Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes

This is a pretty generic cupcake recipe, except for the fact that it's VEGAN!  Which means it's cruelty-free.  And I love cruelty-free!  Now, just because these cupcakes are vegan does not mean they are healthy.  Yes, vegans have junkfood too!  They average approx. 280 calories each without frosting.  Add in a good dollop of frosting and these babies are pushing 400+ calories.  Now, there are ways you can cut out the calories, but for today's venture into vegan baking, I stayed fairly true to the original recipe. 

  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup Silk light vanilla soy milk *
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar, organic preferred
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed until liquid **
  • 1 1/4 tsps vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line with paper baking cups. ( Original recipe says it makes 18 but I found it only made approx 13 cupcakes ).
  2. Measure the apple cider vinegar into a 2 cup measuring cup.  Fill with soy milk to make 1 1/2 cups.  Let stand until curdled, about 5 minutes.  In a large bowl,  whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond milk mixture, coconut oil, and vanilla.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.  Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly.
  3. Bake in preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 15-20 minutes.  Cool in the pan set over a wire rack.  When cool, arrange cupcakes on a serving platter and frost with desired frosting.
* The original recipe called for almond milk, but the delicately sweet taste of Silk's light vanilla soy milk seemed perfect for these little cakes!  And soy milk has more protein than almond milk, in case that is a concern of yours.

** If you don't want the fat and calories that comes with oil, substitute with apple sauce instead.  Same thing with the sugar, you can use an artificial sweetner like Stevia or Truvia to cut out calories.

For the frosting, I used a store-bought brand that contained no animal products.  In fact, most of the frostings at the grocery had no milk or eggs, they all seemed to be made with soy and oils (all the general cake mixes at the grocery store contained milk).  Of course, you can probably make your own frosting with half the fat, calories, and chemicals.  I chose the easy route today.  As you can see, I mixed in food coloring to create a delicate lavender colored frosting. 

These were super moist, sweet, and delicious!  Some of the best cupcakes I've ever had, and not because I made them.  They are truly yummy!

Happy vegan baking!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Earthlings - Why You Should Be Obligated To See This Movie

Earthlings is a documentary directed by Shaun Monson and narrated by actor (and life-long vegan) Joaquin Phoenix.  I heard about this documentary while doing a Google search for famous vegans.  I came across a video of Ellen DeGeneres talking about what made her become vegan and she mentioned the documentary Earthlings changed her life. 

The movie covers the five ways we humans use animals and how they are terribly mistreated and abused by our society: companions, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research.  I didn't really know what to expect.  The documentary is primarily undercover footage of fur farms, factory farms, puppy mills, laboratories, etc.  I've seen animal cruelty videos and they always make me cry.  I can't stand the pure evil that is the meat and dairy industry.  But I was not prepared for what I was about to see. 

I haven't had the courage to watch the whole video.  I've watched about 30-40 minutes of it.  The first part of the movie focuses on animals as our companions and it shows undercover footage of puppy mills, animals being euthanized and gassed at animal shelters, and the abuse animals face when they are left on the street.  The most heart-wrenching scene took place in Turkey.  A dog was being dragged and prodded by men on the street.  They lured the dog to a garbage truck, poured disgusting garbage waste on him, and then tossed him in the back of the garbage crusher.  The innocence and confusion in this poor animal's eyes... that vision will never leave my mind.  And my soul aches for the sweet, abandoned dog who was carelessly and viciously tossed away in a garbage crusher as if he were trash.  I'm left feeling helpless.  At this point, I had to stop the movie, I was crying so hard I couldn't breathe (I later started the movie back up, but had to stop it again shortly after).  You would not believe half the stuff that is in this movie if I told you.  You need to see it with your own eyes.

If there is any movie I could make someone watch, this would be it.  People don't want to believe me when I talk about the horrors of factory farms and the animal agriculture industry.  People want to believe these are just isolated incidents.  And people wonder why vegans and vegetarians may seem "crazy"... it's because these acts of cruelty are inexcusable.  We are not cavemen anymore.  It's time to stop acting like one.

This will certainly be probably the most heart-breaking, painful 96 minutes of your life.  You will hate the humans in this movie and you will be ashamed to be called "humans" along with them.

I am not a perfect vegan.  But I will try my hardest to always think consciously and ethically.  This isn't even about labels.  This is doing what is right for the animals and our society. 

Many people think, "Well, they are already dead... if I don't eat them, they'll go to waste!"  I think people forget that the biggest statement you make is with your wallet.  Choosing to go to Starbucks over Dunkin Donuts, organic tomatoes over regular tomatoes, broccoli over beef, tofu over chicken.  Where you spend your money and what you spend it on is the biggest thing you can do to stop animal cruelty and help change the world.  Period. 

You can watch Earthlings for free on YouTube:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Milk Is Not Vegan

I've decided to go vegan for Lent and I plan on sticking to it even after Easter.  A few days ago, while I was talking about my choice to go vegan, I was presented with this question: "Why is milk not vegan?"  A valid question.  When I said "Well, it comes from animals and vegans don't consume any sort of animal products," the person then explained that cows produce milk all the time and if humans don't milk the cow then it causes them pain, so we're doing the humane thing by milking them.  I know the dairy industry is horribly cruel, but I didn't know the science behind milk production.

This piqued my curiousity.  Do cows produce milk all the time?  Only after birth?  I honestly didn't know.  So I've done some research on the subject.

First and foremost, the vast majority of our milk supply comes from dairy cows raised in factory farms.  These are not "happy cows" as the advertisements will lead you to believe.  They are not prancing in fields, eating sweet grass, or rearing their young.  Cows would not produce milk if they were not pregnant or nursing their babies.  This means that dairy cows need to be kept pregnant all the time and have their babies taken away at a very young age. 
Cull dairy cow with untreated mastitis just sold at a
slaughterhouse auction in Ontario.

Cows in factory farms are artifically inseminated.  They are given growth hormones to increase milk production and are milked often to produce up to 10 times more milk than they would normally produce in nature.  These growth hormones are illegal in almost all developed countries, except for the United States.  Most factory farmed dairy cows often develop mastitis (a potentially fatal mammary gland infection and the most common disease in dairy cattle in the USA. It is also the most costly to the dairy industry -- approx $1.7 to $2 billion a year) and it is usually contracted by coming in contact with contaminated milking machines (yes, there isn't a happy little farmer milking these cows -- it's a machine).  Here's some food for thought:
The United States dairy herd produced 185 billion lbs of milk in 2007, up from 116 billion lbs in 1950. Yet there are more than 9 million cows on U.S. dairy farms—about 13 million fewer than there were in 1950.

This just goes to show that while we're using fewer cows, we're using more hormones to produce more milk and working our cows harder than ever.  How much of a strain must that be on all these cows?

The typical gestation period for a pregnant cow is roughly nine months.  After the calf is born, it is taken away shortly after.  The male calves usually become veal and are kept in cramped crates where they can't even turn around or lay down.  Their muscles are so weak they usually cannot walk.  Female calves are typically raised to become dairy cows.  The mother and the baby experience significant stress when they are torn from each other so soon after the birth.  I highly recommend you watch this video that gives you insight into the lives of dairy cows and veal calves.

A normal cow lives an average of about 20 years.  However, factory farmed dairy cows only live about four years.  They often become lame and when they are no longer an asset to the dairy industry, they are then sold to the slaughterhouse to become beef.  In 2009, 19% of the US beef supply came from cull dairy cows.

So while the act of drinking milk may not be killing the animal itself, you can bet that the cow whose milk you're drinking will have their babies ripped from them and end up in the slaughterhouse.  And that is why cow's milk is not vegan.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Vegan Blueberry Almond Muffins

Vegan Blueberry Almond Muffins
Makes 12
  • 1 cup vanilla soymilk
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed, drained
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a muffin pan.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the soymilk and apple cider vinegar. Let sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to make “buttermilk”.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the applesauce, vanilla and almond extracts, and buttermilk mixture.
  5. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until combined. Gently fold in the berries.
  6. Fill muffin cups with batter and sprinkle with almonds.
  7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  8. Cool muffins in the pan on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool the muffins directly on the cooling rack.

When I made these, I didn't have the almond extract so I used 1/2 tsp of raspberry extract.  Also, I don't care for soymilk, so I used the almond milk I had on hand with a dash of So Delicious Vanilla Coconut Milk Creamer.  I also sprinkled the top of the muffins with a little Truvia.  Enjoy!


Penelope Cruz for PETA's anti-fur campaign.
Ever since I found out I was lactose intolerant in late 2011, I've heavily considered going complete vegan.  But I'm not going to lie, it's hard.  As I did more research, veganism isn't just about what you consume, it's also about what you wear.  No leather, wool or fur.  Fur has always been a given and I would never, ever wear fur.  The fur industry is incredibly cruel and horrific, mostly because these innocent, cute, furry creatures are being brutalized for one thing: fashion.  Not consumption or "survival", but fashion.  I love fashion, I truly do.  But I wouldn't be caught dead wearing fur.  As PETA so famously put "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur".  If someone told me "Put on this mink coat or walk outside naked", I'd proudly strut my stuff sans-clothes.  It's that simple.

Anyway, veganism isn't simply about what you consume.  Many hardcore vegans will say that even if you follow a vegan diet, but still purchase leather goods, you're not a vegan.  I don't know how I feel about that.  I completely understand where leather comes from.  It's part of the meat industry. 

Anyone else who does this same research into veganism will learn this aspect of veganism: it's a lifestyle to most vegans, not just diet.  And to be honest, it's really daunting thinking about giving up leather shoes or wool coats in the winter. 

Upon further research, most vegans seem to agree that if you bought animal products prior to becoming a vegan, it is ok to continue to use those products until they are worn out and need replacing.  That sounds good enough to me.  I could probably live with that. 

But let's face it: the vast majority of Americans are not going to consume a vegan diet, let alone the complete lifestyle.  To be honest, I am perfectly ok with someone giving up meat and dairy and calling themselves vegan than having them too scared to commit to the lifestyle and say "Screw it!" and still eat meat.

Let me be clear, this is 100% about the animals.  It's not about fancy labels or being in some elite club.  Some vegans are way too elitist. 

I read an article recently on Carpe Vegan about being "veganish".  People who are vegan most of the time. 

By using the term veganish, we are asking people to join and ascribe to the ideal of veganism even when they fall short, which for most folks is an inevitability of life and part of the process of being human.
It's a very interesting concept.  Vegans accepting people who are vegan, say, 90% of the time because they want those people on their side for the fight against animal cruelty.  And lets face it, no one is perfect.  Choosing to become a vegan or even a vegetarian can take time.  Eliminating animal products one at a time over the course of months or even years (in my case, it took me over two years to get rid of seafood from my diet).  However, I personally do not feel you can call yourself a vegan if you still consume turkey on Thanksgiving and ham on Christmas or if you have eggs for brunch once a month.  But if you make a concious effort to maintain a vegan diet on a regular basis, then yes, you can call yourself veganish.  Let's be honest, eating turkey on Thanksgiving isn't even vegetarian, let alone vegan.  And if you've gone that far to eliminate meat out of your diet, then you probably already know the horrors of the turkey industry.

I think I prescribe to a very much "Live And Let Live" mentality.  My husband eats meat (though he has given up pork, yay for the little pigs!) and while I do give him a hard time every now and then, eating meat or not eating meat is a very personal choice.  I do, however, feel that everyone should educate themselves on the meat industry.  If someone asks me why I don't eat meat, I'll gladly tell them, but it's generally not something I volunteer at a party or social gathering unless asked because it immediately puts meat-eaters on the defensive when I bring up the cruelties of factory farms.  This is another great quote from the Carpe Vegan article I referenced above:

Using the term veganish is a very simple and shorthand way for someone to express broader support for the concise concept of veganism while also keeping it intentionally humble, low-key, and less in your face. Most people don’t like to argue with friends, family, co-workers and the such regarding these kind of matters. Saying you are veganish (even if you are a strict vegan) can put people more at ease and less on the defensive because you are admitting right up front you are not perfect and that you fall short for one reason or another of an ideal you respect... and I’ve found it quite effective as a way to disarm people up front a bit more.
In general, I'm ok with the term veganish.  I'd probably even use it to describe myself.  I avoid dairy as much as possible, but I'm only human and chocolate cake is a weakness and sometimes you have to realize life is too short.  Would I consume animal flesh?  Absolutely not.  Would I have a piece of cheese pizza in an act of desperation?  Probably.  Am I a vegan?  I'd say 85% of the time.  So yes, I guess I am veganish.  And that's ok with me, because I'm doing my best not to contribute to animal suffering. 

How I Became A Vegetarian

Let me start off by saying that I don't want this blog to be all about my vegetarianism. It is a HUGE part of who I am, but I am also many other things. However, it will probably take up much of this blog and how I became a vegetarian, I feel, it is a very important story to tell.

I first became a Pescatarian in August 2009. I love animals. I attempted to become a vegetarian in 7th grade because of the animals, but my dad (whom I adore and admire) wouldn't let me. He grew up on very traditional "meat and potatoes" fare in Minnesota and wouldn't conceive of cooking spaghetti without ground beef! Or the numerous other dishes we had every night that contained meat.  I dropped my quest for vegetarianism at the age of 12 and that was that. Until two and a half years ago when I was 24. I picked up the book Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin and was utterly shocked and disgusted by the meat industry. At that moment I became a pescatarian (one who eats fish and seafood but not land mammals).

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up Skinny Bitch.  I had certainly heard of vegans, I mean, I'm from Portland, OR afterall where diets such as vegetarianism and veganism is more accepted and commonplace.  But when I picked up this book, I thought it was going to be another diet book that told you to stop with the carbs, eat lean protein, etc.  This book opened my eyes to meat industry and it's horrors.  How could I ignore such cruelty?  I love animals!  How could I accept that it was ok to treat them this way in order for me to eat them?  I couldn't.

At first I became a pescatarian.  It was more so to appease my parents about my choice not to eat chicken, beef, or pork ever again (my mom is Southern and seafood was always big in our home).  And to be honest, I wasn't sure what the hell a vegetarian ate!  But at least if I was a pescatarian, I would have options and choices at restaurants and parties and not feel like a freak.  Not to mention, I just didn't (and in some ways, still don't) put fish and shrimp in the same category as chickens and pigs. 

Needless to say no one thought I could do it. "What will you eat?" "You can never have Subway again!" "What about Thanksgiving?!"  Subway, by the way, has delicious veggie subs.

Everyone seemed confused by the idea. And at first it was hard. I didn't know what the hell tofu was or seitan and I really didn't know much about soy. So I did the typical thing that most unknowing vegetarians do when try give up meat: carb overload! Donuts are vegetarian! So are French fries, cake, breads, peanut butter, waffles, milkshakes, etc. It was almost an excuse to eat my favorite junk!

I got married in November 2009 (I had eggplant parmesan at my wedding) and then had my first turkey-free Thanksgiving. And it wasn't that hard!  You get to eat all the meatless side dishes! 

Over the last two and a half years I have successfully stayed away from meat with little difficulty.  However, since we moved to South Carolina in May 2010 (thanks to the Air Force), it was much harder.  This is the deep south where everything is fried, BBQed, dipped in pig lard, and hunted.  Not only that, but we live in a semi-rural area where there aren't any sort of health food stores like Trader Joes, Whole Foods, New Seasons Market, or Earth Fare close by.  The nearest one to me is about 45 minutes to an hour away. 

Thankfully, our grocery store on base carries a lot more vegan/vegetarian items than it used to when we first moved here.  But I can see why people in the south might have a harder time choosing vegetarianism simply do to lack of resources to start the diet successfully.  There are far more fast food restaurants in this town than necessary.  But that is a topic of discussion for another time.

In spring 2011, I started noticing I was having stomach problems.  I won't go into the details, but by September I started going to my doctor to see what was wrong with me, explaining all my symptoms.  At first he put me on acid reflux medicine and I was confused, I have never had heartburn or any issues with acid in my life!  But the acid reflux medicine made me vomit, so I had to stop taking it.  We looked at all options, from IBS to celiac disease and finally landed on lactose intolerance.  After a process of trial and error and after two weeks of abstaining from all dairy products, we came to the conclusion that I'm lactose intolerant. 

I was kind of surprised, but my mother told me that as an infant I was lactose intolerant and while she was breastfeeding me she had to give up dairy products so I wouldn't be sick.  Of course, it "went away" as a kid and teenager.  Whether or not it went away or I just didn't notice it, I don't know, but I now try to avoid dairy whenever possible.  Apparently, it's not uncommon for grown adults to suddenly become lactose intolerant.  Afterall, we're the only mammal that consumes the breast milk of another mammal far after we're infants.

This got me thinking about becoming a vegan... I mean, I already wasn't eating chicken, cows, and pigs, and (as of 2012) I don't consume fish and seafood anymore.  And now I'm allergic to milk and cheese, I might as well right?

That is another discussion for another time.  Thank you for reading my story on how I became a vegetarian.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Best Friend

When my husband and I moved to South Carolina (thanks, United States Air Force), we decided our beautiful Siberian Husky Sinatra needed a companion.  So we found an ad on Craig's List for black Labrador Retriever puppies.  They were only $50 and the owners really did not want the puppies.  I had truly wanted to adopt our second dog, however, we figured these puppies were unwanted enough to justify not adopting.

So, we met the owners in the parking lot of a grocery store with all these sweet black labs in the back of their SUV.  I immediately locked eyes with a little female.  Her intensely loving brown eyes were all I needed to see.  I picked her up and it was an instant love.  I wanted her.  She wanted me.  And she was mine.  We paid $50 for what would be the sweetest, most affectionate, goofy, funny, curious, and needy creature I've ever known.  I named her Daphne Alabama (after the city and state I lived in as a child, though Lady Gaga came in close second).  She also answers to Daphie, Baby, Honey Girl, and simply Daph.

As a puppy, she slept in my arms in our bed.  She curled up against my chest and slept with me each night.  She still sleeps with me every night, but now at 70 pounds, she prefers to spread out at the foot of the bed, causing me to twist my legs into uncomfortable positions. 

She's approaching her second birthday and she's my little love, my cuddle buddy, my Honey Girl.  I often tell my husband that he's not my soulmate, she is. 

Daphne isn't "just a dog" to me.  I have such a special relationship with her.  She approaches every day with energy, joy, and an abudance of tail-wagging.

"I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive." -- Gilda Radner