cuisines.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

That’s a very difficult question to answer, because there have been so many! I have to add, that one of the hardest aspects of becoming vegan was when I realized just how lacking most restaurants were in creativity when it came to vegan menu options, although this has improved considerably over the years, particularly in the last year or so. This only served to spur me on further to use my own creativity and start my food blog. So, my honest answer to your question has to be that nearly all the best vegan meals I can remember having have been created in my own kitchen. Our Christmas meal is always memorable – I usually make one of the two roulades on my blog – there’s the ‘Lentil, Mushroom, Spinach & Spicy Nut Roulade’, or the ‘Double Stuffed Savoury Christmas Log’. Aside from the above, we stayed with my sister a couple of years ago, and she always goes to town in the kitchen whenever I’m over. She produced an incredible Briam (Greek Mixed Roasted Vegetables), which she served with ‘Bamies Latheres me Domata’ (okra cooked in a tomato sauce) – this so impressed me that I created my own version of Briam which went in my second book Yasou. [UK version here.]

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I think it would have to be for my dear late mother, who passionately believed in me. And since she was Greek, I would make my vegan keftethes (meatballs) for her since I learnt how to make them from her own recipe (which is also published in my book ‘YASOU’) coupled up with a Greek salad topped with my crumbled feta cheese (also from my book ‘YASOU’) - she would have loved that!

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I don’t see there being any difference between the mistakes made in vegan cooking or any other form of cooking.  Creativity is creativity, and food made without any heart or soul will always taste as such. But an obvious shortfall can be seen in so many food outlets, where the mentality is still that a vegan dish can be a normal menu option with the meat or fish left out! Then, when the chef tries to get a bit creative, you land up with a bizarre combination of vegetables and perhaps a few beans, created in a panic behind the scenes – this is an area that they haven’t covered in culinary school. But, in truth, a talented chef should be able to come up with a good vegan platter with any of the standard ingredients in his/her kitchen.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

I am working a lot with different forms of mushroom at the moment for my
YouTube channel, and am completely blown away by just how versatile fungi are, as well as nutritional yeast - an old time favourite for vegans, I still love using it in many dishes for flavouring - there are more, and what fascinates me the most is combining unlikely ingredients in order to achieve amazing textures and tastes!

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

That’s pretty simple for me to answer – Greek (obviously), Middle Eastern, and Asian (particularly Indian and Thai), since I love exotic and spicy food, I am extremely excited by fusing different cuisines, giving them a twist as well as my own personal touch!

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

I am an ethical vegan, so as my awareness of animal suffering and torture grew, so did my passionate desire to do what I could do to help. I had been vegetarian since my 20s, and this choice had also been ethical. The film Earthlings was a major turning point for me, as was Gary Yourofsky, his University speech impacted me on many levels, and although not everybody takes to his manner - being a pragmatist I look at his astounding results in converting so many people to veganism which can only be applauded, (and subsequently has became a close friend of mine, and who has supporting my activism through my culinary endeavours).

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

I abhor any form of animal suffering or exploitation. But I also cannot tolerate the polarised view of many veganism (particularly the ‘vegan police’ and self-righteous vegans as well as the many trolls that frequently come out of the woodwork). The infighting that occurs between people that are supposed to be on the same side constantly shocks me. It becomes a battle of egos, it is so very destructive to the vegan movement, and I feel that this is so wasteful and counterproductive. An example is when I choose to focus on a specific topic – in my case, this is often the skinning alive of dogs and cats in China, the Yulin festival, etc. Now, as it happens, I do feel more passionate about this cause than most others, and so I often post about this subject on Facebook, particularly at this time of year, when Yulin is about to take place (this has never been at the exclusion of all the other worldwide animal horrors that occur each and every second of the day by the thousands). But should this give people the license to accuse me of speciesism, and of not caring about other animals suffering? This really hacks me off, as it shows such narrow-mindedness. I do think that the horrific torture and ghastly way in which dogs, cats, monkeys, etc. are treated before being killed in China and Asia, should be hitting the headlines worldwide, and I wholly support the efforts of Marc Ching, who is doing so much himself at great risk, by personally rescuing dogs from China.

Because most people do place a greater value on those animals traditionally kept as household pets (cats and dogs), then inevitably they will be far more shocked and relate more to images of cats and dogs being tortured, than say cows, pigs or chickens. Then this could be a great starting point in increasing their awareness of the broader picture (I saw this happen on a video with Earthling Ed who spoke to a woman who was campaigning against the dog meat trade, he made her aware of how cows, pigs etc. where treated, and she was horrified, one could see on her face this was genuine, she was not vegan of course, and he made her aware of this and she said she would consider veganism because she couldn’t support such cruelty), and we then have the potential for them to make the connection as to why they themselves shouldn’t be consuming or using animals or dairy, and why they should become vegan.

But, thanks must also go to the initiative of PETA and other progressive activist organizations, who are running fantastic PR campaigns, with billboards in the most prominent locations. Veganism is truly gaining more mainstream status, though we still have a long, long way to go, and don’t really have the time truth be told to be at any point ‘nit picking’ about little details thus losing sight of the bigger picture. Time is king and millions of animals are screaming out for our help each and every second round the clock.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. “To me, veganism is…”

Veganism is living the truth of ‘live and let live’ and I shall never stop fighting for animal rights until I draw my last breath.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

(Almost) Eight Examples of How Today’s Vegans Are Spoiled Rotten (and Why that’s a Good Thing)



As I’ve certainly babbled on ad nauseum about on this blog, things are quite different from the perspective of being vegan today than it was in 1995 when I first went vegan. It is better in pretty much better in every way in so many categories of life. For example:

Finding vegan food…
Today’s vegans have these things called apps that practically lead them by the hand to vegan food.

Back in the day, we had to find our food the hard way: if there was even a whiff of a rumor of vegan food being somewhere, we sent out our most skilled and selfless foot soldiers to traverse many miles in search of it. Often, these odysseys were in vain and many of our soldiers did not return from these perilous treks alive. Their brave spirits live on.

Having vegan food delivered…
Today’s vegans can have food delivered to their doors. Imagine that!

Back in the day, when we wanted vegan food delivered, we’d have to order it from restaurants that were at least three states away and wait for at least two weeks for it to arrive through a complicated underground network of vegan couriers and the delivery charge would be at least $1,000.00, plus you’d have to put the whole delivery team up for the night. When the food finally arrived, it would be old and often moldy but we would scrape off the mold and be grateful for it.

Ordering at non-vegan restaurants…
Today’s vegans can go into omni restaurants and often find something to eat.

Back in the day, when we wanted food at a non-vegan restaurant, we’d be seated in the alley by the garbage cans and dumpsters – even if we were with groups, we’d be separated from them – and the surliest kitchen staff would swing at us with rock-hard French baguette loaves and take turns pelting us with rotten produce, mocking us and laughing at us. Anything we could gather from this ordeal would be our meal.

Traveling as a vegan…
Today’s vegan can practically travel the globe with not much worry about finding appropriate food.

Back in the day, if we left our home bases, we would have to be stocked with enough munitions in the form of military-style ready-to-eat meals or dense nutrition bars to get us to our destination and back without starving to death. We expected nothing. If we were lucky enough to happen upon vegan provisions on our journey, we would take note of the exact longitude and latitude coordinates and light our most powerful fireworks to express our gratitude and broadcast its existence to any surrounding vegan community.

Grocery stores…
Today’s vegan can go to any average grocery store and find a wide variety of vegan cheeses and ice creams, not to mention burgers, sausages and patties.

Back in the day, our only choices were hothouse tomatoes, onions, iceberg lettuce and withered cucumbers. Even canned peas and corn had lard in it. We were forbidden under strict community legal standards to even say the word “vegan” in order to even ask for anything else.

Vegan Culture…

Today’s vegan has a myriad of magazines, films, books, luminaries, websites and more that expand, deepen and build vegan culture.

Back in the day, if we were really skilled eavesdroppers, we may have heard the v-word in conversation or seen it in a comic strip (maybe even a syndicated one) and on the rare occasion that this happened, we would literally collapse to the ground in shock and irrepressible, erupting emotional tides. Once we could stand again, we would painstakingly dial up the few other vegans we knew on the cumbersome telephones we had, awkwardly clutch the handsets between our ears and shoulders and share the exciting news.  

Vegan community…
Today’s vegan can find diverse opportunities for community around the globe and online.

Back in the day, vegan community was that one guy who looked like the Unibomber (and may have resembled him in avocation, too), that hippie who was into crystals and reading auras who referred to herself “semi-vegan” depending on the phase of the moon and perhaps those dudes who leafleted for the Hare Krishnas. You weren’t sure if they were actually vegan but you’d have to agree to go to one of their Sunday talks at the Krishna Temple to find out and so you never did find out.

Activism
Today’s vegan can protest rodeos, circuses, canned hunts, slaughterhouses and so on and warmly welcomed by police officers who help us to exercise our right to peaceful assembly and free speech as well as passersby who are not only willing to hear the compassionate message but eager embrace it.

Hahahahahahaha! Just kidding.

Back in the day, we were mistreated by the police as well as threatened by puffed up dudes on an apparent ‘roid rage, spit on, verbally attacked, physically assaulted and we still are today.

So, yeah, other than that last one, I’d say we’re made some progress.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Of Handmaids and Milkmaids and Normalizing Dystopia...




“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Like many people, I’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale series for the past couple of weeks with restless fingers that keep reaching up to cover my eyes but they're futile: I can’t look away. I read the novel in the 1980s when I was in college and while I’ve never re-read it, I remember how chillingly it read like a cautionary tale in an era when we saw the rise of the religious right, televangelism and the “return to traditional values.” In so many ways, with the November election fresh in our collective minds and the horrifying ascent of the white supremacist movement along with the revived threats to reproductive rights (among other things), we are now in the strange position of interpreting dystopian fiction as we free-fall into a new reality that feels more than a little dystopian itself. I sense that we haven’t even come close to landing yet. While watching The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017, I can’t help but think that the nightmarish future Margaret Atwood imagined has, in a matter of months, progressed from a cautionary tale to more of a not so far-fetched premonition, and that it would only take a perfect storm of environmental cataclysm and calculated opportunity for an order of patriarchal ideologues to construct a new United States with a blueprint that hews frightening close to her Republic of Gilead.

Did I mention yet that I am really an optimist? Despite this, it’s hard to not see the tyrannical writing on the wall and feel driven to take action. Call me melodramatic if you want but I’d rather be overwrought, and I don’t think I am, than in denial.

I was raised in an environment where tyrannical behavior was presented and construed as “normal,” and, as such, I am pretty tuned in to when it is happening around me. Much of the trajectory of my life has been about rejecting what is characterized as normal when it really is, in fact, oppressive or worse. As we can see from the last few months in the United States, things can skid from bad to downright scary in a very small window of time. Possibilities that would have seemed unthinkable even months before can become imminently imaginable; scenarios that would have recently seemed preposterous can begin to materialize with terrifying swiftness. For the first time in my life, I am beginning to see how something like 1930s Germany can happen and I am seeing it with a chilling clarity.

It is embedded into our species’ DNA that in order to thrive, we strive to conform to the societal norms as those who are outliers are much more vulnerable to threat or attack, both from inside and outside our Homo sapiens communities. Agreeing to comply with advancing the volition of the group is part of why our species has been so successful. This is also part of what compels us to normalize what is otherwise indefensible and part of why I think we may be wired to accept the unacceptable. A consequence of this drive to conform is groupthink, a real phenomenon that helps to explain why the human species not only repeats the same tragic mistakes throughout history but also why we are so vulnerable to tyranny, authoritarianism and despotic regimes despite the fact that we should know enough by this point to know it's in our collective best interests to avoid them. History is replete with lessons about what happens to those who make waves – they tend to be violently reviled by contemporaries and approved of with the safety of hindsight by future generations – and oppressors coolly take advantage of this instinct for self-survival with predictable adeptness again and again.

The revolt against our “new normal” is what we are seeing in the post-election United States and perhaps it is that fight that is really what stands between us and an authoritarian state. (This is not to claim that our “democracy” has ever been truly democratic, equitable and just for all citizens; I know that it has not.) Maybe our ultimate fight is internal: a deliberate cutting of those internal wires that allow us to default to accepting violence and tyranny as normal and preferable to not conforming.

There’s a vegan message here. Of course you knew that.

I will ask anyone who is watching The Handmaid’s Tale and alarmed by the similitudes to the current climate in the United States to consider what oppressions and cruelties we are complicit in normalizing every day. With cold calculation, dairy cows are forcibly impregnated on something referred to as a rape rack so we can have her calves’ milk. Almost always, her babies are taken from her as soon as they’ve had her colostrum - which is an economic decision, not an ethical one, because that is something with little market value and ensures a healthier calf-product - and after a day or two, she will never see her babies again. She is milked and milked and milked and milked and milked to create dairy, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream and so on until her production falls off, then she is re-impregnated and continues the cycle of birth, abrupt weaning and milk production until she is no longer considered financially viable, at about the age of four, when she is slaughtered to become cheap meat. She and her calves have existed entirely for human consumption. If female, her babies will live and die like their mother; if male, they are raised for veal or beef and, depending on the kind of flesh they are raised for, slaughtered at between 18 weeks to 18 months.

Is Offred of The Handmaid’s Tale, a woman who’s been turned into a docile, obedient breeding machine for the state and who has had her identity erased to the point where her name is changed to reflect her utter lack of sovereignty and agency, really that far-fetched? Of course, not every aspect of The Handmaid’s Tale can be applied to animal agribusiness but when this kind of malignant ownership is something we accept as “normal” for the lives of not only dairy cows but all the species we consume, how can we claim to not be colluding with the normalization of a brutal tyranny?

When we accept a tyranny that is normalized, we are complicit in also normalizing a barbaric hell on earth. Does The Handmaid’s Tale resonate with you? How can we be free when we still condone brutality?
I am a vegan and a feminist because I reject the normalization of dystopia. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Alex Hershaft




Dr. Alex Hershaft
was the first vegan heroes I’d met in person back in the late 1990s when I was at Vegetarian Summerfest where he was a speaker. I’d been vegan for a couple of years and had been an activist for a while so I was familiar with his work with the pioneering organization he founded, the Farm Animal Rights Movement or FARM, which evolved from its precursor, the Vegetarian Information Service, in 1981. As someone who was happy to pick up a sign and pass out some pamphlets for the animals, his work, like World Day for Farmed Animals (October 2, yo!) and the Great American Meatout (March 20!), gave people like me an outlet. (FARM also puts on the Animal Rights Conference every year, no small undertaking. I will be speaking this year. Join us! It’s always an incredible conference.) As an ardent collector of newsletters, Alex and his work through FARM gave me inspiration. I will never forget that Summerfest when he sat on a bench next to me and talked to me about a part of his life I hadn’t heard about before: his childhood, his survival of the Warsaw Ghetto, his narrow escape of the Treblinka death camp along with his mother, his father’s murder. It was mesmerizing and agonizing. I was also very touched by his approachability and patient willingness to be peppered with questions by my neophyte, awestruck self.

All these years later, Alex has made his story of survival, and how he connected the dots of the cruelties he observed and experienced as a child to his life’s work of promoting kindness for all species, available to everyone in his amazing speech, From the Warsaw Ghetto to a Life of Compassion. Alex Hershaft is a living legend and I am proud to feature him as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?


As far back as I can remember, it never made sense to me to hit a beautiful, innocent, sentient animal over the head, cut his body into small pieces, and then shove the pieces into my mouth. I suppose it was initially an aesthetic conviction - not too different from that of the ladies in Queen Victoria's England that led to the early anti-cruelty statutes.

In 1962, during my two-year stay in Israel, I stumbled across the ritual sacrifice of a baby goat to celebrate the birth of a Druze baby. The bitter irony of that act was the last straw I needed to change my diet. I remained a closet vegetarian until attending the 1975 World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, ME, when I decided to spend the rest of my life promoting a vegetarian diet.

In 1976, I founded the Vegetarian Information Service, offering veg literature to the public. In 1981, I launched the first animal rights conference, without fully getting the concept. My fellow board members who did convinced me to go vegan. In my defense, about what took so long, very few of the animal champions at the time were vegan.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

It would be pretty much the same argument we are presenting to young people today. Failure to embrace a vegan diet requires subsidizing and becoming complicit in the worst oppression and abuse of sentient living beings in the history of humankind. The associated health and environmental benefits are just a bonus.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

a) videos, b) photos, c) stories about personal experiences and individual animals.

Least effective: facts and numbers about slaughter, health and environmental arguments (OK, health may work for older folks), animal "rights" arguments.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

a) The fact that our actions are consistent with common values of respect for life, in general, and animals, in particular

b) The fact that we are working at the roots of all life-affirming and social justice movements - a vegan lives a healthy life, with minimal carbon footprint, without oppressing

b) The fact that we are the only movement working on behalf of another set of beings - not ourselves

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?


We have gotten pretty good at getting the word out through videos, social media, traditional media. The problem we are running into is getting people to change their lifestyle three times a day - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No other U.S. movement has demanded a substantial lifestyle change since Lincoln's 1863 emancipation proclamation.


6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.


See 4 (a)

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?


Without meaning to sound arrogant, can't think of any.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?


To unwind - folk dancing every Friday evening and occasional classical music concert

To distract - crossword puzzles and news reports and commentaries

To recharge and inspire - occasional trips to a slaughterhouse, but haven't really needed that, as activism has become part of my life's fabric

What has most immunized me against burnout, however, has been my low need for praise and recognition and my being in control of my activities

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?


It's the main conclusions of my Holocaust speech:

* that oppression is initially subtle, almost imperceptible and, like some forms of cancer, becomes evident only when it's to late to stop

* that all are capable of oppression, including some of our favorite friends and relatives who subsidize the greatest oppression of sentient living beings in the history of humankind every time they shop for food

* that oppression is not about the victims, but about the oppressive mindset, or the capacity to oppress

* that making oppression about the victims and the resulting cult of victimhood divide and frustrate our efforts to mount a united front against all oppression

* that oppression of animals is the "gateway drug" to all oppression, administered to a four-year old when they are told that the dog on the couch is to be cherished, fed, and cared for, but the pig on their plate is to be abused, killed, dismembered, and consumed as food

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”


See 4(a)