Vegetarianism and the pressure to stay informed

I’m an extremely opinionated person. This probably contributes to the fact that I’m not an extremely “warm” person. I’ve been trying to remedy both of these problems slowly for the past couple of years. It’s great to have opinions, but a person who has a strong opinion about EVERYTHING is no fucking fun to be around. I’ve met those people. I don’t want to be one of them. I’ve also come to realize that I have the ability to make either a really great or really terrible first impression, probably based on the fact that I feign confidence to cover up my extreme lack thereof. People either love me or hate me, but either way, that decision is made early on. It’s hard to judge when you’re looking from the inside out, but these are realities in my life.

The things that I have an opinion on aren’t necessarily that important — well, they are to ME, but probably not to most of the rest of the world. Of course, I form strong opinions about things like religion (I could go on for days), certain political matters and vegetarianism. But I also have strong opinions about varied small issues: where one should park one’s car in a crowded parking lot, how credit card bills should be paid, all matters involving family and how family members ought to treat one another, card games and whether or not neglecting to teach your children the basics — which suit is clubs? — constitutes child abuse (it totally does), how often a human being should crack open a book to retain any sort of brain power and, of course, the right way to chop an onion.

I’m learning to let go of some of these smaller issues, mostly so that people can stand to be around me. In my head, when I see somebody cutting an onion the wrong way (in this case wrong = not what Lindsey would do), I’ll probably still be ranting though.

However, on larger issues, I think it’s important (if not necessary today) to form strong opinions. If I were to ask you whether or not you believe in God, I would hope that your answer wouldn’t be, “You know, I’ve never actually stopped to think about it.” You would have an answer, and it would probably be one that you’re relatively passionate about. My religious beliefs, for instance, arose from years of Sunday school, dozens of bible verses memorized, a lot of article reading and documentary watching and one big gut feeling that I knew the answer — I knew my answer, that is.

There’s a lot of responsibility in having an opinion. We probably all know somebody who claims to be a republican without having the slightest idea what that word means or claims to be anti-vegetarianism without having given the notion a moment’s thought. I never want to be somebody who claims to feel or think one way without having the backup required. After all, you never know when that question will come and you won’t be ready for it: “Oh, you believe in God? WHY?” “So you don’t think two men should be allowed to marry? WHY?”

My next research endeavor.

My goal is to be ready for that “WHY?” question when it comes to vegetarianism. In this case, people are so fascinated, confused or indignant about the idea of vegetarianism that the “WHY?”s keep coming and coming. I feel the need to stock my ammunition. Should I memorize a standardized reply? My mom and I joked about writing up a business card with all of the reasons to be a vegetarian printed on it and handing it out whenever the questions begin.

I’m bringing all of this up because I’ve super slacked when it comes to vegetarian research. When this project first started in January, all I ever read were books about vegetarianism. I watched documentaries, I read articles, I read blogs…I did the best I could to stay informed. I guess I overdid it, because for the past few months, I’ve barely read a word. That explains my absence from blogging — I’ve got nothing new to say.

I know that because I’m putting this information out to the world in however small a way, it’s my responsibility to stay at least a little bit informed. My question is this: If you have a strong opinion about something like vegetarianism or religion or politics, how much research responsibility rests on your shoulders? To my fellow vegetarians, how much time do you spend reading about this topic? To everybody else, what do you expect from somebody who says he’s a vegetarian? Hard-core research or a few quick facts?

I’ve chosen not to let my vegetarianism define me. I don’t throw my diet out there to be judged. I rarely mention the fact that I don’t eat meat to anybody unless it’s completely necessary. This is all, of course, in an attempt to make myself more subdued. I’ve fought the temptation to state my beliefs about these issues a handful of times in recent months. I don’t know if that makes me more or less likable…though I’m pretty sure it makes me quite a bit less genuine.

For me, those few months of heavy research were enough for me to make a decision and stick to it. I made up my mind and then got kind of sick of reading about all of the things I already knew to be true in more detail. My parents, especially my mom, have continued reading and reading and reading.

This has all been weighing on my mind because I’ve felt like such a slacker lately. I just received a copy of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (thanks, Mom!), so I’m hoping to jump right back into my research any day now. Just as soon as the laundry is done, the apartment is clean, the bills are paid, my writing assignments are done and my hair is washed.

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My non-dairy cheese product reviews

My internship at Mother Earth News is really awesome. In the months since I began working there, I’ve learned so much about topics that really interest me. Sometimes I agree 100 percent with the stories I edit and read. Sometimes I don’t (I mentioned The Vegetarian Myth a while back). Either way, I’m afforded the opportunity to learn and learn and learn.

Dr-Cow cheeses. So cute, right?

And then, on occasion, I’m afforded the ability to try a bunch of vegan cheese samples free so that I can write a review. It’s hard being me.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t just copy and paste the entire review into this blog. Anybody who is reading this blog is probably much more likely to appreciate information on non-dairy cheese than the readers of Mother Earth (though maybe I have more to learn about that audience). Regardless, I loved doing the so-called “research” for this blog, and if this information helps anybody, all the better.

Check out my non-dairy cheese review, and let me know if you’ve had similar cheese experiences. My personal favorite for this blog was Dr-Cow. The cheeses are just adorable, and they’re pretty yummy too.

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Vegan Black Bean Soup Recipe and Homemade Bread Recipe

Panera bread makes the most amazing black bean soup you will ever eat. I mean it. It’s freaking fantastic. That paired with a baguette? I can die a happy woman.

So the other day, I searched for copycat recipes. I found an excellent recipe that’s vegan and a crowd pleaser (substitute veggie bouillon cubes for chicken ones). My parents have made this recipe multiple times since I sent it to them. Easy and delicious!

(Panera Bread) Black Bean Soup

Beautiful, beautiful pizza crust

And now, more importantly, the recipe that has changed my life. For years, I’ve wanted to buy a pizza stone, but I never felt like I could justify it. I like my pizza a little bit crispy and bubbly like REAL italian pizza. Store-bought pizza crusts don’t deliver, and I’d never made a homemade pizza that was just right. This, I assumed, was simply the nature of homemade pizzas.

When I’m at work and I need a break between projects, I’ll scan the stories on Mother Earth News’ website. I get to know the magazine better, and I’ve also found some really awesome stories. This is how I learned to make bicycle baskets out of trashcans for JP’s new bike and also how I learned to make my own amazing bread.

The pizza stone, in this case, is vital. It makes all the difference. I got one for less than 15 dollars at Target, but my first one broke after a few uses. I took it back and replaced it, and I figure this will be good enough. I’m not willing to spend 70 bucks for a pizza stone, and aside from its breakability, ours works great.

Our first homemade pizza (we put Vegan Gourmet cheese on this one, but we've left off the cheese ever since).

The basic bread recipe has only four ingredients: water, yeast, salt and flour. You’d think that the resulting bread would be flavorless, but it SO isn’t. My mom makes hers with a couple teaspoons of italian seasoning and says it’s great.

If you make a single recipe (six and a half cups of flour), you can get three or four loafs out of it, depending on size. The “five minutes” part of the title is somewhat misleading; it takes five minutes or less to mix the dough, but everything else takes a bit longer. Rising time is two hours, and after that, the dough goes in the fridge and you can forget about it until you’re ready to use it. You’ll also have around 40 minutes of waiting time when you’re ready to bake a loaf. Waiting, however, isn’t work, so I’ll give the writer a pass on the “five minutes” part.

This dough is fantastic for pizza crust. Spread it out, put your favorite toppings on it (we’ve found we don’t even need to put cheese substitute on it, the crust is so flavorful) and bake on a stone. A little crispy, a little soft and tooootally vegan. We’ve made pizza three times in the past two weeks. THAT’S HOW GOOD IT IS.

Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread

Your life will never be the same. Happy cookin’.

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USDA Food Guide Pyramid and Eating Organic on a Budget

Hello again, blogging world. I know that I’ve been terrible about keeping up with my blogging. I spend many hours a week writing at work, and when I get home, I feel like all of my words have disappeared. They’re used, they’re not interesting anymore and I have nothing left to say. Furthermore, many of the topics I write about at work relate closely to things I would write about here.

I can’t steal my blogs from work and post them here, but I can link to them. I’ve written a couple lately that I think are important to this whole plant-based diet issue. The first covers the history of the USDA food guide pyramid and discusses the necessity of USDA diet advice (I’ve talked about the USDA in the past and how upsetting I find it). The second is about organic foods and how to afford them. In our house, organic foods are saved for special occasions because they’re so expensive and we’re so…NOT rich. I did some research and I think this blog covers the topic well. Read, enjoy and tell me what you think. With any luck, I’ll put out another blog within the next year or so. :)

The USDA Food Guide Pyramid: Operative or Obsolete?

Eating Organic on a Budget: Seven Things You Should Know

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The BP oil spill vs. the livestock industry

I hate politics, politicians and everything having to do with the government. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how important policy-makers are, but every time I invest my energy or emotions in a political issue, I find myself seriously disappointed by the outcome. Gay marriage laws, for instance, have been so heartbreaking as a whole that I’ve found myself purposely not reading related news. I want to be hopeful. I want to believe that politicians have the best interest of myself and the ones I love in mind. At the very least, I want to believe that the assholes fighting against gay marriage aren’t gay themselves (have some pride, man). But time and time again, even the “good guys” disappoint.

Despite my efforts to stay politically disinterested, this goddamn oil spill in the Gulf keeps me coming back for more. I suspect that is the case for many Americans. My Facebook news feed is filled with BP hate messages daily. I also suspect that the destruction of habitats isn’t our only reason for getting involved; we feel guilty. At least I do. Do I think BP screwed up royally? Absolutely. Do I think it’s ridiculous that this problem still isn’t solved? Definitely. But let’s face it – all of us participate in the oil industry on some level. Most of us have supported BP numerous times (I’m a sucker for advertising, and I’ve been drawn in by their friendly logo). Are we as guilty as the bigwigs involved? Of course not. But to place all the blame on an industry that we gleefully participate in, day-in and day-out, is just plain hypocritical. It’s like giving your drug-dealing uncle a weekly allowance and then getting upset when he gets caught coke-faced with eighty grams in the trunk. It isn’t REALLY your fault…but isn’t it kind of?

From huffingtonpost.com

Anyway, I’m sure you’re wondering how the oil spill relates to vegetarianism, and I’m getting there. There are probably a lot of reasons why Americans are mad about the spill. Beach vacations aren’t going to be the same for a while, that’s for sure. But the majority of complaints I’ve heard from the people around me involve habitats and wildlife. I’m right there with them. Visit the Huffington Post’s Gulf Oil Spill (PHOTOS): Animals In Peril, and you’ll truly understand the heartbreak. Pair that with the fact that this, for many species, is mating and birthing season, and you’ll start to understand how dire the consequences of the spill are for wildlife.

I’m encouraged by the fact that so many people have shown concern for the animals affected by the spill. This, at the very least, proves that we can come together and show support for the “little guy” when disaster strikes (although I would prefer respect for the “little guy” even when disaster is at bay). Here’s my question: Why do we care? I know that the pictures are terrible, and the idea of little turtles drowning in a black murk is too much to take. But really, why do we care?

Parallels between the deaths of these animals and their habitats and the equally gruesome deaths of the animals killed for meat are pretty easy to draw. All of these animals are innocent. All of these animals have died terrible deaths. All of these animals died terrible deaths as the products of human industries. Finally, all of these animals died terrible deaths as the products of human industries that are not completely necessary. I agree that we’re a long way off from doing away with the oil industry (though we should be taking much bigger steps than we are), but so much progress has been made in alternative sources of energy that we can hardly say oil is our only option anymore. Similarly, we’re a long way off from doing away with the meat and dairy industries, but the thousands of healthy vegans in the world prove that these industries are far from necessary.

So what gives? Why do we all care so much about the spill in the gulf and so little about the meat and dairy industries? Are the animals we kill for meat so much less important than the ones living in our oceans?

Other parallels between these two situations can be drawn as well. The livestock industry destroys habitats and threatens the environment. The livestock industry is seriously corrupt. The government refuses give enough attention to the flaws within the livestock industry. On and on and on. Still, I think this animal issue hits many of us the hardest.

I’m so very grateful for how involved my peers have become in the BP oil spill issue. When everybody comes together for a cause like this one, we start to understand how powerful and loud a united voice can be. It is my hope that when this is all over (at this rate, in like 40 years), we don’t forget what it feels like to fight for the rights of the voiceless.

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Fried seitan: mmmmmmm….

Whoever said vegans can’t be fat clearly never saw this recipe.

My husband and I hadn’t had fried food in what felt like years, so we decided to indulge and, at the same time, give seitan a try (we were seitan virgins). We both went nuts over this recipe and have been including seitan in more of our cooking ever since.

The fried seitan recipe from Hell Yeah It’s Vegan! (best blog name ever) shows you how to make your own seitan, which is cool and all, but I was exhausted after a full day of work, so we skipped that part (my mom, however, took the time to make her own seitan and said that it was a little bit too chewy). If you want to experiment, great, but we just bought the packaged stuff at the grocery store and started at the soaking-in-broth section. It was fabulous.

We have yet to try to make them into vegan hot wings, but we’ll probably try that next time. This time, we dipped them in barbecue sauce and honey mustard. YUM.

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So easy, there’s nothing left to say?

I was a much better blogger back in December and January than I am now, no? I can blame a lot of that on the fact that I’m really busy and excited about my life right now, and extreme happiness always seems to put writing on the back burner. Aside from that, I’ve realized that I just don’t have that much to say these days. I’m working on a new drive to blog about being a vegan, but the thing is, I’m happy, I’m healthy, this lifestyle is ridiculously easy and nobody’s making a fuss.

Quite the opposite, actually. Everybody has been awesome. I had prepared myself, in December, for taking this journey by myself. I knew that my husband would try some of the new foods I cooked or maybe even give up meat a few times a week, but, by and large, this would be a solo experiment. That changed pretty quickly when he saw how easy it was to give up meat and how much he didn’t miss it. Then my parents followed suit after reading Skinny Bitch, and my sister cut way back on her meat consumption a few months later when she read the same book. My support system has grown around me, and all without me ever having to use my superior powers of persuasion. (And I have them, believe me. Ask my friends why I never lose at Monopoly.)

My super-smart fam

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but my family is, like, smart. They’re, like, super duper smart. Every single one of them. So I don’t take that much responsibility for this big, fat change. I figure, I recommended the books, and they were smart enough to read, interpret, draw smart conclusions and make the change. Smart people come around really fast to smart ideas, even if the idea bringer isn’t that smart. Ya know?

I would have thought that it would be really difficult to hang out with people, outside my family, who don’t understand the choices I’ve made. That concern was so far off base. My husband’s family has been incredibly supportive, and they even let us cook for them a few times while we were back home. My brother in law, a manly-man-hunter type who has admitted to speeding up rather than slowing down when he sees furry animals crossing the road, has even been really cool. One of our close friends who is known to be a little bit (a lot a bit) crude hid his fried chicken from us – and not even in a mocking way – while he was eating it to spare our feelings (which we quickly told him was totally unnecessary).

Maybe I just assumed that this would be a lot harder than it has turned out to be. Our friends and loved ones have been awesome. Reading labels has become second nature, and cooking is a snap. I love the food we eat…probably too much. I feel really good about this decision we’ve made. My family has formed a tighter bond over this experience. Win win win win win winnnnn.

I figured I might as well just take a few seconds and explain the ways in which we handle our lives differently today than we did a year ago. Most of these changes are so normal to us now that they’re no big deal.

1. At the coffee shop: This one came to me first, because I spend way too much time at our favorite coffee shop writing and sipping. I’m at the coffee shop right now, as a matter of fact. I knew a little bit about what goes into coffee drinks already because I used to work at a chain coffee place a couple of years ago.

Here’s what we do: If it’s a cold day, the options are pretty endless. Black coffee is vegan. Black coffee with a splash of soy milk (most cafes have soy milk now) is vegan. Soy lattes, if you keep an eye on the syrups used, are vegan. If we’re not sure, we just ask. Vanilla and hazelnut syrups (along with others like mint, raspberry, etc.) are usually vegan, but thicker syrups like caramel and chocolate often have dairy in them. At our favorite cafe, the caramel syrup is vegan. Yay! Also a good idea on a cold day: any kind of tea. I’m a green tea fanatic, and it’s much cheaper than a soy latte, so I go that route a lot.

On a hot day, things get just a little bit tougher. Those yummy blended drinks almost always have some kind of dairy-based smoothy powder in them. So those are a no-go. We tend to just go ahead and put our favorite soy lattes over ice and call it good. Iced coffee with a splash of soy milk is a good alternative. Iced tea is usually a-okay. There are zillions of options. We would probably spend a lot less time at the register if there was only ONE vegan option on the menu. Things are a little too easy nowadays.

2. At the grocery store: It’s taken us a little while, but we’ve learned which grocery stores in our area are the most vegan-friendly. Unfortunately, we don’t have a health foods store nearby, so sometimes our shopping trips take us to a few different stores: one for cheap healthy food, one for specialty food, one for cheap unhealthy food that’s still vegan. We read a lot of labels, but we don’t find ourselves stumped very often. An easy trick is to scan straight to the “allergy” information section under ingredients. If milk, soy, eggs or nuts are in the ingredients, we’ll find out right away.

We spend more time in the produce section than we ever used to, which I love. We’re constantly figuring out new and exciting vegetables to put in our spaghetti sauce or on our pizza.

And, because some of the ingredients we use now are harder to find, we’ve started calling grocery stores ahead of time to make sure they have what we’re looking for. We’re lazy, and we don’t like to waste gas. Deal with it.

3. At restaurants: Basically, if it’s just gonna be the two of us, we know where we’re going to dinner around here. There are three (count ’em, three) restaurants in our town that have satisfactory vegan meals. At least that we’ve found so far, though my mom tried Panera the other day and was happy with her results, so maybe we can up that number to four. Fortunately, two out of the three of those restaurants are REALLY yummy. The third is….okay…..

Our favorite pizza place offers soy cheese and other delicious toppings

I’ve finally come to accept that my orders will always be a little bit complicated. I ask a lot of questions: “Does that come with cheese?” “Is there butter on those veggies?” “What kind of oil is that cooked in?” etc. It’s just part of life. I tell myself that if the restaurant didn’t want me to order a “Large pizza on wheat crust with soy cheese, mushrooms and light jalapenos,” or a “Black bean burger on a wheat bun with avacados, substitute veggies for the fries, hold the butter,” it wouldn’t have the option in the first place. Right?

Going out to dinner with friends is more complicated, and I’m still trying to get the hang of it. When a bunch of people go out to lunch at work, I’m constantly torn between going with them, buying a coke, smelling all the good smells and then assuring them over and over again that I’m okay with not eating, and just staying at the office and eating my peanut butter sandwich. I’m just going to have to get better with sipping a coke and enduring the stares and questions.

Of course, some restaurants really will have a vegan option, some work will just be required to find it. Sometimes I can find a salad, ask them to leave off the meat and cheese and make sure the dressing is dairy free. For me, however, paying full price for a bowl of lettuce is hardly my cup of tea. I’d rather stick to my coke.

4. At social gatherings: We have some big-time favorite vegan recipes that we love to bring with us and share at parties and events. We have two killer chocolate chip cookie recipes. Hummus is usually a crowd pleaser. Wherever we go, we bring something along, and we always share it. That way, we don’t starve, and everybody else gets a taste of how we eat.

5. At home: We do tend to snack a lot, which I hope we get better about in the future. Fortunately (and not, at the same time), we have a lot of snacking options. Chips, granola, rice milk chocolate (better than Hershey’s, I swear) and popcorn are all vegan and delicious.

Disclaimer: I have never (nor will I ever) owned flip flops of the pink, frilly variety.

6. On road trips: We never fly, so we don’t have to worry about airline meals. Instead, we’ve stopped counting on fast food on road trips. We pack sandwiches, veggies, granola, nuts and cookies before long road trips so we’re not tempted by convenience foods. Occasionally, we’ll still splurge on a bag of potato chips or sugary candy at a gas station. The best part about packing our own food is that we don’t arrive at our destinations feeling like greasy sacks of crap. I used to accept that road trips would inevitably make me feel like shit. I would arrive feeling swollen and clogged up (you know what I’m sayin’). Not a problem anymore. Plus, we save time by not making so many stops.

What I’m trying to emphasize is the fact that none of these changes were hard, and all of them have become second nature. We don’t eat out as often, which is a serious benefit money-wise. We enjoy food more now because we typically make it ourselves, and there’s a lot of pride in that. There’s also a lot of pride in knowing exactly what goes into your body day-in and day-out.

So that’s life. I promise to work on my blogging, even when vegan life seems too simple to discuss. If you have some great ideas for blogs, let me know, and I’ll try to work them in. Happy Memorial Day!

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